Stonehenge Riverside Project: Background part I

Mike Parker Pearson


Stonehenge Riverside Project

Stonehenge is a mystery for modern times but we may be closer than ever to revealing its purposes. This project aims to develop new interpretations of this monument through analysis of its chronological and spatial relationships with other monuments and features in its landscape. Within an integrated programme of landscape study and excavation, the project explores the local and regional context of Stonehenge, dating key phases, and providing new perspectives on prehistoric Britain. This is a pivotal moment in the appreciation of this landscape when new interpretations can transform public engagement with this locality and its prehistory.

The primary question is to understand the purposes of Stonehenge in the third millennium BC, not as a monument in isolation but as part of a greater complex of monuments within a wider landscape of human activities. The project's inspiration came from Mike Parker Pearson´s colleague, Malagasy archaeologist Ramilisonina, who observation that Stonehenge was built not for the transitory living but for the ancestors whose permanence was materialised in stone. Stonehenge may not usually be thought of as a 'riverside' site but its link to the River Avon via the Avenue, together with the presence upsteam of the monument complex of Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, highlights a stretch of river which could have had significance as a funerary and processional route in the Later Neolithic. Our work in 2003-2005 has focused on the upstream end of this riverside at Durrington Walls - Britain's largest known henge enclosure - where Geoffrey Wainwright excavated spectacular wooden post circles in 1967 in advance of the re-routing of the A345. One of the entrances of Durrington Walls faces east towards the river and we wanted to find out whether it too had an 'avenue' linking the monument to the river.