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We are pleased to present the latest account of the sequence of burial and construction at the site of Stonehenge, deduced by its most recent excavators and anchored in time by the application of Bayesian radiocarbon modelling. Five prehistoric stages are proposed, of varied duration, and related by our authors to neighbouring monuments in the Stonehenge environs. While it may never be possible to produce a definitive chronology for this most complex of monuments, the comprehensive and integrated achievement owed to these researchers has brought us much closer to that goal. It is from this firm platform that Stonehenge can begin its new era of communication with the public at large.
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Research
Stonehenge remodelled
Timothy Darvill1, Peter Marshall2, Mike Parker Pearson3&
Geoff Wainwright4
We are pleased to present the latest account
of the sequence of burial and construction
at the site of Stonehenge, deduced by its
most recent excavators and anchored in time
by the application of Bayesian radiocarbon
modelling. Five prehistoric stages are proposed,
of varied duration, and related by our
authors to neighbouring monuments in the
Stonehenge environs. While it may never be
possible to produce a definitive chronology
for this most complex of monuments, the
comprehensive and integrated achievement
owed to these researchers has brought us much
closer to that goal. It is from this firm platform
that Stonehenge can begin its new era of
communication with the public at large.
Keywords: Britain, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age, megalithic, Stonehenge, sarsen, bluestone,
trilithon, radiocarbon, Bayesian modelling
Introduction
Since the early years of the twentieth century it has been recognised that Stonehenge
on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, UK, was a long-lived monument with several stages of
construction. The publication in 1995 of the twentieth-century excavations at the site (Cleal
et al. 1995) broadly endorsed a three-phase sequence and, by means of a ground-breaking
Bayesian modelling of the radiocarbon dates (Allen & Bayliss 1995; Bayliss et al. 1997; Bronk
Ramsey & Bayliss 2000), was provided with a robust chronology. Subsequent minor revisions
to the original Bayesian model (Bayliss et al. 2007; Parker Pearson et al. 2007, 2009) have
followed. In this paper we remodel the Stonehenge sequence and present a revised phasing,
based upon the results of the most recent investigations (Parker Pearson et al. 2007, 2009,
1Archaeology Group, School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole, Dorset BH12
5BB, UK (Email: tdarvill@bournemouth.ac.uk)
2English Heritage, 1 Waterhouse Square, 138–142 Holborn, London, EC1N 2ST, UK
(Email: peter.marshall@english-heritage.org.uk)
3Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4ET, UK
(Email: m.parker-pearson@sheffield.ac.uk)
4March Pres, Pontfaen, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire SA65 9TT, UK (Email: geoff@bluestone.eu.com)
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ANTIQUITY 86 (2012): 1021–1040 http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/086/ant0861021.htm
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Figure 1. Plan of Stonehenge, showing the principal structural features (after Darvill 2006).
2010; Darvill & Wainwright 2009), reinterpretation of previously recorded stratigraphy,
additional radiocarbon dates, and a series of new chronological models (Marshall et al.
2012). It is recognised that the scheme is provisional, and in places tentative, but we present
it as a working hypothesis for future investigations to test.
The location and nomenclature of the principal structural features are given in Figure 1.
The main components, from the exterior inwards, are: an earthwork enclosure with north
and south barrows,asouthern entrance,andanorth-eastern entrance from the Avenue with a
group of standing stones in and beyond the north-eastern entrance (including the ‘Heel’ and
Slaughter’ stones); within the enclosure, a circle of Aubrey holes, which may have held stones
and/or posts; four Station stones; two roughly concentric rings of pits known as the Yand
Z holes (barely visible on the surface); the sarsen circle;thedouble bluestone circle set in the
Q and R holes (not visible on the surface); the outer bluestone circle;thetrilithon horseshoe;
the bluestone oval now visible as a bluestone horseshoe;acentral bluestone circle (not visible on
the surface); and, lying in the centre, the Altar’ stone. ‘Bluestone’ is an archaeological term
popularised in the early twentieth century to refer to what had previously been called the
‘foreign’ stones (i.e. any stones that are not locally derived sarsens). The portmanteau term
‘bluestone’ thus embraces a range of dolerites (including the well-known spotted dolerites),
tuffs, rhyolites and sandstones. Except for the sandstones (Ixer & Turner 2006), the other
bluestones derive from the Preseli hills of north Pembrokeshire (Thomas 1923; Thorpe
et al. 1991; Darvill et al. 2009; Ixer & Bevins 2010). A detailed plan of the excavations at
Stonehenge is provided by Cleal et al. (1995: tabs 1 & 2); see also Richards (2007: 160) for
a simplified plan.
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Table 1. Summary of the Stonehenge periodisation proposed by Richard Atkinson (1979).
Period Main components Suggested date
I Construction of the bank, ditch, and Aubrey holes. Erection of the Heel
stone, stones D and E, and the timber structure at A. Inception and use
of the cremation cemetery. Station stones perhaps erected near the end
of this period.
2800–2100 BC
II Widening of the entrance causeway and transfer of stones D and E to
holes B and C. Digging and filling of the Heel stone ditch.
Construction of the first part of the Avenue. Erection of the double
bluestone circle in the Qand Rholes, unfinished.
2100–2000 BC
IIIa Dismantling of the double bluestone circle. Erection of the trilithon
horseshoe, sarsen circle, and the Slaughter stone and its companion.
Carvings made after erection.
2000 BC
IIIb Tooling and erection of stones of the dressed bluestone setting. At the
end, digging and abandonment, unfinished, of the Yand Zholes.
2000–1550 BC
IIIc Dismantling of the dressed bluestone structure. Re-erection of all the
bluestones in the present bluestone circle and bluestone horseshoe.
1550–1100 BC
IV Extension of the Avenue from Stonehenge Bottom to West Amesbury. 1100 BC
Possibly some deliberate destruction of the stones. AD 50–400
Twentieth-century phasing models
Despite Herbert Stone’s assertion that the “present structure of Stonehenge, as we see it, is
all of one period” (1924: 2), early excavations (Gowland 1902; Hawley 1921, 1922, 1923,
1924, 1925, 1926, 1928) clearly showed that this was not the case. Writing in Antiquity,
Robert Newall first articulated what later became known as the “Two Date Theory” of
Stonehenge (Newall 1929: 84). This postulated an early phase comprising the earthwork
enclosure, Aubrey Holes, and cremation burials, followed some time later by the central
stone setting.
Although questioned by Cunnington (1935: 88) as being too simplistic, Stuart Piggott
perpetuated the ‘Two Date Theory’ in a little-cited but important paper published in 1951
(Piggott 1951) at the start of new excavations by Atkinson, Piggott himself, and Stone. Five
years later, it was Piggott’s nomenclature and, to a lesser extent, his phasing that Richard
Atkinson adopted (Atkinson 1956: 58–77). By the 1979 revision of Atkinsons Stonehenge,
there were five radiocarbon dates for Stonehenge and four for its Avenue, and these appeared
to confirm the overall sequence (Table 1; Atkinson 1979: appendix II).
The publication of twentieth-century excavations at and around Stonehenge provided an
opportunity to review the structural sequence, obtain further radiocarbon determinations,
and construct a Bayesian model that would provide a more robust chronological framework
for the site (Table 2; Cleal et al. 1995). The revised structural sequence was a refinement
of Atkinson’s original scheme and was used, together with direct stratigraphic relationships
where they existed, to build a Bayesian model for estimating the dates of recognised phases
in the development of the monument. In all, 62 radiocarbon dates were available at the
time of the analysis for the formulation of the new structural sequence at Stonehenge
and its associated peripheral structural components; of these, only 52 were used in the
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Table 2. Summary of the Stonehenge phasing proposed by Ros Cleal and colleagues (1995).
Main interior Periphery Main peripheral
Interior phase components phase components Suggested date ranges
1 1 Bank and ditch
construction; Aubrey
holes supporting timber
settings; primary backfill
in the ditch
2950–2900 cal BC
2 Timber settings in
the interior,
including the
southern passage
2 Natural filling of the ditch;
deposition of cremations
in bank and ditch fill;
timber settings in the
Aubrey holes dismantled;
cremations in the top of
Aubrey holes
2900–2400 cal BC
Arrival of the bluestones from south-west Wales
3i Double bluestone
circle (Qand R
holes)
3a Stones: 97, Heel stone, and
station stones; topmost
fill of ditch forms;
cremations continue
Arrival of sarsens from Wessex Downlands
3ii Sarsen circle and
sarsen trilithon
horseshoe
3b Heel stone ditch dug;
north and south barrow
ditches dug; stones D, E,
and Slaughter stone
raised
2550–1600 cal BC
?3iii ?Bluestone settling
with lintels
3iv Bluestone circle
and bluestone
oval
3c Avenue constructed; stones
B and C raised; Beaker
burial in ditch
3v Bluestone
horseshoe
3vi Yand Zholes
new chronological model, the remaining 10 were rejected because of uncertain stratigraphic
provenance, or technical problems with the laboratory processes (Cleal et al. 1995: 521). The
continuing problem of identifying the relationships between stratigraphically disconnected
components of the site was well recognised and taken into account by dividing the sequence
into two separate parts, one covering the centre and the other the periphery of the site.
Stratigraphic readings
Critical to understanding the Stonehenge sequence is how the stratification recorded by
earlier excavators may be read. Much has been made of single intersections, of which one
of the most crucial is that between elements of the double bluestone circle (the Qand R
holes) and the sarsen circle, in particular Atkinson’s assertion (1979: 61) that the fill of Q
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hole 4 was cut by the socket for stone 3 in the sarsen circle. Atkinson’s plan and photograph
(Cleal et al. 1995: figs. 278 and 92 respectively) show that the cut for stone 3 is far wider
than for almost all other sockets in the sarsen circle. Its dark, organic fill is also inconsistent
with the clean chalk rubble normally used as packing in these stoneholes. One lesson learnt
from the 2008 excavations is that later (sometimes much later) digging adjacent to extant
stones has obscured the original stratigraphic relationships between features by effectively
re-cutting their upper fills (Darvill & Wainwright 2009: 16). With this in mind, other
possible relationships cited in support of the double bluestone circle pre-dating the sarsen
circle and trilithon horseshoe can also be disputed. Stone 7 in the sarsen circle looks to have
been recut on the inside to produce its apparent super-imposition in relationship to Qhole 9
(Cleal et al. 1995: fig. 97). The socket for stone 60 in the trilithon horseshoe (north-western
trilithon) looks to have been re-cut on the outside, but the earlier feature it is assumed to
cut (WA 3433) cannot be considered a Qor Rhole on the basis of its position (Cleal et al.
