The Enigma of Stonehenge
The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.
Stonehenge is known worldwide but most people have no real understanding of this complex site. There have been many theories put forward to explain its place within the prehistoric landscape and we will examine these in the light of current excavations and research. The site begins in the Late Neolithic period (c 3000BC) but following the initial construction Stonehenge was continually modified throughout the early Bronze Age with the last phase dated to c 1600BC. In order to interpret Stonehenge we will examine the Neolithic and early Bronze Age society of Southern Britain by investigating their settlements, religious practices, material culture and burial patterns to discover why this unique site developed over a time span of some 1400 years.
Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.
The Neolithic in Britain: this period sees the introduction of farming into Britain c 4000BC. Current theories as to how domestication was introduced into Britain will be examined. The lack of settlements is a feature of the early Neolithic and the reasons for this will be discussed. Other topics to be covered include the contemporary environment, social organisation and material culture of the first farmers.
Altering the Land: the Neolithic landscape was physically altered by constructing field monuments. The first were barrows (tombs) and we will consider their form and function. Barrows are followed by causewayed enclosures and henges, the first British monuments to enclose space. We examine the meaning of this change and how barrows and enclosures are linked. A theme to explore will be the increasing complexity of Neolithic social organisation
Stonehenge – The Monument: today includes an in depth study of the phases of construction of Stonehenge and how the site may have been used through time from its beginnings in 3000BC to the last phase in 1600BC. Theories as to the function of Stonehenge will be examined and the results of the recent excavations at Stonehenge and at the nearby Durrington Walls will be discussed.
Excursion: a morning visit to Stonehenge with a walk around the monument and a look at the new Visitors' Centre. Lunch can be had in the market town of Devizes and then a visit there to the Wiltshire Museum with its excellent prehistoric collections which relate to the Stonehenge area.
Bronze Age - All Change: Stonehenge overlaps the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age. Changes to burial practice are significant: large communal barrows are sealed and individuals are buried beneath round barrows in cemeteries. Important Bronze Age cemeteries are concentrated in the immediate vicinity of Stonehenge; we will study why these changes came about, their meaning and how they are reflected in the landscape.
Stonehenge. A morning walk around the monument and a look at the new Visitors' Centre.
Devizes. Lunch in the market town of Devizes followed by an afternoon visit to the Wiltshire Museum with its collection of prehistoric collections relating to the Stonehenge area.
Excursion Rating: Demanding
Excursion Ratings: Key
(as rated by course tutors)
Easy: Up to an hour's walk on even ground or less than half an hour's walk on rough ground.
Moderate: Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.
Demanding: More than two hours' walk on even ground or up to two hours' walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.
Cunliffe, Barry. Britain Begins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Malone, Caroline. Neolithic Britain and Ireland. Stroud: Tempus, 2001.
Richards, Julian. Stonehenge: The Story So Far. London: Historic England, 2017.
All books helpful but not necessary for the class.
The fee £1545 includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct firstname.lastname@example.org, as these rooms cannot be booked online.
There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form. Early application for these rooms is essential.
Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct email@example.com, as these rooms cannot be booked online.
Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.
We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom, field trip and meals): £1625.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom, field trip and meals): £1445.00
Scott McCracken is a sessional lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London College teaching archaeological methods and prehistory. He has worked as a field archaeologist throughout the British Isles and in Sweden directing a number of excavations of various periods. He has taught on The Oxford Experience since 2012, specialising in Stonehenge and the Celts. His current interests lie in British prehistory and battlefield archaeology.
There are no assessments for this course.
Online registration closes on Wednesday 1 May 2019 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.
Terms and conditions
Terms and conditions for applicants and students on this course
Sources of funding
Information on financial support
Week 1 Courses - from Sun 07 Jul 2019 to Sat 13 Jul 2019
Week 2 Courses - from Sun 14 Jul 2019 to Sat 20 Jul 2019
Week 3 Courses - from Sun 21 Jul 2019 to Sat 27 Jul 2019
Week 4 Courses - from Sun 28 Jul 2019 to Sat 03 Aug 2019
Week 5 Courses - from Sun 04 Aug 2019 to Sat 10 Aug 2019
Week 6 Courses - from Sun 11 Aug 2019 to Sat 17 Aug 2019