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Stonehenge stands within a vast ritual landscape. From within these enigmatic mounds some of the finest artifacts have been unearthed. They are the archaeological Holy Grail to understanding the spirituality and daily life of a culture long gone. Monuments like Stonehenge preserve their mathematical, astronomical and engineering capabilities like a megalithic library. Written in stone they are a legacy of their incredible achievements.
Bronze Age (c2500-750 BC orthodox dating) burial goods, such as jet from the Baltic, beads form Egypt and delicate and intricately designed gold artifacts reveal international trade and artistic craftsmanship. Such finds adorn several British museums attracting publicity and attention.
Yet, some of the mound artifacts are very intriguing and challenge our understanding of ancient Britain. My research has located documented evidence of an entire skeleton of a giant unearthed just one mile from Stonehenge, which was ‘13 feet and 10 inches tall’, strange metal objects and curious chalk plaques all of which were found in the round mounds of Salisbury Plain. Interestingly, the old English name for Stonehenge was The Giant’s Dance perhaps the medieval name was derived from the large skeletons that have been found in and around Salisbury Plain.
The Giant’s Dance - The old name for Stonehenge. Image courtesy of Maria Wheatley
Stonehenge stands like a guardian overlooking the vast Salisbury Plain. The area is managed by the MoD (Military of Defence) and it contains numerous prehistoric monuments. I liken it to Area 51 in the USA as it contains military ‘no-go’ zones. The armed services use it to practice manoeuvres, to launch laser guided weapons and as an intense firing range. Round mounds are plentiful in and around the Plain, some of which housed burials, although not all are so easily explained. One fascinating find came from a Plain barrow that was excavated in 1955. The excavated skull showed signs of surgery. Initially, a blanket explanation was given – the skull had been trepanned. Trepanning is a surgical technique of scraping out a deep round groove in part of the skull. It was thought that prehistoric trepanning may have been applied to relieve epilepsy, serve headaches and even cataracts. Archaeologists say our ancestors thought these illnesses were caused by evil-spirits.
Thus, in one particular view, trepanning was partly a shamanic response to alleviate symptoms. One image portrays a shabby looking caveman hacking away at a skull of an uncomfortable patient which implies a primitive and superstitious people that did not fully understand the implications of their surgical actions. Such Dark Age medieval association is, I believe, at insult to our prehistoric forefathers.
- The Mysterious Golden Lozenge of Stonehenge
- Outside the Circle: The Ancient Stonehenge Landscape – A Wider Perspective
- Are There Really Plans to Build a Tunnel Under Stonehenge?
Example of art depicting prehistoric trepanation. Was it really so primitive? ( CC by SA 4.0 )
Prehistoric cancer treatment
According to archaeological dating, the surgery occurred between c2000 and 1600 BC. Roger Watson, a Documentation Officer of finds, Devizes Museum, Wiltshire postulat es that the young man underwent a major surgical operation for ‘a brain tumour that involved the cutting away of a disk of bone measuring 32 mm in diameter from his cranium. The cut was probably made with a blade made of flint which is razor sharp. What was used for an anaesthetic or to sterilize, to close the wound we don't know at all.’
Around the Stonehenge environs, numerous Bronze Age patients survived this type of repeated operation. Flint is razor sharp and an ideal medium for fine cutting and scraping. However, the young man whose skull was investigated by Watson lived in an era when copper was widely available. There is evidence that copper metal may have been used to make surgical instruments that supported the surgeon’s flint knife. We know that a surgeon’s operational kit is far more than just knives.
Whilst the skull is defiantly an artifact unearthed by an antiquarian centuries ago, which has only recently been re-examined by Watson, who, incidentally has pushed the boundaries of prehistoric medical awareness away from superstition into an objective surgical dimension. Thankfully, we are now eroding the restrictions of intellectual arrogance and beginning to see prehistory in a new light.
Compared to other regional monumental sites, such as the nearby Avebury Henge, or sites further afield such as megalithic sites in Scotland, the Stonehenge mounds have a statistically higher proportion of trepanned skulls. Stonehenge may have been England’s first surgical capital.
Let us consider another unusual artifact that may have been associated with prehistoric surgery, which is worthy of our scholarly attention. Not far from Stonehenge, was an extraordinary ‘round barrow cemetery’- labelled as such by archaeologists in the 1950s - yet only a few of the mounds actually contained burials. Centuries ago, this was recognized by an antiquarian who observed: I cannot help remarking of having found so many empty cists [barrows].
Round mound on Salisbury Plain. Image courtesy of Maria Wheatley
One of the larger mounds, sadly removed by the plough, was the exact dimension of Stonehenge and cannot be coincidental. Standing out from the other barrows due to its exalted elevation, it gained the attraction of antiquarian enquiry. Deep within the mound was a cremation and a wooden box, inside of which was a wooden sheaf lined with fabric ‘the web of which could still be distinguished’ some 4200 years later – so well preserved was the artifact within the confines of the mound. When opened they saw a copper (or brass) instrument which is shown below (left). Its corroded dimensions are similar to a pair of household scissors some 6.75 inches long,
Instantly explained as an ‘article of ornament rather than utility’ has stuck for centuries. The latest theory purports it to be a scarf or cloak pin; yet intriguingly it appears similar to past surgical instruments that were commonly used in the medieval period (right). Similarities like this should not be dismissed. In addition, whilst it may be a scarf pin, it must be noted that it was found in close proximity to an actual trepanned skull, which is of little consequence to the archaeological analysis of the object. By expanding the limitations of orthodox interpretation, we potentially have evidence of surgical procedures preserved in bone and brass, located close to one another amid one of the most unusual mound complexes in England. The patient went on to live for many years after his surgery testified by his perfectly healed bone.
Artifacts and strange mound burials
When it comes to artifacts, the most widely documented finds in the Stonehenge environ is the famous Bush Barrow. This is because the skeleton of ‘a stout man’ was accompanied with exquisite gold burial goods. Most books and websites on Stonehenge have written of this remarkable find. However, we will focus on some more unusual and thitherto unreported finds. The following illustrations that accompany my research were taken from Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine. The extensive volumes can be easily accessed at the UK’s National Monuments Records Office, Wiltshire, UK.
