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News from our friends
Stone handaxe
THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.
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The Builders
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The period of the stone stage of construction at Stonehenge covered approximately 800 years - imagine how many generations lived and died before the final phase was complete. The round barrows arose at about the same time as the stone circle and these individual burial mounds are obvious in the landscape, even today. Whether the groupings are tribal or family we don't know. Archaeologists believe the mounds may also have been used as territorial markers, establishing continuity of lineage. The peoples of Stonehenge do not appear to have lived there; their settlements were elsewhere on the Plain and they gathered for festivals or rituals on the site at various times of the year. The debris found at the monument is the kind left from ceremonial feasting rather than everyday living.

The Builders

Slaughter stone in the foreground – the ceremonial way is facing the midwinter sunset.

They had stopped being hunters and wanderers and become farmers. Now the seasons were important to them but, if all they needed was a basic calendar or observatory, the first henge monument would have been sufficient; they did not need to go to such lengths as today we realise they did.

Imagine the manpower needed to move the stones; the massive labour force would need to be spared from the work in the fields and surplus food and clothing provided. Great effort was needed to dig pits in the chalk with only antlers, engineering skills to erect and place the sarsen stones and time to smooth and shape the stones having hauled them from their sources. This was a communal undertaking on a huge scale and the motivation for such an exercise must have been powerful indeed.

All activity on the site appears to have ceased shortly after it was finished. To have abandoned a sacred area that they had laboured on for such a period of time some drastic change must have taken place. Perhaps the bottom fell from their economy and they were forced to relocate, maybe a great plague came and they were wiped out or did invaders from across the sea massacre the population? Whatever catastrophe befell the Stonehenge peoples, they disappeared from history almost at the moment their great achievement was perfected. The site became overgrown and forgotten, to reappear in recorded history after the Roman invasion.

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