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Standing within the collapsed circles, it is not easy to make out the monument's original blueprint. Easier to imagine are the actions that lie behind it: the planning and engineering; the diplomacy required to negotiate transportation of stones through different territories; the logistical maneuvering to supply and equip a labor force; the ability to cajole, inspire, or compel able-bodied men to leave their animals, fields, and hunting grounds—in short, the many necessary human acts that we still recognize, although we know little about who these early Britons were, how they were organized, or what language they spoke.

We do know that some were farmers and pastoralists, and that they had long since begun the task of domesticating their landscape, making inroads into the ancient birch, pine, and hazel forests. Skeletal remains indicate that despite physically demanding lives, the people of Neolithic Britain were more lightly built than us. Their relative lack of dental decay suggests a diet low in carbohydrates, and although life expectancies are difficult to calculate, people seem, overall, to have enjoyed good health. Then as now, life held unexpected hazards. "Five to 6 percent of these populations showed massive blunt-force trauma to the crania," according to Michael Wysocki, a senior lecturer in forensic and investigative science at the University of Central Lancashire. "This was equally the case between male and female." Explanations for this trauma range from ritualized violence to the possibility that life of the era was simply brutal.

Recently, dramatic and wholly chance discoveries have provided biographical outlines of individual men. In 2002 archaeologists working on Boscombe Down, on the east side of the Avon, two and a half miles southeast of Stonehenge, unearthed two burials dated at between 2500 and 2300 B.C. They contained the remains of a 35-to-45-year-old man whose leg had been badly damaged—he would have walked with a horrific limp—and a younger relative, perhaps his son. The older man's grave contained the richest burial goods of the era found in Britain: gold jewelry for hair, copper knives, flint tools, two archer's wrist guards of polished stone, a "cushion stone" for working metal, along with pottery of the distinctive Beaker style common at the time in continental Europe but not in Britain. Chemical analysis of the tooth enamel of both men gave startling results: The younger man was from the local chalk country of Wessex; the older man, dubbed the "Amesbury Archer," came from the foothills of the Alps in the region of what is now Switzerland and Germany.

"I suppose it was inevitable," said Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology, who conducted the excavation, with a wan smile, showing me a cartoon depicting Stonehenge flying a German flag. The hard facts suggest a romantic story. Migrating from Europe, with his advanced pottery and his skills in metalworking, the Archer had made good in Wessex, acquiring considerable wealth and status along with a family.

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