The Stonehenge World Heritage Site
Research Framework: an introduction

Setting the scene

For centuries Stonehenge and the monuments that surround it have been central to the understanding and interpretation of Britain’s ancient past. Ever since Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain in AD1139, Stonehenge has been a chronological anchor-point for histories and prehistories alike, and while the exact date of the monument has been much discussed over the years, the idea of an "Age of Stonehenge" is deeply embedded in the popular and academic literature. The first excavations were carried out at Stonehenge on behalf of the Duke of Buckingham in AD 1620, with many more investigations in the area over the following centuries. As a result, Stonehenge is the most written-about prehistoric monument in Europe. The findings of archaeological investigations in the region, and the analysis of finds from them, have provided the basis for numerous analyses, studies, classifications, and interpretative models that run right to the heart of recent views about the prehistoric communities of northwest Europe. The Bush Barrow dagger series, Piggott’s Wessex Culture, and the wide-ranging debates about possible connections between Bronze Age Wessex and Mycenean Greece are amongst the most visible beacons in a sea of research endeavour that laps around the shores of so many topics. Less widely recognized, but no less important on an international scale, is the place of Salisbury Plain in the early development of aviation and the training of the armed forces. Moreover, the iconic and symbolic place of Stonehenge in contemporary culture has provided a rich field for the investigation of modern social relations and the value of our heritage to a range of communities.

While the pre-eminence given to views of British prehistory based on the evidence of Wessex alone has rightly been criticized, the balance must be redressed by enhancing, stengthening, and expanding endeavour elsewhere rather than reducing efforts in Wessex . Archaeological research in Wessex will continue at many levels over the coming decades, driven forward and fueled by the power of intellectual inquiry, the needs of ongoing site management practices, the demands of our planning system, and etiquette of environmental protection. Nowhere is this likely to be more acutely felt than within and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1986, as part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site.

In response to the need for the careful planning of research work within and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (see Fielden & Jokilehto 1993, 28-30), and in the context of implementing Objective 26 of the Management Plan (English Heritage & The National Trust 2000), English Heritage and their partners promoting and executing the Stonehenge Master Plan (English Heritage 1998; Wainwright 2000a) propose to develop and publish a Research Framework for Stonehenge and its surroundings. Bournemouth University’s Archaeology Group has been commissioned to co-ordinate the work of preparing this document, which will take place over the summer and autumn of 2001 with the aim of publishing the Research Framework in the spring of 2002.

The purpose of this website is three-fold:

In summary, the purpose of the Research Framework is to provide a tool for promoting and facilitating a wide range of research over the coming years in such as way as to make the best of any and every opportunity to extend knowledge and understandings of the archaeology of the area. However, critical to the successful formulation of a Research Framework for Stonehenge is the involvement of the research community with an interest in the monument and its surroundings at any period or periods in the past.  Accordingly, a series of workshops, seminars, and consultations have been planned; details of which appear below.

Promoting research

Research is all about the creation of new knowledge and new understandings, and it happens in all sorts of different ways. Two models of research endeavour predominate and deserve a little exploration.

Many of the greatest and most exciting advances have been made through what might be called opportunistic programmes. Here, an individual or research team suddenly, and out of the blue, spots and follows-up a new line of inquiry, or recognizes some unexpected connections, the implications of which challenge conventional wisdom or received understanding to expand or over-turn established ideas. Such an approach can perhaps be visualized as a turbulent and dynamic universe in which ideas, researchers, opportunities, and materials of study are all moving about at different speeds on separate trajectories in a dark space, but when several elements collide the resultant fusion rapidly and brightly illuminates the domain. In archaeology such work often involves following through the implications of recognizing, or seeing the significance of previously rather neglected, strands of evidence. Examples abound. John Cole’s fortuitious introduction to the archaeology of the Somerset Levels by Grahame Clark and Harry Godwin in 1962 led to a sustained campaign of investigation that revolutionized understandings of wetland archaeology and the early exploitation of such environments (Coles & Coles 1986). More recently, and in a quite different context, Bryan Sykes’ work on DNA and early European populations unfolded in a "series of short hops, each driven as much by opportunity, personal relationships, financial necessity, and even physical injury as by any rational strategy" (Sykes 2000, 6). Something of the thrill associated with opening up such research pathways comes across from Andrew Fleming’s description of the beginnings of his work on Dartmoor which eventually served to completely re-write the textbooks so far as Bronze Age land boundaries are concerned:

"So it came about that one day in May 1972 John [Collis] and I were eating out sandwiches in a large walled enclosure on Lee Moor, on the south-western edge of Dartmoor. It was very peaceful (after all we had managed to get away from the students for a couple of hours). … The enclosure was a large one … joined onto one side of the enclosure was a tumbled wall, very similar in appearance to the enclosure wall itself. It was disappearing into the distance, along the side of the hill. And when we looked at the other side of the enclosure, there was another wall, running off into the distance as if to continue the line of the first …maybe it was medieval, and thus of no great interest to prehistorians like us … there was certainly nothing about long boundary walls in any of the general accounts of Dartmoor’s prehistory. Best to ignore it, perhaps, and move off to a less problematic site. However, we were curious about this ancient looking wall so we decided to follow it …". ( Fleming 1988, 3) A second kind of research may be referred to as problem-orientated programmes. Here the territory for study is partly or wholly mapped-out in advance, specific problems conceptualized, and a set of pathways defined. The intention is to define what we want to know in advance. Investigation proceeds incrementally along the defined routes towards the specified goal or problem. Such an approach may perhaps be visualized as a regular network of nodes all linked together, with the researchers moving between nodes lighting each in turn with the effect that the scene is gradually illuminated according to the predetermined pattern. Major advances can be made through such an approach, but its virtue is that it is more predictable than opportunistic research, that numerous small incremental changes are often more politically acceptable than a periodic "big bang", and that many more people can be involved in such work in a structured and managed way. In archaeology a great deal of good work has been achieved through problem-orientated programmes, although it remains surprising how many are kick-started by chance or follow-on from the revelations of opportunistic research as a second stage. So far as the Stonehenge landscape goes, Geoff Wainwright’s systematic study of what are now called henge enclosures represents a good example of what can be achieved through problem-orientated research. Starting at Durrington Walls in 1967-69, and progressing on to Marden in 1968 and Mount Pleasant in 1970-71, a major element of the later Neolithic settlement pattern of central southern England emerged (Wainwright 2000b, 913).

Attempts to define research questions and align efforts on solving recognized problems have been a feature of the archaeological landscape since the mid-20th century, many of which were published as "strategy" or "policy" documents of various kinds (see Darvill & Fulton 1998, 292-6 for a summary list). Together they provide a secure basis for the rational and communally endorsed selection of sites and themes to investigate. They also allow relatively scarce resources to be deployed effectively.

Wiltshire has been the subject of a number of reviews leading to the definition of problem-orientated research strategies, the most comprehensive being the series of papers by Derek Roe on the Palaeolithic (Roe 1969), Jeffrey Radley on the Mesolithic (Radley 1969), and Stuart Piggott on the Neolithic and Bronze Age (Piggott 1971). Roughly a decade later the Wessex Archaeological Committee published A Policy for Archaeological Investigation in Wessex (WAC 1981) which took a thematic approach to the structuring of future investigations and included proposals for work around Stonehenge under the theme of "Subsistence, population, and social organization" (WAC 1981, 14). This work subsequently took place and represents a major contribution to present understandings of the distribution, nature, and relative intensity of activity in the landscape around Stonehenge (Richards 1990). In 1997, CBA Wessex and the Forum for Archaeology in Wessex convened two seminars to discuss research strategies for the 21st century AD; contributions to the seminar dealing with prehistory were later published (Woodward & Gardiner 1998). More recently still the, Archaeological Research Agenda for the Avebury World Heritage Site (AAHRG 2001) provides a well-informed synthesis of current knowledge and an agenda for future research within the Avebury World Heritage Site.

The last 50 years have also seen substantive changes in the way that research policies are formulated and framed. A strategic review by Adrian Olivier of research strategies and perceptions of them found that:

"There is fundamental agreement that in order to make longer term objectives sustainable, regional frameworks are needed in which all those active in archaeological work can participate, and on which curatorial decisions can be firmly based and fairly judged." (Olivier 1996, Executive Summary). Whereas earlier documents emphasised the inter-linked ideas of "policy" and "priorities", since Olivier's work a more staged or nested approach has developed in which the overarching structure is that of a "framework" in which different interests can be advanced in a systematic and structured way.

What is a Research Framework?

A Research Framework is a tool for promoting and facilitating a wide range of research in such a way as to make the best of any and every opportunity to extend knowledge and understandings of the archaeology of the area. As a document, a Research Framework draws together a wide scope of interests and issues into an integrated and well-informed synthesis for the use of anyone who is interested in research within a designated area. The key aspect of a successful Research Framework is ensuring that all issues are considered through continuous involvement from parties and individuals operating in all research areas.

A Research Framework comprises three main components:

Resource Assessment: A statement of the current state of knowledge and a description of the archaeological resource. Effectively, a critical review of existing achievements linked to a series of maps and listings of key investigations and publications.

Research Agenda: A list of gaps in current knowledge, of work which could be done, and the potential for the resource to answer the questions. Essentially, a statement of the main perceived issues and priorities for systematic incremental investigation over the next decade or so.

Research Strategy: A statement setting out priorities and methods that can be pursued to address the agenda. Essentially, proposals for progressing all kinds of archaeological research by matching needs to anticipated operations and providing a structure to link recognized objectives with unanticipated opportunities in the future.

