Stonehenge on Time Team

Posted: 2009-06-04

Stonehenge on Time Team

I watched Time Team television special on Stonehenge a few days ago. For those who were not fortunate enough to catch the show, it covered new excavations at the famous stone circle and the landscape surrounding it.

The biggest revelations to come out of the excavations are that Stonehenge appears to have been built in a much, much smaller time span than previously thought; possibly as little as a single lifetime. Bones at the stone circle indicate that it may have been used as some sort of memorial to ancestors, rather like a large mausoleum.

Also, excavations suggest that a processional way led from the river to the stone circle. The inference is that people came by river, possibly from Durrington Henge a few miles away, then joined the processional way to the stone circle.

One of the many interesting theories to come out of the excavations is that the so-called 'Aubrey Holes' that run around the outer edge of the henge, originally held standing stones. It was theorized for many years that the Aubrey Holes originally had wooden posts, which were then superseded by stones. That seems to have been debunked by this latest research.

The programme was fascinating, but it also raised an interesting question for me; how much of what we think we know about history just isn't so? New research leads to new facts. New facts lead to new 'knowledge' about the past. Then that knowledge is superseded by new research, or a different interpretation of the same facts. So, do we ever really understand history? What is a historical 'fact' really worth?

Think of the traditional view of Richard III as the hunchbacked archetype of the wicked uncle, who kills his nephews to claim the throne for himself. Well, the hunchback was an embellishment added by Shakespeare, who was writing to appeal to the ancestors of Henry VII, Richard's great enemy. In other words, the 'history' that we learned about Richard III just wasn't the truth.

Maybe the revelations that emerged after this latest research at Stonehenge will some day be debunked by further research. But I suppose that's what makes history so enjoyable to study - after all, its a great big mystery, and that's half the fun!

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