The mythology of human sacrifices is deeply tied to Druids. Thanks, Caesar.
Let’s rip away the mythology and look at the science as it’s understood today.
Firstly, it’s impossible Druids were responsible. They simply did not exist at the time sacrifices happened at Stonehenge. The peoples who performed ritualistic and religious sacrifices were not Druids. Images contrived by Hollywood like Wicker Man are skewed. Whoever the Druids were, and that deserves its own series of blogs, they did not initiate the sacrifices.
There are sacrificial burials scattered throughout the Stonehenge landscape. These include animal and human burials. There are bones and there are cremations. These burials begin during the Neolithic period or Stone Age from 9000 BC to 3000 BC.
There have been almost 60 cremation burials uncovered at Stonehenge. There could be as many as a couple hundred more yet to be excavated.
The Amesbury Archer is the name given to one of the more famous burials. It is the richest of burials and is found 2 miles south-east of Stonehenge. It is also known as the King of Stonehenge due to its magnificent yield of grave goods. Grave goods should give any archaeologist great excitement. Grave goods reveal so much about day-to-day life of people of this era. There could be weapons, jewelry, clothing, pots, and clothing, among other things. It’s a treasure trove, much as those burying the Archer would have thought, only for other reasons.
Found along with the Amesbury Archer skeleton are 5 beaker pots, 16 flint arrowheads, boars’ tusks, 2 sandstone wrist guards (hence the nickname), gold hair ornaments, 3 small copper knives, a flint knapping kit and metalworking tools, and a shale belt ring. This person was of high status.
A secondary site nearby of a younger male has been analyzed as well. This skeleton, a male of around 20 – 25 years old could be a relative of the Archer.
These burials represent important people. They weren’t slaves or what might have once been considered ‘unwilling victims.’ The importance of these people, as shown by their grave goods would indicate the sacrifices were made by willing volunteers and the sacrifices were of a religious and significance importance associated with the religion of the day.
Another group of Early Bronze Age burials (dating around 2300 BC) were the Boscombe Bowmen. They are located south of Amesbury. They take their name from the flint arrowheads found in the grave goods. There are 7 people: 3 children, a teenager, and 3 men, all related to each other. Again the grave goods include Beaker pottery, flint tools, boars’ tusks, and a bone toggle.
These burials occurred roughly around the time the Stonehenge circle was erected.
Another burial is known as the Boy with the Amber Necklace. He is located in a similar location to the Boscombe Down burial. The boy is about 15 years old and was wearing a necklace of around 90 amber beads. Amber, as it is today, was considered rare and exotic. It would have been imported from somewhere like Denmark. Analysis of the boy’s skeleton would indicate he did not grow up in the region. Rather, he appears to have come from the Mediterranean. When studying skeletons like this and learning that sacrificial members were either related or originate from somewhere far away, the discovery both answers many questions and creates many more. Why would this boy have been here? Why was he sacrificed? Clearly he was someone significant to have been buried with such a valuable necklace.
It does indicate that people traveled to Stonehenge from great distances. The value of the grave goods could suggest the people sacrificed were wealthy. Who they were and why exactly they were sacrificed remain questions with more theories than solid answers.
Much work and study remain in the Stonehenge landscape for us to further understand these people: who they were, how they worshiped, where they came from, and why Stonehenge and its associated features existed.