A renowned archaeologist chronicles the remarkable changes in our knowledge of the builders of Stonehenge and other, equally important and connected henges throughout Britain.
In the last 30 years, advancements in such areas as geophysics and radar have produced tremendous strides in the knowledge about these ritual landscapes. Stonehenge was not built as a single event but was part of a “Formative Phase” that lasted at least 400 years—and it’s not alone. Pryor (Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory, 2014, etc.) notes how there is an archaeological site nearly every square mile throughout Britain, from barrows to henges of many sorts. The spotlight is on Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge and the surrounding Woodhenge, Durrington Walls, and Avebury. The monuments of wood were built for the living while those of stone were built for ancestors. The River Avon linked Woodhenge and Durrington Walls to Stonehenge and was a major stop on the rite of the dead. The fact that over 1,000 house sites have been uncovered at Durrington Walls reinforces that statement. While often associated with burials, the Stonehenge rite was more a journey between life and death than a burial. Bodies may have been interred, but the discovery of the largest cremation cemetery in Neolithic Europe indicates that not all were buried. The ancestors’ bones were often disinterred to be part of a familial ceremony and then reinterred. Stonehenge was never meant to be a building or even finished, and it was constantly rebuilt and changed. The earlier idea that it was to predict the solstices has been replaced by a view that focuses on day length and season and life cycles rather than the passage of time. It was certainly more astrological than astronomical. Throughout, the author includes drawings, photographs, and diagrams that facilitate understanding of the complexity of these ancient sites.
Pryor’s journalistic writing and vast knowledge make this a joy for historians and armchair archaeologists alike.