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Dressing The Stones
Raising The Foreign Stones
Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge Summarised Useful Facts For The Attention Of Visitors
Tenons And Mortices
The Barrows Of Salisbury Plain
The Building Of Stonehenge
The Druid Question
The Earthwork
The Foreign Stones
The Hele Stone Or Friar's Heel
The Legend Of The Friar's Heel
The Lithology Of Stonehenge
The Men Of The Barrows
The Process Of Erection
The Round Barrows
The Slaughtering Stone
The Stones Without The Circle
The Story Of The Sarsens
What Was Stonehenge?
When Was Stonehenge Erected?

The Story Of The Sarsens

The geologist would probably describe the Sarsen stones of Wiltshire
as masses of saccharoid sandstone, which in plain English might be
rendered as boulders closely resembling gigantic lumps of coarse
sugar. These huge stones are to be found, though in decreasing
numbers, scattered all over the plain, and particularly along the
ridges of the Marlborough Downs. The country folk, always
picturesquely minded, call them Grey Wethers, and indeed in North
Wilts, it is not hard to conjure up their poetic resemblance to a
flock of titanic sheep, reclining at ease upon the pasturage of the
Downs. The alternative name Sarsen, has an interesting derivation. It
is a corruption of the word Saracen. But what have Saracens to do
with Wiltshire? Frankly nothing. The name has come to the stones from
Stonehenge itself, and is a part of that ever interesting confusion of
ideas, which has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors of the Middle
Ages. To them all stone circles and megalithic monuments were the work
of heathens, if not of the devil himself. Heathenism and all its works
was roundly condemned, whether it be Celtic, Mahomedan, or Pagan; and
the condemnation was as concise and universal as the phrase Jews,
Turks, Infidels, and Heretics of the Christian Prayer Book to-day. In
the early days of the Moyen Age, the Saracen stood for all that was
antagonistic to Christianity. Consequently the stones of Stonehenge
were Saracen or heathen stones, which the Wiltshire tongue has
shortened in due time to Sarsen.

This confusion of ideas may seem amusing, but it is not more absurd
than the existing popular idea that Stonehenge is of Druidical origin.
The stone circle of Salisbury Plain was many hundred years old when
those half mythical Celtic priests first set foot in England, and the
Druids of yesterday have about as much connection with Stonehenge as
the Salvation Army of to-day.

The Sarsen well repays a close examination. A glance at one of these
stones as it lies on the Downland, shows that it has suffered greatly
from the weather. It is the core, or kernel, of a much larger block of
friable sandstone, worn away on all sides by wind and weather.
Moreover, these isolated blocks appear on the Downs in a country
devoid of any rock save chalk.

How came they in their present position? In one sense they never came
at all; for they existed on the surface of the chalk from the time it
rose from the bottom of the sea to its present position. They are, in
fact, the remains of a great sheet of fine sand and gravel cemented
together by silex, which formerly overlay the chalk downs, the other
parts of which have been dissolved and worn by wind and rain until
only the harder cores or kernels survive to tell the tale. And the
proof of this is not far to seek. The chalk of the London Basin is
still capped by layers of such sandstone, as may be seen at Purfleet
in Essex. The titanic sheep, or Grey Wethers, therefore, are merely a
small residue of that widespread sandy deposit which once covered the
whole of the south of England with its inhospitable sheet, and of
which larger patches remain to-day in Surrey, Hampshire, and the Isle
of Wight. But though the hand of Time and the buffets of the weather
have been heavy on the Sarsens, the hand of man has likewise borne its
share. In a district like the Plain, devoid of building material other
than flint, these stones have attracted the unwelcome attention of the
farmers. Walls, gateposts, and paving-stones have accounted for many,
while in the interest of the road-mender many a noble Grey Wether has
been led to slaughter to provide macadam for the roads. Hence it is
not surprising that the number of Sarsen stones to be found on the
Plain where Nature placed them is becoming less and less. Indeed, the
time may yet come when they will be as extinct as the Great Bustard
who once strutted among them, and their memory will survive only in
their accidental use in a prehistoric monument like Stonehenge.

Next: The Foreign Stones

Previous: The Lithology Of Stonehenge

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