A few miles south of Stonehenge and gracing the Salisbury Plain was another exceptionally large barrow that instantly aroused the attention of early excavators. Village rumours had hinted that the ancient round barrows housed gold, and so shepards, farmers and small landowners believing they were about to hit a golden jackpot reached for their shovels. Previously, the mounds had stood virtually unmolested for nearly 4000 years.
Reconstruction of the bush barrow burial and the artifacts found within it. Credit: Kevin Wilson
If these early gravediggers did not find gold they simply threw away the artifacts. However, a few were kept and later passed on to antiquarians that were more serious.
Within one mound an extraordinary burial of an ‘extremely large man’ was unearthed and at his feet there was ‘a massive hammer of dark-coloured stone’. Other curious finds accompanied him, one of which was an object of twisted copper or brass. Theories abound as to what it was - from a dog collar - to a bucket handle! Whilst the giant skeleton and the massive hammer may be far more interesting than the brass object, all have seemingly vanished into the ethers.
Other artifacts that were commonly found in Plain barrows were circular shaped pieces of perfectly crafted copper. Once again, we are promptly informed that they were ‘ornamental’ or ‘ritualistic’. Yet, they may have been a part of a much larger object or instrument that was ambiguously described. Long since lost, the real meaning behind these well-made metallic objects remains elusive.
I must point out that the mounds from whence these artifacts came were very different from other mound burials. Unusual artifacts were housed in unusual mounds. Mounds which were larger in elevation were often coined king or monarch mounds by antiquarians who instantly observed their distinctive traits. See for yourself how different the finds are. Most Bronze Age mounds are attributed to the Beaker people said to be European migrants entering the British Isles from c2000 BC onwards. Within these Beaker mounds, it was commonplace to have cremated bones interned in a cup or vase shaped object - called a Beaker - and often with spear like objects or beads. Rarely are beakers found alongside the more unusual artifacts.
We are looking at two different eras of burial one of which precedes the other and unlike archaeologists; I suggest the more complex finds are earlier.
During the Bronze Age, the Stonehenge surrounds were a peaceful place. Numerous mounds were constructed that crowned the hilltop and eternally gazed towards Stonehenge. Undisturbed, some mounds await excavation their secrets still held tight. Deep pits and old settlements were long gone by the Bronze Age. Undoubtedly, inherited memories bestowed meaning and serenity to all that visited for they knew the meaning of this evocative landscape that time has lost.
Clues in ancient legends?
Game-changing advances in archaeological science over the past few decades have whittled down Stonehenge’s possible origin stories. Its alignment with the summer and winter solstices implies an astronomical connection, and the site’s multitude of cremated human remains suggests a link with the dead or ancestor veneration. (Read more about how Stonehenge was built.)
Stonehenge wasn’t built in a flash. Construction began 5,000 years ago, and the monument took on various forms over subsequent centuries. It was ultimately made of two types of stone: sarsens—20-ton sandstone slabs that make up the larger central horseshoe and the standing outer stone circle—and an inner arc of smaller three-ton bluestones. Geochemical analysis indicates that the sandstone sarsens were taken from West Woods, a stone’s throw from Stonehenge.
The bluestones, by contrast, are believed to have been dragged by land nearly 200 miles all the way from the Preseli Hills in western Wales. Parker Pearson and fellow researchers recently found perfect matches for Stonehenge’s bluestones in two Welsh quarries.
The journey of those bluestones has echoes in an old legend, archaeologists note. In the 12th century tome the History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth recounts the tale of how the wizard Merlin tore apart the Giants’ Dance, an ancient stone circle in Ireland, and used 15,000 men to remake it on Salisbury Plain.
Although this curious tale of a sorcerer’s whims has little basis in reality, the fact that the Stonehenge bluestones came from Wales, right across the sea from Ireland, made some wonder if the myth might contain a kernel of truth. Did Stonehenge’s precursor exist somewhere to the west? Unable to resist a challenge, Pearson’s team—a group that included archaeologists, geologists, aerial photogrammetry experts, and specialists in radiocarbon and crystal dating—spent much of the past decade trying to find out.
Exploring the History of Stonehenge on a Stormy Day
I don’t know about you, but I’m quite fascinated by the history of Stonehenge. And there’s something extra intriguing and mysterious about visiting Stonehenge when the weather is cold, wet, windy and absolutely miserable.
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Honestly, it makes for way cooler photos. Stonehenge isn’t nearly as interesting on a warm, calm, sunny day. But set against a background of darkened, swirling clouds? It sets the mood and enhances the mystery of the place.
Questions around the origin and history of Stonehenge abound. Archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was built in numerous phases between 3100 BC and 2000 BC. But there is archaeological evidence of several large, Mesolithic post holes dating as far back as 8000 BC.
Also, as you drive toward the site, you’ll notice numerous hills along the way, which are actually burial mounds. Hundreds of these mounds, or barrows surround the area. Excavations indicate that tribes initially used Stonehenge as a burial ground. It only evolved into a ceremonial and astronomical tracking site later on.
I would highly recommend getting the audio guide if you visit. It gives a lot more detailed information about the history of Stonehenge than you’ll get from any signage. At the time of our visit many years ago, I have to say their visitor center was greatly lacking for such an important heritage site. However, in 2013 a new visitor center opened about 2 km away. It houses over 300 Stonehenge-era artifacts and offers shuttle service to and from the site.
I would say that the biggest letdown about visiting Stonehenge is that you can’t walk up to the stones and touch them. It’s especially disappointing when you hear in the audio guide that some people claim to sense or feel vibrations coming from the stones.
Back when my parents visited Stonehenge in the 1960s, the stones didn’t have a fence around them. The fence went up in 1977 to prevent people from climbing the stones, vandalizing them and trampling the grass around them. It was also meant to deter visitors from chipping pieces off the stones as souvenirs. Yes, shockingly, this was a common occurrence.
