Ancient Wessex News and Information
Ancient Wessex News and Information

The world of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum

The world of Stonehenge on view through 17 July 2022 is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Key loans include the Nebra Sky Disc, the world’s oldest map of the stars which is on loan to the UK for the very first time, and the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach.

Stonehenge was built 4,500 years ago around the same time as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. This landmark exhibition sets the great monument in the context of one of the most remarkable eras on the islands of Britain and Ireland, which saw huge social and technological revolutions, alongside fundamental changes in people’s relationships with the sky, the land and one another.

At the heart of the exhibition is the sensational loan of a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber circle, dubbed Seahenge due its similarity to Wiltshire’s Stonehenge. It is a hugely significant and extremely rare surviving example of a timber monument that has also been called “Stonehenge of the Sea.” It reemerged 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. Collectively the circle creates a giant tree. A narrow entranceway was aligned on the rising midsummer sun and it is thought this monument was used for ritual purposes.

Seahenge comes to the British Museum from the Norfolk Museums Service, where it is partially displayed at the Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn. This is the first time Seahenge has ever gone on loan. Visitors to the exhibition at the British Museum will see some of the monument’s most important elements, including many timber posts that have never been displayed before. They will also see the hugely important ‘doorway’ where worshippers would enter. Its inclusion in the exhibition helps to tell the story of the shared beliefs that inspired ancient communities to build the many astonishing monuments found across Britain, Ireland and beyond.

Nearly two-thirds of the objects on display in The world of Stonehenge are loans, with objects 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.

The exhibition has been organised with the State Museum of Prehistory, Halle/Saale, Germany.

Stonehenge today is cared for by English Heritage on behalf of the nation.

To coincide with the exhibition, a beautifully illustrated catalogue, The world of Stonehenge, written by Duncan Garrow and Neil Wilkin, will be published by the British Museum Press in February 2022. British Museum exclusive paperback, £25, ISBN 9780714123486. Hardback, £40, ISBN 9780714123493

Stonehenge © English Heritage

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