The mystery of Stonehenge may have just been solved.
A new study by archaeologists has suggested that the eerie rock monoliths may have initially been used as a cremation cemetery for the dead.
In the 1920s, archaeologist William Hawley discovered the remains of cremated bone in a group of holes – known as the Aubrey Holes – around the Stonehenge site. He estimated to have found remains of about 59 individuals. Sadly, at the time, the remains were not considered important and were reburied together in a single Aubrey hole, The Daily Mail reports.
But in the new study, researchers have described how they re-excavated these remains and analysed them using radiocarbon dating. They found the remains of at least 27 adults and young adults, and fresh analysis of these bones has revealed they were buried over a period of 500 years between 3,100BC and 2,600BC.
But after 2,500BC, it appears that the people who used Stonehenge had stopped cremating and burying human remains in the stone circle itself, and instead started burying them in a ditch around the perimeter of the site.
According to Professor Mike Parker-Pearson, an archaeologist at University College London, and his colleagues, the change in location suggests there was a shift in Stonehenge’s cultural significance around this time.
Parker-Pearson and his colleagues say that people stopped burying the dead inside the site, as it later became a place to respect their ancestors who had been laid to rest there hundreds (if not thousands) of years before.
They said in the journal Antiquity:
Stonehenge changed from being a stone circle for specific dead individuals linked to particular stones, to one more diffusely associated with the collectivity of increasingly long-dead ancestors buried there.
This is consistent with the interpretation of Stonehenge’s stage two as a domain of the eternal ancestors, metaphorically embodied in stone.’
So basically, Stonehenge went from a crematory and and widely-used burial site to a place where people would come to respect the dead.
Very cool. Stonehenge is slowly becoming less and less mysterious – hopefully in a few years we’ll have the whole story.