Most of the one million visitors who visit Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain every year believe they are looking at untouched 4,000-year-old remains. But virtually every stone was re-erected, straightened or embedded in concrete between 1901 and 1964, says a British doctoral student.
“What we have been looking at is a 20th-century landscape, reminiscent of what Stonehenge might have looked like thousands of years ago,” says Brian Edwards, a student at the University of the West of England in Bristol.
Stonehenge isn’t the only ancient site to have been transformed in recent years, he says. “Even many of the local people in Avebury weren’t aware that a lot of the stones were put up in the 1930s,” he told New Scientist.
The major reconstructions that took place at Stonehenge and Avebury early last century couldn’t be repeated at a major site today, thinks Edwards. “But it probably is happening in small museums and heritage centres up and down the country,” he says.
English Heritage says it is now considering covering the Stonehenge alteration programme in detail in the next edition of its official guidebook to the site. A decision not to include the work in official guides was taken in the 1960s, says Dave Batchelor, English Heritage’s senior archaeologist.
The first restoration project took place in 1901. A leaning stone was straightened and set in concrete, to prevent it falling.
More drastic renovations were carried out in the 1920s. Under the direction of Colonel William Hawley, a member of the Stonehenge Society, six stones were moved and re-erected.