Review: Stonehenge; Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery by Mike Parker Pearson (2013) Assessment 7 out of 10

An extremely readable account, revising the Stonehenge Timeline.

The Stonehenge Riverside Project, which Parker-Pearson led from 2003 to 2009, stressed the unifying importance in the Landscape of the River Avon, proving the Avenue connected it to Stonehenge and a short, 150 metre long, but wide, causeway connected it to Durrington Walls.

Durrington Walls is an exception to the lack of evidence for late-Neolithic settlement. There is evidence for 250 houses in each of its four quarters, making it the largest discovered in Britain. Parker-Pearson suggests the builders of Stonehenge lived here, coincident with he most active phase in re-structuring of Stonehenge. Settlement was short lived. Once no longer occupied, the encircling bank and ditch were dug and Durrington Walls became a henge.

It was thought the Aubrey Holes around Stonehenge originally contained wooden posts. The Riverside Project instead indicates they originally contained Bluestones, as did a separate stone circle, where the Avenue met the Avon, known as “Bluestonehenge”. Bluestones were moved from the Aubrey Holes, and later from Bluestonehenge, and set within the Sarsens.

Stonehenge therefore always included a stone circle, whilst Durrington Walls enclosed wooden circles. Based on ethnographic experience in Madagascar, Parker-Pearson makes much of this distinction, wood representing the transience of life, stone the permanence of death. Whilst it is essentially unproveable, it ties in with the view the Landscape was divided along the solistial alignment between to the NW, Stonehenge and a zone of pilgrimage, burial and funeral rites, and to the SE, Durrington Walls and a zone of festivals and feasting.

There are wonderful sections on both the Sarsen Stones and on the Bluestones from Preseli in the far SW of Wales. Inclusion of the Bluestones indicates Stonehenge’s special quality. They may symbolise the “ancestors”, evidenced by their squat anthropomorphic shape and the possibility the builders recognised the antiquity of Preseli’s chambered tombs and dolmens, believing this was where the ancestors came from. Parker-Pearson suggests Bluestones may have been dragged in long-distance ceremonial relays overland from Preseli, handed over from one community to the next.

Highly recommended. What is remarkable is that, with the work of the Hidden Stonehenge Landscapes Project and that on the Mesolithic site at Blick Mead, Parker-Person’s book may already be out of date

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