Christie Willis, Peter Marshall, Jacqueline McKinley, Mike Pitts, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Julian Richards, Julian Thomas, Tony Waldron, Kate Welham and Mike Parker Pearson (2016). The dead of Stonehenge. Antiquity, 90, pp 337-356
The assemblage of Neolithic cremated human remains from Stonehenge is the largest in Britain, and demonstrates that the monument was closely associated with the dead. New radiocarbon dates and Bayesian analysis indicate that cremated remains were deposited over a period of around five centuries from c. 3000–2500 BC. Earlier cremations were placed within or beside the Aubrey Holes that had held small bluestone standing stones during the first phase of the monument; later cremations were placed in the peripheral ditch, perhaps signifying the transition from a link between specific dead individuals and particular stones, to a more diffuse collectivity of increasingly long-dead ancestors.
Our research shows that Stonehenge was used as a cremation cemetery for mostly adult men and women for around five centuries, during and between its first two main stages of construction. In its first stage, many burials were placed within and beside the Aubrey Holes. As these are believed to have contained bluestones, there seems to have been a direct relationship between particular deceased individuals and standing stones.
Human remains continued to be buried during and after Stonehenge’s second stage, demonstrating its continuing association with the dead. Most of these later burials appear, however, to have been placed in the ditch around the monument’s periphery, leaving the stones, now grouped in the centre of the site, distant from the human remains.
Stonehenge changed from being a stone circle for specific dead individuals linked to particular stones, to one more diffusely associated with the collectivity of increasingly long- dead ancestors buried there. This is consistent with the interpretation of Stonehenge’s stage 2 as a domain of the eternal ancestors, metaphorically embodied in stone (Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998; Parker Pearson 2012).
This is an interesting article which re-examines the cremated bone debris in some of the Aubrey Holes and which brings together the radiocarbon dating of many samples. The authors show a strong clustering of cremated bone samples over a five-hundred year period starting around 5,000 yrs BP, and they suggest that the practice of cremation may have come from Ireland, where cremations started somewhat earlier. The authors repeat the thesis that the cremated remains were placed in the stone sockets of the Aubrey Holes which had previously been occupied by bluestones. In other words, the old stone sockets were used as a cremation cemetery. So clearly the authors are agreeing with the hypothesis that the bluestones were present in the Stonehenge landscape, and were being used in stone settings, before 5,000 yrs BP.
However, I cannot see any evidence in this paper to suggest that the 56 Aubrey Holes actually were used in association with an early bluestone setting -- there is just an assumption that the holes are approximately the right size to have held small monoliths......... That's not evidence -- it's supposition.
Also, I cannot see any evidence in this paper which supports this conclusion: Stonehenge changed from being a stone circle for specific dead individuals linked to particular stones, to one more diffusely associated with the collectivity of increasingly long-dead ancestors buried there. This is consistent with the interpretation of Stonehenge’s stage 2 as a domain of the eternal ancestors, metaphorically embodied in stone (Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998; Parker Pearson 2012).
A stone circle for specific dead individuals linked to particular stones?? There is nothing here to support that contention. In fact, it would be easier to argue that the bluestones had no significance whatsoever, if (as the authors contend) they were taken away so that the socket holes could be used for something else. There is mention of Hawley's observations that some of the cremated bones seem to have been placed in smaller holes adjacent to certain Aubrey Holes (such as AH 7) while they still contained stones; this is an interesting point, and it would have been interesting if the authors of this new paper had explored it further.
And as for the point about "the collectivity of increasingly long-dead ancestors" and "the domain of the eternal ancestors, metaphorically embodied in stone" -- that is all no less fanciful than the healing stone hypothesis of Darvill and Wainwright.
The point also needs to be made that this article tells us nothing at all about either bluestone transport or the picking up of bluestones in west Wales and elsewhere. So there is no relevance for the glacial / human transport debate. But MPP and his colleagues are clearly, in this article, seeking to promote the idea that the bluestones were highly revered -- and of course this feeds into their ideas about why Neolithic tribesmen would have gone to all that trouble in "quarrying" bluestones from their source areas in the far west. That's the narrative, and they are sticking to it.......