1995: fig. 96, cf. plan 2).
In another case, the re-examination of records relating to the stratification of features
around stone 56, the western upright of the great trilithon, reveals problems of interpretation
(Parker Pearson et al. 2007: 619–26). What was once considered to be the construction
ramp for stone 56 (WA 2448/3773 on Cleal et al. 1995: fig. 100) is actually a large pit dug
against the north-west side of stone 56 some time between the construction of the trilithon
horseshoe and the construction of the bluestone oval.
On the periphery of the monument, interpretations of seemingly established sequences
have also been challenged. A re-examination of the recorded ditch fills reveals the presence
of a stratigraphic disjunction that can be interpreted as a re-cut (Parker Pearson et al. 2009:
29–31). Attention has also been refocused on the interpretation of the Aubrey holes.When
first excavated, Hawley (1921: 30–31) suggested they had once held bluestone pillars, a
position disputed by later archaeologists (Newall 1929: 83; Piggott 1951: 280; Cleal et al.
1995: 102–107). Re-excavation of Aubrey hole 7 has revived the initial interpretation as a
possibility (Pitts 2008a; Parker Pearson et al. 2010).
In developing a new sequence, we rejected the idea of neat architectural phases, in favour
of five main periods or ‘stages’, each of which embraces a set of activities related to a more
or less coherent pattern of archaeological evidence. Dating each stage, of varying duration,
involves dating the events and activities assigned to it. This entails a consideration of vertical
and horizontal stratigraphy, associated finds, and synchronisms established through the
dating of particular items, deposits and horizons. The result is given in Table 3. Naturally,
some components can be assigned more confidently to a particular stage than others, and
we have tried to make this explicit. Here attention focuses only on the evidence relating to
the third and early second millennia cal BC. We retain all existing naming, numbering, and
lettering of stones and cut features such as stoneholes, so that the revised sequence is easily
comparable to all previous (and subsequent) literature.
Towards a new dating model
Full details of the methodology, prior information and radiocarbon dates used in
our preferred chronological models, based on a revised reading of some stratigraphic
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Table 3. Summary of the main stages in the use of Stonehenge during the third and second millennia
cal BC proposed in this paper.
Stage Main activities and resultant components Suggested dates
I Construction of a circular earthwork enclosure 110m in diameter bounded
by a bank and ditch with main access on the NE and smaller entrance to
the S (3000–2920 cal BC). Deposition of ancestral tokens in the base of
the ditch. Digging of 56 Aubrey holes around the inner edge of bank,
possibly to hold bluestones and/or posts. Cremation burials begin to be
inserted into the ditch, bank, and Aubrey holes. Pits dug in the central
area. Timber posts and stakes set up, in some cases forming simple
rectangular structures. Possibly in this stage (or earlier) a post-built
structure in the NE entrance; stones B, C and 97 outside the NE entrance.
3000–2620 cal BC
2 Trilithon horseshoe comprising five sarsen trilithons set up in the centre of
the site with SW–NE solstitial axis (midwinter sunset/midsummer
sunrise). Double bluestone circle of between 50 and 80 bluestones set up
outside the trilithon horseshoe with a shared SW–NE axis. Sarsen circle
comprising 30 shaped uprights linked by 30 lintels built outside the
double bluestone circle. Altar stone perhaps placed within the trilithon
horseshoe. Four Station stones. A D-shaped rammed chalk floor
(?structure) around stone 92 at the SE entrance superceded by the south
barrow. Stones B and C removed. Stone 95 (Slaughter stone) erected with
stones D and E added inside the NE entrance. Possible modifications to
the earthworks in the NE entrance. Cremations continue to be deposited
through to c. 2400 cal BC. EITHER stone 96 (Heel stone) added to the
existing stone 97 outside the NE entrance to form a pair fixing the solstice
axis OR the stone formerly in stonehole 97 removed and re-erected as
stone 96 (Heel stone). Ditch dug around the Heel stone (or early Stage 3).
2620–2480 cal BC
3 Bluestones (perhaps from Bluestonehenge) arranged as the central bluestone
circle within the trilithon horseshoe. Main ditch recut. Stones D and E in
the NE entrance removed. Avenue constructed to link Stonehenge to the
henge built around the former Bluestonehenge beside the River Avon
2.8km away. Large pit dug against great trilithon. Beaker-style inhumation
burial in ditch.
2480–2280 cal BC
4 Central bluestone circle and double bluestone circle dismantled and re-built
as bluestone oval of c. 25 monoliths inside the trilithon horseshoe and the
outer bluestone circle of between 40 and 60 monoliths in the space
between the trilithon horseshoe and the sarsen circle.
