There was a very interesting Time Team TV programme last night summarising the latest research on Stonehenge, specifically the Stonehenge Riverside Project and the theories of Mike Parker Pearson. Essentially Pearson argues that Stonehenge and the nearby Durrington Walls prehistoric site were part of a common complex joined by the River Avon. The huge amount of feasting debris found at Durrington suggests that it must have been a gathering place for large numbers of people - possibly even some kind of ritual/festival site.
Knowing so little about what people actually did there, let alone believed, it is fanciful (if tempting) to draw a direct connection between the neolithic and the free festival held at Stonehenge in the 1970s and early 1980s. But what we do know is that if the ancestors had attempted to gather there several thousand years later they would have faced the full might of the Wiltshire Constabulary.
In the Guardian yesterday, Andy Worthington recalled that it is exactly 24 years since The Battle of the Beanfield:
'Exactly 24 years ago, in a field beside the A303 in Wiltshire, the might of Margaret Thatcher's militarised police descended on a convoy of new age travellers, green activists, anti-nuclear protestors and free festival-goers, who were en route to Stonehenge in an attempt to establish the 12th annual Stonehenge free festival in fields across the road from Britain's most famous ancient monument. That event has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.
In many ways the epitome of the free festival movement of the 1970s, the Stonehenge free festival – an annual anarchic jamboree that, in 1984, had attracted tens of thousands of visitors – had been an embarrassment to the authorities for many years, but its violent suppression, when police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence cornered the convoy of vehicles in a field and, after an uneasy stand-off, invaded the field on foot and in vehicles, subjecting men, women and children to a distressing show of physical force, was, like the Miners' strike the year before, and the suppression of the printers at Wapping the year after, a brutal display of state violence that signaled a major curtailment of civil liberties'.
(full article here; Andy has also written about it at his blog)
Footage of that day (especially in the film Operation Solstice) still makes me shudder - it's the sight of power off the leash, police arrogant enough to know that they can beat up defenceless people in front of TV cameras without having to worry because they know their political masters have given them the green light to do what they like:
(you can watch Time Team's Secrets of Stonehenge at 4oD for the rest of the month)