Stonehenge star exhibits: A silicon-enhanced Neolithic man, toolkits and cow jawbones

| 17 December 2013

Meet the Neolithic man and other key objects from the long-awaited new Stonehenge visitor centre

A photo of a Neolithic man with long hair and a ginger beard in front of a smoke cloud
The star of the new Stonehenge visitor centre© James O Davies / English Heritage
The reconstructed head of an early Neolithic man is based on the skeleton of an adult male excavated in 1863 from a long barrow at Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire. It had been stored in the Duckworth Laboratory at Cambridge University before it was loaned to English Heritage for the new exhibition. He is shown upright in the display with the reconstructed head beside him.

A photo of a Neolithic man with long hair and a ginger beard in front of a smoke cloud
© James O Davies / English Heritage
The reconstruction of his face, using forensic evidence derived from skeletal analysis, depicts a man of 25-40 years old, of slender build, born about 5,500 years ago – roughly 500 years before the circular ditch and banks, the first monument at Stonehenge, were built.

He was among those people who were active on Salisbury Plain in early Neolithic Britain, helping to explain why people chose this area to erect the stones 1,000 years later: the area already held significance.

Skeletons preserved in such good condition from the early Neolithic period are very rare. Radiocarbon dating shows that the man died between 3630 and 3360BC. His teeth showed that he was born away from chalk areas, perhaps somewhere in south west Britain or west Wales, and moved to the chalk geology later in life.

The facial reconstruction was undertaken by Oscar Nilsson, a leading expert in the field. A copy of the skull, produced by 3D scanning technology, was used as the basis to build up layers of facial muscles and detail.

Once the shape of the man’s face was formed, a gypsum mould was made, into which silicon was poured – silicon is superior to clay as a finishing material.

Curators say they have made “a qualified guess” about the colour of his hair (dark brown) and eyes (hazel), as well as his appearance.


The jaw bone of a domestic cow

A photo of a curator handling a large white jaw bone from a cow inside a laboratory
© Clare Kendall / English Heritage
Revealed by radiocarbon dating to have been placed on the floor of the Stonehenge ditch several hundred years old, its very good condition shows that it had been carefully kept by generations of people.

Cattle were very important to Neolithic people and this relic may have been a family or tribal totem, placed in the ditch as a special offering. It is on loan from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.


Late Neolithic toolkit: a flint awl, saw and fabricator

A photo of three jagged white flint objects from prehistoric Britain against a void
© James O Davies / English Heritage
These flint tools, found at Woodhenge, two kilometres from Stonehenge, form part of the essential toolkit for living in the Late Neolithic period.

With handles of wood, bone or antler, or held with a leather pad, the awl and saw resemble their modern counterparts.

The fabricator was used with a lump of iron pyrites to create a spark to light a fire. They are on loan from the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.


Bronze axe

A photo of an angling stone prehistoric axe against a black background
© James O Davies / English Heritage
Seven hundred years after Stonehenge was complete, many carvings were made on some of the sarsen stones. The reasons are a mystery, but it shows that people were still visiting the monument.

Most of the carvings are of axes with a very distinctive shape, identifiable as a type of Middle Bronze Age axe. This example was found in the World Heritage Site.

It is also on loan from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a man handling a reconstruction of a face from the neolithic british period
© Clare Kendall / English Heritage
A photo of a man handling a reconstruction of a face from the neolithic british period
© Clare Kendall / English Heritage
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