Monday, October 15, 2018


A jade ax from the Italian Alps and three drums carved out of Yorkshire chalk are among artifacts that have been brought together for an exhibition at Stonehenge and tell the story of a prehistoric version of Brexit. The exhibition, Making Connections: Stonehenge in its Prehistoric World, explains the movement of people between the British Isles and continental Europe.

Before Stonehenge appeared, the exhibition shows, Britain and Ireland had close connections with their continental neighbors as the earliest farmers migrated to and from mainland Europe: hence the appearance of the highly polished jade ax from the Alps, which arrived in Britain in about 4000 BC.

However, during the era when Stonehenge was being built and used – the stones arrived in about 2500 BC and the structure was complete by 2000 BC or thereabouts – there was an apparent hiatus in cross-Channel cultural exchange.

Later, by the early bronze age, mass migration between the continent and the British Isles had begun again and objects shown in the exhibition, such as the Blessington lunula, a spectacular golden collar found in Ireland but with European markings, were being created.

Susan Greaney, an English Heritage historian, said the exhibition illustrated a constantly changing ebb and flow of people, objects, styles and ideas. “Our ancestors have been making and breaking relationships with continental Europe for thousands of years,” she said. The central question that cannot be answered is what brought about the hiatus at the time of Stonehenge’s construction. “We don’t know why,” said Greaney. “It seems the British Isles and mainland Europe diverged. It may be there are different languages, different religious beliefs.”

The idea of the exhibition was to bring objects from the British Museum in London to Stonehenge – the first time this has been done – to help to place the Wiltshire site in this ancient, shifting European context. It is not trying to make any political statements about current relations between the UK and Europe.

One of the standout objects is the jade ax, which was not a practical object but is believed to have ceremonial or symbolic significance and shows close links between continental Europe and the British isles in the pre-Stonehenge days. Another stunning exhibit is the Folkton drums, three elaborately carved chalk cylinders found in the grave of a child in North Yorkshire. They probably date to the late Neolithic period as the geometric and spiral decoration and stylized faces are seen on grooved ware pottery and megalithic monuments of this period. They are in the exhibition to represent the hiatus when what is now the UK and Ireland appeared to become more insular. People were travelling all around the British Isles but if they were venturing to the continent they appeared not to be bringing back objects – or ideas.

Neil Wilkin, a curator of the bronze age collection at the British Museum, said: “To be able to bring all these objects together for the first time at Stonehenge, one of the most important symbols of ancient Britain, is an exciting prospect.”


Post a Comment

<< Home