Tag Archives: Stonehenge

The World of Stonehenge

Neil Oliver, archaeologist and presenter of several BBC documentaries, has created a wonderful series that is highly entertaining and informative.  (It doesn’t hurt that he has a cute Scottish accent!) Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of Great Britain, particularly Celtic history.

A History of Ancient Britain, Series 1, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World of Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

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Tapping into the latest scientific detective work and experimental archaeology, Neil Oliver uncovers the story of prehistoric Britain in this fascinating four-part series. Investigating famous sites, as well as little known ones (which hold some of the biggest secrets), Neil travels to Brittany to discover Carnac, where farmers and hunter-gathers clashed 7,000 years ago, to Ireland, where he finds the world’s most extensive Stone Age system of fields and walls, and to Stonehenge, the sacred stone circle where the living could commune with the dead.

  • Age of Ice – Neil Oliver travels back to ice age Britain as he begins the epic story of how our land and its people came to be over thousands of years of ancient history. This week sees a struggle for survival in a brutal world of climate change and environmental catastrophe.
  • Age of Ancestors – Neil Oliver continues the story of how today’s Britain and its people were forged over thousands of years of ancient history. It’s 4,000 BC and the first farmers arrive from Europe, with seismic consequences for the local hunter-gatherers.
  • Age of Cosmology – Neil Oliver continues his journey through the world of Ancient Britain as he encounters an age of cosmological priests and some of the greatest monuments of the Stone Age, including Stonehenge itself. This is a time of elite travellers, who were inventing the very idea of Heaven itself.
  • Age of Bronze – Neil Oliver reaches the end of his epic tour of our most distant past with the arrival of metals and the social revolution that ushered in a new age of social mobility, international trade, and village life.

A History of Celtic Britain, Series 2, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World After Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

Image: A-History-of-Celtic-Britain-Cover.jpg

Neil continues his landmark investigation of how Britain and its peoples came to be. Over the course of four episodes, he tells the story of a developing nation, from a population of self-sufficient farmers in 500 BC through the Iron Age and the Roman conquest. He also addresses one of the greatest mysteries of history: who, what and where were the Celts? They may never have existed as a genetic people, but as a culture the Celts generated extraordinary riches – warriors, druids and the first kings.

  • Age of Iron – Diving for 3,000-year-old treasure and pot-holing through an ancient copper mine he discovers how a golden age of bronze collapsed into social and economic crisis set against a period of sharp climate change… eventually to be replaced by a new era, of iron.
  • Age of Warriors – Neil Oliver explores the age of Celtic Britain – a time of warriors, druids, and kings of unimaginable wealth. Neil encounters a celebrated warrior from 300 BC, owner of the finest Iron Age sword ever discovered. He tries his hand at divination in an effort to discover the power of Celtic priests and searches into his own DNA for clues to Celtic identity.
  • Age of Invasion – Neil Oliver explores the remains of brutal Iron Age battles and Celtic rebellion as he reaches the moment when Celtic Britain was ripped apart by the world’s great empire – the Roman army.
  • Age of Romans – Neil Oliver completes his epic journey through thousands of years of ancient history with the modern marvels of Rome. Digging beneath a London tower block, discovering building work from a massive stadium, and encountering the remains of an African woman who lived in York 1800 years ago – all evidence of the extraordinary multicultural modern world of Rome.

DocuWiki – A History of Ancient Britain Series 1, A History of Celtic Britain
Knowledge Network – The World of Stonehenge, The World After Stonehenge

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Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located in Wiltshire, England, it consists of a ring of standing stones within a variety of earthworks.  Stonehenge is found within one of the most dense collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, which includes the nearby site of Avebury.

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Stonehenge is thought to have been constructed over several stages between 3,000 to 2,000 BCE, however the site has been found to contain much older archeological evidence.  Initial Mesolithic post holes have been found and dated to around 8,000 BCE.

The first stage of construction at Stonehenge began around 3,100 BCE, consisting of banks, ditches and a circle of pits known as the Aubrey holes.  Cremated remains were found with these pits and experts suggest they are associated with some sort of religious ceremony.  Analysis of teeth found near the nearby Durrington Walls suggests that as many as 4,000 people had gathered at the site.

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The second stage of construction at Stonehenge occurred around 3,000 BCE and consisted of earthworks and timber postholes.  Additional cremated remains have been dated to this time, suggesting that Stonehenge was one of the earliest cremation cemeteries in the British Isles.

The next stage of construction began around 2,600 BCE, marking the transition from timber to stone. It is during this time that about 80 bluestones were erected to form a double circle.  The origins of the dolerite bluestones is thought to be from southwest Wales, however a glacial origin of the stones has also been postulated.  The northeastern entrance of Stonehenge was also widened and more precisely aligned with the mid-summer sunrise and mid-winter sunset.