In fact, during the Victorian era, tourists were actually handed chisels so they could chip pieces off the stones to take home. Eventually, landowner Sir Edmund Antrobus realized the stones needed protection, so in 1900 he banned the practice and introduced an entry fee.
The fence is a subtle barrier at least, and more psychological rather than physical. That wee rope won’t really keep people out, but at least it encourages visitors to remain on the marked trail.
There are thousands of articles and books about the history of Stonehenge, so I won’t go into all the details of its known historical origins. And historians and archaeologists are discovering new things about Stonehenge even today, which I find fascinating.
Numerous archaeological excavations between 2003 and 2014 uncovered new, previously unknown sites nearby. These included additional burial mounds, proof of adjacent stone and wooden structures, and as many as seventeen new monuments resembling Stonehenge. It appears that Stonehenge was once at the center of a bustling complex of buildings and monuments. Today, it has a lonely, solitary feel to it though:
What impresses me the most about these massive standing stones are the lintels capping them. Whomever designed Stonehenge curved the lintel stones to fit together to form the outer ring of enclosed stones. Originally there were 30 in all. They fit together using a tongue and groove method, most commonly used in woodworking. Pretty impressive work considering the time period and primitive tools that would have been available at the time. Not to mention how they got into their current position, 16 feet off the ground!
The tallest stone, Stone 56, can be seen in the photo below a little right of center. It stands at about 6.7 meters, and thought to point to the midwinter solstice sunrise and midsummer sunset. The carved point at the top is what the lintel would have fit onto.
The outer ring of stones are in a horseshoe pattern, open on one end. In 2014, parch marks where the grass didn’t grow as well in dry weather revealed the original placement of missing stones. Those missing stones formed a complete circle.
The inner ring of stones are shaped like a horseshoe however, which is similar to the original layout of the Almendres Cromlech in Portugal. There’s still debate over who actually built Stonehenge, and Almendres Cromlech is about 2000 years older than Stonehenge. It makes me wonder if perhaps there was some influence from overseas?……
Artifacts can come from any archaeological context or source such as:
Examples include stone tools, pottery vessels, metal objects such as weapons and items of personal adornment such as buttons, jewelry and clothing. Bones that show signs of human modification are also examples. Natural objects, such as fire cracked rocks from a hearth or plant material used for food, are classified by archaeologists as ecofacts rather than as artifacts.
Artifacts exist as a result of behavioral and transformational processes. A behavioral process involves acquiring raw materials, manufacturing these for a specific purpose and then discarding after use. Transformational processes begin at the end of behavioral processes this is when the artifact is changed by nature and/or humans after is has been deposited. Both of these processes are significant factors in evaluating the context of an artifact. 
The context of an artifact can be broken into two categories: primary context and secondary context. A matrix is a physical setting within which an artifact exists, and a provenience refers to a specific location within a matrix. When an artifact is found in the realm of primary context, the matrix and provenience have not been changed by transformational processes. However, the matrix and provenience are changed by transformational processes when referring to secondary context. Artifacts exist in both contexts, and this is taken into account during the analysis of them. 
Artifacts are distinguished from stratigraphic features and ecofacts. Stratigraphic features are non-portable remains of human activity that include hearths, roads, deposits, trenches and similar remains. Ecofacts, also referred to as biofacts, are objects of archaeological interest made by other organisms, such as seeds or animal bone. 
Natural objects that humans have moved but not changed are called manuports. Examples include seashells moved inland or rounded pebbles placed away from the water action that made them.
These distinctions are often blurred a bone removed from an animal carcass is a biofact but a bone carved into a useful implement is an artifact. Similarly there can be debate over early stone objects that could be either crude artifacts or naturally occurring and happen to resemble early objects made by early humans or Homo sapiens. It can be difficult to distinguish the differences between actual man-made lithic artifacts and geofacts – naturally occurring lithics that resemble man-made tools. It is possible to authenticate artifacts by examining the general characteristics attributed to man-made tools and local characteristics of the site. 
Artifacts, features and ecofacts can all be located together at sites. Sites may include different arrangements of the three some might include all of them while others might only include one or two. Sights can have clear boundaries in the form of walls and moats, but this is not always the case. Sites can be distinguished through categories, such as location and past functions. How artifacts exist at these sites can provide archaeological insight. An example of this would be utilizing the position and depth of buried artifacts to determine a chronological timeline for past occurrences at the site. 
Modern archaeologists take care to distinguish material culture from ethnicity, which is often more complex, as expressed by Carol Kramer in the dictum "pots are not people." 
Artifact analysis is determined by what type of artifact is being examined. Lithic analysis refers to analyzing artifacts that are created with stones and are often in the form of tools. Stone artifacts occur often throughout prehistoric times and are, therefore, a crucial aspect in answering archaeological questions about the past. On the surface, lithic artifacts can help archaeologists study how technology has developed throughout history by showing a variety of tools and manufacturing techniques from different periods of time. However, even deeper questions can be answered through this type of analysis these questions can revolve around topics that include how societies were organized and structured in terms of socialization and the distribution of goods. The following lab techniques all contribute to the process of lithic analysis: petrographic analysis, neutron activation, x-ray fluorescence, particle-induced x-ray emission, individual flake analysis and mass analysis. 
Another type of artifact analysis is ceramic analysis, which is based around the archaeological study of pottery. This type of analysis can help archaeologists gain information on the raw materials that were used and how they were utilized in the creation of pottery. Laboratory techniques that allow for this are mainly based around spectroscopy. The different types of spectroscopy used include atomic absorption, electrothermal atomic absorption, inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission and x-ray fluorescence. Ceramic analysis does more than just provide information on raw materials and pottery production it helps provide insight to past societies in terms of their technology, economy and social structure.  
