Nova (1974–…): Season 44, Episode 21 - Ghosts of Stonehenge - full transcript

Who built Stonehenge and why? Groundbreaking archaeological digs have revealed major new clues about Britain's enigmatic 5,000-year-old site and the people who constructed it.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
It's one of the world's most
iconic prehistoric monuments.

Who built it and why

have inspired
countless theories.

Was it an ancient cathedral
or burial place?

Or even a Stone Age observatory
or computer?

There's been so much written
about Stonehenge.

Every generation has come up
with new ideas,

some great insights,
others rather nutty.

Now an archaeologist
has recovered clues

about the people who raised
these enigmatic stones

and what motivated
this extraordinary feat

of prehistoric engineering.

Provocative new evidence
reveals hidden secrets

of the people
who built Stonehenge

and what happened to them.

5,000-year-old bones testify
to the elite families,

perhaps a single dynasty,
that ruled Stonehenge.

Groundbreaking new work
is giving us intimate glimpses

into the builders' lives

and the beliefs that inspired
this unique monument.

Now we know
where they came from,

what they ate,
and how they celebrated.

But what motivated them
to haul some of the rocks here

from outcrops in Wales,
180 miles away?

And can these bones solve
the ultimate mystery:

Why did the power
of the Stonehenge people

finally fade

and their colossal monument
fall into ruin?

Can science finally lay to rest
the "Ghosts of Stonehenge"?

Right now, on

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provided by the following.

The extraordinary story

of the lost builders
of Stonehenge

begins almost a century ago.

A team led by archaeologist
William Hawley

was digging at Britain's
most famous prehistoric monument

when they uncovered
an outer ring of pits.

Digging into them, they found
burned fragments of human bones.

Hawley dug up lots of cremation
burials at Stonehenge,

but he didn't know
what to do with them,

so they were left
with his assistant,

put into sandbags,

and his assistant buried them
in 1935.

British archaeologist
Mike Parker Pearson

was granted special permission
to recover these remains.

Hawley's assistants had reburied
all the bones in a single pit,

so Mike's team was unsure
of what they might find.

I think we just have
to very carefully

loosen the soil bit by bit.

This is desperately

Yeah, it is, quite.


So we're just going to take it
in turns

so long as each of us can stand.

Till the blood rushes
to your head

and you start to feel faint.

That's already happened.

One clue was an entry
in the assistants' notebook

that the remains had been
reburied under a plaque.

Since we dug down into the pit,

we came to a layer
with a lead plaque,

and Hawley's assistant
had had it inscribed to say,

"Here are the bones
of the people of Stonehenge."

Oh, crikey!

We don't see a lot of bone.

But what was beneath the plaque
was a crushing disappointment.

I think we were all hoping
that the two men

who buried these bones
for posterity

would actually have put them
in decent containers.

But all we're really looking at
is very loose cremated bone.

I was hoping
it was going to be easy,

but this is the worst-case

The remains
from all the different pits

were hopelessly intermingled.

We were really hoping

that he was going to have
put them all

individually within the pit,

but they were all
mixed together.

We realized that we were looking

at a great mass
of mixed-up material.

This was going to be
a very long and difficult job,

to disentangle
all the different fragments.

With painstaking care,

they transferred
the jumbled bones to their lab

to begin the arduous process

of sorting through
some 50,000 fragments.

Meanwhile, Mike took a closer
look at the pit itself

and found evidence

that indicated a surprising
new chapter

in the story of Stonehenge.

That story begins
5,000 years ago,

before Egypt built its pyramids.

It was Britain's Stone Age,

when a flourishing
agricultural society,

despite having
no modern technology,

managed a marvel
of ancient engineering.

A circular ditch and bank
surround the enormous stones.

Upright pillars tower
over 20 feet

and weigh at least 40 tons.

Horizontal slabs,
called lintels,

form huge archways.

All these giants are made
of sarsen,

a local sandstone
harder than granite,

yet they were carved and fitted
like woodwork.

Uprights were tapered and topped
with knobs.

