Solving the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge

We’ve helped re-write the history of one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments – Stonehenge.

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For centuries scientists and historians have argued over the meaning and purpose of Stonehenge.

Now a research team, which included staff from our Departments of Archaeology and Chemistry, believes it has finally solved many of the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge.

The team of experts has overturned the accepted view on what happened when Stonehenge was built, and why it was constructed.

Uniting Britain

The findings provide compelling evidence that Stonehenge once united the people of Britain.

They research revealed that the first stones at Stonehenge were put up 500 years earlier than previously thought at around 3000 BC and that the monument we see today was not the original Stonehenge.

The team has also come up with an explanation for the choice of site on Salisbury Plain and proved that Stonehenge was once the site of vast communal feasts attended by some 4,000 people - a substantial proportion of the British population at the time.

Pottery analysis

Researchers from York played a key role in analysing pottery from the site to support the idea of vast communal feasting to celebrate the solstice.

Dr Oliver Craig, from our Department of Archaeology, said: “Our role was to undertake chemical analysis of the pottery vessels scattered across the site of Durrington Walls to determine their contents. It was the largest study of its kind performed at a single site and was principally carried out by Dr Lisa Marie Shillito at our BioArCh facility in York but also involved members of the Department of Chemistry.

“We were able to reconcile different uses of pottery across the site to investigate culinary and consumption activities associated with the use of the public (monumental) and domestic (household) spaces. The results support the broader picture of widespread possible seasonal feasting - largely meat based- at this site.”

The research was led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from University College London and involved researchers from universities across the UK. 

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Our results support a picture of widespread seasonal feasting - largely meat-based.”

Dr Oliver Craig
Director of the BioArCh in the Department of Archaeology
Featured researcher
Oliver Craig

Oliver Craig

Reader in Archaeological Science and Director of BioArCh

With a first degree in Biochemistry and Genetics from Nottingham, and an MSc in Osteology, Palaeopathology and Funerary Archaeology (Sheffield), he took a PhD with the Ancient Biomolecules group at Newcastle.

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