Additionally, faunal analysis exists to study artifacts in the form of animal remains. Just as with lithic artifacts, faunal remains are extremely common within the field of archaeology. Faunal analysis provides insight to trade due to animals being exchanged in different markets over time and being traded over long distances. Faunal remains can also provide information on social status, ethnic distinctions and dieting from previous complex societies. 
Dating artifacts and providing them with a chronological timeline is a crucial part of artifact analysis. The different types of analyses above can all assist in the process of artifact dating. The major types of dating include relative dating, historical dating and typology. Relative dating occurs when artifacts are placed in a specific order in relation to one another while historical dating occurs for periods of written evidence relative dating was the only form of dating for prehistoric periods of time. Typology is the process that groups together artifacts that are similar in material and shape. This strategy is based around the ideas that styles of objects match certain time periods and that these styles change slowly over time. 
Artifact collecting and looting has sparked heavy debate in the archaeological realm. Looting in archaeological terms is when artifacts are dug up from sites and collected in private or sold before they are able to be excavated and analyzed through formal scientific archaeology. The debate is centered around the difference in beliefs between collectors and archaeologists. Archaeologists are focused on excavation, context and lab work when it comes to artifacts, while collectors are motivated by varying personal desires. This brings many to ask themselves the archaeological question, “Who owns the past?” 
There are also ethical issues over the display of artifacts in museums which have been taken from other countries in questionable circumstances, for example the display of the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles by the British Museum.  The display of objects belonging to indigenous peoples of non-European countries by European museums – particularly those taken during the European conquest of Africa – has also raised ethical questions. Pan-African activists such as Mwazulu Diyabanza and the Front Multi Culturel Anti-Spoliation (Multicultural Front Against Pillaging) have taken direct action against European museums, aiming to restitute items they believe to belong to Africa.  
Mysterious Stonehenge and Pyramids Found in Poland
It seems like the new definition of cool among the world’s nations is having pointed mounds that can be called pyramids and a stone circle that can be called your Stonehenge. Poland now has both with the announcement of the discovery of a mysterious circle of stones surrounding a burial mound similar to the massive ones it calls pyramids.
The Polish Stonehenge was discovered near Czaplinek in north-western Poland, while archaeologists from the Koszalin Museum were analyzing a set of previously unknown burial mounds. As they searched the area around the mounds, they found three were circled by stones that appeared to have once formed a similar configuration to those at Stonehenge, with some standing on and others atop them. The stones have fallen but the archeologists say there’s no question they were once in a stacked Stonehenge formation.
Illustration of stones around one Polish burial pyramid
Burnt remains were found in a burial urn, indicating this may have been a site for ritual sacrifices in addition to burials. A bone pin, bronze buckle and other artifacts in the urn point to the remains belonging to a woman. They also help date the site to between 1st and 3rd century CE.
Artifacts found at the Polish Stonehenge
The three stone circles are just the latest of a recent series of what some are referring to as history-changing findings in Poland. Earlier this year, archeologists announced the discovery of more than a dozen massive burial mounds near Dolice in Western Pomerania so large that they were immediately dubbed the Polish pyramids.
Polish pyramids are found buried under old forests
Found underneath an old forest, the burial structures were made in a shape of an elongated triangle and measured 3 meters (9.8 ft) high, 150 meters (492.1 ft) long and 6 to 15 meters (19.7 to 49.2 ft) wide. Each appeared to contain only one corpse that was probably an elder or a leader from the Funnelbeakers – a neolithic and mesolithic culture that lived in the area between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE. These pyramids were also surrounded by stones but their positions didn’t lead archeologists to suspect a Stonehenge formation – now they may examine them again.
Illustration of Polish pyramid under construction
Why are the Polish Stonehenge and pyramids considered history-changing? Historians in this Catholic country have promoted the idea that Polish Christians descended from a Slavic culture. These discoveries suggest they were made instead by a Germanic culture or possible even Celts.
Whoever built them, the discoveries make Poland the newest member of the Stonehenge and pyramids clubs.
British Beach-Goers Could Get a Bigger Road Through Stonehenge
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The highway bottlenecks as it passes by Stonehenge, holding up beachbound pilgrims for hours each weekend, and all summer long. But a logistically complex new plan to tunnel near the Stonehenge site could unjam the traffic. Steve Parsons/Getty Images
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In ancient times, dozens of years before the dawn of modern highways, lived a strange type of people, the road engineers.
They seemed to know what they were doing at the time, but their legacy remains, paved across the archaeological landscape, of Stonehenge.
Stonehenge! Where the traffic dwells.
Where the tourists gander and it’s selfie-stick hell.
Stonehenge! Where cars move like slugs.
So the government wants a tunnel dug.
Stonehenge! The UK’s premier archaeological destination—a ring of stones constructed by the ancients somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago—sits along a roadway known as the A303. However, not every car on this route is bound for the mysterious menhirs. Many just want to go to the beach. See, the A303 is also one of the main arteries connecting London to the nation’s southwest coast. The road bottlenecks as it passes by Stonehenge, holding up beachbound pilgrims for hours each weekend, and all summer long. But soon, a logistically complex new plan to tunnel near the Stonehenge site could unjam the traffic.
If backhoes do bite into that primeval soil, it will be the culmination of decades of contentious improvement efforts. Protesters have fought the government’s road-widening plans for nearly 70 years—and many aren’t happy with the current proposal. But the plan recently entered a penultimate review period with the UK’s Secretary of Transport, and it has support from several important UK heritage groups. The idea? Dig a tunnel near the iconic circle of stones, burying nearly 2 miles of the A303 for a cost of about $2 billion.
Until the mid-20th century, the A303 was a two-lane country road. But Londoners were cramming their cars onto it to reach the nation’s picturesque southern shore. By 1959, the congestion was thick enough that a Parliamentarian complained in session about traffic jams extending 15 miles in the summertime. The UK government began improving sections of the road in the 60s, widening portions to three, and even four, lanes. But Stonehenge is so archaeologically important—and has such a hold on the popular imagination—that when the Department for Transport proposed expanding it to four lanes in the 1970s, protesters successfully convinced the broader public that the road improvements would be akin to paving a highway through the Queen’s front lawn.
