Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Stonehenge explained


There are many theories about Stonehenge.  Geoffrey of Monmouth said Merlin put it there.  Aubrey said the Druids built it.  There's a story that the Devil dropped the stones there because he didn't want to waste any more shoe leather on them.  Some believe the KLF placed them. Some people seem to think it was aliens.  To be perfectly honest with you I don't think any of those theories are true.

There is a commonly held belief about solstices - that by ancient science, magic or even magick, at midsummer and midwinter the sunrise or sunset lines up with the stones.  There is a counter argument that you could get the same effect if you lay a dart board on the ground or a map of the M25. There is a circle of stones with gaps between them . . . the sun is gonna rise up between two of them.  There's no doubt a lot of detail has been lost in the mist of time.

If it wasn't Merlin and it wasn't the aliens how did the stones get there?  Some came from Wales, others from Marlborough.  Each one weighs the same as a sack full of elephants.  Quite a big sack too.  Like stubborn stains they must have been hard to shift. The answer is, of course, wheels.  Tree trunks, rollers, wheels.

This little fellow is called Walter. He is believed to have lived around 5000 BC. For centuries he has been worshipped by the inhabitants of the  village of Tickleford where this tribute stands.  Known locally as the "Last Man Standing" it is said he was the first man to appreciate the usefulness of the wheel. Obviously after all this time no-one can be sure which of our prehistoric ancestors was first to notice that round things moved more easily than square or pointy things.  Walter's claim to fame is that he was the first to realise the potential of the wheel; it was Walter who set up the first "wheel factory".  

Some of his earliest attempts at extracting wheels from wood were unsuccessful.  As can be seen from the picture above early methods were wasteful and time consuming.  There is a fable which tells how Walter was on the verge of giving up - then, while watching the women of the village slicing carrots, he realised that there were better ways of cutting tree trunks to maximise the number of "wheels" that could be extracted from each one.

A fossilised wheel contemporaneous with the building of Stonehenge lies half buried near a  street used by commuters.  This is thought to be a prototype lightweight wheel (note the "speed holes").

Once the wheel had been perfected building Stonehenge was a doddle.  But still the question is begged - why?

The answer is of course partying. Let my people Go-Go.  Here's the thing: people like to party.  People like to have the monotony of the year broken up.  They like to have things to look forward to.  Christmas (or saturnalia), Easter (or Eastre, Eos, Aurora, Eostre, Ostara), Notting Hill carnival, Glastonbury, Glyndebourne, the Rolling Stones Farewell tour, holiday in Tuscany, new season of Strictly, French air traffic controller's strikes.

These are the communal events that break up the year, create markers, provide something to look forward to, to experience and then to look back on.  7,000 years ago the people of southern England would have come together at Stonehenge in just the same way as their descendants do at Michael Eavis' farm at Pilton.  There would have been an element of council business, some ritual religion and some drinking of honeyed mead (I was at Stonehenge today - needless to say I was offered honeyed mead), music (Stonehenge ROCKS!) and dancing.

Walter, the Wheelwright, is commemorated at Stonehenge with the carving shown above (the nose was chopped off by John Aubrey in 1649 and used in ritual Druid services at Avebury).  Walter's likeness can also be seen at Carnac in France and he is one of the most well known faces of the the Moai of Easter Island and of the Olmec heads of Mexico.

Pictured above: Walter's early attempt at a Short Wheel Barrow (not to be confused with a Long Barrow) was a failure but he persevered.  It is said that a spider, watching Walter repeatedly trying to build a better barrow and failing but not giving up, was inspired to keep trying to build a web although he had hitherto been unsuccessful.  It was a descendant of that spider who went on to inspire Robert the Bruce.

Stonehenge.  Worth a visit.

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