THE WORLD OF STONEHENGE
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the West Country is it’s diverse assortment of ‘Barrow Mounds’, ‘Tors’, ‘Hill Drawings’, ‘Neolithic Etchings’ and ‘Stone Circles’, a selection of curious geographical features which, in being observed to have been fashioned by the collective endeavor of primitive men whose origin appears to have been swept beneath the tide of subsequent event, extends forth in a proliferation of bizarre shapes and forms across the vales of rural England.
Being interested in such things through association with the academic callings of my youth and compelled to study something of their story, I was naturally delighted to learn that ‘Bloomsbury’s British Museum’ was in the process of staging a major exhibition devoted to both ‘Stonehenge’ and the many other examples of ‘Neolithic’ architecture which currently persist, resisting dereliction. across the extent of Europe and the United Kingdom.
Hastily contacting a friend who had coincidentally decided to apply for membership with the Museum, I promptly managed to arrange a time in which to visit the event and waited, speculating feverishly upon what variety of wonder would lie in store upon crossing the venue’s threshold as I circumstantially went about adding a few finishing touches to a number of other projects which I am presently undertaking alongside my enduring mission to cover London’s exhibition circuit.
After about a month of anticipatory preparation, the appointment that I had made with my friend approached, and I duly made my way towards the heart of the city aboard one of the many low slung Piccadilly line trains which regularly finds occasion to course the route, cutting steady swathe through the multitude of conurbations, shanties and leaf spun groves which serve, for many, to define the true scale of the capital’s parameter before, having engaged in the ritual of stop counting that all commuters are involuntarily inclined to undertake, alighting at ‘Russel Square’ and proceeding forth towards the imposing battery of colonnades which presently distinguish the Museum’s entrance hall.
Meeting my friend who had, through association with, his membership application, surreptitiously managed to acquire a table in the mezzanine gallery of the establishment’s club room, I briefly found occasion to engage in a preliminary discussion relating to the show over a cup of pleasantly aromatic filter coffee, before making forth towards the building’s ‘Sainsbury Wing’ to inspect the exhibition’s horde.
I was upon entering the display hall, called to remember having had dreams which were inclined to feature ‘Stonehenge’ in their repertoire throughout my youth, the image of the great stone circle looming ominously and impassively through the mist of the vast alluvial meadow land which currently serves to distinguish the aquiline sweep of ‘Salisbury’ Plain, coming to represent an almost archetypal image of what primitive civilizations were once like in my mind, both striking into the heart of the many social conceits which people may be inclined to sustain against misgiving when granted opportunity to do so and igniting long forgotten fears of times too depraved and unconscionable to withstand contemporary appreciation.
It immediately appeared to me, perhaps through association with the shame that Victorian aspiration was, during it’s hiatus, noted to espouse towards matters of a mildly subversive persuasion, to be an observation which the ‘British Museum’ itself was compelled to make, actively forsaking the utter degeneracy to which early English culture must be deduced to have ascribed in favor of other finer examples of such industry elsewhere, the glory of the ‘Pharaohs’ so long in incubation, entrenched beneath the sands of sub Saharan Africa, the many tiered ziggurats of ancient ‘Nineveh’, the fabulous graven bestiaries of ‘Angkor Watt’ in Cambodia, the sacrificial pyramids of the ‘Aztecs’ in Mexico, each of which may immediately seem to be a far more convincing example of ancient genius than ‘Stonehenge’.
Mankind was, in such an instance, perceived by me to be a peculiarly ignoble breed that, when cursed by the unpredictable tide of temperate adversity, purchased where it could, abandoning novelty for crude practicality and resorting to foul play, a standard which, in itself, witnessing futility, was further observed to implode, becoming self destructive when there was nothing left to destroy and advancing militarily upon such terms alone, armed wantonly and serendipitously with flint weaponry and dead soil, a notion which, upon reflection, was marginally allayed by the museum’s inference that such a predicament instead represented a catalyst for progress with a collection of axe heads that were ingeniously noted to have been cast from metal using granite molds displayed alongside an assortment of decorative horned helmets, shields and armorial breastplates , an assortment of artefacts which inadvertently served to draw an allusion between the mound builders of the ancient world and the ‘Riders Of Rohan’ in Peter Jackson’s recent cinematic adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ in my mind.
