Four Neolithic “chalk plaques” were discovered near Stonehenge between 1968–2017. A new study has shown that the ancient illustrations on the Stonehen
Four Neolithic “chalk plaques” were discovered near Stonehenge between 1968–2017. A new study has shown that the ancient illustrations on the Stonehenge plaques are much more than just abstract patterns. The Stonehenge plaques were buried in a pit about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from England’s most famous ancient monument. English Heritage scientists have dated the plaques to between 2900 BC and 2580 BC. The new study has called these four ancient art works “some of the most spectacular chalk designs ever discovered in Britain.”
The front side of the four Stonehenge plaques. ( Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society )
The Stonehenge Plaques Found In a Cursus Pit
According to an article on Silent Earth , the plaque pit in which the artworks were discovered is located directly south of an entrance to the famous Cursus monument at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England. This is probably no coincidence and suggests some kind of connection between the chalk Stonehenge plaques and the Cursus, which was in use 500 to 820 years before the plaques were deposited in the nearby pit.
Examples of two-dimensional Neolithic artwork is a rarity in Britain, and chalk incisions, like these, are truly unique and unusual. The ancient chalk images discovered on the surface of the plaques have now been mapped by researchers at Wessex Archaeology and the full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society .
Since the first plaque was discovered in 1968, many archaeologists have been skeptical, maintaining that the chalk marks were mere random etchings. But now, using advanced imaging techniques, a team of scientists have revealed underlying “ geometric designs ” executed by artisans wielding “a range of artistic abilities,” according to the new study.
The reverse, back, side of the four Stonehenge plaques. ( Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society )
Ancient Art Works From A Neolithic Golden Age?
Aiming to “understand the creative process of these prehistoric artists,” professor of archaeology, Bob Davis, from the University of Cambridge, who led the new study, mapped the surfaces of each plaque using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). This non-destructive scanning method means no physical contact with the artifacts was required, as it charted billions of data points pertaining to microscopic rises and dips of the surface texture of the plaques. The images show these points in different colors, representing highlights and shadows.
Plaque 1 shows the image of a twisted cord , which was the number one tool for farming, fishing, measuring, and building in the Neolithic period. The other three plaques demonstrate a kaleidoscope of apparently linear patterns. However, the new study demonstrates that these are interwoven with “deliberate, staged composition, execution and detail.” Having identified real world tools and conceptual elements (geometry) from Middle Neolithic culture, the paper suggests Late Neolithic Britain may have experienced a “golden age of chalk art .”
The lower part of Plaque 1 showing raw data under specular enhancement mode on the left and the engraved sequence on the right showing selected phases in red, dark blue, yellow, green, light blue and orange. ( Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society )
Neolithic Art Views Greatly Changed By the New Study
Until this new paper, archaeology was split over the content depicted on the chalk Stonehenge plaques. Many believed the linear patterns were random and contained no data whatsoever, while others maintained they were examples of hallucinogenic art under the influence of magic mushrooms . However, there has always been a faction of archaeologists that believed these plaques were much more than idle graffiti. Now, high technology has affirmed the last group’s suspicions demonstrating underlying meaning and “cultural significance” in the chalk Stonehenge plaques.
Co-author, archaeologist Phil Harding, first analyzed the plaques in the old analogue world, back in 1988. He said the modern analytical tools used in the new study offer deep new insights into the mindsets of the ancient people who made them, which they projected onto the ancient plaques with chalk.
Furthermore, another paper co-author, Matt Leivers, said the application of modern technology to the ancient artifacts allowed for not only a better understanding of the working methods of the Neolithic artists , but it also provided a rare glimpse into the artists’ “motivations.”
Having interpreted all of the lines and angles on the four plaques, the archaeologists concluded that they represent “an important cultural marker in the Neolithic period.” And with the twisted cord having been found marked on one plaque, it can be speculated that the Neolithic artists were inspired by everyday objects, trades and tools, just like today’s artists.
Top image: Two of the Stonehenge plaques, make of chalk, analyzed with high tech in the latest study. Source: Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
By Ashley Cowie