In Stonehenge: A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument, Mike Parker Pearson, the leader of a groundbreaking archaeological study of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, proposes an exciting new theory of the wonder of the ancient world and its lesser-known neighboring Neolithic sites. Pearson argues that Stonehenge was a monument to the dead, whereas nearby Durrington Walls was a shrine to the living.

What made you want to become and archeologist?

When I was one year old I was taken to Stonehenge—but I don’t remember it—and at four I found fossils in the gravel delivered to my parents’ house for hardcore [construction material used to lay a foundation]. We were also living close to the chalklands of Wessex where there were Bronze Age barrows [mounds of earth or stone over human remains] and Iron Age hill forts.

Through your many seasons of digging in and around Stonehenge, which discovery was most exciting, and which was most significant in developing your new theories?

Discovering the remains of houses under Durrington Walls was the most exciting discovery. For our current theory of unification, it was learning that people and resources were coming from all over Britain to build Stonehenge as a way to politically unite the island’s hitherto diverse ancestries and that, for just a few centuries, they shared the same material culture from one end of Britain to the other.

If you could dig further in the Stonehenge/Durrington Walls area, what questions would you hope to answer?

We’d complete excavation of the lone house in its own enclosure at the center of Durrington Walls to find out who lived in this commanding location. Excavation of another of the 25Aubrey Holes [chalk pits circling Stonehenge] should confirm beyond any doubt that these holes originally held Welsh bluestones [the rocks used to build Stonehenge] in 3000 B.C.

The public has long linked Stonehenge and ancient druids. Do you see that misconception fading away any time soon?

It’s a 300-year-old theory from when the only knowledge of prehistory was from Julius Caesar’s writings, which mention druids in Britain in 55 B.C. No one could have known in 1700 that Stonehenge was 2,500 years older than Caesar. There were huge social upheavals between the time of Stonehenge and the time of Caesar, the biggest being the arrival of the Beaker people. DNA analysis should tell us whether their arrival was a genetic as well as a cultural watershed—that would remove any likelihood that druids had anything to do with any of Britain’s stone circles.

What other archaeological sites would you like to explore?

Near the bluestone sources in western Wales, we’re investigating a large hilltop enclosure to see if it was originally a henge [a Neolithic monument]. If so, it would easily be the largest in Wales, a fitting spot for a bluestone circle, subsequently dismantled and taken to Stonehenge. That should keep our team busy for a while.