Stonehenge Remodelled

Article excerpt



Since the early years of the twentieth century it has been recognised that Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, UK, was a long-lived monument with several stages of construction. The publication in 1995 of the twentieth-century excavations at the site (Cleal et al. 1995) broadly endorsed a three-phase sequence and, by means of a ground-breaking Bayesian modelling of the radiocarbon dates (Allen & Bayliss 1995; Bayliss et al. 1997; Bronk Ramsey & Bayliss 2000), was provided with a robust chronology. Subsequent minor revisions to the original Bayesian model (Bayliss et al. 2007; Parker Pearson et al. 2007, 2009) have followed. In this paper we remodel the Stonehenge sequence and present a revised phasing, based upon the results of the most recent investigations (Parker Pearson et al. 2007, 2009, 2010; Darvill & Wainwright 2009), reinterpretation of previously recorded stratigraphy, additional radiocarbon dates, and a series of new chronological models (Marshall et al. 2012). It is recognised that the scheme is provisional, and in places tentative, but we present it as a working hypothesis for future investigations to test.


The location and nomenclature of the principal structural features are given in Figure 1. The main components, from the exterior inwards, are: an earthwork enclosure with north and south barrows, a southern entrance, and a north-eastern entrance from the Avenue with a group of standing stones in and beyond the north-eastern entrance (including the 'Heel' and Slaughter' stones); within the enclosure, a circle of Aubrey holes, which may have held stones and/or posts; four Station stones; two roughly concentric rings of pits known as the Fond Z holes (barely visible on the surface); the sarsen circle; the double bluestone circle set in the Q and R holes (not visible on the surface); the outer bluestone circle; the trilithon horseshoe; the bluestone oval now visible as a bluestone horseshoe; a central bluestone circle (not visible on the surface); and, lying in the centre, the 'Altar' stone. 'Bluestone' is an archaeological term popularised in the early twentieth century to refer to what had previously been called the 'foreign' stones (i.e. any stones that are not locally derived sarsens). The portmanteau term 'bluestone' thus embraces a range of dolerites (including the well-known spotted dolerites), tuffs, rhyolites and sandstones. Except for the sandstones (Ixer & Turner 2006), the other bluestones derive from the Preseli hills of north Pembrokeshire (Thomas 1923; Thorpe et al. 1991; Darvill et al. 2009; Ixer & Bevins 2010). A detailed plan of the excavations at Stonehenge is provided by Cleal et al. (1995: tabs 1 & 2); see also Richards (2007: 160) for a simplified plan.

Twentieth-century phasing models

Despite Herbert Stone's assertion that the "present structure of Stonehenge, as we see it, is all of one period" (1924: 2), early excavations (Gowland 1902; Hawley 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1928) clearly showed that this was not the case. Writing in Antiquity, Robert Newall first articulated what later became known as the "Two Date Theory" of Stonehenge (Newall 1929: 84). This postulated an early phase comprising the earthwork enclosure, Aubrey Holes, and cremation burials, followed some time later by the central stone setting.

Although questioned by Cunnington (1935: 88) as being too simplistic, Stuart Piggott perpetuated the 'Two Date Theory' in a little-cited but important paper published in 1951 (Piggott 1951) at the start of new excavations by Atkinson, Piggott himself, and Stone. Five years later, it was Piggott's nomenclature and, to a lesser extent, his phasing that Richard Atkinson adopted (Atkinson 1956: 58-77). By the 1979 revision of Atkinson's Stonehenge, there were five radiocarbon dates for Stonehenge and four for its Avenue, and these appeared to confirm the overall sequence (Table 1; Atkinson 1979: appendix II). …