These fit hollows on the bottoms
of lintels.

Curved lintels,
joined by tongue-and-groove,

formed a nearly perfect circle.

And despite a slight slope,

this ring of lintels was level
to within inches.

The sarsens dominate Stonehenge,

but nestled among them
are smaller stones,

no less remarkable.

Geologists determined
these are bluestones,

transported here from Wales,
180 miles away.

So who built Stonehenge?

The identity of the builders
has always been a mystery.

Will the bones
that Mike Parker Pearson's team

has found in the burial
pit help solve it?

After removing the bones,

they find a clue at the bottom
of the pit.

What we have here

is an area that is really
quite smooth and flat,

but it's got lots
of crunched-up pieces in it,

whereas around it, we have
this blocky type of chalk.

The chalk at the bottom
of the pit

appears to have been
under pressure

from something
extremely heavy...

Perhaps the base of a stone.

What happens when you put
a great big stone vertically

into a place like this,

it actually crushes the chalk,
so it loses its structure.

It really does look as though

this is going to be the position
within the pit

that the stone
was actually placed.

So it has to have been
fairly slim, narrow stones

put in those holes,

and at Stonehenge,
there's only one candidate:

It could only be the bluestones.

Mike suspected

that the bluestones now grouped
in the center of the monument

had once stood
in the outer ring of pits,

where the cremated bones
were found.

The bone fragments
were buried in the pits

alongside the stones,

and they were crushed down
so tightly

that they picked up fragments

of the calcium carbonate,
or chalk, bedrock.

It's a small piece of bone

completely encrusted
with calcium carbonate.

So this has actually adhered
to the bone

from the surrounding
chalk environment.

The crushed chalk
sticking to the bones

suggested that the burials
occurred at the same time

the pits were dug
for the bluestones.

Mike believes
that makes the bluestones

even more significant.

I think it shows us
something really important,

that there's
a deliberate association

with somebody's remains
and one of these stones.

It's almost like a gravestone.

Carbon dating of the bones

revealed that they were buried
around 3000 BC.

Since it's known that
the enormous ring of pillars

was not erected until 2500 BC,

this means that the bluestones
and the burial pits

were the very first structures
at Stonehenge.

This fundamentally changed
the accepted view

of how we looked at Stonehenge.

Mike's evidence showed

that Stonehenge has not always
looked this way.

In fact, 5,000 years ago,
when it was first built,

it looked like this...

...before the inner ring
of giant sarsen stones

was put in place.

It was a huge
prehistoric cemetery.

The bluestones marked the graves
of the people

whose remains
Mike's team is now analyzing.

So was there something special
about the people buried here?

Who were they?

With the bone fragments laid out
in the lab,

Mike and his team
can begin their analysis.

First, they have to solve

a 50,000-piece
prehistoric jigsaw puzzle.

They don't look like much.

It's hard to even recognize
some of them as bones,

because they're fragments

that have come
through the cremation process,

but if you look carefully
with the expert eye,

you can see that they belong

to different parts
of the skeleton...

The ribs, the vertebrae,
the mandible, the skull...

The first question is, how many
bodies are they dealing with?

Christie Willis

finds a telltale clue.

So the bones that we have found

that are most common
throughout the collection

are the ear bones.

We have one on the left
and one on the right,

and because of this,
we're able to prove

that they are
unique individuals.

So this is one
of the cremated ear bones here,

they are quite easily

Very solid, very compact bone,

with a small hole in here
for your inner canal.

This tiny bone
will allow the team

to determine the minimum number
of individuals in the sample.

Once that's done, they can apply
more advanced tests

to the other bones.

Carbon dating should indicate

if all the individuals died
around the same time

or if bones were added
over decades or centuries.

As Mike and his colleagues
gather their clues,

new research is filling in
a picture that is very different

from the stereotype of
Stone Age, or Neolithic, people.

When you say words

like "Stone Age"
and "Neolithic,"

people's image is often of
hairy, club-wielding cavemen.

We've got to understand
that not only was this

at the very end
of the Stone Age,

when people were busy farming,

these are also people who are
effectively just like us,

anatomically, cerebrally
the same.

What is different

is that their technology
is much more simple.

So they're not primitive,

they're just people
with primitive technology.

The sophistication
of Neolithic society

has been revealed
by a recent find

at Lake Chalain in France,
500 miles from Stonehenge.

Preserved underwater

were artifacts
from a lakeside village

at least as old
as Stonehenge itself.

These items were likely
to have been in common use

throughout Europe
during the Stone Age.

What we can see here

is that people
were incredibly skilled.

This is a little wooden handled
bowl, so beautifully made.

You know, you can...

You can understand immediately
what it was used for.

Very, very simple,
made probably of ash,

with a tiny little handle here,

and, you know, yet it's nearly
5,000 years old.

It looks as if it could
have been made yesterday.

Some of these objects
look very, very modern.

I mean, you can imagine
using this ladle today...

It's, you know,
it's fit for purpose.

It's a natural assumption

that Neolithic people
wore primitive clothing.

But the next discovery
shows this

to be another misconception.

So what we have here is a shoe
that's nearly 5,000 years old,

and it's in incredibly good

And this is made of bast fibers,

and you can see just about
that it was a shoe,

and it's got a sort of seam,
a fold here,

and obviously it will have been
flattened out over time.

But perhaps the foot
would have gone there

and then that would have been
folded up around it.

It would have been, you know,
quite hard-wearing in its time.

These Stone Age artifacts point
to a more civilized way of life

than is often imagined.

But what role did the people
buried at Stonehenge

play in their society?

Mike and his colleagues
are considering

intriguing possibilities.

One theory draws on evidence

that Stone Age Britain sometimes
erupted in violent conflict.

Settlements centuries older
than Stonehenge

were often fortified,
and occasionally burned,

a sign of raiding or warfare.

There's further evidence
of strife

at burial sites
in southwest England.

Early Neolithic tombs
like this one at West Kennet,

15 miles from Stonehenge,

reveal forensic evidence
of violent injuries.

This is the West Kennet
chamber tomb.

We have chambers
on either side of us

that held the remains
of the Neolithic dead.

Rick Schulting is an expert
on prehistoric violence.

Most of the human skeletal

that we have from the Neolithic

come from long barrows
like this.

These were the communal
burial places of the dead.

So this is the kind of evidence
we have to look at,

and sometimes we do find
evidence for unhealed injuries.

So we have a massive...
This is just a replica,

but we have a massive hole
to the head here

that shows no evidence
of healing,

and we do find injuries
like this from this period.

While such injuries could be
from domestic violence,

clusters of arrowheads
at several sites

indicate warfare.

Could the people buried
at Stonehenge

have been a band of warriors

or victims
of a prehistoric battle?

Or could there be
a more peaceful explanation?

Two unusual artifacts

found among the cremated bones
at Stonehenge

suggest a special status
for the people buried there.

One was a mace-head
of polished volcanic rock,

originally mounted on a wooden
staff, like a scepter.

The presence of a mace-head

in one of the burials
at Stonehenge

indicates that that man
was a person of authority.

Another find indicates

this authority might have been
based in religion or ritual.

One of the other grave goods

was a small pottery cup or disc,
which had burning on one side.

It may well be
an incense burner.

So this provides a second clue,

which is that they may have had
some religious role

or religious
or ritual authority.

If Mike is right,

these bones could be the remains
of a religious order...

The spiritual leaders
of their time.

Meanwhile, Christie discovers
another clue

as she continues her analysis
of the bones.

This unremarkable-looking

has a special characteristic

that could identify it
as male or female.

The second-most commonly
represented bone

that we have been able
to identify

is the occipital bone.

We have several samples here,

and it's a bone that's situated
at the very back of your skull,

and we can easily sample these

because they are
much larger fragments.

As each occipital bone passes
through a CAT scanner,

the resulting image
allows Christie

to gauge the bone's thickness,
a reliable indicator of gender.

So here we have the first
occipital bone coming through.

Mmm, it's right at the back
of the head.

Yes, that's all these
different slices, isn't it?

That's right,
that the CT scan makes,

but you can see
as it's coming through,

the sharp rise,

predominant ridge
that is happening.

If we stop it here,
it promptly drops off.

And this is where all the
muscles are coming from,

from the back, to
attach onto this ridge.

That's to be expected
with a typical male, then?

That's correct, yes.

The next specimen they analyze
is quite different.

So here we have the female
occipital coming up,

and we can see as it's coming
through, slice by slice,

the rise is very, very gentle.

Right, yes.

And then it just gently
slopes off.

So that means
we're not really looking

at a cemetery of monks
or male warriors.


So the presence of both sexes
in the remains

make it unlikely
that the Stonehenge dead

were warriors
or an all-male religious order.

It's difficult to be
utterly categorical,

but as a generalization,

it's unusual
to find religious orders

where you've got men and women

or, for example,
warrior battalions

where you've got men and women

The mix of sexes would suggest

that those are
unlikely scenarios.

So who might
the Stonehenge dead be?

The tests on the bones
are coming to an end.

Some 27 individuals have been
recovered from the fragments:

mostly adult men and women,

but also five children.

If not a religious order
or warriors, who were they?

What I think we might
be looking at

is a community...
Men, women, and children...

From some sort
of special selection process.

You could use the word
"aristocracy," an elite.

Radiocarbon dating tests
offer a final clue,

showing that these families

were not all cremated
and buried at the same time,

but over five centuries,
between 3000 and 2500 BC.

If Mike is right,

they were members
of elite families...

Perhaps even a single dynasty...

That ruled over Stonehenge
in its earliest stages.

After cremation,

their graves were marked
by the ring of bluestones.

But why here?

Is there anything special
about Stonehenge's location...

A windswept slope
on Salisbury Plain...

That could explain
why these elite families

were commemorated here
so elaborately?

To help solve the mystery,

Mike starts with one of the
monument's best-known features...

Its alignment to the sun.

Looking at this model,
you can get a real sense

of why Stonehenge has been one
of the most debated monuments

of the ancient world.

It's a massive great edifice,

and of course
the other important aspect

is its solstice alignments.

So in the one direction,

we're aligned
on the midsummer sunrise,

and 180 degrees
in the opposite direction,

the sun's setting.

Visitors to Stonehenge can see

that the ring is arranged
so its center line

points in the direction
where the sun rises

at the Summer Solstice

and sets at
the Winter Solstice...

The longest and shortest days
of the year.

The solstices were significant

because this was a means
of timekeeping.

They define important moments
in the solar cycle,

and particularly at midwinter,

the transition from the old year
to the new.

Throughout the Neolithic period,

the fourth and third
millennia BC,

there are monuments
which have orientations

towards either sunrise or sunset
on midwinter solstice.

Besides the astronomical
alignment of Stonehenge,

Mike suspects another factor
played a part in its location,

an unusual natural feature
in the landscape.

The evidence comes
from the remains

of an ancient avenue
leading to the monument.

This is the Stonehenge Avenue,

the processional route
into Stonehenge,

and it consists of a ditch
on either side

and a bank,

and there's another bank
that runs parallel with it.

The Avenue's twin banks
and ditches are now eroded

and best seen from the air.

Originally, this processional
route led from the local river,

nearly two miles away, to
the site of Stonehenge.

A curious natural feature,

which was here
long before Stonehenge,

may explain its origin.

The archaeology team found that
a pair of deep, narrow channels,

caused by water freezing
and thawing during the Ice Age,

ran in parallel
across the ancient landscape.

These straight lines may have
seemed significant

to Neolithic people,

since they appeared to point
in the direction

of the solstice
sunrise and sunset.

By an extraordinary
cosmological coincidence,

this alignment,

and that direction is towards
the midwinter solstice sunset,

so this must have seemed

like an extraordinary message
from the gods.

It may well have possibly been
the center of their universe.

In a world without watches,
clocks, or calendars,

a place where the longest
and shortest days

were marked by a natural feature

may have seemed more
than a coincidence.

To Stone Age people,

it could have signaled
an auspicious place

to bury their most important

And a place worth marking
with very special stones.

The bluestones that stood
in the burial pits

are unlike any of the rocks
in the local geology.

So where did they come from?

Recent evidence indicates
an exact geological match

in only one spot in Britain...

In west Wales, 180 miles
from Stonehenge.

Here, there are natural outcrops
of bluestone.

But after years of searching,

no one could find evidence
of any ancient quarries.

Mike's team decided to
investigate a promising outcrop

of a distinctive type
of bluestone called rhyolite.

What we've got here are
blocks of rhyolite,

so they're ready-formed
standing stones.

They're still part
of the living rock,

but they're just waiting
to be prized out,

so if we pull this away,

right in front of our eyes,

there is a Stonehenge-standard

So what we're hoping is

that this is actually going
to be part of the quarry

that they came to, to
extract some of these,

and ultimately that end up
at Stonehenge, 180 miles away.

Can the team find
Neolithic artifacts

or any traces
of quarrying operations

at this natural outcrop
of bluestones?

At first, the results
look promising.

We've now opened an excavation
here, and what have we got?

Not just a quarry with
prehistoric artifacts in it,

but something they left behind,

because just over here,

we've actually got
one of the finished monoliths.

This was ready to leave
the quarry,

but the most extraordinary thing
is, they left it.

So by a huge piece of luck,

we have found the smoking gun

that shows that this was
one of the quarries

most certainly for Stonehenge.


most of the possible traces
of quarrying here

turned out to date to
many centuries after Stonehenge.

Yet geological evidence

still points strongly
to this outcrop

as the source of some Stonehenge

and to other outcrops
in this small area of west Wales

for most of the rest.

That poses
an even bigger puzzle:

How did prehistoric people

about 80 two-ton blocks
all the way to Stonehenge,

180 miles away,

long before the invention
of the wheel?

It's a mystery that has led
to many colorful theories.

People get immensely excited
about all the possibilities

of how those stones made it
from Wales to Stonehenge,

because it's so far...
It's well over a hundred miles.

Some have thought, "Well, this
just isn't humanly possible,

"given the technology
of the age.

It must have been space aliens."

Mike has a more down-to-earth

What people often forget

is that we're looking at an age

when devotion
was really important.

This is just one
of a whole series

of spectacular earth-moving
and stone-moving events

that Neolithic people
were not just capable of,

they wanted to do it.

And I think that's the missing
part of the equation,

is that if you have the will,
you can move mountains,

and they clearly did.

Transporting the stones

might have been an effort
that united communities

inspired by the importance
of Stonehenge

as a sacred location

and by the power
of the elite families

who were buried there.

The bluestones raised
in the burial pits

of those special families

created an imposing
ceremonial monument.

For 500 years,
Stonehenge looked like this.

Then a second phase of building
took place.

80 or so giant stones
called sarsens

were dragged from
natural outcrops 20 miles away

and then assembled into a unique
and complex design.

Now, to put up
something like this

must have taken a
very large workforce,

so this is one of the greatest

in the whole
of prehistoric Europe.

In all, the builders dragged,
carved, and erected

2,000 tons of sarsen stone

to complete this phase
of construction.

Its ruins are the iconic
monument we know today.

Many questions remain,

not only about how
the Stone Age builders

pulled off this colossal
engineering feat,

but how did they work
and live here?

And what did this massive
new monument

mean to them?

Less than two miles
from Stonehenge,

at a site called
Durrington Walls,

Mike and his team discovered
a huge village

dating to the same period
as the sarsen circle.

They found traces
of wooden houses

and vast amounts of animal bones
and pottery.

It's the largest Stone Age

ever discovered
in Northwest Europe.

Some of the thousands
of animal bones found there

have been taken into the lab.

They're mostly pig and cattle

and there are hints
they were consumed at feasts

held at a specific time of year.