And they were worried about more than just the ring of stones: The surrounding countryside is dense with ancient settlements, eldritch monuments, and bygone pathways many burial mounds, tombs, and artifacts lie under the soil too. “The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is basically a 25-square-kilometer funerary landscape,” says Derek Parody, the A303 project director for Highways England. Unsurprisingly, the prospect of deploying backhoes, borers, and paving machines here has been controversial.
So the government quashed its ambitions until the early 1990s, when the Department for Transport proposed two options for an expanded A303: Divert the road so it gave Stonehenge a broader berth, or bury it in a half-mile long cut-and-cover tunnel (essentially a trench topped with soil and sod).
The general public supported the tunnel, but politicians—concerned about the cost—spiked the plan in 1997. Then in 2002, the Department for Transport debuted a second tunnel idea. This iteration would be rerouted to land adjacent to the Stonehenge site and bored through the landscape, about 20 meters deep. It would be longer too—about 1.3 miles from end to end. But boring wasn’t going to cut it. Preservationist groups and landowners complained the tunnel was neither long nor deep enough to avoid disturbing the many sacred sites surrounding Stonehenge. What’s more, surveyors realized they’d be drilling through a substrate of soft, chalky limestone. Combined with the region’s high water table, that kind of soil makes tunneling there a soupy, expensive mess. Protesters worried that the drilling might cause the water table to drop, which would expose artifacts buried nearby to oxygen. The corrosion could erase clues as to why the circle of monoliths was built. This soured public opinion, as did the compounding cost—estimates doubled the projected cost of the original project from $450 million to more than $1 billion. (That’s 2003 price tags in dollars, adjusted to 2019 dollars.) The UK’s Transport Minister nixed the plan.
Additionally, Parliament deemed that any cheaper alternatives—such as rerouting the road—would be environmental disasters, because the Stonehenge World Heritage site is flanked to the north and south by ecologically sensitive areas. “A project like this has to meet transport objectives, environmental objectives, and objectives of preserving heritage,” says Parody.
Top Image: Excavations of a unique Ukrainian burial mound found during roadwork in the village of Novooleksandrivka.
Scythians and other warring cultures and the archaeological remnants of their history are under attack by developers in Ukraine looking to construct new luxury country homes. There are two roadblocks in their quest for unrestricted profiteering. The first comes in the form of 4,000-5,500-year-old burial mounds, almost 100,000 in number and scattered across the countryside, which are only protected by a very thin topsoil.
&ldquoIt has a very thin topsoil, literally 10 cm. This is very little and it is causing it to swell, deteriorate, etc. This is why it was decided to investigate it", says Dmitry Teslenko, head of the Dnieper archaeological expedition of the Ukrainian Archaeological Guard Service.
A unique Ukrainian burial mound found during roadwork in the village of Novooleksandrivka.
The second roadblock to the construction project is the nongovernmental preservation group Guardians of the Mounds , founded in 2019 under the aegis of Oleksandr Klykavka, which has become a national movement over the last 20 months. In the village of Novooleksandrivka, 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) south of the town of Dnipro in east-central Ukraine, &ldquoexcavations of a unique kurgan or burial mound have been underway for more than 1.5 months&rdquo reports Archaeology News Network.
The Burial Mounds and their Rationale
These are burial mounds that have attracted grave robbers and archaeologists in equal measure, with a variety of artifacts - which includes combs and dishes, but also heaps of golden jewelry, according to NY Times . The dimensions of the unique kurgan are astounding, 120 x 80 m (393.70 x 262.47 ft.) and 7 m (22.97 ft.) in height! Proper road clearance and construction equipment had to be employed to conduct a field survey of this unimaginable scale, including bulldozers. The excavations have revealed 24 burials from the Bronze Age, Scythians (Iron age), and the Middle Ages.
"Because of their nomadic nature, the people carried only the bare necessities. However, sometimes interesting finds are found: pots, necklaces made of wolf or dog canines. For example, a burial has now been discovered where dog toe bones were lying next to human remains. A triple grave has also been found where the skeleton of a man lay in the middle and the skeletons of a woman and child were pressed against him on each side.", says Teslenko.
Graves found in a Ukrainian burial mound.
"The central part is being explored now. There is a lot of manual work. We also use machinery. But I would like to point out that all the machinery works solely under the supervision of archaeologists. The bulldozer removes several centimetres of the soil layer and if we see that something is wrong, the work stops," says field archaeologist Yaroslav Yaroshenko.
Several historians postulate that the mounds served a purpose that exceeded simple religious rites. Noblemen were sent into the after-life with the luxuries and status they enjoyed when alive, along with &ldquo sacrificed wives, servants and horses &rdquo.
There are other interpretations of the mounds too, keeping in mind the topography of the Ukrainian countryside and land, and the ever-looming threat of Russian invasion. The mounds were perhaps erected as a show of strength and defiance against the enemy , most definitely the Russians, to deter their advance into land that was not theirs.
The Cromlech &ndash A Ukrainian Stonehenge?
The mound was dated to 5,500 years ago, coinciding with the Eneolithic period (the transitional period between the Neolithic and Bronze Age, 2500-2000 BC). In the middle of the mound, the &ldquoDnipro Stonehenge&rdquo was found &ndash a series of stone blocks (like megaliths) forming an 18 m (59.06 ft.) diameter circle, called a &ldquocromlech&rdquo. According to the archaeologist :
"As for the stone circle, it is worth noting that it had a purely structural function above all. The cromlech is an integral part of a massive complex structure. The structure consisted of a stone circle set vertically. There was a truncated cone on top of the circle. This allowed the ground to be supported and prevented the mound from sprawling outwards. The mounds could then be given other symbolic meanings. For example, one of the most famous cromlechs in the world, Stonehenge, has at various times been interpreted as a druid sanctuary or an astronomical observatory. It is also worth noting that the oldest burials on the Novoalexandrovsky burial mound date to about 3,500 BC. This potentially suggests that the cromlech near the Dnieper is older than Stonehenge."
