The completion of the Stonehenge visitor centre – druidic protests, silicon-filled Neolithic men, A-road closures and all – is certain to be the lasting memory of another interesting year for Britain’s most famous set of stones.
© Clare Kendall / English Heritage
But it’s worth remembering that much of the site’s new display has come from some of its well-loved neighbouring museums: the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, to name one, put an exquisite collection of henge-related artefacts on permanent display this year, including Bronze Age lozenges, gold beads, necklaces and earrings.
“Stonehenge is an iconic monument,” said David Dawson, of the museum, calling the exhibits “a major step forward” in revealing the “extraordinary sophistication” of the “remarkable” people who used Stonehenge all those centuries ago.
© James O Davies / English Heritage
The closure of the A344, the road running next to the landmark, was mooted as long ago as 1927, finally happening to accommodate the new centre. It cut through part of the Avenue, a long, linear feature which, according to archaeologists investigating its course as part of the development, revealed ditches proving a formal processional link between Stonehenge and the River Avon.
“It has enabled us to confirm with total certainty for the first time that Stonehenge and its Avenue were once linked and will be so again shortly,” said Dr Nick Snashall, of the National Trust, whose team also found the original holes of three of the stones, illuminated most clearly by aerial photos.
A few long-held expert conclusions about the stones had to be entirely reconsidered. “Almost everything we believed ten years ago about the bluestones has been shown to be partially or completely incorrect,” admitted Dr Rob Ixer, the University College London member of a team carrying out geochemical tests on rock and debris suggesting that rhyolites – spotted bluestones – were likely to have travelled across land to Wiltshire from Pembrokeshire.
© English Heritage
One of their carriers, a slender chap of between 25 and 40, became the frontman for the visitor centre, having had his face reconstructed by Oscar Nilsson, who used 3D scanning and gave his model dark brown hair and hazel eyes.
Cow chops, a toolkit from the times and a Bronze axe were among hundreds of other exhibits to go on show, but not all of them met an overjoyed reception: declaring himself the reincarnation of King Arthur, battle-hardened druid Arthur Pendragon organised a protest on the opening day of the centre, protesting against the inclusion of human remains.
© English Heritage
“If [they] were to place photographs or replicas in their new visitors centre, I would cancel the demonstration and return to the negotiating table,” he said, accusing English Heritage – whose resulting statement insisted the decision had been made “very carefully” – of “flying in the face of public opinion”.
On the other hand, another of the wonderful museums in the region, the Salisbury Museum, will be taking inspiration from the displays when it opens a new space we can all look forward to in 2014.
The Wessex Gallery of Archaeology will feature the remains of the Bronze Age man known as the Amesbury Archer, mace heads found to match the carvings on one of the stones and more, all designed to break out the venue’s “hidden secrets” in a £2 million development combining the existing Pitt Rivers Archaeological Collection and the Early Man gallery.
© Salisbury Museum
"It means that the Salisbury Museum will be able to create exhibitions directly relating to new displays in the Stonehenge Visitor Centre,” said director Adrian Green, calling himself “overjoyed” at the news. His museum, it is fair to surmise, is already looking to 2014 with some excitement.
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