Stonehenge: Two tribes go to war – over bones

Druids and archaeologists battle it out at Stonehenge’s new £27m centre

Two modern-day tribes with competing claims to Stonehenge are set to join battle this week over the remains of the dead. On one side stand the archaeologists, who insist that bones of ancient Britons buried near the monument should be put on display at the new £27m visitor centre, which opens on Wednesday.

Ranged against them is a warband of druids – led by Arthur Pendragon – who are campaigning for the bones to be reburied.

It is a conflict that raises considerable passion, along with questions about human dignity and how best to explain the past to the public. But both sides plan to wage war on the politest of terms: English Heritage has allowed the Loyal Arthurian Warband to hold a protest on Wednesday on its land at the site, while the druid group says “non-violent, direct action” will be used only as a last resort.

Some might dismiss the druids as cranks, but an online poll in the Western Daily Press found that 93 per cent of people backed their campaign. And some museums around the world have given in to pressure either to cover up human remains or to stop displaying them.

Archaeologist Julian Richards, who wrote a new guidebook for the centre, said that “coming face to face, or face to skull” with an ancient Briton was important as it helped visitors “make that connection” with the people who built Stonehenge, which dates back more than 5,000 years. “To me, to exclude [human remains] is sort of bottling out,” he said. “You’re finding this in one or two museums who are adopting an overly conciliatory approach. Egyptian mummies are now having a white sheet draped over them so you cannot actually see them. Given that the past is about understanding people, then those physical remains of those people, especially if they can be used to illustrate something about the life of someone, are a very powerful thing.”

Mr Richards, who presented the BBC series Meet the Ancestors, said some groups felt they “have a right to speak on behalf of these people”. “I don’t think anybody today has got that right because they haven’t got that direct cultural lineage,” he said.

Arthur Pendragon, a former soldier who changed his name by deed poll and who claims to be a reincarnation of King Arthur, said he planned to lead up to 200 druids – “robed up” with drummers – at the protest. “We believe the ancient dead should have as much respect as the recent dead,” he said. “The way I see it, it’s not just a druid or pagan issue. It’s just one of common decency and respect – let those at rest stay at rest.”

English Heritage said it respected “Mr Arthur Pendragon’s views and his right to peaceful demonstration”. “English Heritage believes that authenticity is important to tell England’s story. We use real objects and artefacts because we believe they are the best way for people to come close to history,” it said, adding “the vast majority” of museum visitors were “comfortable” with the idea.

But only on Wednesday will it become clear what Stonehenge’s third and largest tribe – the tourists – make of the archaeologists’ commitment to authenticity and the sound and peaceful fury of the druids.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave