Tag Archives: Stonehenge

Stonehenge, Winter Solstice and the pottery of its neolithic peoples

Magical Stonehenge - geograph.org.uk - 1628518

Magical Stonehenge Photograph taken at 15.51, during sunset. 19th December 2009; as close to the winter solstice as possible during a sunset, according to the weather forecast. Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons


Happy Winter Solstice! By now, no area of the world is left untouched by this change of season in the northern hemisphere. Happy Summer Solstice to friends south of the equator! Today, we’re going to concentrate on the North, specifically Salisbury plain in Great Britain and that great monument which is forever tied to primitive astronomy, Stonehenge. The Stone and Bronze Ages peoples who populated the area lived from 3,700 BCE to 1600 BCE.

English Heritage, an excellent site, addresses material artifacts left behind by the monument’s builders, including tools and pottery, some shown in museums at Devizes and Salisbury. The site states

the archaeology of the Stonehenge landscape shows that people in the 4th to 2nd millennia BC had wide regional and international contacts. Similar Neolithic monument complexes in other parts of Britain…display the same types of ceremonial enclosures, burial monuments and stone settings and similar material culture….

Pottery that has been found at the Stonehenge site is of two types. One, known as Grooved Ware,  “was used by the builders of the first phase of Stonehenge,” according to Wikipedia. This type of pottery was embellished by incised lines. (Click here to see a photo of Grooved Ware. Note: this is an example found in Scotland.) The Archaeology website states that, nearby, Peterborough-type pottery was also found. Grooved Ware and Peterborough-type styles are vastly different, with latter type decorated making indentations with cord. (Click here to see Peterborough pottery holdings at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.) Rodney Castleden talks about these two types of pottery in Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC. He suggests that two completely different sets of people created these styles, stating that it “could be explained by itinerant potters trained in different traditions starting out from different centers but with overlapping circuits.” He continues, saying that the alternative would be trade of a finished product. Castleden discusses the pottery of the area and time, saying

much of the pottery was plain but serviceable. Its form was well-suited to the ‘ground-level’ life style of the Stonehenge people, as the rounded base could easily be nested between tus-socks of grass or in little hollows in the earth, and the unglazed, matt surface was easy to hold securely. Towards the end of the., A taste for ornament of a particularly earthy and plastic type developed, but in general the pottery remained fairly plain and functional. People evidently preferred it that way. This is in distinct contrast to the people of central Europe who produced very refined pottery in a wide variety of beautiful and exotic forms, often richly decorated in colored patterns. The British were less concerned with the aesthetic value of their pottery, even though some of it does have a kind of earthy sensuality; their thoughts were elsewhere. The extraordinary wealth the ceremonial monuments in Britain finds no parallel in central Europe. I think we can indulge a certain casualness, a surgeon haste, in the Stonehenge people’s pottery when we realized that they were massively preoccupied with greater projects by far.

Today is the Winter Solstice and for eons, people have been gathering at Stonehenge for the solstice. According to a BBC story posted yesterday, “the exact time of the solstice this year – when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun – is at 11:11 GMT.” People started arriving in the morning for the annual event. While neo-Pagans and Druids hold services at Stonehenge for the solstice, it is not known whether the original Druids were ever there at all. What is known is that the Romans are responsible for the damage caused to the monument, according to Castleden. Druids opposed the Roman Empire’s takeover of Britain and while Romans were usually tolerant of religions, they deemed the Druids seditious and wiped them out, burning their sacred groves, killing the priests, and damaging the monuments. Castleden suggests that the Romans, who had destroyed a Druidical monument in Romania, assumed that Stonehenge was a Druid site and damaged it. We can’t know for certain. All we know is what has been left behind, of which pottery plays a big part.

StonehengeSunrise1980s

Sunrise between the stones at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice in the mid-1980s,
22 December,1985. By Mark Grant via Wikimedia Commons

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