Such an allusion was, in this instance, observed by me to remain of curious significance a little later in the exhibition, with the projected panorama of a primeval sun gliding ominously across a red sky in denotation of the temperate conditions beneath which the great stone circle was erected, a vista which, upon passing silently before my gaze at an accelerated rate, brought to mind an earlier ‘Rotoscopic’ interpretation of Tolkien’s book which the film director ‘Ralph Bakshi’ was noted to have drafted in 1978.
Through association with mound building, the ancient Britons seemed during the hiatus of their activity, to have become well acquainted with the practice of burying both people and animals, a pretext beneath which the ‘British Museum’ was, in perhaps the exhibition’s most impressive display, noted to have mounted the skeletons of two horses at the helm of a wheeled chariot beneath a film projector which miraculously appeared to bring them to life, an act of sleight that circumstantially granted spectatorship grace to speculate upon whether the animals were buried or killed in action.
Through association with the advertising campaign which the museum was observed to mount in correspondence with the exhibition’s run, the most immediately familiar artefact placed forth before investigation was, in my opinion, the ‘Nebra’ sky disc, an oxidized bronze plate that, in having been filigreed in gold with the image of both a sun and a moon surrounded by stars, was found buried with a pair of ceremonial daggers and a number of equally formidable axe heads.
Thought to have described either the turning of the seasonal solstices through their cycle, or the retirement of the sun behind the moon at night, the ‘Nebra’ sky disc was, in being of Teutonic origin, coincidentally observed to bear a marked resemblance to a ‘Beaker’ wrist guard decorated with gold studs that was found in Cambridgeshire some years ago, an instance in which, I was driven to speculate that the sacrificial pretext which the curious blue mandala could be surmised to have inferred did not even find occasion to mention the sun and the moon within it’s catalog of permissible heresies.
As was the case with many anecdotes pertaining to the exploits of the Irish giant ‘Finn Macool’, it seemed that, during the period of ‘Stonehenge’s’ construction, not much on earth, beyond pain, had needed to be known.
It was, perhaps through association with such an observation, coincidentally rumored to be the case that one could, see the ‘Venusian equinox’ passing inexorably before the sun through chinks in the stone’s alignment if one were to stand in the right place at the right time about their circumference, the ring’s secret being that of ancient races, stargazers and occultists, avowing wisdoms long since neglected by modern thought, men governed by the gifts and remissions of seasonal shifts which were noted to predicate when it was opportune to profit from nature’s bounty, seers and magicians, poets and prophets cast forth to occupy the pastoral meadowlands of forgotten eras and live in harmony with the elemental scheme of times long since past.
Perhaps, with respect to such an issue, the legends which pertain to of the stone’s alignment were originally derived from their curious symmetry, an instance in which the megalith’s uprights were almost supernaturally observed to represent a perfectly level surface upon which the bevelled lintels for which they achieved renown could be laid completely square, a pretense beneath which the many spiral engravings and etchings associated with such things could, within reason, be imagined to have secured the stability of the stone’s vast bulk once erect in much the same manner as a mortis or tenon joint may assist carpentry, maybe not, who truly knows how long the stones have stood erect, men can but speculate upon their purpose.
Irrespective of theories pertaining to the ring’s cosmic alignment, the obdurate stability of it’s physical composition undeniably remains remarkable to this day, each stone is enormous. If it were that the structure had ever been devised as the foundation of a sod mound then it would surely have represented a geological feature capable of withstanding almost every form of climatic adversity save perhaps for the inundation of the plain upon which it was situated.
