Researchers within the Archaeology Group at BU have been investigating Stonehenge and its landscape for over 20 years.
BU’s involvement in the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) from 2004-2009 was led by Dr Kate Welham. It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in partnership with English Heritage and the National Trust and four other UK universities.
The main achievements of this research include: recognizing settlement activity around Durrington Walls; defining an Avenue linking Durrington Walls to the River Avon; re-phasing use of Durrington Walls; discovering an unrecorded henge and stone circle in the southern end of the Stonehenge Avenue; dating monuments associated with Stonehenge; and expanding a landscape model involving a ‘domain of the ancestors focused on Stonehenge’ segregated from and a ‘domain of the living’ along the Avon Valley.
The Strumble-Preseli Ancient Communities and Environment Study (SPACES) project from 2002 to date was co-directed by BU’s Professor Tim Darvill (BU 1991-) and G. Wainwright (formerly English Heritage.
The main achievements of SPACES to date include: locating and contextualizing source outcrops in the Preseli Hills that provided Bluestone pillars used in the construction of Stonehenge; investigating contemporary monuments in the Preseli Hills such as the Banc Du causewayed enclosure and the Carn Menyn embanked stone circle; demonstrating that the Bluestones at Stonehenge were periodically rearranged and broken-up for the manufacture of amulets and talismans; revising the construction sequence for Stonehenge; identifying previously unrecognized structures in the Stonehenge landscape potentially relevant to the use of Stonehenge itself (sites to be sampled in 2014); and developing the ‘Healing Hypothesis’ to explain why Bluestones were transported from west Wales to Stonehenge.
Stonehenge World Heritage Site Archaeological Research Framework (SRF)
Commissioned and funded by English Heritage in 2003-05 this research directed by Darvill provided the academic platform for the development of public policy in relation to future archaeological research.
Seeing Beneath Stonehenge
The award of a Google Factual Research Grant in 2009 enabled BU to create an interactive multimedia tool, presenting the findings of SRP to an international audience. ‘Google-Under-The-Earth: Seeing beneath Stonehenge’ is regularly accessed across the globe, and is an excellent public engagement tool. Furthermore, Seeing Beneath Stonehenge has been used in classrooms to educate children about their local heritage in a visual and imaginative way.
The end of 2013 sees the opening of a new multi-million pound visitor centre Stonehenge.
This includes a life-size reconstruction of a Neolithic house, which is based on the knowledge of settlement activity uncovered during the Stonehenge Riverside Project.
The new centre will also display artefacts uncovered by BU archaeologists during the Riverside Project and from Professor Tim Darvill’s investigations inside the stone circles themselves. These include flint arrowheads, pieces of ceramic cooking pots, and other day to day essentials from Neolithic life.
BU’s Professor Tim Darvill also features as one of the “Talking Heads” in a series of video interviews with archaeologists past and present who have worked at Stonehenge. He explains his research and his theories about what the monument was used for.
All the displays are presented in relation to a “time-line” for the Wessex region that is largely based on a new chronology for sites in the area established by the research carried out by Dr Welham and Professor Darvill.
Other recent management works in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site include: new public information boards erected at Durrington Walls in 2010, based on SRP research, used by a stream of international visitors; resiting fences and creating archaeologically meaningful gateways in relation to the Stonehenge Cursus based on results from SPACES geophysical surveys.
Public policy impacts
English Heritage has supported research by SRP, SRF, and SPACES and has used the results to shape major policy initiatives. SRF documentation provided the policy framework for all research undertaken within the World Heritage Site. The Stonehenge Management Plan, a statement required by UNESCO, was revised in 2009 drawing heavily on the results of SPACES and SRP to underpin strategic priorities for 2009–15.
Use was also made of the results from landscape-scale research by SPACES and SRP during two public inquiries held in June 2011 into the closure of the A344 (R13).