Party at Stonehenge. Date 2,500 B.C.

Stonehenge may be older and may have had a different function than previously thought, according to new research from British archaeologists.

British researchers announced on Saturday (March 9, 2013) that Stonehenge – on Salisbury Plain in southwestern England – was used as an ancient burial ground around 3,000 B.C. By 2,500 B.C., the site had evolved to become a gathering place for perhaps one-tenth of the ancient British population. Although the site also has astronomical features, and has long been thought to have been built as an astronomical calendar, perhaps these features were secondary to its main purpose as a gathering spot for a significant fraction of the ancient British Isles.

Mike Parker Pearson of University College London led the research. He was quoted in Physorg.com as saying

In many ways our findings are rewriting the established story of Stonehenge

Summer solstice sunrise.

Stonehenge has astronomical features and has long been supposed to have been built as a sort of calendar. Here is the summer solstice sunrise, viewed from Stonehenge. Image Credit: Stonehenge: Hele and Station Stones

Parker Pearson’s team spent a decade carrying out research which included excavations, laboratory work and the analysis of 63 sets of ancient human remains. Their analysis of cattle teeth from 80,000 animal bones excavated from the site also suggest that around 2500 BC, 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, according to Parker Pearson. He said:

It seemed that ancient people travelled to celebrate the winter and summer solstices but also to build the monument. Stonehenge was a monument that brought ancient Britain together.

Read more at Physorg.com

Bottom line: Stonehenge in Great Britain has long been thought to have been built as an astronomical calendar. New research from British Archaeologists led by Mike Parker Pearson of University College London suggests the site dates from at least 3,000 B.C., was originally a burial ground and later evolved to become a gathering place for a significant fraction of the population of the British Isles.

Gallery: The winter solstice as seen from Stonehenge

Deborah Byrd