Operation Stonehenge = Mission Impossible?

There have been dark mutterings online about the recent Operation Stonehenge series and the failure of the production company who made it to round up all the work at Stonehenge and in the landscape over the last decade or so, to be included in a programme that makes sense of it all. As well as scathing comments, I’ve read a few bleak reviews in addition to those that appeared in the mainstream media, so it’s clear there’s no shortage of opinion as to what should ideally be included in the next feature-length documentary on Stonehenge.

The solution to these private misgivings and this publicly expressed dissatisfaction is simple. All that’s required is for someone – an archaeologist or non-archaeologist – to write the script for such a programme. If the idea or concept is any good, then it won’t matter whether or not the script includes precise directions for cutaways, voice-overs, camera angles, close-ups or anything else of the kind. All someone has to do is to find a way to include all or most of the discoveries around Stonehenge in recent times, so I imagine this would include the parchmarks, the excavations at the Palisade, the discoveries there of child burials and a chalk pig or hedgehog, Bluestonehenge, the excavations on the Avenue, the excavations on the Cursus, the excavations and discoveries at Durrington Walls, the 2008 excavation at Stonehenge itself, the excavation of the Aubrey Hole containing the human remains that Hawley dumped there, the laser-scanning of Stonehenge, the excavation of the Cuckoo Stone, the excavations near Woodhenge and the excavations and many discoveries at Vespasian’s Camp.

When you’ve found a way of summarising all this in way that everyone agrees upon, you can then look for footage or photographs to illustrate the story, and/or you could throw in some CGI to further make sense of the whole thing. When you’ve got all that down to a manageable size, you’ve then got to either prepare or else have to hand a concept or narrative that will be somehow different from everything that’s gone before into which you can insert your summing up or rounding up of the above material, although you may also want to include a whole range of other studies and experts I’ve not mentioned.

This exercise involves nothing more than putting words on a page of A4. As I see it, every last thing is in your favour, because Stonehenge is a subject that never fails to gain people’s attention and to fascinate them. I imagine that archaeologists and other relevant experts would be queuing up to take part, while you can easily find a huge amount of production companies and documentary makers online, a good proportion of which would be delighted to receive even a rudimentary script that promised to impress a commissioning editor, albeit with a little prior refinement.

It’s as simple as that.


In the gloom before dawn, we discern a human figure clad in animal skins, clutching the skull of an aurochs. As the scene gradually brightens, we see it’s a young woman, staring intently at what we now call the North Barrow at Stonehenge, but no other features are present. She tears her gaze away from the mound, then as if hearing a voice which is silent to us, she limps towards a patch of ground that would be the centre of today’s Stonehenge. The voice(s) she hears cause(s) her to turn her head to the East and widen her eyes, then the first rays of dawn illuminate her face as she squints into the rising sun.

We pull back, up and around; we see the Stonehenge landscape gradually illuminated at dawn, to reveal a rough but unmistakable track where the Avenue will later appear, various long barrows and the already crumbling banks of the Great Cursus.

One of the very few things we can be certain of as far as Stonehenge is concerned is that the site was a special place for our ancestors long before the monument as we know it came into existence. For centuries, and increasingly so in modern times, Stonehenge has become a special place for us all, with the result that archaeologists and all manner of other scientific experts have devoted themselves to trying to solve the many apparently impenetrable mysteries of the ruins and to trying to answer some of the countless questions posed by the existence of the ruins. What follows is their story. And ours, too.



AN ARCHAEOLOGIST wanders around a room inspecting rows of some of the many books written on Stonehenge. As if hearing some silent guidance, as the girl at Stonehenge did in the previous scene, THE ARCHAEOLOGIST wanders to a table in the centre of the room, then sits at a laptop, staring at a seemingly endless list of Stonehenge-related sites and topics as they scroll down the screen. THE ARCHAEOLOGIST presses something that goes ‘beep’, whereupon an old engraving of Stonehenge appears upon the screen.

The first scientific study of Stonehenge was commissioned by King James I in the early seventeenth century, to be carried out by Inigo Jones, who concluded that the monument had been built by the Romans as a temple to a sky god. Just about everyone regards this as bollocks, of course, so what else have we learned since then? What have the antiquarians and archaeologists found at Stonehenge and in the landscape surrounding it? And what insights into the lives of our ancestors who built Stonehenge have these dedicated professionals gleaned from their intensive studies?

That’s pretty much it – the rest is so ridiculously easy to complete that I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence or creativity by adding another word. Just find or somehow come up with the fascinating new take on Stonehenge that will enthrall a commissioning editor, and you’re away….

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