BU academic uncovers Stonehenge truths in BBC documentary

Dr. Miles Russell, an academic from Bournemouth University (BU), has given comment on Stonehenge during a BBC documentary, Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath.

In the programme, archaeologists take a high tech approach to discovering the history of Stonehenge and have started to explore the surrounding areas using 21st century technology to study over ten thousand years of human development.

Dr. Russell’s research has discovered that flint found underground in Grime Graves were also found in the form of prehistoric tools when the digging up of the surrounding areas of the Stonehenge.

The mining of the flint was an incredibly complex and dangerous process with the mines reaching sizes of 12 and a half metres deep. Russell said during the documentary: “These mines are quite an achievement when you think the people excavating these mines were only using stone and bone tools.”

Russell, who is also director of Regnum and co-director of the Durotriges Project, has given evidence that shows these prehistoric communities who built the mines were capable of large scale and complicated projects, furthering the discoveries of how the Stonehenge was created.

The programme is available to watch again on BBC iPlayer.

By Charlotte Cranny-Evans

Charlotte is a graduate of Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. She joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from the college with work experience for four weeks over the summer.

BU research in action at Stonehenge Visitor Centre


A series of reconstructed Neolithic houses have opened at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre, with Bournemouth University research used as the basis for the reconstruction.

Original remains of Neolithic houses were uncovered at the Stonehenge site during the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which involved Bournemouth University staff and students.  The houses, at Durrington Walls, date to the time in which Stonehenge was constructed and are likely to represent the houses of those who were involved with building the monument.

Dr Kate Welham, one of the Co-Directors of the Stonehenge Riverside, said, “I feel immensely proud that the hard work by our archaeology students has ultimately contributed to this fantastic visitor experience at Stonehenge.  To see the result of our research presented in such an imaginative way is extremely exciting, and for it to be such as major part of the visitor experience is a real reflection of just what an important part of the Stonehenge story this work is.”

There are over a million visitors to Stonehenge each year, and the new Visitor Centre, including the work of academics and students from BU, was created to give more information and context about the history of Stonehenge. The new houses take centre stage at the Centre as they are based just outside.

Dr Kate Welham continued, “The houses are really important and such a key feature of the World Heritage Site that English Heritage decided to make them a major part of the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre.  They have reconstructed them and there are five houses which visitors can go into and explore what it might have been like to be living in the Neolithic time. They have been carefully reconstructed using traditional techniques and the original plans and finds from our excavations.

“It is also extremely unusual to find houses from this period and therefore they are extremely important archaeologically, beyond even their relationship with Stonehenge.”

To engage with the Stonehenge Landscape and learn more about the houses and the Stonehenge Riverside Project, download the Google Earth layer – Seeing Beneath Stonehenge.

Prof. Tim Darvill and the sounds of Stonehenge’s ‘ringing rocks’

BU Professor of Archaeology Tim Darvill OBE was interviewed as part of BBC South programme Inside Out about whether the stones used for Stonehenge were picked because of their sound quality.

The feature looked at a recently developed theory which suggests that the Bluestones, which were transported from Wales to make up Stonehenge, were chosen for their resonant sound qualities – which means certain parts of the rocks make a ringing sound when struck.

Professor Darvill, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Stonehenge, was interviewed by presenter Jon Cuthill about the theory.

He said: “We don’t, of course, know that they moved them because they rang. What we can say though is that prehistoric attitudes to stone must have been very different to the attitudes we have today.

“We often think of stone as something very permanent, very long-term, very inert, but we talk about – in a strange way – the living rock. We talk about stone as if it’s got a life to it, it’s got a presence to the landscape that is a little bit more than just a rock.”

Jon joined Professor Darvill, and other researchers, after they were granted permission by English Heritage to test the rocks at Stonehenge to see if they had the same resonant qualities as the ones found in Wales.

“Ringing rocks are a prominent part of many cultures,” added Professor Darvill.  “You can almost see them as a prehistoric glockenspiel, if you like, and you could knock them and hear these tunes.

“The soundscapes of prehistory are something that we are really just starting to explore.”

The research and Professor Darvill’s thoughts were also featured in articles in The Independent and regional press in New Zealand and Belfast. The story was then featured in a number of publications throughout Europe, including Bulgaria, Romania and Norway.

Watch the Inside Out programme in full (available for seven days)

BU’s Tim Darvill speaks to National Geographic

Timothy Darvill, Professor of Archaeology at Bournemouth University, gave his comment in a recent article for the National Geographic.

The article talks about Stonehenge and tries to uncover the mystery of how early Britons managed to move the monument’s enormous stones into place.

Professor Darvill said, “The Sarsens were moved about 40 to 50 kilometres from essentially local sources”.

They were most likely moved over land routes mounted on sleds, which then slid across rollers or rails, he explained. “Plenty of experiments have been done to show this is possible.”

“Some of the bigger sarsens weigh about 40 tons (36 metric tonnes) and would need about 150 people to pull them along,” Darvill added.

Michael Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at University College London and a National Geographic grantee notes that the roller method of transport can be problematic.

Many ancient monuments that we admire today were built without the conveniences of modern technology and with no definite answers, the mystery surrounding their construction continues.

You can read the article in full on the National Geographic website.

Professor Tim Darvill talks about the origins of Stonehenge in The Observer

BU Professor of Archaeology Tim Darvill was interviewed about his research into the origins of Stonehenge, for an article in The Observer.

The double page spread by Science Editor Robin McKie looked at the different speculations and theories around why the monument was built in the first place.

Professor Darvill believes that, as Stonehenge was built using stones believed to have magical healing properties, the sick and wounded travelled to Stonehenge to try and find a cure.

“This was a place for the living,” he said.

“I think that very early on Stonehenge was a burial ground but after 2600BC these burials stop. So how can this be a place of the dead?”

He added that the source of Stonehenge’s bluestones from quarries in the Preseli Hills in Wales, was important.

“These are all associated with sacred springs today,” he said.

“That association is a very ancient one. These stones were brought to Stonehenge because they were thought to have healing properties.

“That is why all that effort went into its construction. It was a place where people thought their illnesses might be cured and their lives saved.”

You can read the full article here.

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