2280–2020 cal BC
5 Extensive use of Stonehenge with working of some bluestones into artefacts.
Working floor and occupation outside the earthwork on the NW side.
Rock-art including Arreton-stage axes and daggers applied (c. 1650–1500
cal BC) to stones forming the sarsen circle and trilithon horseshoe.
Construction of the Yand Zholes in the period 1630–1520 cal BC.
Numerous round barrow cemeteries built in the surrounding landscape.
2020–1520 cal BC
relationships, re-interpretation of the context of samples and the inclusion of new dates, can
be found in the English Heritage report (cited as Marshall et al. 2012).
Using the revised sequence outlined below, the estimates for the main constructional
phases of the monument have been incorporated into a model (Figure 2) as standardised
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Figure 2. Chronological model for the five stages. Each distribution represents the relative probability than an event occurred
at a particular time. The probability distributions for the major archaeological events at Stonehenge have been taken from
the models described in Marshall et al. 2012 (figs 6–7, 13, 16, 22) and are shown in outline. Other distributions are based
on the chronological model defined here, and shown in black. The large square brackets down the left-hand side along with
the OxCal keywords define the model exactly.
likelihoods to provide an indication of the chronology of Stonehenge through its five main
stages. The model shows good overall agreement (Amodel =115%). The estimates for the
start and end date of each of the five stages are derived from the first and last dated events
in a stage.
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Figure 3. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge attributed to Stage 1 (3100–2920 cal BC to
2965–2755 cal BC).
The radiocarbon dates in plain text quoted below are simple calibrated results quoted at
95% confidence using the calibration dataset of Reimer et al. (2009) and OxCal 4.1 (Bronk
Ramsey 1995, 1998, 2001, 2009). Those in italics are posterior density estimates derived
from mathematical modelling and are quoted at 95% probability (see Marshall et al. 2012:
11–12).
A revised structural sequence
Stage 1 (3100–2920 cal BC to 2965–2755 cal BC; Middle–Late Neolithic)
Stonehenge first consisted of a circular bank and external ditch with an overall diameter of
about 110m (Figure 3). This earthwork was entered by a main access from the north-east
and a smaller entrance to the south. It is not technically a henge, because henges have a bank
outside the ditch, but it conforms to the emergent class of ‘formative henges’ constructed in
the late fourth and early third millennia cal BC (Darvill 2006: 97). The initial construction
of the Stonehenge ditch is estimated to have been completed in 29902755 cal BC (Ditch
constructed: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 6) and probably 29552830 cal BC (68% probability).
The latest dated cattle and red deer bones were 5–435 years (Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 9)
and probably 110360 years old (68% probability) before being placed on the bottom of
the ditch near the entrances shortly after it was cut.
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Within the enclosure is a circle of 56 Aubrey holes, associated with cremation burials, likely
to have originally numbered in excess of 150 (Parker Pearson et al. 2009). The cremation
from the chalk packing within Aubrey hole 32 is probably earlier than the digging of the
ditch (86% probability: Marshall et al. 2012: 16) indicating that the 56 recorded and
projected Aubrey holes around the inner toe of the bank were broadly contemporary with
the digging of the ditch (Parker Pearson et al. 2009). The stratigraphic positions of the other
64 deposits of cremated human bones, many of them at different layers in the ditch, are
likely to place them within Stages 1 to 3, from initial construction to eventual filling of the
re-cut ditch, though further radiocarbon dating is awaited to confirm this. The cremation
burial of a middle-aged woman placed next to Aubrey hole 7 (SUERC-30410: Marshall
et al. 2012: fig. 6) has a 98% probability of being earlier than the ditch. There is therefore
a possibility that the Aubrey holes were dug before Stonehenge’s ditch and bank.
Stones were probably present at the site from its inception. Re-excavation in 2008 of
Aubrey hole 7 suggested that this hole may have held a standing stone (Pitts 2008a),
supporting Hawley’s original proposal (1921: 30–31). The stone that stood in stonehole 97
outside the north-east entrance, together with the stones that occupied stoneholes B and C,
all presumably sarsens, may also tentatively be assigned to Stage 1. The stone in stonehole
97 sat within a filled linear depression which might have been a solution hollow formed
beneath a recumbent sarsen (Pitts 1982, 2008b: 15).
Some of the pits, postholes and stakeholes within the earthwork enclosure no doubt also
belong to Stage 1, and many stratigraphically pre-date stone settings. The only independent
scientific dating evidence for this activity is a terminus post quem, 2580–2450 cal BC (93%
probability;OxA-V-2232-51: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 22) for the infilling of posthole 1884.
Tentatively assigned to this stage are five groups of postholes, although others undoubtedly
existed in areas as yet unexcavated, or were destroyed without record by antiquarian digging.
The southernmost group forms a passageway leading from the south entrance through the
earthwork enclosure through a fac¸ade of posts towards the centre of the site (Structure 1 on
Figure 3). The spatial patterning of postholes in the centre is suggestive not of a circular
structure, as might be expected, but a series of separate structures of which three appear to
be rectangular in shape. Structure 2, north-east of the passageway, has a stonehole near the
centre. There are other single stoneholes to the west and north-west. A sixth structure in
the north-eastern entrance comprises a rectangular arrangement of more than 50 posts, the
ends of which have been truncated to the east by later modifications to the main earthwork
ditch (Cleal et al. 1995: fig. 68) in Stage 2 (see below). Parallel to the axis of this structure,
some 20m further out to the north-east, is a line of four postholes at intervals of 2m. The
stones that once occupied stoneholes 97, B, and C, already mentioned, may also be part of
this structure. Recent intensive survey of the site has revealed two features that could belong
to this stage or even earlier but are too uncertain to be included. These are a low mound,
measuring about 16 ×14m and c. 0.4m high (although this may be a spoil heap), and the
so-called north barrow (Field et al. 2010: 34–35).
Over the four centuries included in Stage 1, a great deal happened and arrangements
were episodically changed. Not all the structural elements should be seen as having existed
contemporaneously. Indeed, all of the postulated timber structures would have had but
fleeting existences in the unfolding sequence of activities. Some of the Aubrey holes had
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cremations inserted into their upper fills perhaps after the removal of stones or posts.
Culturally, these activities are associated with the users of Grooved Ware pottery. The ring
of about 25 monoliths popularly known as ‘Bluestonehenge’ beside the River Avon at
West Amesbury was probably constructed during this stage although a robust date for its
construction has not yet been obtained (Parker Pearson et al. 2010).
Stage 2 (2760–2510 cal BC to 2470–2300 cal BC; Late Neolithic)
This relatively short stage was probably the most significant in the overall history of
Stonehenge, as the site was transformed from something fairly commonplace to a structure
quite unique in the ancient world. Something of the complexity of the changes made can
be seen from the fact that the available evidence allows at least two equally likely scenarios
to the way events unfolded (Figures 4 and 5).
The earliest stone structure in the centre of the site comprised the five sarsen trilithons
(each a pair of uprights joined at the top by a lintel), arranged in a horseshoe plan open
to the north-east and usually referred to as the trilithon horseshoe. The axis of this setting
has a solstitial alignment marked to the north-east by the rising midsummer sun and to
the south-west by the setting midwinter sun. This became Stonehenge’s principal axis.
Although the summer solstice nowadays attracts most attention, the arrangement of the
trilithon horseshoe strongly suggests that its principal focus was the midwinter solstice. The
estimate for the construction of this structure is derived from a single antler pick (OxA-4840)
in the socket for stones 53/54 of 25852400 cal BC (93% probability:Last sarsen trilithons:
Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 22); two other samples once believed to date the construction of
the great trilithon (stones 55/56) cannot now be accepted (Parker Pearson et al. 2007: 626).
Outside the trilithon horseshoe, the double bluestone circle was created, marked by the Q
and Rholes. The axis of this arrangement is the same as the trilithon horseshoe, with an
entrance passage on the north-east side (Cleal et al. 1995: figs. 81 and 82). Around the east
side of the double bluestone circle, the bluestones were set within dumbbell-shaped sockets
as radially set, paired stones. Qhole 13 was examined in 2008 (Darvill & Wainwright 2009:
12) but found to have been heavily disturbed by later cuts. On the south and west sides,
only a single line of stoneholes was detected by Atkinson, leading him to suggest that the
structure was perhaps never completed (1979: 204). It is possible that some of the Qand R
holes on these sides were eroded away by later activities (Darvill’s preference). Alternatively,
there was never more than a single circuit in this area (Parker Pearsons preference).
Some or all of the Qand Rholes might once have held the bluestone pillars formerly
standing in the Aubrey holes and moved into the centre of the monument in Stage 2. It is
further assumed that the bluestones used for the double bluestone circle were later reused
in Stage 4 to form the structures known as the bluestone oval and the outer bluestone circle.
This could explain why at least three of the bluestones at Stonehenge are topped with tenon
projections, why two have pairs of mortise holes (and were therefore formerly lintels), and
why two have tongue-and-groove joining. From the positions of the two bluestone lintels in
later arrangements, they may have been used to frame entrances into the double bluestone
circle on the north-east and south sides, echoing the two entrances through the enclosure
ditch. How many of the other bluestones in the double bluestone circle were dressed is not
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Figure 4. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge attributed to Stage 2 (2760–2510 cal BC to
2470–2300 cal BC) arranged as early and late sub-stages in Scenario 1.
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Figure 5. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge attributed to Stage 2 (2760–2510 cal BC to
2470–2300 cal BC) arranged as early and late sub-stages in Scenario 2.
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known. There are no dated samples associated with the construction of the double bluestone
circle, although a sample from the backfill of an unidentified Qhole provides a terminus post
quem for its slighting in Stage 3 of 24652220 cal BC (OxA-4901: Marshall et al. 2012: fig.
22), suggesting that it was built in Stage 2.