And what would it matter in the instance of tidal flooding, if such structures ‘were’ observed to have been a waste of effort that betokened a re-assignation of architectural zeal towards the manufacture of boats. Coracles and barques were undoubtedly constructed during the years following the circle’s construction, an instance in which there was a fleet of gold toys from Denmark included in the museum’s collection which suggested that men were well acquainted with seafaring when the stones were erected, much as there was a five thousand year old trellised ‘sweet track’ built to cross a reed swamp in Somerset configured at the center of the exhibition’s first bank of displays, an object which, in being fashioned from wood, was hypothetically old enough to have coincided the emplacement of the great dolmen themselves.
There was, with regards to such a matter, also a pair of wooden tridents found respectively in a river channel in West Cumbria and upon the Irish coast on display, a six pack which, by theory of similitude, would infer that the ancient Britons had, long before the era of ‘St. Columba’, succeeded in crossing the Irish sea.
Although both inexplicable and mysterious, ‘Stonehenge’ was not the only example of such industry to be found in Europe, an instance in which there were observed to be similar circles upon the fields of ‘Carnac’ in Brittany, a number of formidable earthworks in the Outer Hebrides including ‘The Ring Of Brodgar’ upon the Orkney Islands and`Silbury Hill’ in Avebury, all of which were thought to possess peculiar alignments capable of deducing seasonal information bound into their contrivance.
There was, with respect to such a matter, also observed to have been, both a ‘Seahenge’ off the coast of Norfolk and a ‘Woodhenge’ in Wiltshire, sites which like ‘Dogger Bank’ off the East coast of England or the submerged towns of ‘Dunwich’ and ‘Winchelsea’, would suppose that stone circles of the variety described were so old that they were part of a geographical schematic which simply no longer existed. Who knows what else may lie out there in the open ocean long since neglected by the attentions of mankind ? The earth retains it’s mysteries like a miser’s ruse.
One could, through association with one’s wanderings in such a respect, visit the burial mound of ‘New Grange’, (or tomb of ‘Dagda’), in Ireland to welcome in the Summer Solstice, an instance in which cauldrons equipped with decorative stirrers, neckplates and pendants for fastening clothing, prosthetic hands cast from bronze and gold and a wide selection of short swords may serve to indicate what it was that figures of communal significance would once have been buried with.
Both the ‘Bush Barrow’ horde and that of ‘Amesbury’ in Wiltshire were with respect to such a matter, noted to have included peculiarly fine diamond shaped gold plates within their catalog of novelties, items that, in being described as brooches for fastening clothing, inexplicably caused me to dwell upon a number of references made in the biblical ‘Book Of Enoch’ to the interment of gold triangles or ‘deltas’ at the foot of shafts, a pretext beneath which one can but suppose that, upon being cleaved square, such burial sites were marked as ready to receive their mortal freight.
The ‘Mold’ gold cape found in Wales was, in this instance, observed to bear more than a passing resemblance to a pharaonic burial collar although, in being of a peculiarly narrow vertiginous contrivance, the selection of mid European gold hats displayed alongside it, appeared to be of a uniquely continental extraction.
Whether or not such items were ever used as burial memorabilia remains a matter of conjecture, the potentially lethal practice of trepanning which was known to have been instituted in ancient Britain during the first millennium, was, in hypothetically being conferred as something of a liability upon it’s subject, coincidentally also thought to have honed dormant perceptive faculties in the human mind, a pretext beneath which such diadems could, beyond being interred with their wearer, at once have served either a defensive or visionary purpose.
Perhaps the most finely crafted items on display were a selection of bevelled stone balls which, in having been found in Scotland, were cast into the semblance of the first stages of cellular mitosis, an instance in which I remained undecided as to whether or not such items were used as boule casters or mace heads.
It would not have surprised me if the ancient Britons enjoyed playing games alongside what appeared to be their passion for dispute, a worthy pretext beneath which to produce objects of a somewhat less than offensive persuasion.
Upon a similar theme, the ‘Folkton Drums’ which were found placed over the skeleton of an infant buried in Yorkshire presented some indication as to what type of attitude that ancient Britons may have espoused towards their children, the artefact being crafted in three separate increasingly large crosshatched parts and decorated with abstract markings which were thought to be depictions of the child’s eyes at various stages of it’s growth.
Could it’s parent have resented such survey and callously ended it’s life ? Or was there a sentiment of loss associated with such a schematic. Who knows how the ancient mind may have perceived human affectation ?
Perhaps the most unsettling exhibit on display in the hall was what was termed a ‘Nuragic’ figure from Sardinia, an effigy which, in brandishing two shields with four arms, was also observed to have been crafted with four eyes and a pair of antenna rather like an insect, a visual metaphor that, in causing me to dwell upon a number of references in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ regarding the general demeanour of an elite militia named the ‘Myrmidon’ who were reputed to have served ‘Achilles’ during the Trojan wars, made me think, for some reason, about the many contradictions which may once be presumed to have arisen between the opposed disciplines of conflict and collaboration.
The ‘Visigoths’ abolished slavery in Rome in the fifth century Anno Domini and the moral frustration to which it’s Caucasian successor was observed to have ascribed, floundered savagely in it’s wake for some years before managing to establish a degree of puritanical stability with the foundation of the medieval ecclesiastical system along Britain’s East coast, an instance in which slavery was thenceforth never openly acknowledged to have returned to the British isles, both England and it’s white Latin speaking population of Christian missionaries having, by their own admission, always been ‘free’ holders of noble pedigree.
But ‘Stonehenge’ was earlier than this, much earlier, no-one really knows how ancient the great dolmen which presently stand astride ‘Salisbury’ plain may actually be, they are as mysterious and implacable as the earth upon which they stand, as old or older than the formal classification of Europe itself.
The date to which the huge ‘Trilithons’ of the circles ascribe was estimated by the Museum to be somewhere between 4,000 and 1,000 years before Christ, a pretense beneath which they were not thought to have been transported from the ‘Preseli’ hills in Wales by ‘Merlin’ during the reign of ‘King Arthur’ in the sixth century Anno Domini as many contemporary legends would suggest but instead glowered impassively down upon their sanctum when the pyramids of ‘Ghiza’ were being built, an instance in which the ‘Druidic’ cultures of the first millennium were no more than incidental to the vast scheme of history that they covered, merely visitors from Spain and Portugal who performed their own blood sacrifices, earth magic and Wicker immolations quite independently of the megalith’s initial purpose.
Though somewhat finer than such fare, the ‘Roman Catholic’ church was similarly little more than a scratch upon the arcane geometry of the stone’s granite hide, a Franco-Scandinavian newcomer seeking to capitalize where both ‘Vortigern’ and the ‘Foederati’ had failed in efforts to appease either the ‘Mercian’ or ‘Merovingian’ interests that yet resisted their encroachment in the West country.
A collection of golden sun discs embossed with crucifixes that were discovered buried beneath the pastures of both ‘Ireland’ and ‘Wiltshire’, were, despite what one may immediately be drawn to think, similarly observed to bear no relationship to the Christian iconography which was popular during Arthur’s reign for they were believed to have been minted between 4,000 and 4,400 years ago, long before Christianity even existed, an instance in which it may be imagined that a good design formula such as the Holy cross, could recur more than once in the vast spans of time covered by the show.
Maybe, with regards to the implacable splendor of ‘Stonehenge’. there was even a grain of truth in the time honored maxim that things intended to last an age could do so forever and ever.
Running until the 17th of July 2022, the “The World Of Stonehenge” provides a fascinating insight into a past which not many Britons would, beyond Stonehenge, perhaps ever remember having endured.
For those interested in Neolithic art and the origins of human civilization in Europe then the British Museum’s current foray into the mystical netherworld of early English culture comes highly recommended, an ideal venue to attend with one’s friends or one’s family, being especially suitable for groups of school children blessed with inquiring dispositions.
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