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Stonehenge

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Chapter 5 Journal Activity

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The Stonehenge People ─ Then & Now

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For all our advances and in spite of huge gains in information provided by the work done since 2003, the stark reality is of what Stonehenge still clutches tightly, her ancient secrets jealously hidden from prying eyes, never to be revealed.

The key to understanding the Neolithic will always rest with the people who lived in that time. But they are diaphanous wisps ─ formless shadows hovering at the fringe of our perception, akin to bleached, dog-eared snapshots briefly glimpsed in some dusty attic scrapbook. Indirectly backlit by the dearth of clues they left behind, we find the broken tool, a random shard of grooved ceramic, or the bone pin from a disintegrated leather bag. But their homes are little more than etchings in the chalk, while tattered hints at clothing or shoes say nothing of those who wore them. The words spoken to instruct, cajole or convey a tender sentiment linger in the ether as soundless, forgotten enigmas. They made music, but we shall never hear it. Their art has vanished forever.

We have a few graves, some of their remains and the odd heirloom, but these tell us little of how they lived, what they thought, or where their inspiration might have taken them. A single chalk-carved pig — a child’s toy — has become the age’s poignant icon, yet serves only to cast a vacant innuendo at the things we share in common. They laughed, loved, cried and dreamed. Huddled clutches of teenaged girls swooned at boastful young men’s bravado while ever-watchful matrons gossiped on. Wise grandparents eternally dispensed unheeded advice …

They certainly had a social caste system, but while we can read the humorous, often blasphemous, graffiti left by the masons of Babylon, Sumeria and Egypt, how the toiling folk of the Stonehenge era felt about their princes, overlords, neighbors or kin are a blank entry in history’s ledger, and always will be.

What became of them? Were they swept away in catastrophe; destroyed by invasion? Were they ravaged by plague or did their static culture simply turn in on itself?
No one had been able to address these questions.

We finally have that answer and it’s deceptively simple — through the detection of strontium isotopes found in all carbon-based life.
When skeletons are recovered we can often determine not just the DNA signature of the individual, but where they were born. This method uses a process whereby the oxygen in tooth enamel is examined, which sources the water that was drunk in early life. The minerals within can then be differentiated literally on a map. This has been done with startling results, with not the least example being the 2002 discovery of the Amesbury Archer, known by this ingenious application to have come all the way from Austria. Julian Richards, in his popular television program Meet the Ancestors, used DNA sampling and the strontium process to make yet another startling discovery.

The people who lived in the time of Stonehenge didn’t commit mass suicide, weren’t conquered, devastated by plague, or perish in the nightmare of some sunless nuclear winter.

They’re all still there.

The farmers, shopkeepers, carpenters and candlestick makers around the wide region are direct, lineal descendants of the builders of Stonehenge, forever and inextricably woven into the fabric of the land itself.

So the next time you’re in Amesbury looking for a cold-chisel to carve your name on those hoary old greyweathers, be sure and ask the shop's clerk what the devil all those pesky daggers and axes are supposed to mean!

Neil

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