This is from my newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press
Evidence of a cemetery for an ancient line of kings unlocks a secret of Stonehenge.
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times
Radiocarbon dating of cremated bodies excavated from Britain’s Stonehenge has solved part of the mystery surrounding the 5,000-year-old site: It was a burial ground for what might have been the country’s first royal dynasty.
The new dates indicate burials began at least 500 years before the first massive stones were erected at the site and continued after it was completed, British archaeologists said Thursday.
The pattern and relatively small number of graves suggest all were members of a single family.
The findings mark a major re-thinking of Stonehenge, which in the past was believed to be a burial site for only a century.
They provide the first substantive evidence that a line of kings ruled at least the lower portion of the British Island during this early period, exerting enough energy to mobilize the manpower necessary to move the stones as far as 150 miles and maintaining that power for at least five centuries, said archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, excavations leader of this site.
“It was clearly a special place at that time,” he said. “One has at assume that anyone buried there had some good credentials.”
Researchers estimated up to 240 people were buried there, all as cremation deposits. Other evidence shows cremation was the custom for the Elite.
Parker Pearson presented the new data at a teleconference. It will also appear in the June issue of National Geographic and the television special “Stonehenge Decoded”, to be shown Sunday.
Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain southwest of London, consists of concentric circles of massive stones-some weighing as much as 50 tons-surrounded by an earthen bank and a ditch.
Some of the stones were imported from Wales, about 150 miles away, and others were quarried about 24 miles away at Marlboro Downs. Construction began about 4,500 years ago, about the same time that the Pharaohs were building the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The structure is alinged with sunrise at the summer solstice, and researchers have long viewed the monument as both an astromonical observatory and a cemetary, although they thought that the burials took place over only a relatively short period.
But research over the past three years has provided wealth of information indicating that Stonehenge is only part of a larger ceremonial and religious complex.
Excavations at Durrington Walls, two miles northeast of Stonehenge, revealed a village that is now thought to contain as many as 1,000 houses and a wooden henge but is alinged with sunrise at the winter solstice. It was built at the same time as Stonehenge.
Parker Pearson now believes that Stonehenge was the “Domain of the Dead,” where the ancient people whose identity is still unknown came together in somber ceremonies in summer to honor the dead. Durrington Walls, in contrast, was the “Domain of the living,” where they would adjourn to hold raucous parties to celebrate life and fertility.
At the winter solstice, he said, people would gather again to inter their dead.
The cremated remains dated by Parker Pearson’s were excavated in the 1950s and have been stored since then in the nearby Salisbury Museum. Remains from an additional 49 burial sites were excavated in the 1920s but were reburied because researchers thought they were useless.
The remains had not been radiocarbon-dated until now because only recently has a new technique been devised for use on burned bones.
One of the remains, from the so-called Aubrey holes or pits surrounding Stonehenge, has been dated to 3030 B.C. to 2880 B.C., about the time when the ditch and bank monument was first cut into the Salisbury Plain.
A second, taken from the ditch surrounding Stonehenge, dates from 2930 B.C. to 2870 B.C. A third, that of a woman about 25 years old, dates from 2570 B.C. to 2340 B.C., when the first stones were being raised at the site.
Few objects were buried with the remains, Parker Pearson said. One significantfind, however; was a mace made out of stone. Such maces have long been a symbol of authority in Britain, and now even Parliament has its own mace.
I’ll make another post later today
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