A major exhibition on Stonehenge featuring 430 objects and artefacts is due to open at the British Museum.

Towering above the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most awe-inspiring ancient stone circle. Shrouded in layers of speculation and folklore, this iconic British monument has spurred myths and legends that persist today.

In a new exhibition, the British Museum will reveal the secrets of Stonehenge, shining a light on its purpose, cultural power and the people that created it.

The museum say the human story behind Stonehenge will be revealed through a variety of fascinating objects. Among these are stone axes from the North Italian Alps, stunning gold jewellery and astonishing examples of early metalwork including the Nebra Sky Disc – the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars.

The Nebra Sky Disc is 3,600 years old and will go on show at the London museum next year. Picture by: The British Museum

The World Of Stonehenge exhibition will also include items such as elaborate gold hats depicting the cosmos and an ancient wooden monument – dubbed “Seahenge” – that emerged on a Norfolk beach.

A key part of the collection, this 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber structure has been nicknamed the Stonehenge of the Sea after it re-emerged on a Norfolk beach in 1998. It consists of a large upturned tree stump surrounded by 54 wooden posts. The oak posts, some up to 3m tall and form a 6.6m-diameter circle around the upturned oak, creating a giant tree-like spectacle. A narrow entranceway was built aligning to the rising midsummer sun and it is speculated the monument was used for ritual purposes.

Seahenge comes to the British Museum from the Norfolk Museums Service and is the first time it has ever gone on loan.

Dr Jennifer Wexler, project curator of the World Of Stonehenge at the British Museum, said:

“If Stonehenge is one of the world’s most remarkable surviving ancient stone circles, then Seahenge is the equivalent in timber.

“But as it was only rediscovered in 1998, it is still relatively unknown.

“We know about some aspects of the monument, including that it was constructed in the spring and summer of 2049 BC, from mighty oaks.

“But there’s much that still eludes us, including exactly what it was used for.

“Perhaps the central upturned trunk was used in funerary rituals to support a dead body. Perhaps entering the circular shrine brought worshippers closer to the otherworld.

“By displaying Seahenge in this exhibition we hope to bring it to a wider audience, and it provides an unparalleled opportunity to time-travel back to the moment when circles of stone and timber were at the heart of people’s beliefs.”

A staff member holds a shield from the Late Bronze Age, dated 1199-900BC, found in the River Thames, which will go on display at the British Museum in London in their forthcoming ‘The world of Stonehenge’ exhibition. Source: PA Media. Picture date: Tuesday December 7, 2021.

Stonehenge was built 4,500 years ago around the same time as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

According to the British Museum, nearly two-thirds of the objects going on display in the exhibition will be loans, with artefacts coming from 35 lenders across the UK, the Republic of Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

The majority of the items have never been seen in the UK before.

The exhibition will run from February 17 to July 17 2022. Tickets for the Stonehenge exhibition are now on sale.

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