Episode 1: Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons

Welcome to the first ever post on A Series of Small Walls. This post will be all about Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons which aired on the 10th of March on Channel 4 and was to be honest, a rather poor programme. Let me start by saying that I know its intended audience was the general public, not other archaeologists, but this doesn’t mean that it should be allowed to get away with the sort of reasoning and claims which would have academics seething with anger. I’m a firm believer in presenting an accurate account to the public; they’re not children (except for the ones that are) they can take it. So without further ado here are some of the main problems with Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons:

1)      It has been known for about 5 years that the bluestones once sat in the Aubrey holes, it is not a shocking, new revelation as presented in this programme. It has also been known for a very long time that Stonehenge existed as a site before the presence of the sarsens. Admittedly it was Parker-Pearson’s Stonehenge Riverside Project that proved the positioning of the bluestones, but the programme makes it sound like it is breaking news. It’s not.

2)      The first two interpretations presented for the identity of the skeletons are: warriors, because there is evidence of violence in the south, and a religious order, because there was an incense burner in one of the holes. Jumping from there was violence, or there is an incense burner to warriors or priests involves more unfounded assumptions that I care to mention. Even worse though is the dismissal of these ideas just because some of the bodies were found to be women. I know a some feminists that probably wanted to slap Mike Parker-Pearson at that point. Parker-Pearson argues that in his experience you do not get inter sex religious orders or warrior groups, but quite where he has got this certain experience of Neolithic social life I don’t know. To argue from vague notions of modern and known historical groups is far from a valid approach to interpretation. As they are neither of these, they must be part of an aristocracy, because…… For such a supposedly important site, with links to the sun, why not assume that they were sacrifices in the style of Mesoamerican cultures?

3)      The final big problem I have with this programme is the assumption that the Strontium analysis from animal teeth at Durrington Walls demonstrates the “fact” that people came all the way from Scotland to celebrate the midwinter solstice. What it actually shows us is that animals reared in Scotland were deposited there, and nothing about any people. Given that trade was conducted over long distances even then, it is entirely possible that these animals were part of an exchange of goods. Give me some human teeth from Scotland and then maybe you have an argument.

So that’s my view on the programme, what did everyone else think? I hope you’ve found this interesting, and check back soon for more.

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