The stone circle discovered within the Ukrainian burial mound.
The Challenge of Ukrainian Burial Mounds and Accurate Historical Reconstruction
Ukraine is coming to terms with its illustrated past, even while the Russian threat is constantly on the horizon. In this midst, a development of fascinating scientific techniques is turning up a lot of answers about ancient Ukrainian history, including DNA taken from the people within the mounds. It is imperative to preserve this history by studying it first, instead of destroying it for housing.
As it is, these mounds have been repeatedly robbed and stripped bare of their valuables, making the reconstruction of the past even more difficult. These mounds have also been reused, with new bodies being dumped in older structures to cut labor costs and effort, whilst enjoying the splendor of royal burials.
For example, one of the Dnipro mounds &ldquodates to a pre-historic Indo-Iranian culture &rdquo, but contains a coffin from around the 4th century BC. Another addition to this mound is a coffin emblazoned with a red star, probably a local Communist Party leader. A Scythian mound also witnessed a mass burial of deceased World War II soldiers, with the Soviet government building a monument on top.
"The mound's exploration has not yet been completed. The best is yet to come", says Teslenko. "In about a week, we will completely clear the cromlech and the space inside it, allowing the ancient structure to be seen in virtually pristine condition. It's estimated that in just ten days we will reach the most ancient burials inside the stone ring, if the weather permits", Teslenko adds. "Certainly it is a foregone conclusion that the individual buried and protected by the cromlech was highly respected by this society. This is the only way to explain the monumental character of the construction."
Nowhere north of the Valley of Mexico is there a more robust expression of prehistoric Native American culture and religion than in the ceremonial mound complexes of the Mississippian culture. According to Roger G. Kennedy, former Director of the National Park Service, “The Lower Mississippi Valley has a density of history and prehistory unmatched elsewhere in the United States.”
History of the Conflict
The Mississippian Culture constructed hundreds of temple, effigy, fortress, and observatory mounds from the flood loam of the Mississippi River and her tributaries. The earthen hills contain burials, funerary objects and iconographic artifacts. Many descendants of the Mississippian culture view the mounds as sacred, and some tribes perform ceremonies at the ancient mounds to this day. The mounds were built of rich humus in agricultural lowlands, and starting in the 19th century they were destroyed by farm fields, canals, roads, and pot-hunters. Today, looting, mechanized agriculture, erosion, urban sprawl, tourism, off-road vehicles, and highway construction continue to diminish the mounds for future generations.
The five most important mound complexes in North America—the Great Circle Earthworks, Octagon Earthworks, Great Serpent Mound, Alligator Mound and Cahokia Mounds—had to weather centuries of abuse to have the modicum of protection and respect they receive today.
The Great Circle Earthworks and the Octagon Earthworks are intricate mazes of mounds, octagons, squares and circles covering 4 square miles near Newark, in central Ohio. Constructed around the year 250 by the ancestors of the Mississippian people called the Hopewell, the Great Circle and Octagon Earthworks most likely served as elaborate ceremonial structures where people gathered for large, seasonal rituals and ancestral rites.
In the 1890s, the Great Circle was saved from tilling when it became the nexus of a fairground. In 1910, the Octagon Earthworks served as a campground for the Ohio Militia, which used the earthen circles for war games. Then the Moundbuilders Country Club turned the Octagon Earthworks into a golf course, incorporating one of the mounds into the sixth hole. Commenting on this juxtaposition, archaeologist Brian Fagen asks: “Would you tolerate a course for affluent golfers twisting and turning through Arlington National Cemetery?” Traces of a 60-mile “spirit road” connecting the Great Circle Earthwork to another major mound complex, exists in only four faint segments today. There are currently no plans to protect this ancient Native American religious thoroughfare.
Great Serpent Mound, located in south-central Ohio, and Alligator Mound, southeast of Newark, are two of the most spectacular effigy mounds in the world. In the cosmologies of many Eastern Woodlands tribes, the two primary underworld spiritual entities are the Serpent and the Underwater Panther. Recent research by Ohio Historical Society archaeologist Brad Lepper suggests that Serpent Mound and Alligator Mound were built as shrines to these underworld spiritual beings. Though the Serpent Mound (pictured at top) remains an important religious symbol for Native Americans of the eastern woodlands, its religious integrity has been consistently threatened by urban sprawl and New Age spiritualists. In 1993, plans were drawn to develop the wooded areas immediately surrounding the Serpent Mound into housing tracts and a resort. The Army Corps of Engineers denied the developers a permit to dam nearby Brush Creek and build the proposed resort community based on the Clean Water Act. This action will allow Brush Creek and the environment surrounding Serpent Mound to remain pristine.
In 1982, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), designated Cahokia Mounds, outside of St. Louis, as a World Heritage Site, for its importance to the understanding of prehistory in North America. This Mississippian city boasted a 14th century population of 20,000 people — more than London at that time. Other Native American World Heritage Sites include Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Mesa Verde. Yet even with the protection of the United Nations, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have cut deep scars in many of the mounds at Cahokia. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency states, “They have withstood a thousand years of the four seasons — but they can’t stand up to four-wheelin’.”
Threats and Preservation Efforts
On May 15, 2003, Canton, Ohio court dismissed an appeal by Barbara Crandell, a Cherokee woman who had been convicted of trespassing on ancient Indian Mounds at the Moundbuilders Country Club golf course. Crandell has prayed at the site for 20 years, and argued that the land is public. The ruling by the 5th Ohio District Court of Appeals stated that Crandell “has not shown that a constitutional right exists to permit exercise of her wishes to utilize private property as she chooses.”
On June 26, 2002, Crandell had gone to the Octagon Earthworks to pray at the observatory mound, which was built around the year 250 by the Hopewell culture. The Ohio History Connection, which owns the site, has leased it to the Moundbuilders Country Club through 2078. The club operates an 18-hole golf course on the site and it is the only local golf course that is private. According to agreements between the History Connection and the country club, members of the public are not allowed to walk on the site when golfers are playing.
