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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 Centurix ( 249778 ) <centurix.gmail@com> on Monday March 31, 2008 @11:52PM (#22927842) Homepage
    I lived in Amesbury for a short while (I'd say a stonesthrow away from Stonehenge), Avebury circle is much more interesting, plus it has a pub in the middle with a haunted well. After getting drunk, you can stagger down the road to Silbury hill and fall asleep at the top.
  • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:43AM (#22928092)
    You were modded funny but you bring up a really good point about the myth of the noble savage. There are mass kill sites all over North America where various American Indian tribes stampeded thousands of buffalo over cliffs in order to get a few hundred pounds of meat. I doubt very much that there was much in the way of ancient, mystic, natural magic going on. The average life span of a Neolithic man was somewhere in the range of 29 years.
  • Just saw... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @01:52AM (#22928360) Homepage Journal
    The Grauniad [guardian.co.uk] has an excellent description of the dig and what they expect to find. Knowing they are making such a small dig and that holes are involved likely means they used GPR to sweep the area and find sections of ground that were clearly disturbed in ancient times and were about the right size and depth.
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:32AM (#22928530) Homepage
    Surgeons have experimented with flint scalpels made by modern flint knappers and found them as sharp as surgical steel, easy to sterilize and better at holding their edge. I don't have a cite, but I remember from many years ago reading about a flint knapper who ended up having tools he made used for his own cardiac surgery. Yes, it's quite possible for neolithic medicine men to have better surgical tools than anything less than the best modern steel, even if their understanding of the human body left something to be desired.
  • by DaCentaur ( 1001537 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:15AM (#22928626)
    Why would an advanced (for their time) knowledge of medicine & surgical practices preclude the belief in magic?!?!? Humans are quite individualistic and so it would be quite wrong to assume that there would be a uniformity in beliefs. There have always been AND are always going to be differing groups of people REGARDLESS of the age/era/whatever.

    Some might have believed in magic, some in God/gods, and others in science.
  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:52AM (#22928712)
    AKA "English mindless bureaucracy and cultural vandalism ltd."

    English heritage is the thing we have that, had it existed at the time, would have prevented every single one of our ancient monuments from being built. They also employ people who, not to put too fine a point on it, lie about buildings and monuments in order to get them included in the scope of English Heritage. These are the plonkers who waited till Michael Eavis (he of Pilton Festival fame) had restored the Pilton Tithe Barn, then Grade A listed it, then tried to have the (local craftsmen built) facade of his house pulled down because it was no longer in keeping with their Grade A listed area. These are the low grade semi morons whose ridiculously over the top attempts to get pork barrel funding for the Stonehenge site redevelopment have prevented the relatively minor fixes to the roads around Stonehenge that would do much to ease the congestion. The worst thing about Stonehenge, in fact, is the nasty wire fence around it which is poorly maintained and does much to spoil the look of the site. The next worst thing is the awful visitor centre, which is only next worst because it is less visible from the road.

    I'm afraid that, given the background of English Heritage and the dumbing down of the BBC, this is just a joke claim to try and get some funding for somebody's idiot project. Really we should get them to build a concrete model of Stonehenge - perhaps twice the size because most tourists comment on how small it is - near the Olympic site, then have the whole lot of them and their horrible visitor centre bugger off to London and leave Stonehenge to the locals. It is, after all, a Wiltshire monument, and people from London should stop trying to take over the entire country.

  • by c0p0n ( 770852 ) <[copong] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @04:33AM (#22928838)
    Aye, bizarrely enough it seems from genetic evidence that the first inhabitants of the British isles came from north of what it is today Spain and Portugal.
  • It's even worse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @05:27AM (#22929042) Journal
    It's even worse. Massacring buffaloes, well, I guess some animal rights people would be appalled, but it's really no worse than a modern slaughterhouse. (Though, granted, it does disprove the myth of the enlightened herbivore living in harmony with nature.)

    The worse thing is: we have plenty of proof that they massacred each other just as well.

    E.g., there are remains of a village in Sand Canyon Pueblo which was, effectively, exterminated by some attackers in the 13'th century. (I.e., centuries before those guys saw a white man at all.) The attackers literally slaughtered everyone where they could catch them, smashed whatever they could smash, and burned the village down. It was never re-occupied.

    While that's admittedly a rather extreme example, simple raids to steal each other's food and women were a lot more common. As little as 13% of the tribes could count as "peaceful", in that they only raided their neighbours no more than once a year. So they killed a few, had a few of their own killed, life went on.

