Seasonal settlement near Stonehenge: “We’ve never seen anything like it before”

I like learning.  I like learning about people, and about our past, and about anthropology and archeology and some parts of history.  It’s interesting to me to see who we once were, to revel in and possibly unravel the mysteries of who we could be.  A part of this is extrapolation.  A part of this is examining the facts and hypothesizing what might have been.  A part of this is amazement at new discoveries and presenting those findings to the public.  However, I get quite annoyed at the sensationalism that often accompanies such publication.  The discoveries themselves are quite amazing enough – there’s no need to add hype to get us excited about the possibilities.

Take the recent studies undertaken of Stonehenge.  Fact: Carbon dating of burials has proven that the site was a burial ground for at least 500 years, 400 years longer than previously thought.  Fact: At least one burial occurred at the time the standing stones were being erected.  Fact: a nearby settlement, most likely related to Stonehenge, was seasonally occupied in midwinter and midsummer.  Fact: a wooden standing circle at the settlement was oriented towards midwinter sunrise, as Stonehenge is towards midsummer sunrise.  None of these facts requires statements to dress them up such as, “we’ve never seen anything like it before”, regarding the settlement, or ‘ The actual building and purpose of Stonehenge remain a mystery that has long drawn speculation from many sources’.  Ok, the second semi-quote is from the article itself, so that can be attributed to the flamboyance of writing for AP, but the first is Mike Parker Pearson, archeology professor at the University of Sheffield in England and head of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project.  And he’s never seen anything like a settlement near an ancient burial ground.  Or maybe he meant a seasonal settlement by an ancient burial ground.  I will give him that the site must be unique, but really, he’s never seen anything ‘like it’?

I can’t blame anyone getting excited over what they love.  And this new research is probably giving us great insight into how people living and how they respected their dead and even some of what they may have believed.  But I expect more out of respected members of the field.  I expected comments like “We are now investigating the potential of hierarchy at the settlement,” or “these new findings lead us to suspect that Stonehenge may have been a site of central religious meaning in the area.”  I don’t expect hyperpole that leaves me saying ‘duh, of course Stonehenge is a burial site.  There’s giant TOMBSTONES everywhere.’

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