LONDON: British researchers have unveiled a new theory for the origins of Stonehenge, saying the ancient stone circle was originally a graveyard and venue for mass celebrations. The findings would overturn the long-held belief that Stonehenge was created as a Stone Age astronomical calendar or observatory.
A team led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of University College London said Stonehenge is both older and had a different function than previously thought.
The archaeologists carried out a decade of research that included excavations, laboratory work and the analysis of 63 sets of ancient human remains.
They said the original Stonehenge appeared to have been a graveyard for elite families built around 3,000 B.C., 500 years earlier than the site that is famous today. The remains of many cremated bodies were marked by the bluestones of Stonehenge.
Further analysis of cattle teeth from 80,000 animal bones excavated from the site suggest that around 2,500 B.C., Stonehenge was the site of vast communal feasts.
These would have been attended by up to one-tenth of the British population at one time in what Parker Pearson said resembled “Glastonbury festival and a motorway building scheme at the same time.”
“What we’ve found,” he said, “is that people came with their animals to feast at Stonehenge from all corners of Britain – as far afield as Scotland.” It appeared the “only time in prehistory that the people of Britain were unified.”
Archaeologists have long argued about its importance to the people who built Stonehenge, ranging from a place of astronomy to one of human sacrifice.
The researchers said their findings gave a clue as to why the monument stopped being used – another mystery that has baffled archaeologists.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 11, 2013, on page 16.