Stonehenge discovery, Stonehenge artifact, Stonehenge meaning
Sang Tan/AP
President of the Society of Antiquaries, Geoff Wainwright, right, and archaeology professor
Tim Darvill give a press conference at the Society of Antiquaries in London to reveal their
preliminary findings about the purpose of the prehistoric Stonehenge monument.

New Discoveries Add to Mystery of Stonehenge

October 24, 2008 09:52 AM
by Denis Cummings
Artifacts found near the Stonehenge site give more clues to the meaning and significance of the ancient monument.

Gold Studs, Gold Belt-Hook and Child’s Toy Found

Tiny gold studs found close to the site of Stonehenge nearly 200 years ago have been rediscovered by a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, who found studs in the desk of his predecessor. The studs, which are less than half a millimeter wide, were used to decorate the handle of a dagger used between 1900 and 1700 B.C.E.

“The gold studs are remarkable evidence of the skill and craftsmanship of Bronze Age goldsmiths—quite rightly described as ‘the work of the gods,’” said David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, where the studs will be put on display.

Archaeologists estimate that there were 150,000 gold studs decorating the dagger’s handle, indicating that the dagger was used by a powerful chieftain. Some believe that the chieftain, buried near Stonehenge at Bush Barrow, was one of the last chieftains of Stonehenge.

The Wiltshire Heritage Museum will also be displaying a second significant gold artifact found at Stonehenge, a gold belt-hook discovered 200 years ago. The belt-hook was discovered near the arm of a skeleton found during an 1808 excavation of Stonehenge.

“Its original purpose is uncertain,” writes the Daily Mail. “Guesses have ranged from an elaborate button to a surveying device for planning Stonehenge.”

Researchers from the Stonehenge Riverside Project, who performed a recent excavation of Stonehenge, revealed that they found what they believe to be a child’s toy. The chalk relic, shaped like a hedgehog or pig, has been dubbed the “Hengehog” and is believed to be, at 2,000 years old, the oldest toy ever discovered in Britain.
The toy was found near the skeletons of two infants and an animal, which was likely sacrificed. Archaeologist Joshua Pollard, one of the co-leaders of the dig, told National Geographic the toy was “likely made as a toy or in memory of the baby being stillborn or dying in infancy.”

The discoveries are part of a rich year for Stonehenge research, which includes the completion of the first excavation within the monument since 1964 and an extensive study of the Aubrey Holes by the Stonehenge Riverside Project.

Background: Stonehenge discoveries this year

This year archaeologists Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill performed the first excavation of Stonehenge in nearly a half-century. They found that the bluestones assembled in the monument were assembled later than previously assumed. They also hypothesized that the bluestones were used for their perceived healing properties, meaning that Stonehenge was a place of healing.

“Stonehenge would attract not only people who were unwell, but people who were capable of [healing] them,” said Darvill. “Therefore, in a sense, Stonehenge becomes [the emergency room] of southern England.”

Earlier this month, researchers from the Stonehenge Riverside Project announced that their findings from an excavation of Stonehenge’s Aubrey Holes indicate that the bluestones were brought to the site earlier than previously thought. They also believe that the bluestones were used in burials and that Stonehenge was used mainly as a burial ground.

“These stones were very closely associated with the remains of the dead,” said Stonehenge Riverside Project archaeologist Mike Parker-Pearson. “There were cremation burials from inside the holes holding the stones and also the areas around them.”

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