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The timber phase
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The timber phaseThe earthwork enclosure probably did not stay empty for long. Twentieth-century excavations at Stonehenge have all revealed holes dug into the chalk that once held upright wooden posts of varying size. Few are dated and, although in the illustration above they are shown together as part of a timber phase, pre-dating the arrival of the stones, it is possible that some may date to later stages of Stonehenge’s development.

Around the inner edge of the bank were 56 regularly spaced pits, the Aubrey Holes, which can be shown to date to this early phase. These may have held wooden posts or, as suggested by some early excavators and again after the re-excavation of one of them in 2008, small upright stones.

In the main entrance to the enclosure and immediately outside this entrance were regular rows of smaller posts and from the second, southern entrance parallel rows of close-set posts, perhaps part of a fenced entrance passage, wound their way towards the centre of the enclosure. This is the area where it could reasonably be expected that the most important wooden structures would have stood. Unfortunately this is where, in later years, the raising of the stones obliterated the subtle traces of holes for wooden posts. What remain are hints of what may have been either a circular structure or a number of rectangular structures.

The timber phase

An early phase of Stonehenge, when it was a place of burial. The Aubrey Holes held uprights and wooden structures may have stood within the enclosure.

What is more definite is that, at some time during this phase, Stonehenge became a place of burial. Many deposits of cremated human bone have been found during excavations, almost all round the outside of the enclosure. They were found in the partly-filled ditch, cut into and just inside the bank, and in the upper levels of the Aubrey Holes which, by this time, appear to have had their uprights removed.

The timber phase

A polished ceremonial mace-head, found buried with cremated human remains in one of the Aubrey Holes (now in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum).

The majority of the cremations were found in the 1920s by Colonel William Hawley. In 1935, his assistant Robert Newall, without any means of understanding their significance, reburied them in a previously excavated Aubrey Hole. As some of these burial deposits included ash and charcoal from funeral pyres, it is likely that the actual cremations took place quite close by. Few objects accompany the cremated bones, but a number of long pins of antler or animal bone show evidence of having been burnt, presumably along with the body. There is also a highly polished stone mace-head, clearly a much-prized possession.

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