    Plus, here's an interesting thought for the noble savage proponents: if those tribes were so peaceful and living in harmony, how'd they get a warrior culture in the first place? You don't get a seafaring culture if you're on a mountain top, and you don't get a warrior culture if you're a peaceful confederation of tribes.

    Or long before Stonehenge or any contact with the white man, in Nubia there's a 12,000 year old cemetery where half the people had died of violence. It would be another 8 millennia or so until their conquest by Egypt, or 7 until Egypt itself got united by force, so it's hard to blame it on learning violence from the Egyptians.

    Just about the only "bright" side is that there's little evidence of neolithic slavery. They just killed male prisoners. If you were lucky, they'd kill you quickly and eat you. If not, they'd slowly torture you to death. (The Iroquois, for example, among many others, were pretty good at it.)

    Women were usually bounty of war, though, so I guess by modern standards it would count as sexual slavery. That practice continued all through the bronze age and early iron age (i..e., as late as ancient Greece and early Rome), by which time though it was properly filed as slavery. (Though still considered perfectly normal and civilized warfare.) Of course, the places which had remained tribal and largely stone age, continued it well after the fall of Rome.

    The history of Europe and Middle East is funny too in that aspect, in that we have the iron age catastrophe. We still don't know exactly what happened there, but whole cities were razed (and some never recovered or were abandoned and never rebuilt), whole populations displaced or enslaved, and generally it's destruction on an unprecedented scale. Europe rushed into the iron age arguably prematurely (bronze was still tougher than early iron) because, whatever happened there, thoroughly disrupted the tin trade, and created a bronze shortage.

    And for a parting thought, here's a funny one: population losses in modern warfare are measured in single digit percent. The USA lost some 0.32% of its population in WW2, the UK 0.94%, Germany lost a whopping 10.47%, and the big hit was the USSR with a whole 13.71%. (And in the USSR, probably half of them were due to Stalin's catastrophic leadership, so they could have been avoided.) The average for all countries involved is 3.70%.

    Well that's peanuts compared to tribal warfare. By tribal warfare standards, anywhere between 25% and 60% of the population would be killed in the nearly continuous raids and fighting. Roll that around in your head. You'd be anywhere between 2 and 5 times more likely to die in a war as a member of some "noble savage" tribe, than in the USSR during WW2.

    Heck, even Leningrad in 3 years of siege, famine and bombing, lost about a third of its population. And we see that as a major tragedy. (And rightfully so.) Now think this: in many tribes you'd be more likely to be killed in tribal war, than if you happened to be in Leningrad in WW2. Now that's a scary thought.
  • Re:It's even worse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @09:35AM (#22930152) Journal
    "...remains of a village in Sand Canyon Pueblo..."

    My understanding (IANAPA I am not a pre-historic anthropologist) is that current speculation about the Sand Canyon Pueblo history is that there was some evidence of cannibalism by the Sand Canyon people over a long span of time, preying on neighboring tribes. The inference is that the neighbor tribes either finally got strong enough or fed up enough to resist, annihilate the Sand Canyon residents completely, and declare the place evil enough that nobody would ever live there again.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @09:55AM (#22930276) Homepage Journal
    The Irish are not British. Talk that way gets you blown up and your family kneecapped.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @12:38PM (#22931588) Journal
    Okay, any time someone mentions trepanation, I have to tell my trepanation story. I went to a conference on psychedelics called Mindstates in Berkeley back in '01. Lots of interesting presentations, but by far the most... intense was a presentation by a woman who had drilled a fucking hole in her own head and made a home movie showing her doing it.

    This was back in the seventies, and her anthropology professor had a theory that trepanation allowed blood to flow through the brain like it does through an infant's more flexible skull, raising the base mental state. So she tries to find a doctor to do it to her. No luck! Who would have supposed it would be hard to find a doctor to drill a hole in your head? Who knew you could do it yourself with a Dremel while filming the whole thing?

    The film starts out with lovely footage of her walking through a park, looking at doves and sunrises. Then she goes to her apartment, sits down in front of a mirror, puts some bandages across her brow to keep the blood out of her eyes, applies some topical anesthetic, cuts open a small flap of skin on her forehead, and proceeds to drill through her own skull. After she finishes, she sews up the flap, bandages up, lights down, end of film.

    The real kicker is that she noticed very little change in her mental state afterwards. Years later, the bone grew back and the hole closed, but by this time she could find doctors in South America more than willing to indulge an eccentric Brit. So she had a larger hole installed. Even though she couldn't tell any real difference.

    The whole time I'm watching, I'm thinking, how do you know when to stop? Seriously, a quarter inch to far could be... problematic. I think I left hand prints gouged into the arms of my chair. Even in a conference about psychedelics, that was by far the most surreal thing I saw.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson