Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Seahenge 1999
Nebra Sky Disc
Bronze Age sun pendant
The Mold Gold Cape
previous arrow
next arrow
 

Solstice worship united ancient Europe

The World of Stonehenge exhibition brings together over 430 objects from across Europe to tell the story of Stonehenge. Key loans include elaborate ancient gold hats depicting the cosmos; the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach; and the spectacular Nebra Sky Disc, the oldest surviving representation of the cosmos.

Stonehenge was built 4,500 years ago, around the same time as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. This exhibition, at the British Museum, sets the great monument in the context of one of the most remarkable eras on the islands of Britain and Ireland, which saw enormous social and technological revolutions alongside fundamental changes in people’s relationships with the sky, the land and one another.

At the heart of the exhibition is the sensational loan of a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber circle, dubbed Seahenge due to its similarity to Wiltshire’s Stonehenge. It is a hugely significant and scarce surviving example of a timber monument that has also been called “Stonehenge of the Sea”. It re-emerged on a remote Norfolk beach in 1998 due to the shifting sands, and it consists of a large upturned tree stump surrounded by fifty-four wooden posts. The oak posts, some up to three metres tall, were tightly packed in a 6.6-metre circle with bark-covered sides facing outwards. Inside the circle was a mighty oak, its roots upturned towards the heavens like branches. Collectively, the circle creates a giant tree. A narrow entranceway was aligned with the rising midsummer sun, and it is thought this monument was used for ritual purposes.

The 3,700-year-old Nebra Sky Disc is also on display. This bronze disk was uncovered in Nebra, Germany, in 1999 and is considered the oldest known illustration of the night sky with its depiction of the sun, a crescent moon, and a seven-starred Pleiades cluster.

Text & Photos courtesy of the British Museum