From about 2,600 to 2,400 BCE, several sarsen stones were erected to form an outer ring and hanging lintels.  The final configuration was completed between 2,280 to 1,600 BCE, where the stones were rearranged to form the horseshoe and circle shape seen at Stonehenge today.

Major restoration began on the site in 1901, including straightening and moving several large standing stones.  In 1928, Stonehenge was purchased and given to the National Trust in order to preserve the monument and its surrounding land.  Archaeological excavations have also occurred over time, leading to new discoveries and further reconfiguration of the site.

Since Stonehenge was constructed during a time when little written records were kept, not much is known about its original purpose and usage.  Early writers speculated that Stonehenge was built and used by the ancient Druids as part of their ritual practices, however it has since been found that the site is much older.  Many theories have been suggested, such as Stonehenge being a place of healing, ancestor worship, or funerary monument.   However the site is still associated with much myth and legend.  Neopagans flock to the site in celebration, particularly at the solstices and equinoxes.  It is a place of beauty, magic and mystery.

Wiki – Stonehenge
PaganWiccan.About.com – Stonehenge

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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Standing With Stones

Standing With Stones: A Journey Through Megalithic Britain
(DVD, 2008)

I watched a very interesting movie on the ‘standing stones’ of Britain, the megaliths, henges, stone circles, cairns and other neolithic structures built thousands of years ago across the British Isles.  Everybody knows about Stonehenge and Newgrange, but what about the other ones?  How many different megalithic sites are there?  What are their significance?

Types of Megalithic Sites (wiki)

Standing Stones – (aka megaliths) solitary stones set vertically in the ground
Stone Circle – a monument of standing stones arranged in a circle
Stone Row – (aka stone alignment) a linear arrangement of upright, parallel standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes
Dolmen – (aka portal tomb, portal grave, or quoit) a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table).  Usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow.
Cromlech (Welsh) – usually refers to dolmens, however it is widely used in French and Spanish to describe stone circles
Cairn – a man-made pile (or stack) of stones, often erected as landmarks
Barrow – (aka tumulus, burial mound, kurgan) a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.  A cairn might also be originally a tumulus.
Henge – features a ring bank and internal ditch surrounding a central flat area.  May contain ritual structures such as stone circles, timber circles and coves.
Cist – a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow
Cursus – (Latin for “course”) large parallel lengths of banks with external ditches, thought to be early Roman athletic courses

We journey through the UK and Ireland, staring in Southern England, making our way through Wales, Ireland, Northern England, Scotland, and the remote northern Scottish Isles.  One thing is abundantly clear – nobody really knows why these megalithic structures were built and what their exact purposes were.  Theories abound, however these ancient structures are still shrouded in mystery.

Here is a list of sites discussed in the DVD:

Western England
Ballowall Barrow
Mên-an-Tol
Rocky Valley
Nine Stones (Dartmoor)
Yellowmead

Southern England
Knowlton Henge
Chestnuts Long Barrow (Medway Megaliths)
London Stone
Wiltshire
Stanton Drew The second largest stone circle in Britain
Barrows
Rollright Stones
Stonehenge (Winterbourne Stoke, Barrows, North Kith, Cursus, Normanton Down Barrows, Darlington Walls, Woodhenge, West Kenet, Long Barrow, Silbury Hill)
Avebury – The largest stone circle in Britain
Goldrum
Priddy Nine Barrows
Stoney Littleton
Wayland’s Smithy
Belas Knap
Also: Uffington White Horse, Long Man of Wilmingdon

Wales
Gors Fawr
Ysbyty Cynfyn
Bryn Celi Ddu
Druid’s Circle (Anglesey)
Barclodiad-y-Gawres
Pont-y-Pridd
Rocking Stone
Tinkins Wood
Cerrig Duon / Maen Mawr
Pentre Ifan
Llech-y-Tripedd
Moel-y-Uchaf

Ireland
Castleruddery
Carrowmore
Maeve’s Cairn
Shronebirrane
Poulnabrone
Beaghmore
Browne’s Hill Dolmen
Creevykeel
Labbacallee
Urach
Ardgroom
Newgrange / Knowth / Dowth (Brú na Bóinne)

Northern England
Arbor Low
Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor
Bleasdale Circle
Rudston Monolith, Cursus
Long Meg and her Daughters
Formby Point
The Chasms
Mull Circle
Devil’s Elbow
Cashtal yn Ard
Castlerigg
King Orry’s Grave
Cursus
Langdale Axe Quarry
Druid’s Circle
Sunkenkirk

Scotland
Clava Cairns
Twelve Apostles
Cairnholy
Glenquicken
Cairnbaan
Achnabreck
Kilmartin Glen
Leys of Marlee
The Recumbents

Scottish Isles
Callanish (Calanais)
Maeshowe
Ring of Brodgar, Stenness – The third largest stone circle in Britain.
Grey Cairns of Camster
Skara Brae
Tomb of Eagles

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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