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Television Media Science

Excavations at Stonehenge May Answer Questions 160

Smivs writes "The BBC are getting set to fund a dig at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The two-week dig will try to establish, once and for all, some precise dating for the creation of the monument. An article from the BBC news website explains how the dig will investigate the significance of the smaller bluestones that stand inside the giant sarsen pillars. 'Researchers believe these rocks, brought all the way from Wales, hold the secret to the real purpose of Stonehenge as a place of healing. The researchers leading the project are two of the UK's leading Stonehenge experts — Professor Tim Darvill, of the University of Bournemouth, and Professor Geoff Wainwright, of the Society of Antiquaries. They are convinced that the dominating feature on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire was akin to a "Neolithic Lourdes" — a place where people went on a pilgrimage to get cured. Modern techniques have established that many of these people had clearly traveled huge distances to get to south-west England, suggesting they were seeking supernatural help for their ills.'"
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Excavations at Stonehenge May Answer Questions

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  • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Monday March 31, 2008 @11:24PM (#22927710) Homepage Journal
    Pardon me, but I'm skeptical when I hear all of the sweetness and light interpretations. How about something more bloodthirsty, but just as reasonable?

    A significant proportion of the newly discovered Neolithic remains show clear signs of skeletal trauma. Some had undergone operations to the skull, or had walked with a limp, or had broken bones.
    Slaves, kidnapped in other parts of England, forced to work building the monument. They had lots of skeletal injuries because it was dangerous work. ( Impromptu graveyards near the Egyptian pyramids had lots of crunched skeletons also )

    ...sacred circle at the monument is dominated by bluestone chippings...
    Theses were war trophies, brought home and shattered to destroy their magic.
  • by woolio ( 927141 ) on Monday March 31, 2008 @11:53PM (#22927848) Journal
    They've found evidence of healing from the cranial modifications and they've found the tools used - superior to anything less than modern surgical steel ... Also, the Neolithic people were bigger on stealing magic for their own use than destroying it.

    Advanced medical technology? Magic? These don't seem to go together...

  • by MrPloppy ( 1117689 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:03AM (#22927902)
    Yeah you must be right, I am sure the researchers have no idea what their talking about and came up with their ideas whilst throwing back beers at the pub in Amesbury. "Theories about Stonehenge are cheap; proof is precious," commented BBC Timewatch editor, John Farren.
  • by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:04AM (#22927904) Homepage

    Researchers believe these rocks, brought all the way from Wales, hold the secret to the real purpose of Stonehenge as a place of healing.

    Sounds like they've already made up their minds.

    Of course, this could be bias introduced by the uninformed.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:12AM (#22927940) Homepage Journal
    Advanced medical technology? Magic? These don't seem to go together...

    Advanced medical technology and medicine-man magic do not go together, and I seriously question the interpretation being given on those grounds. Medical experts (for the time) would not have relied on 250-tonne talismen. Now, if someone were to suggest that this was a national hospice or retirement home, where nobody seriously expects to physically recover but where some sort of emotional "recovery" was desired in their final days, that I could see. And, yes, I doubt their knowledge of psychology was up to much, so that might well have been "magic" to some.

  • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:20AM (#22927976) Homepage
    It's a hypothesis that they're testing.. Why does everyone on Slashdot think that they know better than the people who spend their free time studying this stuff?
  • by diggyk ( 900186 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:50AM (#22928120)
    You mean you've never met a Christian or otherwise religious doctor?
  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:58AM (#22928150)

    Advanced medical technology? Magic? These don't seem to go together...

    The ability to precisely cut into the skull, combined with a possibly entirely coincidental therapeutic effect, does not indicate "advanced medical technology." Relieving intracranial pressure can lessen the degree of brain injury, yes -- but there is nothing to suggest that trepannation was carried out because of this understanding. It was most likely carried out in a belief that it allowed evil spirits, gasses, or whatever else, to escape the skull.

    In other words, it is a sign of magical belief, not a repudiation of it.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @01:01AM (#22928168) Homepage Journal
    For 90% of Slashdot, its the reason for being. For Slashdotters familiar with British archaeology, there is also a certain level of malice. Many sites in Britain were plundered for treasure by the profession, destroying much. That's why Silbury Hill needed emergency repairs - the damage was about to destroy the remains. We also remember Woodhenge, whose postholes were pumped with concrete, destroying any archaeological data to be had. We remember Seahenge, where the site was destroyed and then the notes kept secret (so when a fire destroyed the warehouse they were in, the data was lost forever). We remember listed monuments, such as a Napoleonic wall in Derbyshire, being illegally destroyed with English Heritage remaining silent. We remember English Heritage destroying more than a few ancient buildings themselves. We remember the campaign to drive a road underground by Stonehenge, which would have destroyed the very sites they are now uncovering.

    I think, from what I've seen, that this work is competently done. But to trust an archaeologist much beyond that is asking a lot.

  • by p0tat03 ( 985078 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @01:04AM (#22928182)
    Bias is unavoidable. As long as there are other people studying to prove different theories, we'll be fine. Our main trouble would be if everyone unites behind a single theory, then we don't get anywhere unless completely incontrovertible evidence is (accidentally) discovered disproving it.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @01:30AM (#22928264) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes the explanations of the day didn't make complete sense, but they weren't always entirely superstition either. Take the practice of bleeding as a medical treatment. Nosebleeds can be a symptom of high blood pressure; seeing a nosebleed, the medieval doctor thinks "this fellow has too much blood and it's forcing its way out, let's remove some of it and relieve the pressure"... which reduces blood pressure, if only temporarily.

    I'd guess the idea of trepanning came from something similar -- the patient showed signs of pressure inside the skull (bulging eyes, bleeding from the ears, etc.) and the doctor of the day did the obvious to let the excess out, much as one might puncture a blister to relieve pain and pressure.

    The logic may not have been complete by modern medical knowledge and standards, but I think assuming it was all a belief in spirits gives too much credit to concurrent religious powers (the people most likely to keep written records) who didn't want anyone other than their gods to be seen as having any power over your health.

  • by Anubis350 ( 772791 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:41AM (#22928690)
    We remember Seahenge, where the site was destroyed and then the notes kept secret (so when a fire destroyed the warehouse they were in, the data was lost forever)

    Links? All I can find is that English Heritage moved the site, under controversy (mostly, it seems, by modern "druids" who have no connection to whatever religion or culture built the site, and no idea of it's original purpose), to be preserved instead of allowing the sea to destroy it. It was studied, and the findings were published in Nature []. It's going to be open to the public, preservation work now done, this month in Lynn Museum [], near the original site.

    So, do you have any proof to this or any other claim, or are you just trolling?
  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @09:51AM (#22930254)

    The interpretations are what the physical evidence points to, it was almost certainly a religious structure after all.

    Not that I disagree with you...

    But this statement reminds me of things said when we first started investigating ancient writing - that writing was used almost exclusively for religious purposes.

    Or so we thought until we started translating the stuff - then we found it was mostly tax records....

  • by trooper9 ( 1205868 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @10:06AM (#22930344)
    Just from reading the article, it seems that the people who are doing the study have a preconceived notion of what they want to find or will find. And in just two weeks. Is this a science-like fluff piece by the BBC or is this supposed to be a true scientific dig that will be documented by the BBC?
  • by tpz ( 1137081 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @10:39AM (#22930592)

    Advanced medical technology and medicine-man magic do not go together
    I suspect that plenty of Christians (and other religious folk) would disagree with that statement, if only they didn't abjectly (and unfairly) disagree with the "medicine-man" part of it. Advanced medical technology and medicine-man magic most definitely do go together, even now in 2008. Not that I subscribe to the latter, of course. ;)
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:12PM (#22931302) Journal
    Last I've seen some numbers, it was closer to 50-50 between civillians and soldiers. That's including the 5 to 8 million USSR civillians killed in the Holocaust. Well, ok, maybe closer to 60-40, but still, the military deaths do come relatively close AFAIK. Still, I see your point.

    But more importantly, you illustrate an aspect that I failed to: that it took some senseless mass murders of epic proportion to come even to 13.71% number. If that senseless extermination policy on one side and Stalin's own terror on the other, didn't exist, the casualties of modern war would look even more tame compared to tribal warfare. Without all that senseless genocide, i.e., what it would have been if it were just the war alone, the toll of that war would probably have been more like 6% for the USSR. By contrast, your average chance to die by arrow, spear or tomahawk in tribal warfare instead of old age in your tent, could be as high as 60%. That's ten times higher. Mind boggles.

    But again, even including a mass-murder of such proportions that it scared the world, we still arrive at merely a 1/5 of your chance to die in a tribal conflict, for some tribes.

    That's the point I was trying to make. That compared to the stone-age tribesmen, even the most brutal modern war we've had, is actually less of a massacre. Even the fire-bombing of Dresden or Tokyo, or the nuclear bombs at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, don't come even close to the percentage of people killed with stone axes and stone-tipped arrows in tribal conflicts. I find that a scary thought.

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