Thinking About Stonehenge
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m writing a kid’s book on the history of architecture.* I just finished a chapter on building in stone: fieldstone walls, pyramids, megaliths and standing stone circles. I wrote several paragraphs about Stonehenge, none of which made it to the final version. I started to recycle them into a blog post,** then I realized that I had already written a much more interesting post about our visit to Stonehenge several years ago.
From the archives:
We caught our first glimpse of Stonehenge from the highway–the familiar stone circle silhouetted against the sky. I felt a flutter of excitement. After all, Stonehenge is a major Bronze Age site, built at roughly the same time as the Great Pyramid at Giza. Like the pyramids, it’s built from monolithic stones, some brought from more than 200 miles away. Unlike the pyramids, we don’t really know why*** it was built or by whom.**** As far as ancient mysteries go, it’s one of the most mysterious.
My Own True Love, who was not really interested, asked “Couldn’t we just say we’ve seen it and drive on?” As it turned out, he had the right idea.
The day was cold and gray. The wind was relentless. The line to get into the site was long. Protestors stood just outside the fence that defined the site, with signs urging that the ongoing excavations be shut down.*****
Once we got past the ticket gate, the day was still cold and the wind was worse. The guidebooks had made it clear that visitors are no longer allowed into the stone circle itself without making special arrangements. Instead, you walk around the monument on a tarmac and grass path made for the purpose. Under the right circumstances, this could be an awe-inspiring experience–like circumambulating a Buddhist stupa. These were not the right circumstances. The crowd moved in clumps, stopping when their audio tours told them to stop and occasionally posing to take each other’s pictures with the stones in the background. On a warm day, it might have been festive. As it was, there was a dogged quality to the whole thing. Halfway around the circle, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s blow this pop stand.”
Close up, the grandeur was gone. We’d have been better off with the view from the highway.
*Thanks to all of you who wrote to me with your own stories of being fascinated by similar books as a kid.
**No sense in letting perfectly good words go to waste.
*** Most scholars believe the circle served as a celestial calendar, based on the alignment of its stones with sunrise and sunset at the summer and winter solstices. Recent discoveries suggest it could be part of a giant mortuary complex (there are some 500 Bronze Age burial mounds within a three-mile radius of the site).
**** But we do know it wasn’t the Druids, who date from 1500-2000 years later.
*****The wind was so high that I didn’t take notes–a fact I’m kicking myself for in retrospect. My memory tells me the signs cited reverence for a sacred site, reverence for the first kings of Britain, and respect for the dead. All good things–and yet….
Image credit: gianliguori / 123RF Stock Photo
Yes I was there and yes it was cold and windy. I was still able to go right up to the stones and wonder. I too thought to myself how strange that I should be here where history was in its infancy so powerful, where humanity was surrounded by myth and superstitions. How similar to them are we? Can we still appreciate the magnitude of the effect it had on them? We leave it to the experts to interpret and to future generations to contemplate. This is a good place to begin in your book since you will be doing it in English.
I remember going as a kid when you could still climb all over them – always always always like touching really really really old artifacts.
Obviously I should have gone years, maybe decades, earlier. 🙂
Even earlier, tourists could rent a hammer and chisel at Stonehenge and break off their own piece as a souvenir! We went last year on a wonderful weather day and it was inspiring. (No rock souvenirs, though!).
The Stonehenge authorities are having the second of the two local highways rerouted away from Stonehenge so it will become a much quieter monument that one can walk up to like the ancients did. That should enhance the experience.
The impulse to take souvenirs and say “I was there” seems to be deeply rooted in humanity. In the 19th century visitors carved their names on the pyramids.
Sounds like it might be worth another try!