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TV review: Secret of the Stonehenge Skeletons

Entertainment | Published:

You may have thought experts had already milked every grain of inference to be ascertained from the mysterious Stonehenge.

Oh how wrong you were. Just as we were settling down with our cup of cocoa last night, the weekend all but over and post weekend blues starting to kick in, channel four bosses hit us with a fresh barrage of revelations. The enlightenment was avoidable.

When Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons got under way at 8pm yesterday, Jeremy Clarkson was kicking off the second half of his Top Gear Africa special on BBC2.

Dancing on Ice was only half way through and there was also the option of catching the last 45 minutes of Rocky II.

As it happens, those who did manage to summon the concentration power to give it a go are likely to have been pleasantly surprised.

The documentary followed archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson and his research crew as they examined ancient remains buried beneath the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire for the first time.

It begged the question why no-one had tried to do this before but, alas, this wasn't explained.

Using state-of-the-art techniques such as strontium isotope analysis – not entirely sure what this is – and carbon dating, the team challenged accepted views about when Stonehenge was built and what it was built for. There were a number of eureka moments.

We heard, for instance, how Stonehenge didn't always look like it does now: it started as a giant prehistoric grave yard that consisted of a circle of stones.

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We also found out how it later united Britain, with thousands of people travelling more than 400 miles from as far as Scotland to get involved in festivities.

Theories Stonehenge was built as an astronomical calendar or observatory were quashed.

We also heard how the Beaker people, who arrived from the continent with previously unseen gold and copper, effectively put an end to traditions surrounding the monument and began the Bronze Age.

Narrated by Jim Carter, the one-hour programme came complete with all the theatre you would expect.

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It was flooded with power words such as "stunning" and "remarkable".

There were sweeping panoramas of the site against sunset backdrops and there were haunting orchestral crescendos that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the X Files.

The mood was set immediately with Carter's intro: "Our greatest pre-historic monument has been a mystery for centuries," he said.

And despite the complexity of some of the material, it actually made for very easy watching. The enthusiasm of Pearson and his team was infectious.

And by the end you genuinely felt like you had increased your own knowledge.

It was almost as if you'd been involved in the investigation in some way.

When it could have been so easy to succumb to lighter alternatives on other channels, those who tuned in to Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons were undoubtedly rewarded.

David Lumb

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