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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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Dating Stonehenge
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Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of radioactive carbon in an archaeological sample. When calibrated against the radiocarbon content of tree rings with a known age, this can give very precise dates.

Dating Stonehenge

Deer-antler picks used to dig the ditch, radiocarbon dated to between 3000 and 2920 BC.


Dating Stonehenge

An ax jawbone found in the ditch, which gave a date several hundred years earlier than the antlers, and was probably buried as an offering (both the antler picks and jawbone are now in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum).


All living things contain carbon, including a naturally radioactive form of carbon. When something dies the carbon it contains decays gradually over time. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of radioactive carbon remaining in an archaeological sample. When calibrated against the radiocarbon content of tree rings with a known age, this can give very precise dates for archaeological samples.

At Stonehenge, not all the individual events and structures could be dated, but radiocarbon dates were obtained for the antler picks used to dig the ditch and for a number of animal bones found at the bottom of the ditch.

This showed, with 95% probability, that the first phase of the monument was constructed between 3000 and 2920 BC, and that the animal bones were several hundred years older. Other carbon samples from the site have given dates for the early sarsen stone settings of about 2500 BC, and for the final bluestone settings of between 2300 to 2000 BC.




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