The discovery of another ancient stone circle near Stonehenge may help archaeologists to understand the mystery of this prehistoric site. UWA archaeologist Associate Professor Alistair Paterson was on site with the Stonehenge Riverside Project for two weeks when Bluestonehenge was excavated a few months ago.
The project, named Britain’s 2010 Archaeological Research Project of the Year, is a seven-year mission to survey and excavate at and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, a collaboration between five British universities and partly funded by National Geographic.
A/Professor Paterson was in the UK developing other archaeology partnerships when the opportunity came up for him to join the team. He was also interested to work with team members from Bournemouth archaeology department on new digital recording techniques at the site.
“Bluestonehenge, named for the colour of its stones, is a much smaller site than Stonehenge, just ten metres across,” A/Professor Paterson said. “It is about 1.6 kilometres from Stonehenge, but the stones that were once standing there were quarried in Wales and transported 240 kilometres to the site.”
He said the site was discovered at the end of the avenue that joined Stonehenge with the Avon River, assisted by excavations and remote sensing.
“Archaeologists use a range of techniques, including radar, electrical and magnetic sensing to detect changes underground.
“The standing stones of Bluestonehenge are no longer there, but there are 25 enormously deep holes (now filled in) which would have been dug for the stones, that would have been about two metres tall and weighed about four tonnes each,” he said.
The holes, arranged in a circle, are inside a huge ditch (or henge), similar to Stonehenge and other British prehistoric monuments.
“It is clear, from the material that was excavated from the filled holes, that this was not a site of domestic life. There are no food remains or ceramics, but there is a lot of charcoal.”
This has led some archaeologists to the theory that Bluestonehenge could have been a cremation site, with the ashes being buried at Stonehenge. A/Professor Paterson said that if the Romans or later visitors had taken apart the site, they would probably have broken the stones to use them somewhere else, leaving lots of fragments.
“But there are very few fragments and this, together with the ramps that were dug next to the holes, tells us the stones were taken out whole. They were almost certainly taken to Stonehenge and integrated into a rebuilding of the larger site. The smaller standing stones at the monument are bluestones.”
Among the charcoal filling are some prehistoric deer antlers, which may have been used as pickaxes. These will be radiocarbon-dated to try to pinpoint when Bluestonehenge was built and when it was taken apart.
A/Professor Paterson also visited Stonehenge, now off limits to tourists, to record some of the markings on the ceremonial rocks.
“Some of them date from the Bronze Age, and I thought it would be interesting to record historical engravings at Stonehenge, given our current research into historical rock art in Australia in the ARC Discovery project, Picturing Change,” he said.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project was directed by Sheffield University’s Professor Michael Parker Pearson and Manchester University’s Professor Julian Thomas with colleagues from Bristol, Bournemouth and London universities.
- From UWA News 3 May 2010