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Stonehenge › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Brian Haughton
published on 14 December 2010
Stonehenge (Jehosua)

Stonehenge is a Neolithic / Bronze Age monument located on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, southern England. The first monument on the site, began around 3100 BC, was a circular 'henge' earthwork about 360 feet (110 metres) in diameter, a 'henge' in the archaeological sense being a circular or oval-shaped flat area enclosed by a boundary earthwork.
This structure probably contained a ring of 56 wooden posts (or possibly an early bluestone circle), the pits for which are named Aubrey Holes (after the 17th century local antiquarian John Aubrey). Later, around 3000BC (the beginning of Stonehenge Phase II), some kind of timber structure seems to have been built within the enclosure, and Stonehenge functioned as a cremation cemetery, the earliest and largest so far discovered in Britain. Phase III at Stonehenge, beginning around 2,550 BC, involved the refashioning of the simple earth and timber henge into a unique stone monument.
In the first stage, two concentric circles, (sometimes known as the 'Double Bluestone Circle'), of 80 'bluestone' (dolorite, rhyolite and tuff) pillars were erected at the centre of the monument, with a main entrance to the North East. These bluestones, weighing about 4 tons each, originate in the Preseli Hills, in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, and were probably transported from there to Salisbury Plain over a route at least 185 miles long (see the chapter on Preseli). Apart from the bluestones, a 16.4 foot long greenish sandstone slab, now known as the Altar Stone, was brought to Stonehenge from somewhere between Kidwelly, near Milford Haven on the coast to the south of the Preseli Hills and Abergavenny, in southeast Wales.
It is thought that that the north eastern entrance to the enclosure was remodelled during Phase III so that it precisely aligned with the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of the period. Outside this entrance another feature, known as the Avenue, was added to the Stonehenge landscape. The Avenue (probably a ceremonial pathway) consists of a parallel pair of ditches and banks stretching for 1.5 miles from Stonehenge down to the River Avon. It had previosuly been thought that around 2,400 BC the bluestones were dug up and replaced by enormous sarsen blocks brought from a quarry around 24 miles to the north on the Marlborough Downs.
However, recent work lead by Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield has suggested redating the sarsen phase to 2640-2480 BC, which would obviously affect the chronology of the site significantly. Thirty of these huge sarsens, each around 13.5 feet high, 7 feet wide and weighing around 25 tons, were set up in a 98 foot diameter circle. On top of these were placed smaller sarsen lintels (horizontal stones) spanning the tops and held in place by 'mortice and tenon' joints. Within this sarsen circle a horse-shoe shaped setting of 15 more sarsens, making five trilithons (two large stones set upright to support a third on their top) was erected. Somewhere between 2280 and 1900 BC, the blue stones were re-erected and arranged at least three times, finally forming an inner circle and horseshoe between the sarsen circle and the trilithons, mirroring the two arrangements of sarsen stones. This arrangement is essentially the monument that we see the remains of today.
Between 2030 and 1520 BC a double ring of oblong pits, known as the Y and Z holes, were dug outside the outermost sarsen circle, possibly to take another setting of stones. However, there is no evidence that the holes ever held stones or wooden posts and they were eventually allowed to silt up naturally. The Y and Z holes seem to mark the end of significant activity at the site and after c1520 BC there was no further construction at Stonehenge, and the monument appears to have been abandoned.
But why was Stonehenge built and was was it used for? As mentioned above, the monument certainly functioned as a cremation cemetery early in its history, probably for the burial of elite members of clans or prominent local families. The presence of a number of burials around Stonehenge which exhibit signs of trauma or deformity have suggested to some researchers, among them Professor Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University, that the monument was a place of healing, akin to a prehistoric Lourdes. Other researchers, such as Professor Mike Parker Pearson, head of the Stonehenge Riverside Project at the University of Sheffield, believe that Stonehenge functioned as the domain of the dead in a ritual landscape that involved sacred processions to the nearby henge monument of Durrington Walls.
But it would be wrong to attempt to define a single use for Stonehenge. The function of the monument probably changed many times over its 1500 year history as different peoples came and went in the surrounding landscape, and the nature of society changed irrevocably from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

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Lindow Man › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Maisie Jewkes
published on 22 July 2013
The Lindow Man (© Trustees of the British Museum - Republished under the British Museum Standard Terms of Use for non-profit educational purposes.)

The Lindow Man (officially Lindow III) is the top half of a male body, found preserved in a peat bog in Cheshire, England.
The peat bogs at Lindow Moss date back to the last ice age and were formed by holes of melting ice; they are now a tenth of their original size. Bogs often lead to the preservation of organic materials, particularly human remains, being acidic, cold, and devoid of oxygen. The brown colour of the skin, leathery texture, and appearance of human remains preserved in a bog are due to a type of moss that grows in bogs and when dead, lets out a substance that causes a tanning process.
During 1980s CE a series of finds were made at Lindow Moss by workers at a peat shredding mill (peat was then being harvested as fuel). These discoveries were small parts of the human anatomy, for example, a head known as the Lindow Woman and several limbs of other individuals. The most famous, largest, and important of these discoveries is the top half of a male body (the bottom half possibly lost when a digger cut up the bog) found in the summer of 1984 CE and called the Lindow Man. What is noticeable about this example and significant for study is that the hair, skin, and several of his integral organs were preserved. The body and surrounding section of peat were removed whole and taken away for study by a team led by British Museum scientists. Once safe in a laboratory it was the focus of analysis and has caused a great deal of excitement, producing an unprecedented investigation.

ONCE SAFE IN A LABORATORY IT WAS THE FOCUS OF ANALYSIS AND HAS CAUSED A GREAT DEAL OF EXCITEMENT, PRODUCING AN UNPRECEDENTED INVESTIGATION.

The beard, sideburns, and moustache made it instantly clear that the body was male. By calculating the length of his upper arm bone, it was estimated that he would have been between 1.68 m and 1.73 m tall. He was also well built, weighing around 64 kg. He was radiocarbon dated to between 2 BCE and 119 CE and was about 25 years old at the time of death. He was unclothed, apart from a fox fur armband. Using scanning electron microscopy researchers found that his hair and beard had been trimmed with a pair of scissors or shears. It is thought that he did not do any rough work or hard labour, based on his nails which were all manicured. Although the acid in the bog had removed all of the enamel from his teeth, there were no visible cavities, and what was left looked normal. Overall he appears to have been fairly healthy, but had slight osteoarthritis and an infestation of parasitic worms. It has even been possible to discover his blood group, O. Food residue discovered in his upper alimentary tract shows that his last meal was a griddle cake made from wheat and barley.
The reasons and cause of death have caused debate between scholars. There are signs of two blows to the top of the head with a heavy and bladed weapon and also a knife wound to the throat. There is also evidence for a blow to the back, by a broken rib. He had a thin cord around his neck which may have been used to strangle and break his neck, but some have argued that it was simply a necklace, because it is knotted in a decorative manner. Once dead he was placed face down in the bog. This horrific death may have been a ritual killing, a human sacrifice carried out, perhaps by the Druids. Or he could have been executed as a criminal or murdered by thieves, or if he was someone of stature, by his enemies. It is almost impossible to know for sure why he died, but the Lindow Man has provided valuable information and been subjected to more tests than any other ancient human being.
He was conserved by immersing him in a mixture of polyethylene glycol to prevent shrinking and then wrapped in cling film, frozen, and then finally freeze-dried. He is now on display in the British Museum.

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