Stonehenge, one of the most iconic and oldest visible monuments in England has attracted tourists for at least several thousand years. From the Romans and the antiquarians in the 16th-19th centuries to the present day; with thousands of visitors who come to visit this monument, often barely staying long enough to really appreciate Stonehenge and its surroundings. It is the most visited of English Heritage’s ‘assets’ and It thus draws the largest income, mainly through sales of membership and gifts. I was first drawn to the monument when I visited during the Summer Solstice in 2009. Seeing the sun align with the central alter stone, made me curious as to what this monument was used for.
It was this curiosity coupled with the fact that I wanted to gain experience within the heritage sector and thus improve my CV which led me to volunteer for English Heritage. The role was to provide talks to foreign students on Stonehenge’s construction and history. No simple feat as there are many speculations to how exactly it was constructed, with archaeology sometimes providing answers, but more often than not more questions than answers. As my main interest is archaeology my talks were based not just on the several theories of the monument but also the surrounding landscape, putting Stonehenge into its environment.
Stonehenge is generally always busy, with coach loads of tourists turning up every hour. We were given a list of schools which would be having the talks, these came all over Europe but mostly from France and Germany. The first task therefore was to organise with the other volunteers who would be giving which talk. I would then take the group over to near the edge of the car park, where the nearby Bronze age barrows were located, in order to give them a clearer picture of the environment. I provided a general introduction to the site, its history, apparent construction, theories and lastly archaeology. As the students level of understanding of English varied, I found it useful to use English Heritage images to aid me in my talks. I received positive feedback from the students and teachers, who generally thought that it complimented there tour of Stonehenge. This was useful to them as there is very limited amount of information regarding the site, which is surprising given Its importance. However this is being rectified, as a new visitor centre will be constructed.
Skill and Experience
So what did I gain from this experience. The ability to communicate to a diverse range of people such as foreign students, teaching them aspects of Stonehenge which they would not have known prior to their visit. It was rewarding when they asked questions, as It showed that they had learned something new. Being passionate about the subject was obviously important and I tried to incorporate a sense of humour as the subject may seem boring to some. I used my prior knowledge of the Neolithic to good effect as I was able to talk about my experiences on a Neolithic period excavation in Finland, relating It to the Stonehenge landscape. The contacts I gained was obviously useful too, and this has enabled me to gain a job which I shall be starting shortly. In short It gave me important transferable skills and gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of this ancient monument.
Author: Jeremy Hallatt