Stonehenge Surprise

Famed British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson recently gave the Assembly Series Ferguson Science Lecture. He shared his research team’s amazing Stonehenge findings, including clarifying the monument’s significance as a burial ground.

Stonehenge, the ancient monolith in southwestern England, was the subject of a multiple-year research project led by British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson. During a recent WUSTL Assembly Series lecture, Parker Pearson shared some of his team’s surprising findings, including that Stonehenge had been a burial ground for elite families around 3,000 B.C. (iStockphoto)

Few places on earth conjure up more mystery than Stonehenge, the ancient monolith in southwestern England. Suggested reasons for the existence of this prehistoric ruin abound, and, in 2003, a large-scale, multiple-year initiative began to try to unlock its secrets.

It was known as the Stonehenge Riverside Project and was led by British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

Plenty of reasons exist for embarking on such a long-range project. Surprisingly, only half of the actual site had ever been investigated, and then not always accurately recorded. Furthermore, the physical area of research had never been expanded beyond the Stonehenge site.

Parker Pearson and his research team had unprecedented access to the World Heritage Site and its surroundings. Earlier this month, he shared some of the project’s findings in a video on the Huffington Post website.

And he shared them in person at Washington University Wednesday, March 27, at an Assembly Series lecture (view lecture here). His talk, “Stonehenge: New Discoveries,” was this year’s Ferguson Science Lecture, which was free and open to the public. Available at the talk was his book, Stonehenge — A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument; the book was made available ahead of its American publication.

His talk, as well as his book, provided fresh evidence that, according to the description, “replaces centuries of speculation about even the most fundamental mysteries of Stonehenge with hard proof … filling gaps in our knowledge about its builders and how they lived, clarifying the monument’s significance, both celestially and as a burial ground, and contextualizing Stonehenge — which sits at the center of one of the densest prehistoric settlements in history — within the broader landscape of the Neolithic Age.”

Parker Pearson is an internationally renowned archaeologist with more than 10 books, seven edited or co-edited books, and more than 100 journal articles and book chapters to his credit. He has appeared in the National Geographic Channel documentary Stonehenge Decoded, and in the NOVA episode Secrets of Stonehenge.

His numerous professional distinctions for the Stonehenge Riverside Project include being named UK Archaeologist of the Year and receiving the Archaeological Research Project of the Year Award. The project was funded by National Geographic, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Royal Archaeological Institute, and the Society of Antiquaries and National Museum of Wales.

Barb Rea is director, Assembly Series and Special Projects.

For information on this and other Assembly Series programs, visit or call (314) 935-4620.

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Famed British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson has more than 10 books, seven edited or co-edited books, and 100 journal articles and book chapters to his credit. He has appeared in the National Geographic Channel documentary Stonehenge Decoded, and in the NOVA episode Secrets of Stonehenge. (Courtesy of Oxford Scientific Films Ltd.)
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