Outside the double bluestone circle was the sarsen circle,alsosetupinStage2.Itis
likely that the sarsen circle originally comprised 30 dressed sarsen uprights linked at the
top with 30 lintels with an overall external diameter of c. 29.6m. The construction of this
component is complicated and has long been recognised as utilising techniques commonly
seen in timber buildings (Atkinson 1979: 177). All the visible pillars and lintels in the
sarsen circle were dressed, an activity that seems to have taken place outside the earthwork
enclosure to the north. The gap between stones 1 and 30 (north-east) is slightly larger than
elsewhere in the preserved sections of the sarsen circle, presumably to respect the principal
axis and north-eastern entrance, while stone 11 (south) is narrower and shorter than the
others perhaps to somehow mark the southern entrance (or it may even have been a later
replacement). Five of the uprights on the south-west side (stones 13, 17, 18, 20 and 24) are
missing, together with 24 of the lintels, which has led to suggestions that the sarsen circle
was never completed (Ashbee 1998). More likely, however, is that stones were robbed in
historical times since, in the case of stones 13 and 20, there is evidence of their original
sockets (Cleal et al. 1995: plan 2). The best estimate for the date of construction of the
sarsen circle, from an antler pick (UB-3821) in the socket around stone 1 is 2580–2475 cal
BC (Last sarsen circle: fig. 22: Marshall et al. 2012).
On purely practical grounds it seems likely that the sarsen circle was built after the
construction of the trilithon horseshoe. How exactly the sequence of events within Stage
2 unfolded is more difficult and two possible scenarios are presented here. In the first
(Figure 4), the trilithon horseshoe is initially surrounded by the double bluestone circle and
then years, decades, or centuries, later the sarsen circle is added. Alternatively (Figure 5),
the trilithon horseshoe, the double bluestone circle and the sarsen circle might have been
erected in relatively rapid succession. The Altar stone, a former standing stone lying prone, is
traditionally associated with the trilithon horseshoe because of its position and is therefore
tentatively included in the Stage 2 structure though it could date to any point before the
collapse of the great trilithon on top of it. The great trilithon collapsed after the building of
the Stage 4 bluestone oval (2205–1925 cal BC:Last bluestone horseshoe: Marshall et al. 2012:
fig. 22) but before the earliest plans were made of Stonehenge in the seventeenth century
AD. Thus the Altar stone could have been laid in its current position at any point between
the Neolithic and the early modern era.
Other components that can tentatively be attributed to Stage 2 include the four Station
stones, of which only two now survive (stones 91 and 93), positioned just inside the enclosure
bank to form a rectangle with astronomical sightlines (Ruggles 1997: 219–20). Their north-
east/south-west solstitial axis is the same as that of the sarsen circle, double bluestone circle
and trilithon horseshoe: towards the midsummer sunrise to the north-east and the midwinter
sunset to the south-west. Their north-west/south-east axis is aligned approximately on the
major southern moonrise (full in summer) and the major northern moonset (full in winter).
Stone 94 forming the north-west corner of the rectangle was placed within the existing north
barrow. Stone 92 diagonally opposite stood in the centre of the packed chalk floor sealing
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Aubrey holes 17 and 18, interpreted as the remains of a D-shaped non-domestic building
(Parker Pearson et al. 2009: 33–34). Whether stone 92 was inserted into the floor, or the
floor was built around a pre-existing stone is unclear from the excavated evidence (Parker
Pearson et al. 2009: 33–34). By the later part of Stage 2, stone 92 lay within what is called
the south barrow: a low mound surrounded by a shallow ditch tight against the inside edge
of the enclosure earthwork.
The arrangement of stones around the north-east entrance changed during Stage 2.
The stones in sockets B and C (see Stage 1) were removed and perhaps reused. Stone 96
(the Heel stone) was set up 2m south-east of stonehole 97. One interpretation (Darvill’s
preference) is that these two stones formed a pair of monoliths straddling the principal axis
and physically marking the sightline from the centre of the monument to the position of the
midsummer rising sun on the north-eastern horizon (Pitts 1982, 2000: 149–50). Within
this interpretation, the Heel stone’s encircling ditch was dug late in Stage 2 or perhaps early
in Stage 3 when stone 97 was removed (Figure 4). An alternative interpretation (Parker
Pearsons preference) is that the Heel stone is the monolith originally standing in stonehole
97, later being transferred to its present location (Pitts 2008b: 15) and surrounded by a ditch
late in Stage 2 (Figure 5). Stones D, E and 95 (the Slaughter stone) were set up to provide a
short fac¸ade in the north-eastern entrance through the earthwork enclosure which was itself
perhaps modified slightly by removing some of the bank and levelling the ditch on the east
side in order to provide a more symmetrical gap either side of the principal axis (Cleal et al.
1995: 139). Two antler picks dated from stonehole E (OxA-4837 and OxA-4877) provide
an estimate for its erection of 24702275 cal BC (90% probability:Last stonehole E: fig. 22:
Marshall et al. 2012).
Culturally, Stage 2 is associated with the users of Grooved Ware and took place broadly
contemporaneously with the construction and use of Woodhenge, three timber monuments
south of Woodhenge, and the southern and northern timber circles and the houses and
settlement at Durrington Walls (Parker Pearson et al. 2007).
