9 NASSINGTON ROAD, LONDON, NW3 2TX TEL: 01-435 7517 No, 32 MAY 1972 Vol. III No. 9
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WESSEX WITH MYCENAE
What is the date of Stonehenge? Recently there has been considerable controversy among prehistorians concerning the date of the Wessex culture, which is usually considered to form the background of the final phases of Stonehenge. Originally the Wessex culture was conceived by Professor Stuart Piggott in 1938 as a sort of European Common Market in which the amber of Scandinavia and the gold of Ireland was traded for the faience beads of Egypt, with the princes of Wessex acting as the middle men, taking the profits, and building Stonehenge on the proceeds. Thus the date of Stonehenge was linked with that of Mycenae as the first firm date in British prehistory.
Then came radiocarbon. At first everything went well, and the first radiocarbon dates for the Early Bronze Age tied in with the assumed date of the Wessex Culture. Then prehistorians suddenly realised that radiocarbon 'dates' were not true dates but needed to be calibrated upwards. In a powerful paper, 'Wessex without Mycenae', Professor Colin Renfrew firmly grasped the implications, and argued that the Wessex culture must be earlier than Mycenae.
There was only one snag. There were no direct dates for the Wessex culture, but only for associated cultures. Thus the first direct radiocarbon dates for the Wessex culture have been awaited with considerable interest. These first radiocarbon dates have now been announced. They all come out, not at 1400-1500, but around 1200-1250 b.c. This is much lower than had been assumed, but when 'corrected', these dates become true dates of 1400-1500 B.C., that is the original dates assumed from the cross links with Mycenae. Thus the pendulum has swung right back to where it started. This will certainly cause a lot of rethinking about links between the various Early Bronze Age cultures, but it does look as if once again we can believe that Stonehenge was contemporary with the Golden Age of Mycenae.