Wednesday, 9 September 2015


[...] from the publication of the first major survey of British antiquities by William Camden in the reign of Elizabeth I, books on Stonehenge have emphasised the lack of a generally agreed explanation of its purpose. It has been accepted as possessing some kind of ritual significance, but the nature of that remains open. This in turn has encouraged individuals to produce self-proclaimed 'breakthrough' hypotheses, which have achieved celebrity at particular periods. The most successful to date has been that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, published in the twelfth century - that it was a war memorial constructed by the wizard Merlin - which was dominant for almost five hundred years. In the 1740s William Stukeley proclaimed it a temple of the Druids, an idea which achieved pre-eminence for one century and remained popular for another.

During the twentieth century, when it was firmly dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. the element of mystery was stressed still further and has enabled the monument to function a people's temple, apparently outside the power of learned archaeologists and historians to appropriate and explain, in which anybody is free to see what she or he wills [...]

For centuries, Stonehenge has effectively functioned, even more intensively and effectively than other relics of prehistory, as a mirror in which modern people can reflect and justify their own prejudices, ideals and expectations. Those who find their own time, and society, wanting have seen in it the work of ancestors of a superior knowledge and morality. Those who preach the creed of progress, or their own religion, or else the folly of religion in general, have filled it in their imagination with gory, barbaric and orgiastic ancient rites.

Ronald Hutton "Pagan Britain" (2013) pp116-7

What we see in this mirror keeps changing and proliferating: the latest find being a huge stone arc under the banks of Durrington Wells, two miles distant, described here and with links to the picture (here besmall'd) below. Thirty stones survive, buried, out of around 90. It seems the stones were toppled 4,500 years ago and buried under the new ditch and bank, for reasons unknown.

It is hard to contain. Stone or wood circles in general have become known as 'henges', despite the term coming from Stonehenge's unique arrangements of uprights and crosstree resembling henges, gallows.

Alexander Thom, an engineer, proposed a theory of Stonehenge as an elaborate celestial calculator. His concept of the megalithic yard (my) has been discredited and some critics saw the precision of fit of his schema to the features in his diagrams as far neater than the fit to the features themselves.

One historian noted a rhyme between Rachel Whiteread's work and the trilithons that define the spaces where standing stones might be (a nice thought).

As a child I used to play all about the site and lie on the 'altar-stone' imagining myself both as priest and sacrifice. Since it has been enclosed I have not been near it, having no wish to mix with the batty people who hog the solstices, or to book through English Heritage (A Stone Circle Access visit is not a guided tour, and touching of the stones is not permitted [...] To enhance your Stone Circe Access visit you can order a guidebook). Enhance?

It is a bit unfair I think of Prof Hutton to lump in Monmouth and Stukeley with the pyramidiots (or whatever the equivalent is - the unhenged? lol), ley hunters, ufologists and bogus druids de nos jours. Stukeley's drawing of serpentine avenues at Avebury were long derided as snaky emanations of the druids buzzing in his bonnet until recent excavations began to bear his picture out (then again I have yet to read his books).

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? (John 18:38) It is unclear what he meant by this.


x said...

Orgiastic ancient rites. Mmmmm!

Sorry. I didn't read the rest.

Anonymous said...

c said...

Indeed, I had to lie down and 'rest' awhile myself.