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Dressing The Stones
Raising The Foreign Stones
Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge
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
Valedictory
What Was Stonehenge?
When Was Stonehenge Erected?



What Was Stonehenge?








The Megalithic Stone structures, which exist not only in this country
but also throughout the Continent of Europe, are a special feature of
that period known as the Neolithic Age. As has already been shown,
Stonehenge represents a very late type, erected at a time when the
bronze culture had begun to overlap that of polished stone
(Neolithic).

These stone structures can be roughly divided into three classes.

1. Single upright stones, or menhirs (Celtic = high stone), which
may be commemorative of some great event or personage.

2. Dolmens (Celtic = table stone), in which a stone slab is set
table-wise on three or four uprights.

3. Cromlechs (Celtic = stone circle). Circles enclosing barrows or
dolmens.

Stonehenge is a highly specialised example of this last class. Round
these cromlechs popular myth and superstition have crystallised
themselves into tales of the devil and his works (as in the case of
Stonehenge), ogres, giants, dwarfs, Sabbath breakers, and infidels,
turned to stone. In nearly every case there is some story of the
supernatural, which cannot be accidental, but which must have its root
in past religious observance.

It is a recognised fact that the worship of stones is more widely
distributed than any other primitive cult. Its almost universal
distribution can be referred to the tendency of the half savage mind
to confuse persons and things, and from seeming likeness of the
inanimate to the animate, to endue the lifeless object with the virtue
and power of the living object. This mental outlook is better
understood in practice than in theory. A Melanesian native may come
across a large stone, lying upon the top of a number of smaller
stones. It suggests to him a sow with her litter of pigs, and he at
once makes an offering to it, in the hope that he will secure pigs. In
determining the function of Stonehenge, therefore, it will be useful
to compare it with similar existing stone circles. The largest of
these in this country is Avebury, not many miles distant from
Stonehenge. Unluckily, to-day it is so ruined that its former
greatness is hardly to be distinguished by the unskilled observer.
Formerly comprising some hundreds of unhewn Sarsen stones, barely a
score remain in position at the present day. In Avebury, as it was,
can be found the early typic model of which Stonehenge is the final
product. The use of the circle as a basic form is common to both. In
Avebury the Sarsen is a rough unhewn monolith; in Stonehenge it is
squared, dressed, and crowned with its lintel. All evidences of a slow
evolution from Neolithic to Bronze culture. But whereas the circle
alone is used at Avebury, Stonehenge has in addition the horseshoe
series of Trilithons and foreign uprights, and in this particular
differs from all other Cromlechs in this country. It is the climax of
the Megalithic monument, and its use very certainly must have been
connected with the religion of the race which set it up. It was, in
short, a religious structure, probably used for the observation of the
sun, and possibly connected with nature worship.

The fact that the sun rises over the Hele Stone on the Summer
Solstice, and that it can be observed in direct alignment with the
centre of the Great Trilithon, can hardly be due to accident. Chance
might bring two stones into such a position on the Solstice, but, in
this case, the entire monument is so arranged as to place the rising
sun in a due line with its axis on this particular day.

It will be well to consider the facts which must have been within the
knowledge of the builders of Stonehenge, and to trace as far as may be
their reasoning in the building of it.

To begin with, it is almost certain that at the time of building,
there existed some primitive form of priesthood, or body of wise
men. This is quite compatible with the culture of the period. The
existence of the Neolithic Long Barrows is sufficient evidence that
man had, by this time, arrived at that particular culture which grasps
the existence of a spirit.

Death only terminated the existence of the body, and not that of the
spirit. It was even able to return and enter another body, say that of
a new-born infant, an animal, or tree. And being after the manner of
human beings, spirits could understand human language and become
accessible to human petitions. Thus a spirit might even prove a
powerful friend or enemy. And the dwellings of these spirits would be
those great powers which meant so much to a primitive people; the sun,
moon, stars, rivers, forests, and clouds; from which arose the two
great classes of spirit, the ancestral and the spirit of nature.
From this general body was developed a regular hierarchy of good and
evil spirits, gradually ascending to the conception of one great
creative spirit, or superior deity.


