The Festival of Neolithic Ideas at Stonehenge will approach the great circle and its surrounding landscape from a scientific perspective, rather than viewing it as something otherworldly or magical.
Experts from various fields such as academics, engineers, and craftspeople will provide insight into the scientific methods used by ancient peoples to construct the monument. They will also discuss modern techniques that offer a glimpse into the prehistoric happenings at the site.
Dominique Bouchard, English Heritage’s head of learning and interpretation, said the festival, which is being staged at Stonehenge in Wiltshire on the weekend of 11 and 12 November, was intended to help place the site in human history.
“It may seem simple to view Stonehenge as separate from the realm of science and engineering,” she stated. “The conventional timeline for the history of science begins in the 16th or 17th century, which disconnects Stonehenge from that context.”
The result is that it may seem enchanting and unreal. Our goal with the festival is to emphasize that the individuals who built Stonehenge were just like us. They were organizers, technicians, and leaders, but also believers and explorers who journeyed to the stones and celebrated there. “In many ways, they were similar to us,” Bouchard added.
The main focus of the festival, the first of its kind, will revolve around taking a new perspective on the construction of Stonehenge. One intriguing aspect to explore is how the lintels were placed so evenly. While modern civil engineers utilize lasers, it is puzzling how the ancient builders were able to position heavy stones in deep holes on uneven terrain and accurately lower others on top with such accuracy.
How were they able to ensure that the entire temple was perfectly aligned with the sunrises, sunsets, solstices, and other celestial events?
According to Bouchard, the project was a monumental effort that demanded a deep knowledge of the terrain, building materials, and the celestial bodies. He marvels at the ability of ancient builders to transport massive stones over great distances and precisely place them in the ground at the correct height with perfect alignment, all without the use of paper or pencil.
The focus of the festival will not just be on the construction of Stonehenge. It will also demonstrate how contemporary methods like radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis can shed light on the daily lives of prehistoric people, uncovering details about their food, clothing, social structures, and beliefs.
One illustration is the participation of scholars from the University of Cambridge, who will discuss the use of “chemical signals” in tooth enamel to determine the origins of those associated with Stonehenge. Rather than remaining stationary, the people of Stonehenge were mobile and shared knowledge and technology as they traveled through the region.
The “guerilla archaeology” group at Cardiff University is constructing a temporary prehistoric grocery store to showcase the types of food that were consumed during that time period. This includes roasted meat, flatbreads, and dairy products, but a minimal amount of fish.
At the event, academics from Bournemouth University will showcase an inflatable planetarium, highlighting the important role of the sun, moon, and stars in various beliefs and practices.
The university and research institute will investigate the relationships and customs of ancient societies, specifically focusing on their attire, hairstyles, and home adornments.
There will be displays of abilities such as pottery-making, cooking, thatching, bronze-casting, and flint-knapping. The National Trust is organizing a tour of the landscape to explore the origins and thoughts of the creators not only of Stonehenge but also the barrows – the burial mounds – that encircle it.
Information can be accessed on english-heritage.org.uk. The cost of the admission ticket covers the festival.