World of Stonehenge Exhibition Is a Stunning Treasure Hall of Fame
A new Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum in London, entitled The World of Stonehenge, will display a stunning collection of objects, artifacts and human remains from across Europe, dating from 4000 BC to 1000 BC, the age of Stonehenge. An age that was restless and highly connected, a period of immense transition in lifestyles and worship, as stated on the British Museum’s website. The five-month-long (Feb-July 2022) Stonehenge exhibition will present as many as 430 items on loan from museums and institutions in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and within the United Kingdom. Many will be publicly displayed for the first time in the UK. Famous as they are, so many have never been seen up close by the public.
The Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum in London will feature artifacts like this Lunula, 2400–2000 BC, from Blessington, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
The London Stonehenge Exhibition Will Center On The Sun
So unique, famous and breathtaking are the exhibits that it is difficult to single out any one, or even two, as the highlights. But so many of them feature the Sun and the solar system that it would be fair to say that it is the Sun which is the centerpiece of the World of Stonehenge Exhibition, as it was in prehistoric Stonehenge days.
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The Sun appears in the form of concentric circles on stone plaques and gold gorgets (articles of clothing that covered the throat), and in the decoration on drinking cups, the Evening Standard reports.
The Mold Gold Cape, 1900–1600 BC from Flintshire, Wales will also be on display in latest Stonehenge exhibition. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
The Sun etched at the top of a standing stone from Italy, blazing down upon a host of human and animal figures is part of the exhibition. The Sun also features as the focal point of the Nebra Sky Disc from Germany, the world’s oldest surviving map of the night sky, a stunning representation in bronze and gold of the Sun, the stars, and the crescent moon.
The world-famous Nebra Sky Disc of Germany from about 1600 BC. (Juraj Lipták / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt)
Symbols representing the Sun etched on the Burton Agnes chalk drum found buried alongside the ancient burial of three children near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire will also be in the exhibition, the Daily Mail review states.
Two other remarkable artifacts that will be displayed in the London Stonehenge exhibition are the Schifferstadt gold hat from Germany, dating back to between 1400 and 1300 BC, and the Avanton gold cone from France, dating to between 1000 and 900 BC. Adorned with elaborate sun motifs, they are thought to have had ceremonial import, imparting to their wearers otherworldly or divine status.
The Schifferstadt gold hat from circa 1600 BC, which was found with three bronze axes in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. (Historical Museum of the Palatinate)
Another astonishing artifact to be shown in the exhibition is a bronze hand with a gold cuff found in a Bronze Age grave in Switzerland. Believed to have been created around 3,500 years ago, according to some experts, this bronze hand could be Europe’s oldest prosthetic limb. And the same hand also doubled as a knife! The cuff also has intricate etchings that yet again appear to be solar artwork.
This Bronze Age hand was found with an assemblage of items and a human rib. (Philippe Joner / Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern)
Sun worship was one of the primary functions of Stonehenge. As the Guardian reports, the monument was exactly aligned to sunrise on the winter solstice, so people could gather there at the dawn of the shortest day to invoke the Sun for their future crops.
A monument in the form of the 2049 BC wooden Seahenge, which is pictured here, had to be moved from its seaside location in Norfolk for preservation purposes. (PC Gamer)
The Actual Seahenge Monument Was Moved to British Museum
While the exhibition stops short of transporting the Stonehenge monument to the British Museum for public display, numerous spectacular reproductions have been created.
However, there is one exception because the early Bronze Age wooden Seahenge monument, from about 2049 BC or nearly 500 years after the main Stonehenge construction period, was actually moved from where it was found at its seaside location in Norfolk. It was moved to preserve it and will likely be returned to its original location after the exhibition.
The extraordinary monument has an upside-down tree trunk, ringed by 54 wooden posts that are remarkably well-preserved. The oak posts are up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall in a circle with a 21-foot (6.4-meter) diameter around the central tree.
Fine jadeitite axe-heads like this one from the high Italian Alps, circa 4500–3500 BC will also be part of the Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum in London. (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Stonehenge: A Fascinating Neolithic-Bronze Age Transition
Quite as fascinating as the exhibits themselves is the story they tell of the world as it was then, of the beliefs and practices that prevailed in prehistoric Europe. A world, the exhibition shows, that was not quite static but saw a transition from hunting gathering to farming, from community worship to individual worship, with a strong progression in status differentiation. A world then which was no longer a stranger to status and conflict, violent conflict.
The battered human remains from a German battlefield, the man buried on Salisbury Plain with arrow heads in his spine, sophisticated Bronze Age armor, and stone axes all tell the same story as it happened across Western Europe.
Explaining the impetus behind the exhibition, Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying:
“To understand the purpose of the great stone monument constructed on Salisbury Plain, it is essential to consider its contemporary world and the culture of its builders. We are delighted to be able to do this in this unprecedented exhibition.”
Moon rise at Stonehenge, a place of mystery and awe even today. (charles / Adobe Stock)
Fascinating Stonehenge And Its Mysterious Sarsen Stones
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, built of massive stone blocks arranged in a circle. It was built in several stages between 3100 and 1520 BC. It is famous for its artificially shaped sarsen stones and because its smaller bluestones are sourced from South Wales, 100–150 miles (160–240 kilometers) away.
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Hypotheses about its intended purpose range from a religious site for sun or ancestor worship to one created as an expression of the power and wealth of the chieftains, aristocrats and priests who had it built, many of whom were buried in the numerous barrows close by. Or perhaps it was also a healing center or a place where Druids lived and studied.
The latest Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum in London during the first half of 2022 will at last give the public a chance to comprehend the transition from Neolithic times to the early Bronze Age.
Top image: From upper left clockwise: Bronze Age sun pendant, 1000–800 BC, Source: © The Trustees of the British Museum; The world-famous Nebra Sky Disc of Germany from about 1600 BC. (Juraj Lipták / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt); Bush Barrow gold lozenge of the Bush Barrow grave goods,1950–1600 BC Amesbury, Wiltshire, England, Source: David Bukach / Wiltshire Museum; Dagger from the Bush Barrow grave goods with replica handle, 1950–1600 BC, Amesbury, Wiltshire, England, Source: David Bukach / Wiltshire Museum
By Sahir Pandey
Jones, J. 2022. The World of Stonehenge review – even the stone axes amaze. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/feb/15/the-world-of-stonehenge-review-british-museum
McDonagh, M. 2022. The World of Stonehenge at the British Museum review: wonder of wonders. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/exhibitions/the-world-of-stonehenge-british-museum-review-seahenge-b982510.html
The British Museum. 2022. Towering above the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most awe-inspiring ancient stone circle. Available at: https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge
Tonkin, S. 2022. Europe's oldest prosthetic LIMB will go on display as part of a new Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum - and experts say the 3,500-year-old hand may have doubled as a KNIFE. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10514401/Europes-oldest-prosthetic-limb-display-new-Stonehenge-exhibition.html