Editor's Note: Two postings this week! (How generous is that, eh?) This, our second offering, comes from the pen/computer keyboard of John Steventon (the American wing of Wyre Archaeology...so just ignore the odd trans-Atlantic spelling) whose recent visit to Blighty took in, amongst other sites, Stone Henge. Cheers John for taking such an interest in our historical, rain-soaked shores, which is more than I can say for most British residents.
p.s. The Wyre Archaeology Meeting scheduled for May 2007 will not take place, as usual, at Wyrefield Farm but at Newers Wood. (Special permission was needed to access the site so, for full details, please get in touch with either Neil Thompson or Ken Emery.)
During my earlier visits to Stonehenge, the weather on the Salisbury plain was a key factor in viewing the monument. Even to a modern guy like me, the ever changing weather had a mystical quality, and reminded one of a movie scene in which the hero stands still and clouds roll by overhead at phenomenal speed, indicating a passage of time.
Standing outside the henge, watching the sun come and go and rain fall and stop and clouds roll out of site, all in a matter of minutes, you can easily imagine why the builders chose this special spot. Going inside the henge, and between the stones, the magic continues.
This was my first time walking amongst the megaliths of Stonehenge. We were on a special access tour, and so a very few people wandered the stones with me. At times it was easy to pretend you were alone, although when the setting sun shone behind a trilithon, suddenly everyone was in the picture.
Regardless, looking back on my experience, one thing strikes me in particular: the lack of wind. Outside the henge the wind is relentless, often making it difficult to hear one’s neighbor, and one realizes that the grazing sheep nearby are so short and stout as to avoid being blown across the landscape.
The silence is incredible: an awed hush. Occasionally you hear people talking, but I don’t recall the wind rushing past us, and I do remember the almost holy quiet. Do these large stones block the wind from entering the circle? Were the winds just coincidently halted as we walked amongst the stones? Either way, the weather again played an important role in my experience.
What did I expect from this trip? Well, to be honest, I was hoping that standing within the monument I could look out and instinctively get a feeling for the hows, whats, and whys of it all. I wanted to ascertain its purpose not through theory and hypothesis, but by simply being a human being standing within a human creation.
Unfortunately, so much of the monument is in ruins, with tumbled blocks of broken stone covering much of the interior. These fallen stones must be the ones that earlier tourists took souvenirs from, because looking at them, they are the wrong shape for standing, and you can see why they were not returned to their rightful places during the earlier restoration.
Some parts of the monument are still intact, and fortunate for us one of the more critical places, the entrance, remains close to what it once was. What surprised me, although I don’t know why, was the alignment of the inner and outer circles, forming an opening that leads out to the healstone and the avenue beyond. Why did this surprise me? I’m not sure, but it did. Maybe at this point I could see the monument for what it once was, after the disappointment of the ruin within the center?
This alignment was noticed at a few other places, while at others smaller stones could be clearly seen framed within larger stones, as if deliberately marking some celestial event. Now, honestly, I did not prepare myself for this trip, but it has been proven that Stonehenge marks various extremes in the movements of the sun and moon. Even unprepared, the deliberate design of the monument was perfectly obvious. The craftsmanship, thought, and development of the monument were all obvious. These people knew what they were doing, and they did it well. Why this monument was not considered special until 1984 boggles my mind, and it angers me that it went unprotected for so long.
Yes, nature wore away at the stones for thousands of years, but man has done the most damage. Our tour guide warned us that an earlier visitor that week tried to carve something into a stone, and on my journey I saw a young man rubbing the ancient axe carvings very vigorously with his hands.
How very special this place is to me, and I can only wonder what it once looked like. If not for the hand of man, perhaps we could all see it close to its former glory. One day tourists may walk amongst holograms of a recreated Stonehenge, with simulated weather, but this will never be the same. The original is quite special, and how wonderful it is that even after five thousand years this place still holds onto its magic.