Stage 3 (2405–2225 cal BC to 2300–2100 cal BC; Chalcolithic)
During the two centuries or so represented by Stage 3, Stonehenge was in a period of
transition (Figure 6). The stone circle at West Amesbury known as Bluestonehenge was
dismantled and a classic henge with bank and internal ditch about 35m in diameter was
constructed there around the area in which the circle had previously stood. It is possible, but
unproven, that the 25 or so pillars (interpreted as bluestones on the basis of their imprints)
were taken to Stonehenge for use in Stage 3. The positioning of an arc of five stoneholes
(WA3285, 3286, 3700, 3702 and 3402) imply a central bluestone circle (Phase 3iii in Cleal
et al. 1995: 206–209, fig. 109), which has the appropriate radius and spacing for a circle
transplanted from Bluestonehenge beside the Avon (see above). This arc was cut by a very
large pit of unknown purpose immediately west of stone 56 (pit WA2448; Parker Pearson
et al. 2007: 618–26), which also partly cuts the line of the double bluestone circle. Pieces
of antler from this pit’s fill (OxA-4839: and BM-46) provide an estimate for the digging of
the pit of 24102005 cal BC (Last pit WA 2448: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 22).
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Figure 6. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge in Stage 3 (2405–2225 cal BC to 2300–2100 cal
BC).
In the north-east entrance, there were further changes to the arrangement of stones with
the removal of the stones within sockets D and E to leave only stones 95 (Slaughter stone)
and 96 (Heel stone) standing. The ditch of the earthwork enclosure was wholly or partly
re-cut during Stage 3, perhaps providing the spoil for the counterscarp bank on the outside
perimeter, as well as enhancing the main internal bank. Modelling of the ditch sequence
provides a terminus post quem for the re-cut of 24502230 cal BC (Last re-cut: Marshall et al.
2012: fig. 13).
Later in Stage 3, after the ditch around stone 96 had substantially silted up, the Stonehenge
Avenue was built. This earthwork-defined ceremonial way led from immediately outside the
north-eastern entrance to Stonehenge to the River Avon at West Amesbury c. 2.5km distant.
The first 530m of the Avenue leading out of Stonehenge is straight and follows the line of
the principal axis north-eastwards, but in Stonehenge Bottom it curves eastwards and then
southwards to join the Avon where, by this time, the earthworks around Bluestonehenge
would have provided a riverside focus. Dating the Avenue is difficult: there is evidence for
re-cutting of its two parallel boundary ditches in later times, and it may possibly have been
constructed in more than one episode. Modelling of the available dates suggests the Avenue
ditch was initially constructed in 24302200 cal BC (Last construction: Marshall et al. 2012:
fig. 16).
Cremation burials probably ceased to be deposited at Stonehenge during Stage 3, but
there is some evidence for inhumation. The burial of an adult male in a shallow grave cut
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into the upper fill of the enclosure ditch on the north-west side took place in 2340–2195
cal BC (Beaker burial: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 13). Three barbed-and-tanged arrowheads
embedded in the body were undoubtedly the cause of death while a stone bracer on the
wrist demonstrates that the man was himself an archer. A lost inhumation burial, straddling
the principal axis in the central part of the site, may also date from this period (Cleal et al.
1995: 265) but could equally derive from later millennia (cf. Pitts et al. 2002).
Culturally, some at least of the changes during Stage 3 may be associated with people
who used Beaker pottery. As well as the distinctive Beaker-style burial in the ditch already
referred to, more than 200 sherds of Beaker pottery have been recorded at the site but only
rarely in stratified contexts. Small sherds from the refills of Qholes 5 and 13 appear to be in
context, but sherds loosely recorded from around stones 3 and 53 or 54 (Cleal et al. 1995:
354) may relate to re-cutting of earlier features. In the wider landscape there is also evidence
for a strong Beaker presence, with the burial of the Amesbury Archer, the most richly
furnished Beaker burial in north-west Europe (Fitzpatrick 2011), dated to 2380–2290 cal
BC (95% probability: OxA-13541: Barclay et al. 2011: fig. 58) and the Boscombe Bowmen
dated to 2340–2200 cal BC (OxA-13624: Barclay et al. 2011: fig. 58). Modelling provides
an estimate for the first dated Beaker burial in Wessex of 24402380 cal BC (Marshall in
press). The henge ditches around Durrington Walls (24802450 cal BC: Marshall et al.
in press) and Woodhenge (2480–2030 cal BC: BM-677: Marshall et al. in press) were
dug in this period.
Stage 4 (2210–2030 cal BC to 2160–1925 cal BC; Early Bronze Age)
The two centuries of Stage 4 witnessed the last major reorganisation of stones at Stonehenge
as the bluestones were rearranged to form two new components (Figure 7). Inside the sarsen
circle, the double bluestone circle was dismantled. A single dated sample from the fill of an
unknown Qhole deposited after its stone had been removed provides a terminus post quem
of 24652220 cal BC (OxA-4901: fig. 22: Marshall et al. 2012)
Within the trilithon horseshoe, the central bluestone circle was dismantled and about 24
bluestones were arranged in an oval setting. Stones 67 and 68 of this bluestone oval were cut
into the fill of the large pit WA 2448 adjacent to the great trilithon previously discussed
and therefore date to the period after 24102005 cal BC (Last pit WA 2448: Marshall et al.
