Friday, October 1, 2010

Britain in contact with Europe in the Bronze Age

New research indicates that Stonehenge may have been an ancient tourist destination, attracting visitors from across Europe.

Studies of the skeleton of an adolescent boy from some 3,500 years ago found near the site suggest that he traveled all the way from the Mediterranean -- potentially Italy, Spain or southern France -- to the southwest of England.

Another body found near the famous stone complex has been identified as coming from the German Alpine foothills some 800 years earlier.

"The find adds considerable weight to the idea that people traveled long distances to visit Stonehenge, which must therefore have had a big reputation as a cult center," Timothy Darvill, professor of archeology at Bournemouth University, told The Associated Press. "Long-distance travel was certainly more common at this time than we generally think."

Researchers from the British Geological Survey analyzed isotopes in the travelers' teeth to pinpoint where they were raised.

Drinking water in different climates contains different ratios of heavy oxygen and light oxygen. Stones in different parts of Europe also contain different ratios of isotopes of the element strontium.

These two substances build up in children's teeth and remain there throughout adulthood, providing clues as to where the person grew up.

One thing they share is that both seem to have borne some kind of illness. The boy was buried at the age of 14 or 15, suggesting he may have died prematurely, The Independent reported. The German seems to have suffered from a painful leg condition. It may be that Stonehenge was a center of healing, drawing people from across Europe in search of cures, The Independent said.

Stonehenge has long mystified scientists. The site was first worked upon about 5,000 years ago. A thousand years later, massive stones were added to the site, according to

The stones, which weigh as much as 4 tons each, were taken more than 200 miles from Wales to the remote location in southwest England.

Nobody is quite sure what the site was used for. It could have been a religious site built by sun worshipers, since the axis that runs through the center of the stone circle aligns with the midsummer sunrise.

Today, the site is a favorite with both tourists and pagans, who celebrate religious festivals there.

Whatever drew these ancient travelers to the location, they certainly weren't budget travelers. The boy was found with a 90-piece amber necklace, while the German had copper daggers and gold hair clasps.

"People who can get these rare and exotic materials are people of some importance," Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archeology told BBC News.


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