Pig teeth erupt, which means
they come through the jaw

and out into the mouth

at specific times
during the animal's life.

So by looking at which teeth
are erupted,

we can start to determine

how old the animal was
when it died.

We can then work out
that they were killed

first winter of their lives.

Analysis of the teeth shows
that after a spring birth,

most of the livestock was
slaughtered around midwinter.

What the animal bones
are telling us

is that Durrington Walls
was no ordinary settlement,

lived in all year round.

There are specific moments
in the year

when people were consuming
those cattle and pigs

and bringing their animals.

Not so much bring a bottle
as bring a cow or bring a pig.

We know that they are there

for the midsummer
and the midwinter,

times that we know were embodied

in the architecture
of Stonehenge itself.

The evidence indicates
that animals were slaughtered

to mark the Winter Solstice

during the same period
as the erection

of the giant ring
of sarsen stones.

So could the site at Durrington
be the remains of a camp

for the laborers
who built Stonehenge?

Thousands of pottery fragments
were recovered from the site.

These, too, are now in the lab,

where the team extracts
microscopic traces

of prehistoric meals.

It's only recently

that people have really
started to think

about what pots were actually
used for,

and that's because we have
new methods of analysis

that allows us to get out
the foods that have absorbed

into this ceramic surface
during its use.

Geochemist Oliver Craig
borrows methods

used to analyze
the nutritional content

of our food today

to discover what people
at Stonehenge were eating

four-and-a-half thousand
years ago.

So when you see a packet
of crisps,

you see the amount of fat

that's written on the side,
for example,

how they've decided that,
how they determine that,

is exactly the same method
we use to analyze these pots.

These are the actual ranges

based on authentic products

that we know are pig or beef
or dairy fat.

And what you can see here
are these little blue dots,

so each of these
is a separate molecule

that was deposited

on the, on the pot
during its use.

Boiled beef, barbecued pork...

What's interesting

is that this shows a contrast
with their everyday life.

This is going to a huge great
party, a massive feast,

and eating yourself silly.

The debris we found,

they were throwing away
entire racks of ribs.

They hadn't even bothered
to chew each one individually.

The evidence
from the animal bones and pots

suggests feasting
on a completely different scale

than the everyday
prehistoric diet.

Could the winter revelers
have indulged

in fermented beverages, too?

We can find all sorts
of other traces

in those residues,

so whether there's been milk
in there

or various types of meat,

but alcohol itself
leaves no trace.

All we can say is,

we would expect them to have
a thorough knowledge

of the properties of yeast

because of a thousand years
of working with cereals,

so I would hope that they're,
for their sakes,

they're actually
fermenting alcohol.

It's a vivid picture of feasting
on an epic scale.

But the size
of these celebrations

poses another puzzle
for Mike and his team.

To judge from the evidence
at the site,

as many as 4,000 people

may have gathered at Durrington
each winter.

Where did they come from?

Surprisingly, with the help
of an ingenious process,

animal teeth can reveal
the origins of their owners.

Teeth are very important to us

because they incorporate

that can tell us something
about an animal's diet.

Now, the first thing we have
to do is,

we take the tooth out
and we clean off the surfaces,

and we cut a section
out of the tooth.

And then with these large teeth,
in fact,

we then cut
a very small fragment

out of the tooth,

and this is the kind of sample
that we'd actually work on.

It's a tiny little piece
of clean enamel.

What we do with that is,

we dissolve it up
in a chemistry laboratory,

and then we're able to separate
the strontium

from all the other elements in
that tooth that we don't want.

So when we as archaeologists
come to look

at the composition of the teeth,

we can use the isotope
composition of the strontium

to tell us something about
where the animal spent the time

during which its teeth
were formed.

Isotopes are different forms
of chemical elements.

Elements like strontium
take on different forms

depending on their atomic

Different regions

have distinctive ratios
of these isotopes,

which get into the teeth
and bones

of animals and people
living there.

By analyzing the mix,
scientists can tell

where the livestock
and their owners came from.