2012: fig. 22; cf. Atkinson 1979: 56). This fits comfortably with the estimated date for the
bluestone oval of 22051920 cal BC (Last bluestone horseshoe: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 22).
A second setting, the outer bluestone circle, comprising between 40 and 60 fairly close-set
pillars was constructed in the gap between the trilithon horseshoe and the sarsen circle,
effectively sub-dividing that space into two concentric corridors. Some of the stones of the
bluestone circle cut into the refilled pits of the earlier double bluestone circle. Stone 41,
most of which is now missing, probably cut the fill of pit WA 2448 and thus has the same
stratigraphic relationship as the bluestone oval. Dates derived from antler (OxA-4900) and
animal bone (OxA-4878) from the fill of the socket for stone 40c provide an estimate for
its completion of 22752030 cal BC (Last bluestone circle: Marshall et al. 2012: fig. 22).
It is assumed that the 80 or so stones used to construct the bluestone oval and the bluestone
circle represent the reuse of bluestones from earlier structures at or near Stonehenge.
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Figure 7. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge in Stage 4 (2210–2030 cal BC to 2160–1925 cal
BC).
Certainly, these two sources would provide about the right number of stones, although
the possibility of further material derived directly from west Wales cannot be ruled out.
Only 43 of them survive on the site as stones or stumps. Some pieces of bluestone were
worked on site into tools of various kinds, as indicated by discarded rough-outs. Other
bluestones were broken up much later, during Roman times and perhaps after (Darvill &
Wainwright 2009). Indeed, it seems highly likely that removal of at least seven pillars at the
northern end of the bluestone oval, to create a bluestone horseshoe (Atkinson 1979: 80–82;
Cleal et al. 1995: 231), was actually carried out in the Roman period. Culturally, users of
Beaker pottery were responsible for the activities represented in Stage 4.
Stage 5 (2010–1745 cal BC to 1620–1450 cal BC; Early–Middle Bronze Age)
In the centuries following 2010–1745 cal BC (First first stage 5:Figure2)Stonehenge
continued to be used, new features added and details changed (Figure 8). More than 150
sherds of Late Beaker, Food Vessel and Collared Urn style pottery attest these activities (Cleal
et al. 1995: 365–66). The carvings of Arreton-Down-tradition bronze axes and daggers on
stones in the sarsen circle and the trilithon horseshoe can be attributed to Stage 5 on the basis
of independent dating of these Wessex II metalworking traditions to the period 1750–1500
cal BC (Needham et al. 2010: tab. 1). Bluestones and, to a lesser extent, sarsens were being
broken up during Stage 5 as clearly shown by the debris associated with a working floor and
small structure just outside the earthwork enclosure west of the Heel stone.
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Figure 8. Summary plan showing the main components of Stonehenge in Stage 5 (2020–1745 cal BC to 1620–1450 cal
BC).
The last main structural alteration at Stonehenge itself in prehistoric times occurred
during the Middle Bronze Age when the two concentric circles of pits, known as the Yand
Z holes were dug outside the sarsen circle. It seems they were left open and became filled with
windblown sediments, most likely blown in from cultivated areas in the vicinity, although
we cannot rule out the possibility that some or all of the Yand Zholes actually held small
standing stones that, on their removal, left hollows to fill with windblown sediments. Low
ridges recently identified outside each pit-ring may be either hedge lines or the remains of
spoil heaps created when they were first dug (Field et al. 2010: 34).
In the environs beyond Stonehenge, the development and use of extensive round barrow
cemeteries within the surrounding landscape dominated activity through the early part of
this stage.
Conclusions
The remodelled chronology of the Stonehenge presented here provides a new interpretation
of this iconic monument’s complex constructional sequence. Over 15 centuries, the site went
through many structural changes in what could be seen as a long-term process of alteration,
punctuated by major episodes of construction. Stonehenge was a monument first created
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in the middle Neolithic period, whose power and influence was continually revived—most
recently in modern times.
Acknowledgements
Thanks to Vanessa Constant and Irene Deluis for preparing the drawings accompanying this paper, and to Alex
Bayliss, Amanda Chadburn and Susan Greaney for commenting on an earlier draft.
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... Stonehenge is one of the most iconic ancient historic monuments in Europe, first constructed in late Neolithic times, around 3000 B.C., though added to and reconfigured over the following 1500 years (Darvill et al., 2012). Understanding the provenance of the megaliths used in the construction of the monument informs our understanding of early Neolithic populations, their distribution, and their interactions. ...
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The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge's bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.<br/
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Recent excavations for the Army Basing Programme on the periphery of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site have revealed extensive evidence of Early, Middle and Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity, including a causewayed enclosure, burials, occupation, pit groups, henges, post alignments and circles. Several of these either incorporate or refer to features of the landscape such as solution hollows, dry valleys, hilltops and rivers, as well as to astronomical phenomena. An appraisal of this evidence alongside other recent programmes of research around Stonehenge suggest an accreting pattern of development of this landscape that begins in the 38th century BC, and which throws new light on the location and meaning of several of the ceremonial earthworks, including Stonehenge itself.
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