These components fit together in a tightly structured way such that the resource assessment relates to what has happened (i.e. past research), defining the research issues or setting the agenda is a very much a contemporary exercise (i.e. present research), while taking these issues forward is a matter for the future [Click here to view a diagram].

A well-informed Research Framework for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site will provide an invaluable resource to any researcher, manager, or planner who is active within the study area. It is intended that it will be used in conjunction with the Stonehenge Management Plan for future conservation, tourism, and landscape management.

Defining the scope of Stonehenge WHS Research Framework

The Stonehenge World Heritage Site does not exist in isolation either physically or intellectually. Accordingly, a number of parameters need to be noted in relation to the scope of the Research Framework.

Chronologically, the WHS is best known for its archaeological remains dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the "Age of Stonehenge", for it is these that form the basis of the WHS designation. The environs of Stonehenge have, however, been exploited more or less continuously since the end of the last glaciation and both the emergence of the spectacular monuments, and the subsequent use of the area after their abandonment, are very much part of the history of the landscape. In more recent times the area has been especially significant in terms of military history. Thus, although greatest emphasise will be places on the periods best represented by the archaeology, attention will be given to all periods from the end of the Pleistocene through to the late 20th century AD. A brief statement on the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic will also be included, drawing on the findings of the Southern Rivers Project and placing it in the context of the Pleistocene environment of the region.

Geographically, the boundary of the WHS is an artefact of modern mapping and contemporary landscape features; it is a relatively arbitrary slice of earlier patterns however they may have been defined. Equally, it is accepted that the world that was known to those who lived, worked, and used the Stonehenge landscape was a continuous space that extended out in all directions to limits that today we can only presume. What is fairly certain, however, is that the "world" in which Stonehenge lay was of a different scale at different times.

For the purposes of this study, and to provide a reasonable archaeological context for the material within the WHS, an arbitrarily defined rectangular study area of 135 square kilometres has been adopted; the southwest corner is at SU 405000 138000, the northeast corner being SU 420000 147000. This study area will be referred to as the "Stonehenge Landscape", a term that has some academic basis since it broadly reflects the visual envelope extending out from Stonehenge and its main associated monuments (Batchelor 1997, Plan 9).

The Research Framework will simultaneously look inwards from the boundary of the Stonehenge Landscape in a detailed way, and outwards into wider worlds in a general way. Summarized as a series of geographically scaled spaces, the following terminology is proposed even though the reality of seamless spaces of potentially infinite extent is recognized:

Stonehenge World Heritage Site

The defined WHS around Stonehenge, currently covering about 2000ha.

Stonehenge Landscape

A rectangular territory roughly 135 square kilometres centred around the GIS data collected for the WHS and its immediate hinterland.

Stonehenge Region

Broadly defined area represented archaeologically as the catchment from which materials, people, and ideas were drawn when building and using the sites and structures known.

Stonehenge World

The wider context within northwest Europe and beyond that provides the socio- cultural setting for what was happening within the Stonehenge Landscape.

These terms should be seen as vocabulary with which to conceptualize and communicate ideas about space and social relations: they are not intended as fixed geo-spatial classifications.

Functionally, views of the Stonehenge WHS have tended to focus on what are widely regarded as ritual and ceremonial monuments such as Stonehenge itself and the barrow cemeteries round about. Investigations over the last 50 years have shown that there is much more than this in the area; Bronze Age settlements, fieldsystems, and multi-period flint scatters, for example, have all now been recognized. Moreover, archaeological theory has emphasized the poverty of thinking in simplistic terms about ritual or domestic sites in a prehistoric context. All of what might be regarded as recognized strands of life should be seen as deeply, and in many senses inextricably, embedded in each other.

Interest in Stonehenge itself and the monuments around about is wide and diverse, and extends well beyond the traditional boundaries of archaeology. Palaeoastronomy is one area with a substantial literature and considerable achievement that will be considered, as too the appreciation of the wide range of values that recognize a contemporary interest in the sacred nature of place.

Philosophically, the construction of the Research Framework must inevitably take place within the current traditions of the discipline. These can perhaps most easily be summarized as being post-processual in the sense that it is characterized by a wide range of different and sometimes conflicting approaches. Such plurality of endeavour is something the Research Framework will seek to encourage, recognizing the interests and aspirations of a whole range of diverse research orientations and respecting the rights of each to have access to relevant research materials provided that this does not compromise the ability of others to pursue their inquiries.