To these early men, therefore, there was always the problem of
maintaining diplomatic relations with the unseen forces about them,
and for this purpose a primitive priesthood became necessary. The
chieftain would manage the temporal affairs of the tribe, those
spiritual would be relegated to a special body of wise men, or
intermediaries. These men would certainly, from the nature of their
calling, be not so much men of action as men of learning, the
recorders of history and tradition, students of the natural phenomena,
and of all those signs and portents which concerned the good of the
community. One of the earliest facts which impressed itself upon them
must have been the horizon. It was above that horizon that the sun
rose in the morning, and below that horizon that it sank to rest at
night; further, when the sun had set the moon and stars peeped up from
that line, and sank below it, all in due course. These were facts
easily apprehended. The common people even had grasped them, but the
wise men learned more. As the link between man and the spirits of the
stars, sun, and moon, they came to recognise that the sun did not rise
over the same spot on the horizon every day. In the summer it rose
roughly in the north-east and set in the north-west. In the winter, on
the other hand, it rose in the south-east and set in the south-west.
Moreover, these variations would be found to be regular and recurring.
The sun would appear to move every day after the Solstice towards the
east, and from the east towards the south, back again towards the
east, and once more northwards. A staff set in the ground would
determine the range of the sun's apparent journey and its extreme
limits or turning points. This would fix the Summer Solstice in the
north-east, and the winter Solstice in the south-east. Even such
simple learning as this was probably beyond the capacity of the
tribesman, whose daily duties took him afield early and late. But it
was to his interest that all such observations should be entrusted to
individuals who could keep definite count, and know exactly at what
part of the horizon the sun might be expected to appear. In this way
the solar year might be mapped out and divided into Solstices and
Equinoxes. Nor was this a mere arbitrary arrangement. The good of the
community depended upon it. The agriculturalist depended upon the sun
for his crops. It was essential that he should know the correct time
to plough, to sow, and to reap. Without the aid of the wise men he
had no means of knowing what day it was, or how much longer he could
count upon the sun for his primitive agriculture. The wise man, on
his side, realised the importance of his knowledge, and doubtless used
it to his own advantage, thus winning support and respect from his
simple followers.

Temples, or stone circles corresponding to temples, might face either
to the north-east or south-east, for the Summer or Winter Solstice,
marking the end of the sun's journey, or they might be directed
towards the east, when the sun would appear in the appointed spot
twice in the year; once in his journey southward, and once on his
return; in other words, at the two Equinoxes. Stonehenge is so
arranged as to mark the sun at its Summer Solstice.

But, interesting as these speculations of the Sun Temple theory may
be, the facts recorded by Sir Norman Lockyer in 1901 are even more so,
as by independent calculations he has arrived at the same date for
Stonehenge as the archŠologist. Briefly his task was to calculate the
extent of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic since the
building of Stonehenge. The whole process involves a certain knowledge
of astronomical operations and calculations, and the reader is
referred to Sir Norman Lockyer's book for the actual steps taken to
arrive at his conclusion. But on astronomical grounds pure and simple
he was able to fix the date of Stonehenge as lying between 1900-1500
B.C.

It is at all events interesting that his results should tally with
those of Mr. Gowland who, working on entirely different lines, came to
practically the same conclusion.

Having proceeded thus far it is well, however, not to insist too
strongly on the Sun Temple theory, on the lines already sketched
out. It should be always remembered that the Hele Stone is an
unworked stone, which stands without the circle, and does not form a
symmetrical integer in the structure. Being unwrought it may have been
erected at an earlier date, and might belong to an earlier culture.
It is possible that Stonehenge may have been a later addition to the
Hele Stone. Many of the arguments relating to the wise men and the
observation of sunrise are matters of analogy rather than direct
proof, and though coincidences are ever suggestive and fascinating,
they cannot always be entirely accepted as proof. While it is quite
possible that the Hele Stone was erected to mark the Solstice and to
afford a definite means of determining the year, this may not justify
the theory that the entire structure was an astronomical observatory
and dedicated entirely to sun worship, with elaborate ramifications,
and observation mounds for celestial phenomena. Weighing, therefore,
the archŠologist's and astronomer's evidence, it is fairly safe to
conclude that Stonehenge can be dated at about B.C. 1700, and that its
use was religious; probably a temple, in which the sun may have been
adored in some way. As yet, however, the actual nature of that worship
is a matter for speculation. It is of the utmost importance in dealing
with a question like this, to observe the greatest caution and to
maintain a strictly detached position. The astronomer, archŠologist,
geologist, and anthropologist have each their share in the solution of
the problem, but each also has the bias due to his own special
science. The mineralogist solves the problem of the Foreign Stones by
suggesting a glacial drift without reference to the geologist, who
will tell him that the local gravels contain no pebbles which belong
to those classes of stones known as Foreign Stones. The astronomer, in
his quest for alignments, will convert barrows into observation
mounds, without reference to their uses and contents, and without
allowing for the ignorance of the period, while the anthropologist
often allows his imagination to carry him beyond the limits of actual
fact. Time, and constant careful investigation, will pierce some of
the mists which must always shroud the origin of Stonehenge, but the
true solution will be for the field archŠologist, rather than to the
weaver of theories or the student in his library.

The circular form, the horseshoe form, the unhewn Hele Stone, all
bespeak religious origin. These are actual, visual facts, as is the
sunrise on the Solstice. Around these arises a clamour of conflicting
claims, each possibly containing much of real importance, each
probably expressing some clue to guide the future worker on his way,
but none containing that element of finality which is once and for all
time to quell the storm of controversy which has ever raged about this
ancient monument of the plain.





Next: The Druid Question

Previous: When Was Stonehenge Erected?



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