F Rosa Rubicondior: Old Dead Gods - Stonehenge Rebuilt

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Old Dead Gods - Stonehenge Rebuilt

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
Stonehenge may be dismantled Welsh stone circle | UCL News - UCL – University College London

Stonehenge, that ancient monument in the middle of the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, may have been built first, about 5,000 years ago, in the Preseli Hills of South Wales, and then been dismantled, transported to its present site and re-erected. This is the conclusion of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) who have published a paper in the journal Antiquity.

The smaller, inner, stones or 'blue stones' are already known to have come from the Preseli Hills and to have been erected before the larger, outer ring of local 'sarsen' stones was erected. Now archaeologists led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, have identified an ancient quarry and the remains of a stone circle nearby, which may have been dismantled and transported 140 miles away, possibly by migrants.

The site at Waun Mawn now has just four remaining stones but was once the third largest stone circle in Britain next to those at Avebury, also in Wiltshire and at Stanton Drew in Somerset. It was also one of the earliest. Excavations in 2018 showed that the four remaining stones were once part of a larger circle in which only the holes in which the stones once stood remain. Charcoal and other sediment in these holes date them to about 3400 BCE.

The former circles at Waun Mawn was, like the stones at Stonehenge, aligned with the sunrise on the summer solstice, but the clincher was the existence of a cross-shaped hole that exactly matches a cross-shaped profile of one of the Stonehenge stones.

The presence of this former megalithic stone circle suggests the Preseli Hills was once an important site with a large enough local population to support the work involved, and a population that could be commanded and controlled to enable this massive civil engineering project to be undertaken. The area also has a number of megalithic tombs, such as the impressive burial chamber at Pentre Ifan we visited last summer on a short break during a relaxation of the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Megalithic tomb, Petre Ifan
This all points to a highly organised, unified society with a powerful ruling caste of powerful priest kings, or at least a powerful priesthood, because there is little doubt that these monuments had some powerful religious significance as I explained in a previous blog on the ancient monuments of Wiltshire.

Whatever the religion and whatever the gods were believed to do, the motivation to move a major construction 140 miles away, possibly as the people migrated there, taking their sacred stones with them, was powerful. It would not have been undertaken lightly, if only because it would have involved portaging the massive stones over difficult terrain and then crossing the River Avon or the Bristol Channel at some point.

And yet we know nothing of these people, their religion or their gods. We have no idea what they prayed to their gods to do (or not do), why the rituals, whatever they were, were so important they had to take their site of rituals with them. What did they fear would not happen if these rituals were not performed and not performed within the circle of scared stones, or was it fear of what would happen? Maybe it was the stones themselves that were considered sacred. Did they represent ancestors of gods? To motivate this tremendous feat, there must have been some major significance in the stones themselves. Were they mystical tribal guardians, maybe? We simply have no idea and can only make educated guesses.

In all probability it had something to do with day following night, of summer following winter, of the success of crops or health of livestock. The degree of political organization suggests this was no mere hunter-gatherer society but one of settled agriculturalists, able to grow a sufficient surplus of food to sustain a large, non-productive population who could be employed on a project of this scale, and one powerful enough to control the land over which these stone were to be transported.

But whatever it was all for, nothing serious happened when, quite suddenly apparently, the rituals stopped being performed. Day still followed night; summer still followed winter, and the crops continued to grow. The fact was that whatever the prayers, magic spells and rituals were believed to do, in the end they made no difference at all.

We have no idea what their religion was, who their gods were and what they did or didn't do because there was no evidential basis for it. Unlike science, which, if we somehow managed to forget a major branch of science, could be reconstructed from empirical evidence and it would be the same as what we now know, religions have no such basis. Once they are gone, they are gone and can never be reconstructed because there was never any factual basis for them in the first place.

Unlike material substances, gods can be constructed out of nothing and, once their believers stop believing in them, they disappear without trace and no-one mourns their passing. These once powerful gods whose priesthood could command such power in their name cease to have any importance one their former believers stop believing in them. They become as irrelevant and powerless as are Thor, Ra and Apollo to us today.


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