On Oct. 19, 2002, one of only four golf-free days during which the Moundbuilders Country Club allows unlimited public access to the Octagon Earthworks, 100 people gathered at the site to pray and express support for Crandell.
“It is hard to explain, but you can almost feel the things that took place here long ago,” said Connie Foster, who is of Cherokee descent. “Native Americans have never understood how the whites could go into a little building once a week—a church—to worship. Our lives are an open prayer throughout the day. How could you ask for a more beautiful church than this?”
The History Connection would like to turn the site into a public park and submit it for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but the History Connection and the Moundbuilders Country Club can’t agree on a price for the move. In 2018 the History Connection took the club to court in a bid to acquire the lease via eminent domain. Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the History Connection, but they are waiting on a final ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Many of the Mississippi Mounds are less well known than the five complexes described above, and they face uncertain futures:
Of almost 1,100 known mounds or archaeological sites in Arkansas, only two remain relatively untouched.
The mound temples and historic villages of the Muscogee people who descended from the Mississippian culture, in the Ocmulgee Old Fields of Georgia have recently been subjected to intense development intrusions, including a proposed highway interchange, and in May 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Ocmulgee one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.
In Rockford, Illinois, Winnebago County is using a “Quick Take” provision under Illinois law to secure 9.4 acres of land along Kent Creek for a road extension that will destroy a number of effigy mounds and pristine wetlands.
In Tennessee, three mounds are imperiled: The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) threatens the Hamilton Era Burial Mound near Knoxville. The ongoing development of Highway 56 in the Upper Cumberland Development Route in Jackson County threatens many mounds and Native American burials. Shallow Bluff Island in Rockwood, a Native American village and burial site, is experiencing significant erosion as a result of the unpermitted activities of a private landowner.
What You Can Do
Bobby C. Billie, a Seminole spiritual leader, declared that “these crimes against the indigenous peoples’ resting grounds must stop. I am sure that our ancestors are with us today asking you to do the right thing.” These mounds must be protected for the religious and educational opportunities they provide before further loss of cultural heritage occurs. Federal legislation like the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiatives Act calls for the study and preservation of the region’s cultural legacy. Petitioning U.S. and state representatives to pass legislation that protects the mounds will offer some defense against development, and yet, as reported above, Cahokia Mounds, like these other precious places of Native American heritage, is threatened by individuals who respect neither the law nor indigenous cultures.
The Ohio Historical Society is in the process of developing a Cultural Resources Management Plan for the Newark Earthworks. The society is seeking feedback from the public, so please be sure to tell them your opinion. Click here to make your comment.
If you plan to visit a sacred place like Cahokia or Serpent Mound, please consider eight principles for visiting a sacred site.
Mounds entombing burials and grave goods should be given full protection under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). But state highways, private landowners, and all-terrain vehicles have ignored and violated these laws since they were enacted. Vigilant citizens can ensure that cultural resource management laws are closely followed by government agencies and federally funded developments, and that the laws are strictly enforced.
To get involved or receive more information, please see Indian Burial and Sacred Grounds Watch.
Lepper, Bradley T. “People of The Mounds: Ohio’s Hopewell Culture.” Ohio Historical Society, Eastern International, revised and reprinted 1999. ISBN 1-888213-48-5.
Lepper, Bradley T. “Great Serpent.” Timeline, a publication of the Ohio Historical Society, September-October 1998, Volume 15/Number 5.
Lepper, Bradley T. “Ancient Astronomers of the Ohio Valley.” Timeline, a publication of the Ohio Historical Society, January-February1998, Volume 15/Number 1.
Searching for the Great Hopewell Road: A Landmark Journey into the Mysteries of the Ancient Hopewell People. 1998, Pangea Productions Ltd. VHS available from the Ohio Historical Society, tel: (614) 297-2357.
Secret Stonehenge: Mounds, Artifacts, and Intrigue - History
In the Salisbury plains, southern England, there is a compound of enormous carved stones, strange holes and a trench in the shape of a ring. This complex survived for thousands of years until our days. Who put them there, why and what for, are some of the greatest mysteries from prehistoric times.
Stonehenge is formed by a ditch 6 meters wide and 1,4 to 2 meters deep, already eroded, carved in the terrain and drawing a circle 110 meters in diameter. The excavated soil was piled forming an inner ring at the ditch. This circle is interrupted at the northeast side, giving way to an entrance and an avenue that extends to the river Avon, a distance of 2780 meters away.
Inside the circular ditch and its inner earth ring there is another circle, 33 meters in diameter, formed by enormous stones of tertiary sandstone. Each stone is some 4,1 meters high, 2,1 meters wide and 1,1 meters deep they widen at their tops, giving the optical illusion that their widths do not vary. The inner faces of these stones have a better finishing than the outer faces. They are separated a distance of 1 meter from one to the other, and today a total of 17 vertical stones are still standing, leaving the circle uncompleted, because 30 would be required. It is estimated that each stone weights some 25 tons. Above these stones other horizontal stones were placed, like lintels, each one 3,2 meters long, 1 meter wide and 0,8 meter deep.
The lintels are curved to the inside and are fixed by tongues, carvings and protuberances excavated into the stones. Total height with the lintels is 4,9 meters. At present time there are six lintels, again being needed 30 in order to close the circle.
Inside this structure there is a second structure of even taller stones, forming a horseshoe 13,7 meters in diameter. The tallest stone rises 6,7 meters above the terrain (it has a further 2,4 m below the ground) and weights some 50 tons. It also has lintels fixed with complex techniques. They were crafted until smooth and regular forms were obtained. This inner horseshoe is somewhat different from the circle of stones in the sense that the stones are paired, with a lintel above each pair. In this case each lintel does not join with its neighbor. In the horseshoe, eight vertical stones, from a total of 10, are still standing, and three lintels, from a total of five, still survive.
