Stonehenge was built to be 'Glastonbury Festival-style party capital of its day'
Stonehenge was built to be the party capital of Britain, rather than for astronomical purposes, experts now suggest.
A Channel 4 documentary this weekend compares the ancient Wiltshire monument to a cross between the Glastonbury Festival and a mass motorway building scheme, with people from across Britain becoming united in their desire to party, feast and erect an impressive stone circle.
The most startling discovery of a decade of excavations, research, laboratory work and the analysis of 63 human remains was a re-evaluation of the settlement at Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, which was probably the biggest town in northern Europe.
Experts suggested the gatherings at Stonehenge were something like “Glastonbury Festival and a motorway building scheme at the same time”, as people spent periods of time each year constructing the site and celebrating massive communal feasts.
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It suggests the act of building monuments was key to those who constructed the site, uniting people from across the island of Britain.
By testing cattle and pig teeth found among 80,000 animal bones at Durrington Walls, Prof Mike Parker Pearson and his team from University College London discovered people travelled with their livestock from as far away as the Scottish Highlands to Stonehenge.
They have also established that there was a peak in killing the animals around nine months after their spring births, which points to the winter solstice being a time of mass feasting.
A second, smaller peak in the slaughter of the animals occurred around the summer solstice, showing people also celebrated then.
Prof Parker Pearson said he believed that people would have gathered from around the country for a burst of activity to work on constructing the site around the solstices, particularly in winter, and then dispersed again.
Evidence of annual repairs and the digging of pits for new plaster for the houses suggests that, as these were not done more than 10 times, Stonehenge was built over a very short period of time, probably only a decade.
“What we have discovered is it’s in the building the thing that’s important. It’s not that they’re coming to worship, they’re coming to construct it,” the professor said.
He added: “It’s something that’s Glastonbury festival and a motorway building scheme at the same time. It’s not all fun, there’s work too.”
The team’s work has confirmed there were two Stonehenges, with the first a large circular structure constructed around 500 years before what we know of as the site, which was a cemetery for high-class families.
They concluded the second Stonehenge was built slightly earlier than previously thought, 4,500 years ago rather than 4,300 years ago.
This gives a clue to the decline of Stonehenge, as it means it was built before the arrival of the “Beaker people”, who arrived from the continent around 4,300 years ago.
The Beaker people brought metal, the wheel and a less centralised political culture to Britain, bringing an end to the mass monument building of the Ancient Britons.
Prof Parker Pearson said his research would now focus on looking at the sources of the stones used at Stonehenge.
Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons is being shown on Channel 4 at 8pm tomorrow.