Stonehenge exhibition explores parallels with Japanese stone circles | Stonehenge

They were separated by thousands of miles and the two groups of builders could not meet or exchange notes, but intriguing parallels between Stonehenge and the Japanese stone circles are to be highlighted in an exhibit at the Plain of Stone Monument. Salisbury.

The exhibit will show that ancient people in southern Britain and Japan went to great lengths to build stone circles, appeared to celebrate the passing of the sun and felt compelled to come together for feasts or rituals .

Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan will highlight the similarities between Middle and Late Jōmon period monuments and settlements in Japan and those built by the Late Neolithic people of southern Britain – and point out some of the differences.

The exhibition will feature 80 striking objects, some of which have never been seen outside of Japan. The main loans announced on Wednesday include a flame pot, a type of highly decorated Jōmon ceramics, its fantastic shape evoking fiery flames. Such pots were produced in Japan for a relatively short period, perhaps only a few hundred years.

A Jōmon flame pot from Iwanohara, Niigata. Photography: Tadahiro Ogawa

Also on display will be fragments of dogū, clay figurines which have been found in Jōmon settlements and stone circles and which may have represented goddesses or earth spirits and may have been used in fertility or healing rituals. healing. Many dogū are believed to have been intentionally broken and scattered during ceremonies.

Among the Japanese sites that will be honored is that of the stone circles of Ōyu in northern Japan. It doesn’t feature the kind of standing stones that Stonehenge is famous for, but rather two large circles made up of thousands of river pebbles.

The circles include small standing “sundial” stones that align with the sun at midsummer daybreak. At Stonehenge, the longest day of the year, the first rays of the sun shine in the heart of the monument.

Dr Susan Greaney, senior property historian at English Heritage and curator of Circles of Stone, said the Wiltshire and Japanese circles suggested a “common response” to the environment and seasonal cycles of their creators.

“To understand the significance of Stonehenge, we need to understand what happened elsewhere in the world in prehistory,” she said. “While there was obviously no contact between Japan and Britain at this time, there are startling parallels.”

Greaney said the Jōmon people and their Neolithic counterparts in southern Britain shared the same type of climate, topography and access to natural resources. Both built circles of stones aligned with the movements of the sun and took great care to remember their ancestors. Both peoples produced similar tools and pots and established settlements around important monuments.

“But there are also some really interesting differences,” Greaney said. She argued that it was not fair to say that because the Japanese produced more elaborate ceramics they were more advanced – it could be, for example, that it was taboo in Neolithic Britain to make objects representing the human figure. Or that the ancient Britons had the upper hand because they were farmers, while those who built stone circles in Japan were fishermen, hunters and gatherers. “They’re just different,” she said.

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Simon Kaner, executive director of the Sainsbury’s Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, said he was delighted to see precious artefacts from Japan on display at Stonehenge. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to explore comparisons between Jōmon Japan and Neolithic Britain – separated by some 10,000 km at either end of Eurasia, but sharing a desire to build monuments” , did he declare.

Kaner said it was fascinating that no dogū-like figures have been found in southern Britain, with the most comparable having been discovered in southeastern Europe.

Ceramic figurines may have captured people’s imaginations in Japan but not here,” he said. “Holding the exhibition at Stonehenge itself offers visitors the opportunity to reflect on common themes of what it means to be human, as well as difference, diversity and creativity in prehistory.”

  • Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan runs from September 30, 2022 to August 31, 2023. Admission will be free for Stonehenge ticket holders, members of English Heritage and National Trust, local residents and groups educational.

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