Drawing on field experience in Madagascar, Parker Pearson advocates a bold interpretation of the site and, with it, the "answer" to Stonehenge. In Malagasy culture, the ancestors are revered with stone monuments, signifying the hardening of bodies to bone and the enduring commemoration of death; wood, by contrast, which decays, is associated with transient life. Stone is ancestral and male, while wood, as Parker Pearson put it, is "soft and squishy, like women and babies." As he allows, no such gender distinction has yet been discerned in Britain, but it's the same principle underlying Western commemorative practice: "You lay flowers on the grave, then you put up a tombstone."
Guided by this model, Parker Pearson sees suggestive associations between Durrington Walls, with its defining wooden structures, and the hard monumentality of Stonehenge. Durrington has a path to the Avon that could be a ceremonial avenue, though it is just over 550 feet long, while that at Stonehenge runs a mile and three-quarters, and its processional character is defined by flanking ditches and banks.
To Parker Pearson, the contrasts are equally suggestive. Stonehenge is aligned on both the axis of the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset, while the Southern Circle at Durrington Walls catches the winter solstice sunrise. A profusion of pottery and animal bone debris, especially of pigs, implies that Durrington Walls saw much feasting, while very little pottery has been found at Stonehenge. Scarcely any human remains have been found at Durrington, but 52 cremations and many other burials have been uncovered at Stonehenge, which may contain as many as 240—the largest Neolithic cemetery in England. Durrington, in this new theory, represents the domain of the living, and Stonehenge, the domain of the ancestral dead, with the two linked by seasonal processions along a route formed by the avenues and the river. The ashes of most of the dead would have been entrusted to the river. Other cremated remains, possibly the society's elite, were deposited ceremonially at Stonehenge itself.
"Many specialists would go along with the dead and living in a loose sort of way," said Mike Pitts, editor of the journal British Archaeology and one of the few people around today who have actually excavated at Stonehenge. It is the details of the new theory that are problematic. The assumption has always been that burial remains at Stonehenge were common only during the period of the pre-stone earthworks and timber structures, though Parker Pearson now believes they continued into the period of the stones. But environmental evidence from the immediate landscape around Stonehenge indicates the usual activities of the living, such as farming and grazing of animals, which do not seem compatible with a larger ritualized domain of the dead. And there is no agreement about when the sarsen stones arrived. Similarly, the date of the avenue leading from Stonehenge to the Avon, the necessary link between the two sites, needs to be resolved by more evidence. Filling in these gaps is crucial for any meaningful correlation of activities between the two sites.