Looking back for the resource assessment stage of the Research Framework serves to draw attention to how traditions of investigation have changed over the last few centuries. Andrew Sherratt has proposed a useful model through which such matters can be explored based on alternating attitudes in European cultural and intellectual history (1996, 142). This European cultural dialectic involves swings of interest between "comparative" studies following a sequence through from the Renaissance via Enlightenment and Positivism to Modernism and the "contexualist or relativist" line that runs from the Reformation through Romanticism and nationalism through to Postmodernism. Investigations at and around Stonehenge can be set within such a model [click here to view] which serves both to highlight and emphasize that what we inherit from past research as been collected, analysed, and boxed up (physically as well as intellectually in some cases!) according to the traditions of its age. Thus in many ways the resource assessment is an exercise in recording the various packages and their content that have come down to us. How we unpack these boxes, selectively use their content, and rearrange the material for the future is for the present generation to decide and in many ways forms the central task in setting the research agenda, in other words defining the issues.

Constructing the Research Framework

In broad terms the three components that make up the Research Framework provide a staged approach to the discussion and assembly of a document; a ready-made timetable for the project. In practice, of course, the documentation will be developmental, and is expected to go through a number of iterations, while the identification of past achievements, the recognition or key issues, and the proposition of ways forward should involve the widest possible participation by members of the interested research community. Thus, in practice, a periodically up-dated set of draft documents will be maintained on this website for anyone to view and comment upon. Alongside, and closely related to the development of the documents there will be two workshops and a regional seminar at which there will be opportunities for open group-based discussion of the emergent issues and strategies. Following the seminar and the placing on the website of a complete draft document there will be an opportunity to review and comment upon the totality.

The timetable that has been proposed for the construction of the Research Framework is fairly tight, but well focused. Work began in May 2001 and it is hoped that the finalized document will be available in spring 2002 [Click here to view an outline project calendar], It is currently envisaged that the completed Research Framework will be available as hard copy in the form of a printed book, as a printed insert for the Management Plan (which was published in folder-form), and as electronic copy on the Internet. Other possibilities will be explored if demand exists (e.g. CD ROM version) so comments to the Research Team on the way the Research Framework is promulgated would be most welcome.

Project management and the research team

The development of the Research Framework is being overseen by the Stonehenge Research Working Party chaired by David Miles and funded by English Heritage. The Archaeology Group in the School of Conservation Sciences at Bournemouth University has been commissioned to co-ordinate the production of the Research framework and carry out the associated research. A Project Team has been established comprising:

Professor Timothy Darvill, Principal investigator

Vanessa Constant, Research Assistant

Ehren Milner, Research Assistant (part-time)

The Project Team can be contacted at:

The Stonehenge Research Framework Project
Archaeology Group,
School of Conservation Sciences,
Bournemouth University,
Fern Barrow,
BH12 5BB

Tel.: 01202 595661
Fax.: 01202 595478



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Batchelor, D, 1997, Mapping the Stonehenge landscape. In B Cunliffe & C Renfrew (eds), Science and Stonehenge (Proceedings of the British Academy 92). Oxford: The British Academy. 61-72

Coles, B & Coles, J, 1986, Sweet Track to Glastonbury. The Somerset Levels in prehistory. London: Thames and Hudson

Darvill, T & Fulton, A, 1998, The Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995. Main report. Bournemouth and London: Bournemouth University and English Heritage

English Heritage, 2000, Stonehenge World Heritage Site: Management Plan. London: English Heritage

English Heritage & The National Trust, 1998, Stonehenge: the master plan. London: English Heritage and The National Trust. [Brochure and limited circulation printed report]

Fielden, M, and Jokilehto, J, 1993, Management guidelines for World Cultural Heritage Sites. Rome: ICCROM

Fleming, A, 1988, The Dartmoor Reaves. London: Batsford

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Piggott, S, 1971, An archaeological survey and policy for Wiltshire: Part III, Neolithic and Bronze Age. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 66, 47-57

Radley, J, 1969, An archaeological survey and policy for Wiltshire: Part II, Mesolithic. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 64, 18-20

Richards, J, 1990, The Stonehenge Environs Project (Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England Archaeological Report 16). London: English Heritage

Roe, D, 1969, An archaeological survey and policy for Wiltshire: Part I, Palaeolithic. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 64, 1-17

Sherratt, A, 1996, Settlement patterns or landscape studies? Reconciling reason and romance. Archaeological Dialogues, 3.2, 140-159

Sykes, B, 2001, Are you by chance related? The Sunday Times, 20:05:01, part 6, 1-2

WAC, 1981, A policy for archaeological investigation in Wessex. Salisbury: Wessex Archaeological Committee. [Limited circulation printed report]

Wainwright, G, 2000a, The Stonehenge we deserve. Antiquity, 74, 334-342

Wainwright, G, 2000b, Time please. Antquity, 74, 909-943

Woodward, A, and Gardiner, J, 1998, Wessex before words. Some new research directions for prehistoric Wessex. Salisbury: Wessex Archaeology

All materials are copyright to the Stonehenge Research Project, Bournemouth University, 2001, unless stated otherwise.
Last updated 15th June 2001