There has always been a hypothesis that talks about how Stonehenge might have been used (during some periods of its existence) as a cremation ground for high ranking leaders and exalted members of the community. Well a recent discovery sort of backs up this conjecture, with the finding of remains of 23 individuals. And pretty interestingly, women outnumber men among these organic remnants, with their number pertaining to 14 as opposed to only 9 men. Now without gender pandering, this is quite intriguing – since most pre-historic and historic burial mounds are mostly associated with high status men, like kings and warlords.
The excavation in question here was conducted on what is called the Aubrey Hole 7, one of 56 chalk pits lying just outside of the stone circle. These pits hark back to the initial phase of the Stonehenge construction in late 4th millennium BC. And it should be noted that all of the remains were found to be of young adults or slightly older humans – as determined by techniques such as CT scanning that provide more precise information for cremated matter. Furthermore, the detailed analysis has also revealed how children were conspicuously missing from the pits. According to experts, the corpses of children were also cremated, but their remains were probably scattered as ashes in the proximate river Avon.
Now in terms of location, the Stonehenge was an exception, since it was constructed beside the river. By radiocarbon analysis, researchers have found burial content along the site – with burial activities possibly reaching a peak from 3100 BC to 2140 BC. In contrast, the earlier prehistoric mounds were mostly built atop hills or by hillsides. So the different location along the plain (as opposed to hills) might have mirrored a change in societal values, when the community was starting to commemorate exalted members (of both genders) of their tribes, as opposed to just men.
However, such ‘collective’ trends were reversed by the late 3rd millennium in Britain, with powerful men once again taking up their high-ranked positions within the community. As Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology, and a member of this excavation project, said –
[Role of women in society] probably declined again towards the 3rd millennium B.C…both archaeological and historical evidence has shown that women’s status has gone up and down quite noticeably at different times in the past.