We’ve recently learned of plans for a Visitors Centre at Stonehenge, although I admittedly feel as if it’s Groundhog Day whenever I write about this subject. At the same time, however, it seems certain that Amesbury will soon have a museum of its own, so it seems inevitable that the facilities for tourists and visitors at Stonehenge and Amesbury will need relevant and engaging pieces of some kind for their new display stands.
I don’t have the faintest idea what the respective proprietors have in mind to place in their forthcoming facilities, although I’m reasonably sure that the trustees of Salisbury Museum would also want to ensure that their displays also attracted paying visitors. One obvious and immediate solution to all this seems to be provided for in the opening paragraph of page 348 of Stonehenge in its Landscape, part of a study of finds assemblages written by my former colleague Julie Gardiner:
“Although a large number of artefacts from the excavations at Stonehenge remain in museum collections, those that survive for examination represent only a fraction of the total recovered. It is now almost impossible to quantify what proportion of the total is extant, since material was discarded at several stages by the principal excavators and some pieces known to have been kept by them can no longer be traced. It is known, for instance, that Hawley reburied a considerable quantity in a series of pits located to the south-east of the monument. The position of these ‘Graves’, as he termed them, is known and they are visible on some aerial photographs taken at the time (see Fig 11, above). Precisely what went into these pits is not known, nor how the material was redeposited, but here it presumably remains….”
Before I proceed, I should point out that I’ve reproduced Julie’s exact words above, but the aerial photograph in question unmistakably shows that the ‘graves’ in question lie to the south-west of the monument. Such a mistake is easy to make and I’ve done the same here on Eternal Idol a number of times before now, but I simply point these things out for the purpose of forestalling any needless correspondence on precisely what appeared in the respective text and photos in Stonehenge in its Landscape. Also, for the benefit of those who aren’t aware of who Hawley was, he was Lieutenant-Colonel William Hawley, who conducted excavations at Stonehenge between 1919 and 1926.
Otherwise, these ‘graves’ aren’t immediately obvious in the photograph provided in Stonehenge in its Landscape, but a there’s a much clearer series of features in the photograph below and furthermore, these features are in precisely the same place as indicated in Stonehenge in its Landscape.
So, here the guessing game begins…how many of ‘Hawley’s Graves’ were there? If the white features above, indicated by the red arrow, are the newly-covered pits in question, then there seem to be as many as 11 of them. Were they all pits into which Hawley tipped the discoveries he’d made at Stonehenge? I have no idea, but if the location and purpose of these pits is known to us, then it seems likely that they were all pits dug for this express purpose.
What are their dimensions? Someone else more skilled at the study of these things can doubtless arrive at a more accurate estimate, but to my amateur eye, they seem to be roughly four feet by two feet, although I have no idea at all of their depth, or if each pit was dug to the same level.
Why were so many pits dug? I would guess that Hawley decided to put different materials into each pit, as we know he kept the cremated human remains separate and these were later reburied in Aubrey Hole 7 in 1935. I would also guess that instead of digging one huge pit, which might turn out to be a waste of labour because he’d miscalculated the amount of disposable material he had to hand, he had a series of pits dug. This would enable him to place different materials in each pit, perhaps, while he’d also be able to more accurately gauge the amount of pits required for his ever-decreasing stock of finds from Stonehenge. But that’s only my guess.
What precisely is in these pits? God only knows and there’s only one way we’ll find out. However, we know that Hawley kept cremated human remains separate, so it’s not unthinkable that he might have reburied other skeletal, non-cremated human remains that he’d excavated. Some years ago, a hefty collection of pottery dug up by Hawley at Stonehenge found its way onto eBay via a house clearance and subsequent sale, but this doesn’t rule out the pits, or ‘graves’ containing more of the same.
Worked flint, burned flint and flint artefacts are other likelihoods, while I think it’s most likely that there’ll be a large amount of animal bone. Then there could be worked bone, sarsen mauls, carved chalk plaques, fragments of bluestone, stone axes and other obvious contenders, but the blunt fact is that we simply don’t know, because he could have put absolutely anything there.
What I find most amazing are the sheer quantities involved. I don’t know how many ‘graves’ were dug and I don’t know the dimensions of these pits, but even if just half the features in the photo above were purposely dug to tip Stonehenge relics into, then there are patently a huge amount. Each find would have been cleaned for inspection before being put to one side, so the idea of even as few as twenty trips, each with a full wheelbarrow of finds from Stonehenge, makes the mind reel, but of course, there could be much more than this.
Of course, all those of us who have a fascination for Stonehenge find it inconceivable that the monument could have been despoiled in such a way, with the vast amount of finds simply being tipped back into rough holes with no record of precisely where they had been found. Nor does there appear to be any kind of a record of these finds at all, other than the fact that they once existed and were reburied in what appear to be such huge quantities.
Unless they’ve all been dug up again and lost since the 1920s, which seems unlikely, simple logic tells us that there is a treasure trove at Stonehenge awaiting excavation. I would say that bringing these finds to light once more could do no harm whatsoever to the monument and would only add to its allure, if such a thing were possible. As I wrote at the start of this post, I would assume that the new Visitors Centre and the new museum at Amesbury would be anxious to be able to display Stonehenge-related material, so ‘Hawley’s Graves’ seem me to be the obvious place to go in search of such readily-available artefacts.
Well, I could continue in this vein for literally hours, happily speculating on the contents of “Hawley’s Graves” and on what we might reasonably infer about Stonehenge from the existence of each one of the thousands of finds that almost certainly await our inspection. On balance, I suppose I’d be most intrigued by any Roman artefacts that Hawley might have reburied, simply on account of the possibility of studying any Stonehenge-related writing, but as always, I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on these matters.
My grateful thanks once more to Juris Ozols and MOJO Productions of Minnesota for the illustrations and to Margaret Down for the above photograph.