Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world. Resurrected about 5,000 years ago in Wiltshire, England, it consists of a ring of standing stones that are set within earthworks. While the original purpose remains unclear, many speculate that it was a sacred site for high-ranking citizens, predominately consisting of men. But a recent archaeological study seems to suggest otherwise.
According to the study, women may have played more of a role near Stonehenge than previously thought. Archaeologists discovered this through an excavation of cremated remains of women thought to be of high status and importance at the historic site. More startling than the discovery of women’s remains themselves, however, was the fact that they actually unearthed more women than men.
This specific excavation, known as Aubrey Hole 7, is just one of the 56 chalk pits archaeologists dug outside of the stone circle, making it one of the earliest accounts of the creation of the monument in the late fourth and early third millennium B.C. Archaeologists withdrew 99 pounds of bone fragments and various other materials. Christie Willis, a Ph.D. student at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, took on the daunting task of sorting through all the material, to which she was able to identify the remains of 23 distinct people, with 14 of them being women.
The study will be published in the upcoming issue of British Archaeology. Of the findings, the journal declared that “Stonehenge was not just a man thing.” It’s a very different idea of what life at Stonehenge was previously thought to consist of, but it certainly prompts the question: Just how much do we know about this mysterious monument? And furthermore: What new facts will archaeologists uncover? An iconic place representing power, endurance, and the unknown, it is nothing short of fascinating, and these discoveries only further demonstrate the need for continued study of this remarkable site.
Archaeologist Mike Pitts, who is the editor of British Archaeology as well as the author of the book Hendgeworld, opened up about the findings of the recent study to Discovery News, saying, “In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women. The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.” He also added, “By definition — cemeteries are rare, Stonehenge exceptional — anyone buried at Stonehenge is likely to have been special in some way: high status families, possessors of special skills or knowledge, ritual or political leaders.”
But how do we know the women the archaeologists found were powerful figures? Both the location and the cultural significance of Stonehenge makes their preeminent position abundantly clear. However, the status afforded to women likely changed over time, probably declining around the third millennium B.C. Indeed, Pitts believes that historical and archaeological proof demonstrates that women’s status has inclined and declined at many different times throughout history.
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