See ‘Cheesehenge’ and Other Historical Homages Created for Archaeology Competition

The Archaeological Institute of America launched its Build Your Own Monument challenge early to inspire families quarantining at home

Stonehenge, as recreated by Alexandra McNamara of Tappan, New York, with cheese, a rock, granola and bread AIA Build Your Own Monument

Under the harshness of the soon-to-be-summer sun, a monument made of cheese wouldn’t last long. But amid a pandemic—when sculpting tools, construction crews and viable land are in short supply—dairy makes an excellent substitute for rock, contends a homemade sculpture currently vying for a top title in the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) latest Build Your Own Monument challenge.

The cheddar-based concoction, submitted by Tappan, New York, resident Alexandra McNamara, is one of many edible entries in the institute’s Stonehenge competition, which invited architectural hobbyists to submit homemade versions of the prehistoric monument through April 17. Thirty-three entries—split into separate categories for youth, families and adults—are now being judged by a guest expert, as well as by the public in a separate popular vote. (Cast your ballot for Stonehenge entries here through April 23.) Winners will score an AIA prize pack, plus plenty of bragging rights.

Those eager to submit new entries still have a chance to throw their historical hats into the ring, with deadlines for homemade homages to three more iconic archaeological sites falling on consecutive Fridays: Chichen Itza (due April 24), the Colosseum (due May 1) and the pyramids at Giza (due May 8).

Toilet paper roll Stonehenge
Stonehenge, as recreated by Genevieve, an 8-year-old from Rockville, Maryland, with toilet paper rolls and bits of spare packing cardboard AIA Build Your Own Monument

As explained on the institute’s website, the rules are fairly straightforward, even if the monuments’ original construction was not. Using arts and crafts materials and other readily available objects (including culinary items), participants cobble together an architectural homage to an AIA-selected site. Accuracy and recognizability certainly factor in, but so does creativity. Many enthusiasts have taken that criterion to heart—and raided their pantries in the process.

One delectable Stonehenge entrant is a marshmallow masterpiece submitted by Priya Bhatnagar of Belle Mead, New Jersey. Another from Josephine Kim in Anaheim, California, was crafted with an assortment of ramen packages, seaweed snacks and tea bags, providing an excellent foil for the apple-and-cucumber creation made in Dubai by the Haggerty family.

Stonehenge, as recreated by Sarah, a 15-year-old from Woodbridge, Virginia, with a worm on strings, kazoos, guitar picks, harmonica & harmonica case, flashlight and a metronome AIA Build Your Own Monument

Still, not all quirky submissions rely on foodstuffs: Another contender, from Alma Cortez Alvarez in Berrien Springs, Michigan, is built entirely out of lipsticks, lip balms and lip liners. Batting in the kids’ category, 8-year-old Genevieve from Rockville, Maryland, chose toilet paper rolls as her medium, while 15-year-old Sarah from Woodbridge, Virginia, got to work with a hodgepodge of knickknacks, including a flashlight, a harmonica and some kazoos.

Others kept their materials more traditional. In true reverence to Stonehenge proper, Jacob Beerbower of Fort Gratiot, Michigan, took a sledgehammer to some gray bricks, piecing together a remarkably detailed set of monoliths in what appears to be his backyard. Twelve-year-old Ryker from Camden, South Carolina, went super sedimentary, opting for a mini Stonehenge made of carefully sculpted clay.

Votes from the public are being tallied in real time via the site, but the expert Stonehenge judgment comes down to Mike Parker Pearson, a British later prehistory expert at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology. (Celebrity guests Jessica MacLellan, Nathan Elkins and Sarah Parcak, respectively, will evaluate the next three rounds.)

Clay stonehenge
Stonehenge, as recreated by Ryker, a 12-year-old from Camden, South Carolina, with felt, foam paper, clay and foliage foam AIA Build Your Own Monument

With the next several deadlines looming, submissions honoring other monuments have already begun to roll in. Edible items remain a common motif: So far, entries include a bean-based Chichen Itza, a cakey Colosseum studded with pretzels and chocolate chips, and a matzoh-y quartet of Giza-esque pyramids.

As Jessica Leigh Hester reports for Atlas Obscura, the Build Your Own Monument competition was originally scheduled for October to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the institute’s International Archaeology Day celebrations. But with so many now sheltering at home to curb the spread of COVID-19, the AIA decided to move the contest up.

“People need something to do,” Ben Thomas, director of programs at the AIA, tells Atlas Obscura. “We’re enjoying being able to provide people with distraction, and seeing what they can come up with.”

Bean Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, as recreated by Erin Patterson of New Orleans, Louisiana, with cardboard, hot glue and beans AIA Build Your Own Monument

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.