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OU on the BBC: Timewatch - Stonehenge

Updated Friday 20th March 2015

Two of Britain’s leading archaeologists and world-renowned experts on Stonehenge, Professor Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright, believe they have finally unlocked the mystery of the monument.

Stonehenge Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team A few years ago, a 4,500-year-old skeleton of a man was unearthed in Amesbury near Stonehenge. Buried with the bones was a treasure trove of gold and copper – the richest Neolithic grave ever uncovered in Britain.

A number of arrowheads were found lying alongside the skeleton which became known as the Amesbury Archer. These bones held the tantalising prospect of finally being able to solve the riddle of the stones and answer the question of why Stonehenge was built. It was however, a false dawn – the stones have held onto their secrets.

But now, world-renowned experts on Stonehenge, Professor Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright, are convinced that Stonehenge was a place of healing. An ancient Lourdes. A place where people came on a pilgrimage to be cured. And in a world without modern medicine, the stones had magical powers.

The clues lie in the dead. A significant proportion of the newly discovered remains show clear signs of skeletal trauma. Was the Amesbury Archer one of them? Could he and thousands of others have come to Stonehenge to be healed?

For the first time ever, Timewatch goes back into the vaults and re-opens the cases of bones dug up over the last 200 years. Britain’s leading archaeological pathologist, Jackie McKinley, uses her unparalled expertise and the latest scientific techniques to uncover startling new evidence that Stonehenge was more than just a place of worship.

She makes the bones talk and uncovers a brutal murder, amazing examples of Neolithic neurosurgery and a catalogue of injury and illness which reveals an entirely new picture of life in ancient Britain.

And the bones hold other secrets. By scientifically analysing the teeth of the dead it’s now possible to establish exactly where they came from. Amazingly, a large proportion of the people buried here came from a long way away.

For Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright, what brought them here were the stones. Not the huge sarsens which dominate the architecture of Stonehenge but the much smaller bluestones in the centre of the monument.

They were the first stones to be erected and they came from much farther away than the sarsens. These stones travelled over 200 miles from the top of a mountain in Wales.

Darvill and Wainwright have traced them back to the exact spot in the Preseli hills in the far West of the principality. A huge outcrop of bluestones dominates this wild and beautiful landscape. Overlooking them is a bluestone circle which is virtually an exact replica of the circle at Stonehenge.

And surrounding them is a collection of springs which have ancient healing properties. Neolithic inscriptions are marked on the bluestones nearby. One of them is marked with the ancient Welsh name for cough.

Wainwright and Darvill believe that these stones were healing stones and that this was the reason they were transported such an enormous distance to Stonehenge. It was these stones' magical qualities that transformed the monument and made it into a place of pilgrimage for the sick and injured of the Neolithic world.

The stones and the bones tell a new story of one of the wonders of the world. Now, for the first time there’s a convincing new case being made that finally helps explain the point and purpose of Stonehenge and may finally solve the riddle of the stones.

Timewatch: Stonehenge was first broadcast on BBC Two on 27th September 2008. For further broadcast details, and to watch again where available, please visit bbc.co.uk

Explore Further

Further reading

England: An Archaeological Guide to Sites from Earliest Times to AD 1600
Edited by Tim Darvill, Jane Timby, and Paul Stamper, OUP

Hengeworld
Michael Pitts, Arrow Books

Stonehenge: Biography of a Landscape
Tim Darvill, Tempus Publishing

Stonehenge Complete
Christopher Chippindale, Thames and Hudson

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