So that's the strontium
isotope map of Britain.

Yes, and this shows

the different isotope
compositions of strontium

that you'll find across Britain.

So Durrington Walls is here,
isn't it?

On the blue.

Yes, on the pale blue,

so any animal that was
grazed in that area...

That's chalk, isn't it,
the blue?

Chalk... or nearby...

We'd expect green and blue
for the majority of our animals.

Wouldn't we?

But if we bring up
the Durrington Walls data,

you'll see...

Oh, yes!

Look at all these
oranges and reds.

So where do you think
they come from?

Well, they have to come
from further afield.

If we look at this map,

the area that can provide
those sort of values

is predominantly Scotland,

and that's because the very
old rocks in Scotland

generate these high values.

So that's the other end of
the country from Stonehenge.

Now, that is really
quite extraordinary.

Yes, yes.

The isotope map reveals
a striking fact:

People were coming
from all over Britain

to work and feast at Stonehenge.

Mike believes that some visitors
may even have come

from as far
as the Orkney Islands,

at the northern tip
of the British Isles.

The cattle bones,
the pottery styles,

these show us

that this apparently remote
archipelago of islands in Orkney

was related or linked
with Stonehenge.

That's some 700 miles away.

To travel that distance
by foot and by boat

is going to take you a month.

It's a very long way.

Even today, it takes
the best part of a whole day

to get between the two.

So if they're moving
back and forwards,

that is really
quite an undertaking.

These are really quite
substantial trips, with animals,

heading south to all meet up.

So from far-flung corners
of prehistoric Britain,

people flocked to join
in the task

of raising the great ring
of sarsens,

suggesting that Stonehenge
was regarded

as a central, sacred place.

Based on evidence
from the Durrington Walls dig,

Mike estimates
that up to 4,000 people

were involved in midwinter
gatherings at Stonehenge...

A large proportion
of a total population

that probably numbered
just a few tens of thousands.

So this may have been
the first example

of a united, island-wide
cultural event.

The festivities would begin

at the builders' camp
at Durrington.

After extravagant feasting,

a procession might have made
its way

up the Avenue leading
to the sacred burial site

of Stonehenge.

There, as the sun could be seen

setting along the axis
between the stones,

the gathered would pay respects
to their dead ancestors.

This would have been
an extraordinary event,

because previously,
there'd never been

such a widely drawn gathering.

This is of a different order
of magnitude,

and you can just imagine
the excitement.

We haven't seen anything
like this on that scale before.

By 2500 BC, Stonehenge was
a revered monument,

attracting people
from far and wide

to work, celebrate, and worship.

But over the next century,
its status began to change.

At Durrington, analysis
of the animal bones and pots

suggests that the huge scale
of the festivities

only lasted for a few decades.

Then, much of the site
was deserted.

We know from precise
radiocarbon dating

that the village here
was occupied

for a period of less
than 45 years

somewhere around 2500 BC.

After the building
of the sarsen ring,

the vast labor force
was no longer required.

The great midwinter feasts

The massive building project

that had drawn people from
far and wide was over.

Although Stonehenge would remain
a sacred burial place

for centuries,

a fundamental shift
in beliefs and society

began to take hold.

A clue to that change
lies in an ancient grave

discovered just three miles
from Stonehenge.

Belonging to a man
in his late 30s or early 40s,

these intact bones
are quite different

from the tiny fragments
of previous burials,

because this body
had not been cremated.

This is one of the most famous
prehistoric burials.

He is the Amesbury Archer,

and he represents a sea change

in the funerary practices
of prehistoric Britain.

This must have been

not just an important

but a very large funeral.

Before this,
people were cremated

and buried without grave goods.

He, as you can see, is buried
with over a hundred grave goods.

He's the richest burial
from this period.

These dramatically different
burial traditions

signal the appearance
of a new people

known as "the Beaker people."

He's called a Beaker burial

because of these distinctive
types of pottery.

It's a kind of pottery
that we don't find in Britain

until after the big sarsens
were put up at Stonehenge,

so after 2500 BC.