The opening of the horseshoe faces the opening of the circular ditch in other words, towards the avenue.
On the avenue, outside the circular ditch, there is a peculiar stone, standing unaccompanied, also of tertiary sandstone, 4,8 meters high and 2,4 meters wide. It can be seen that in the complex other stones have also been set: between the unaccompanied stone in the avenue and the central structures, just at the entrance of the great circle formed by the ditch, there is a fallen stone 4,9 meters long, and in the middle of the inner horseshoe there is another big fallen stone, of green mica sandstone and weighting six tons.
Also, inside the circle of stones and horseshoe there are other lesser stones, of a characteristic blue color, about 2 meters high, 1,5 meter wide and 0,8 meter deep, and weighting some 4 tons. These stones were carved in dolerite, rhyolite and volcanic ash.
Just touching the inner edge of the ditch and its ring of earth there is a great rectangle inscribed inside a circle, formed by two vertical stones, diametrically opposed, and two small earth mounds.
Henry of Huntingdon was the first person to record, in written, the existence of Stonehenge, around the year 1130 C. E.. Since then, it has received all kinds of interpretations. Some legends come up that Merlin the Wizard built it and transported it from a mountain in Ireland. Others believed that the responsible was the Devil himself. One Inigo Jones thought there were traces of classical architecture in it, and in 1615 proposed that its creators were the Romans. Later it was thought it was from the Danish. In the 18 th century, William Stukeley popularized the idea that it was built by a religious cult called the druids, and even today many of their followers try to revive their alleged rituals. Latter days’ folklore favor, obviously, that it was made by extraterrestrials that visited the Earth in prehistoric times.
ARCHAEOLOGY AT STONEHENGE
In 1666, an antiquary called John Aubrey noted several strange holes in the ground, but the first archaeological excavations on the record were performed only in 1789, by William Cunnington, exploring the foundations. Together with Richard Hoare, in 1810, he confirmed that many of the fallen stones were indeed earlier in time standing, while other stones are now missing. In 1900, William Gowland determined that the foundations were initially dug using picks made out of deer horns, and that the stones were carved only after they arrived at their final location.
In 1915, the land in which Stonehenge lies was acquired by the British government, and major excavations began about 1919, by William Hawley an his assistant Robert Newall. Working until 1926, they studied its various parts and proposed that Stonehenge was built in different stages through different ages.
They discovered more Aubrey holes, for a total of 56, forming a circle along the inner edge of the circular ditch and earth ring. These holes, 1 meter deep and 0,8 meter in diameter, are all filled but do not show signs of natural erosion, which indicates they were temporary. Chips from the carving of the enormous stones were found in the upper layers of the fillings, but not at the bottom, indicating that these 56 holes are older than the stone structures.
In 1950, Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggot and John Stone found other holes (smaller, 0,4 meter in diameter) at the northeast entrance, at the center of the complex, and at its southern part. Moreover, they found many crematory remains and other artifacts, from different ages, that resulted being useful for dating Stonehenge’s various parts.
In the open space between the ditch and earth ring and the circular stone structure there are two other concentric circles, with diameters of 47 m and 37 m, made out of holes. These holes contain Roman artifacts and also Iron Age artifacts, transporting us up to 3600 years backwards in time.
Other markings on the ground indicate that the blue stones were formerly in another configuration. This was before a time some 3900 to 4300 years ago.
Tests by radioactive carbon-14, from ancient biological material found by the excavations, indicate that the placing of the stones were performed in a period between 4100 and 4600 years ago, and that the avenue was constructed at those times or later.
Petrographic comparisons show that the sandstones come from a site 40 km away from their current location, and that the blue stones were brought from 250 km away.
Carbon-14 shows that the cremation remains found in the 56-hole circle that internally borders the ditch and earth ring have an age of 4900 years. Fragments of picks made out of deer horns, found in the circular ditch itself, show an age of 5100 years. That must be the time when the construction began.
Completing the panorama, four holes were found outside the circular ditch, each 0,8 meter in diameter: they contain remains of pine trunks that, once upon a time, were stuck in place as poles. Carbon-14 shows for them an incredible age of 10 000 years.
Stonehenge is not the only prehistoric complex of ditches, poles and stones in England, but is the most spectacular. Its construction seems achievable, by human standards, if we consider an enormous numbers of workers, the long time available to complete the job and technologies already in existence since prehistory, such as river barges.
It is presumed that today’s Stonehenge was constructed in at least three different stages, by at least three different cultures: the stony structures are from the last period the second-period one, intermediate, could have had a similar configuration but made out of wood and the earliest, first-period one corresponds to the circular ditch and the 56 original holes that internally borders this.
In 1901, famous astronomer Norman Lockyer showed that a line drawn from the very center of Stonehenge out through the avenue, passing over the unaccompanied stone on it, corresponds to the Sun’s position in the horizon seen at dawn in the summer solstice. In 1963, Gerald Hawkins proposed that there exist many more alignments between different parts of the complex, suggesting that Stonehenge was a complicated computer used for predicting lunar and solar eclipses. Others, like cosmologist Fred Hoyle explained that only during its first stage Stonehenge was used as an astronomical observatory, and later it was converted into a religious temple when its users succumbed to mysticism.
Even today, in the 21st century, the contemporary use of Stonehenge is in dispute. The place has turned into one of England’s main tourist attractions. Facilities such as highways and a visitors’ center that are being installed to channel tourist money generates criticism from scientists, who wish to preserve the location as pristine as possible. In other ways, the modern rise of all kind of religions and cults based on pseudosciences and neomysticisms attracts an enormous number of “pilgrims”, who claim their right to use Stonehenge for expressing their ideas and feelings, a situation that generates attrition with the more “normal” tourists and of course with the scientists.
In this sense, Stonehenge is at the present time a mess, and it won’t be surprising if it was a mess from its origin itself, because, in the end, it was constructed by human beings. The only thing that we can transmit with certainty is that the mystery of who built its different parts, why and what for, persists.
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