Researchers Say Stonehenge had More Gender Equality than Commonly Believed
Analysis of remains from the famous megalithic site of Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, have revealed the relics of 14 wmen. According to researchers, the women were very important to the society of their time and their burials suggest that Stonehenge was a site with more gender equality than most people believe.
During the latest excavation, more remains of women than men were discovered at Stonehenge. In 2008, archaeologists discovered remains of about 200 cremated adults. According to the researchers in the latest study, it was surprising to find hints at gender equality in the burials.
Their results go against the common portrayal of prehistoric man as the one in charge of the site with barely a woman in sight. The newest discovery also confirms the importance of women in the societies which were buried there.
A group of people performing Neo-Druid (Druid) rituals at Stonehenge in 2007. (CC BY SA 2.0) Results of a current study suggest that Stonehenge was a site with high gender equality.
The most recent excavation was focused on the place known as Aubrey Hole 7, one of 56 chalk pits dug outside of the stone circle. It is dated to the earliest times of Stonehenge, in the late 4th or early 3rd millennium BC.
The ring of Aubrey Holes that were excavated in the 1920s are marked with red circles. (Credit: Adam Stanford)
Mike Pitts, archaeologist, editor of British Archaeology, and author of Hengeworld explained to the press that cemeteries of this period are rare, but Stonehenge seems to be an exception. All the people buried in Stonehenge were likely to have been special in their societies. They could have had a high status, possessed special skills or knowledge, or perhaps they were ritual or political leaders. The discovery was also connected with several other finds supporting the theory that Stonehenge functioned as a cremation cemetery for leaders and other important individuals.
As Mike Pitts told Discovery News:
“In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women. The archeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.”
A drawing of Stonehenge from 1645. (Public Domain)
The BBC reports that at least 14 females and nine males were discovered in Aubrey Hole seven, and some of the males were young adults. It is uncertain if the men were linked with the women in some way, but archaeologists have suggested that they could have been relatives.
Radiocarbon dating of all known burials at Stonehenge reveals that they took place in several episodes from about 3100 BC to at least 2140 BC. Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology reported that long bone pins, hair pins, and a mace head made out of gneiss were also found with the cremated remains.
Excavating in 2008. (Credit: Mike Pitts)
Willis told Discovery News that the role of women in society in the area "probably declined again towards the 3rd millennium BC, both archaeological and historical evidence has shown that women’s status has gone up and down quite noticeably at different times in the past."
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Willis and Pitts agree that a lack of corpses of children means that their remains were treated differently. They suggest that the children were cremated, but their ashes were scattered in the nearby river Avon. Finally, they claim that there is a common association between the sources of the upper reaches of significant rivers and late Neolithic religious centers like Stonehenge.
Some of the areas of Stonehenge that have been excavated. Located cremation burials are shown with a red dot. (Credit: Mike Pitts)
In 2003, researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada announced that a study by Anthony Perks shows that Stonehenge is it is a giant fertility symbol, constructed in the shape of the female sexual organ. According to The Guardian, Stonehenge could have represented the opening by which Mother Earth gave birth to the plants and animals on which ancient people so depended. There were no proven burials in Stonehenge at the time of this research.
A few years later, in 2008, Mike Parker Pearson, archaeology professor at the University of Sheffield in the UK, and part of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project, announced the role of Stonehenge in death as well. As he said to National Geographic:
''Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B.C. The cremation burial dating to Stonehenge’s sarsen stones phase is likely just one of many from this later period of the monument’s use and demonstrates that it was still very much a ‘domain of the dead.''
Featured image: Stonehenge, located near Salisbury in the English county of Wiltshire. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)