Many of the wealthiest
Beaker people burials

cluster around the monument,

but there was a major change

in the way they honored
their dead.

This is a round barrow.

It's a burial mound

from the time
of the Beaker people,

and it dates to about 2000 BC.

This is actually a place where
the body, unburnt, is buried

and then a mound is constructed
over the top of it.

We know that Stonehenge was
important for the Beaker people.

The barrows are set
on the skyline all around it

just like those that we can see
up amongst those trees,

so they're a visible testament

to the significance
that Stonehenge had for them

hundreds of years
after it was built.

But the Beaker people
treated their dead

very differently
than their predecessors.

In the earlier period
at Stonehenge,

bodies were cremated
and then buried together

in the ring of pits
that held the bluestones,

with no greater emphasis
on one grave than another.

But the Beaker people followed
entirely new traditions.

Unlike the 63 cremations
from Stonehenge,

who are buried
within one single monument,

this will have been built
initially for one person.

So who were these people

who buried their dead one-by-one
in single graves?

Where did they come from?

By not cremating their dead,

they left behind important clues
in their bones.

Burning destroys
any chemical traces

that can be used
to pinpoint origins.

But many Beaker bones and teeth
remain intact.

In one of the largest-ever
studies of prehistoric remains,

archaeologists were able
to identify chemical traces

in nearly 300 Beaker bodies

from many different regions
of Britain.

What we're doing is

extracting traces
of different chemical elements

that will give us information
about the type of climate

people were living in,

the type of geology
they were living on,

the environment,

and the types of foods
that they were eating,

and with all that evidence,

we can then reconstruct
their environment.

We can look at one individual
and say,

"Is this individual
of local origin,

or have they come
from somewhere else?"

The results were surprising,

starting with
the Amesbury Archer.

The Amesbury Archer
is very unusual

within our group of over
300 individuals within Britain.

His results show that he grew up

in a cold
and continental climate,

so that's not Britain,
but Europe.

The teeth of the Amesbury Archer
contain a mix of isotopes

found mainly in the continent.

He may have spent his early life
in the Rhine valley,

in what is now Germany.

So was he part
of a Beaker invasion?

The results of this large study
suggest an alternate scenario.

Right, so this is
a man from Shrewton.

What do we know
about his strontium isotopes?

Well, they would suggest
that he was...

He grew up on the
South Downs, really,

on the chalk.

So in fact he could be a local lad.

In fact, most Beaker people
were born and bred locally.

But they took on Beaker customs

which had developed
in Northwest Europe

and spread widely.

It looks like
the Stonehenge people

adopted these new continental
ways as their own.

So why did the new beliefs
and practices of Beaker culture

make them turn their back
on the age-old traditions

represented by Stonehenge?

Mike finds clues among the items
found in other Beaker burials.

The second interesting item
is the dagger.

It's made out of copper,

so beautiful,
shiny new material, metal.

Nobody had seen this before
in Britain.

It's a very small knife,

and it's not the sort of thing

that's going to be
a very effective weapon.

So this is going to have been
as much an item of status

as of sheer practical utility.

It's state of the art.

The arrival of copper
must have had a profound impact

on the people of Stonehenge.

For thousands of years,

they had crafted their tools,
weapons, and ornaments

from stone and bone.

The archer had hair ornaments
made of gold,

while his copper daggers
marked him

as a man of high status.

Both materials would transform
the social order.

It's copper and it's gold,

and once you've got
those metals,

you can show off.

This is the arrival
of the bling culture.

These coveted metal objects
seem to have brought

a fundamental change
to ancient Britain.

They swept away
the communal culture

that had once united people
from all over the country

in great solstice feasts

and established new beliefs
that celebrated the role

of powerful leaders
and warriors.

The arrival of the Beaker people
put an end to the Stone Age

and would usher in
the Bronze Age,

an age that in many lands
would give rise

to myths of heroic kings
and warriors.

Stonehenge gradually fell
into ruin,

and the sun set on the age
and culture

that had sustained it
for so long.

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