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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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Modern investigations
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The fall of the stone at Stonehenge changed attitudes towards the monument, marking its move not only into the XX century, but from ruin to national treasure. The year 1901 saw both protest at Stonehenge, as the site was fenced off for the first time, and the first restoration work.

The sole surviving upright of the Great Trilithon, which had been leaning at a precarious angle, was straightened and firmly bedded in concrete. The engineering work was accompanied by an excavation, carried out to a high standard by Professor William Gowland. He published his results very promptly, concluding that the stone had first been raised at the very end of the Stone Age or beginning of the Bronze Age, a very accurate interpretation of the evidence.

Modern investigations

Lifting a twisted lintel off the outer circle at the beginning of Colonel Hawley’s excavation campaign in 1919.


In 1915 Stonehenge was put up for auction and sold for 6600 pounds to Cecil Chubb, a local man, who shortly afterwards presented it to the nation. By 1919 the condition of Stonehenge was once again causing concern and more restoration was planned, this time on grander scale.

Modern investigations

William Gowland’s careful excavation at the base of the tallest sarsen in 1901. His workmen are sieving the soil to recover the smallest finds.


An experienced archaeologist, Colonel William Hawley, was brought in to work alongside the engineers, but he had an additional task: to excavate the whole of Stonehenge. He dug there from 1919, starting on the sarsen circle where several leaning stones were winched to an upright position before being set in concrete. He dug for the next six years, often working alone, and excavated many of the Aubrey Holes, about half of the ditch and considerable part of the eastern side of the interior of the enclosure. But, although the restoration had made Stonehenge safe once more, the excavations, the results of which were never properly analysed or published, had been far from satisfactory.

In 1950 archaeologists returned to Stonehenge. Professors Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggot and the Wiltshire archaeologist J.F.S. Stone took up the challenge of preparing Hawley’s findings for publication, but also felt that some additional excavation was needed. They began by excavating two more Aubrey Holes, one of which provided a sample of charcoal for the first radiocarbon date for Stonehenge. The date, sometime between 2123 and 1575 BC, was rather imprecise, but it marked a real breakthrough. For the first time, Stonehenge had been dated scientifically.

Modern investigations

Professor Richard Atkinson and his team excavating the bluestone circle in 1954.


Annual excavations continued until 1958, when another major engineering project began: to raise the entire trilithon that had fallen in 1797. This involved freeing the great fallen stones from the earth and moving them to storage before archaeological excavations could be carried out. Atkinson and his colleagues were able to investigate the shape of the original holes dug to receive the stones, providing important clues about how the stones had originally been raised. Finally the replaced uprights were set in concrete and the lintel was replaced. The trilithon stood again and the ruins of Stonehenge were now far easier to understand. Excavations carried on until 1964, but once again no reports were written and it was not until 1995 that the results of all the XX-century excavations were finally published.

Modern investigations

Professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright excavating in 2008; their dig yielded the unexpected evidence that Stonehenge had been used during the Roman period.


In 2008 two separate excavations were carried out at Stonehenge itself, small by the standards of previous investigations, but both highly significant. In May Professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright excavated a small trench on the line of the original bluestone setting, hoping to obtain firm dating evidence. Instead they discovered evidence for the deliberate destruction of and removal of bluestones during the Roman period, the first clues that Stonehenge was actively used at this time. In August Professor Mike Parker-Pearson re-excavated the cremated human remains first discovered by Colonel Hawley but reburied in 1935. These are still being studied but appear to show that the majority of the burials were of adult men and their eventual radiocarbon dating will show for how long Stonehenge was used as a place of burial.

As the understanding of Stonehenge changed during the XX century, so too did its appearance and the way it was managed. Although first fenced off in 1901, members of the public could wander among the stones for many years after this. In 1963 the interior was graveled in order to reduce erosion but by 1978 the numbers of visitors had risen so high that it was decided to restrict access to the stones. The centre was grassed over and the line of an old track through the earthwork enclosure was surfaced, to allow visitors a good view of the stones.

In 1986 Stonehenge was inscribed, along with Avebury, on the prestigious World Heritage list, in recognition of the outstanding prehistoric remains at both sites and in their surrounding landscapes.


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