Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review: The world of Stonehenge at the British Museum from 17 February to 17 July 2022

Exhibition Review: The world of Stonehenge at the British Museum from 17 February to 17 July 2022

The British Museum presents a major exhibition entitled The world of Stonehenge which sees over 430 objects brought together from across Europe in a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle on the history and mystery of the iconic ancient monument.

The world of Stonehenge is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Stonehenge was built 4,500 years ago around the same time as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

This exhibition attempts to place the iconic monument in its historical context which saw huge social and technological revolutions, alongside fundamental changes in people’s relationships with the cosmos, the land and other peoples.

At the heart of the exhibition is the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber circle, dubbed Seahenge. It is a hugely significant and extremely rare surviving example of a timber monument. 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 54 wooden posts. The oak posts, some up to 3m tall, were tightly packed in a 6.6m diameter circle with their bark-covered sides facing outwards. Inside the circle was a mighty oak, its roots upturned towards the heavens like branches. A narrow entranceway was aligned on the rising midsummer sun and it is thought this monument was used for ritual purposes.

Nearly two-thirds of the objects on display in The world of Stonehenge are loans, with objects coming from 35 lenders across the UK, the Republic of Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

Of these, the majority have never been seen in the UK before.

Alongside the international loans, visitors will see some of the most important objects unearthed in the Stonehenge landscape, many of them now in the collections of neighbouring museums.

The exhibition has been organised with the State Museum of Prehistory, Halle/Saale,Germany, who have loaned the Nebra Sky Disc, the oldest surviving representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world.

The exhibition illustrates the advances in technologies of the period with a wide array of gold objects.

Also in the exhibition is what is considered “the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years.” The object is a 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture and was discovered on a country estate near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire. The sculpture is decorated with elaborate motifs that reaffirms a British and Irish artistic style that flourished at exactly the same time as Stonehenge was built. It was uncovered alongside the burial of three children.

The importance of this new discovery relates to its similarity to a group of objects in the British Museum’s collection. Three barrel-shaped cylinders made of solid chalk dubbed the Folkton drums due to their shape and the location where they were found in North Yorkshire have been in the collection of the British Museum since first being excavated in 1889.

This fascinating exhibition does not pretend to solve the mysteries of Stonehenge but does try put it into its historical context. Contrary to what you would expect, the evidence suggests that ideas and people travelled considerable distances and all over Europe there can be found similar objects. The sharing of similar beliefs perhaps explain how a major undertaking like Stonehenge could attract a large and coordinated workforce to move the monument’s bluestones hundreds of kilometres from West Wales to Salisbury Plain.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the British Museum website here

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