The Festival of Neolithic Ideas at Stonehenge challenges the notion of it being a magical, otherworldly place and instead explores it with a scientific approach, examining the great circle and its surrounding landscape.
Experts from various fields such as academia, engineering, and craftsmanship will share their knowledge on the scientific methods utilized by ancient civilizations to construct the monument. They will also discuss contemporary techniques that offer a glimpse into the events that took place during prehistoric times.
Dominique Bouchard, the head of learning and interpretation at English Heritage, stated that the event taking place at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on November 11th and 12th is meant to provide a deeper understanding of the site’s place in human history.
According to her, it is often assumed that Stonehenge exists outside the realm of science and engineering, as the history of science is typically traced back to the 16th or 17th century. This idea separates Stonehenge from its historical context.
The result is that it may seem like a mystical and unearthly experience. Our goal with the festival is to emphasize that the individuals who built Stonehenge were similar to us. They were not only planners, engineers, and project managers, but also believers and explorers who made journeys to the stones for celebration. Bouchard further explained, “They were very much like us.”
The primary focus of the festival, which is the first of its kind, will be a new perspective on the construction of Stonehenge. For instance, how were they able to achieve such precise leveling with the lintels? Modern civil engineers rely on lasers, but how did the ancient people position heavy stones into deep holes on uneven terrain and accurately lower them onto the top?
How were they able to ensure that the entire temple was perfectly aligned with sunrises, sunsets, solstices, etc.?
Bouchard stated that the project was a monumental task that demanded a deep understanding of the environment, materials, and celestial patterns. Despite getting lost in a park, the builders were able to transport a large stone over long distances and place it precisely in the ground at the correct height, with everything perfectly aligned. This impressive feat was accomplished without the use of paper or pencils.
The focus of the festival will not solely be on the construction of Stonehenge. Other aspects, such as the use of modern methods like radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, will also be highlighted. These techniques provide insight into the daily lives of prehistoric people, including their diet, clothing, social structure, and beliefs.
Academics from the University of Cambridge, a participating institution in the festival, will discuss the significance of “chemical signals” found in tooth enamel in determining the origins of individuals associated with Stonehenge. These people were not geographically fixed, but instead traveled through the region and shared knowledge and advancements.
The “guerilla archaeology” group at Cardiff University is constructing a temporary prehistoric grocery store to showcase the types of food that were commonly consumed during that time period. This included dishes such as roasted meat, flatbreads, and dairy products, but not much fish.
Bournemouth University academics will showcase an inflatable planetarium, demonstrating the important roles of the sun, moon, and stars in beliefs and practices.
Manchester Metropolitan University and the Francis Crick Institute are collaborating to study the social relationships within ancient societies. This research will focus on the attire, hairstyles, and adornments of individuals living in the Stone Age and how these aspects may have reflected their cultural customs and practices. Additionally, the study will examine the ways in which Stone Age people may have adorned their homes.
There will be displays of talents such as pottery making, cooking, thatching, bronze work, and flint tool making. The National Trust is offering a tour of the landscape to explore the thoughts and techniques of the ancient builders of not only Stonehenge, but also the nearby burial mounds known as barrows.
More information is available on english-heritage.org.uk. The festival is included with the cost of an entry ticket.