Monday, June 18, 2007

Jaquetta Hawkes-Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales 1954

Jaccquetta Hawkes is an evocative writer on archaeology and the remains of the past and in the above book her obvious love of our prehistory stands out. In days when the world was much quieter and the open road beckoned one can only envy her freedom to wander round the countryside. The following extracts are on Stonehenge;



.......We may have regretted the tickets, the waste-paper baskets, our fellow visitors; we may feel that publicity has destroyed the spirit of this too famous building; yet once among the stones all but the most stubbornly resistant mood must surrender to their power.
The massive, roughly squared blocks of sarsen seem to possessa forceful presence which asserts itself within the human consciousness. Their silvery grey colour fills the eye but now shows itself to be variegated with dark lichens and with the shadow of grotesque fissures and hollows worn by centuries of rain and frost. One upright has been so deeply and curiously carved by the weather that it looks like one of those huge wooden totem poles made by the Vancouver Island Indians. The visitor must be struck, too by an unexpected combination of static with dynamic forms; the uprights with their heavy lintels have stood for thousands of years and seem eternal, while some of the fallen stones, particularly the inner trilithons, although they have lain there long enough to have been trodden smooth, seem to preserve the force and movement, the noise almost of their colossal fall........

She goes on to describe the layout of the sarsen and bluestone circles and the horseshoe setting of bluestones following the theory that the bluestones came from Preseli and possessed their own mana. And she then describes the altar stone...

Across the toe of the bluestone horseshoe and therefore immediately in front of the great central trilithon lies a sandstone slab, also of welsh origin, now much encumbered with fragments of a fallen upright. Ever since Inigo Jones made the first plan of Stonehenge for James 1 this slab has been popularly been identified as the Altar Stone, but is far more likely once to have stood as a monolith. Certainly this central enclosure where the Altar Stone now lies must have been the most holy, the most charged with mana in the whole sanctuary...

She approached her visit to Stonehenge from the Winterbourne Stoke side past Yarnbury Castle, crossing the River Till....


...As he reaches the quiet cross roads on the summit, he will be on the edge of one of the greatest, and certainly the richest, congregations of burial mounds in all Britain. Here was a kind of vast scattered cemetery on ground hallowed by its proximity to the renowned sanctuary. Barrows cluster round Stonehenge on all sides - three hundred of them - but here to the west is the greatest concentration and the area most sequestered from the blighting military activities of Amesbury......
When the ritual and whatever its accompaniment may have been of masks, effigies and offerings have vanished so long ago, when there is no stir of emotion and the ghost which keeps emotion alive, when the very people responsible for raising these mounds have been overwhelmed, absorbed and forgotten, then their detailed study can become lifeless enough. Better perhaps to look at them with knowledge but with knowledge unexpressed, these round barrows that are like the floating bubbles of events drowned in time.

And so to H.J.Massingham - English Downland 1936

Massingham again explores the Wessex tribal lands with language both eloquent and emotional, and his writings on Stonehenge, fall more into the dramatic mode of imaginary grandeur.. but again he lays stress on the fact that all roads point to Stonehenge, a point still echoed today as once more roads are to be planned around or under Stonehenge..


So with Stonehenge. The hoary great pile exercises a magnetic pull over all the roads of the south, the south-east and the west. It holds the reins of allthe roads in its fist, from the Isle of Wight to the scalloped escarpment of the Marlborough Downs between the headlands of Tan Hill and Martinsell, and from Beaminster to Beachy Head. So deeply buried in the unrecorded past are these twin realms of ancient Wiltshire (here he is talking of Avebury as the other twin) that they have left us a mighty graveyard only, and nothing more, not even an inscription upon the tombs. Yet he chalk country belongs to them still, and of this mystery all who travel it are conscious. Their tombs are little rounded headlands and promontories, their roads and banks the very gestures of the downland manner, the peace in which the barrow builders dwelt together caught a breath of that lofty repose that clothes the downs themselves. The downs were the high places of their high cult of life and death. But we, we step upon their springing turflines as aliens, or at least with the dim awareness of having strayed and of seeking once more the ancient mother of our race..........
He goes on to say, wrongly as we now know, that Stonehenge resembles the Lion Gate of the pre-Hellenic Peloponnese, the tympaneum of the Lion Gate revealing the older and simpler religon of the Goddess of the Earth., overlaid with the state and political (as opposed to the elemental) creed of the sun, which was mainly kingship (interesting idea). Stonehenge and Avebury as two separate waves of colonial adventure.
...It is a monarch of stone circles with a court. A church with a church-yard inseperable from it. This court, this churchyard consists of the multitudes of barrows mostly round, which are set along the slight ridges in various groups, often in definite alignment, within an area of 12 square miles of the Temple..... and on


Avebury was by far the mightier work, but not erected with that precision and nicety of orientation which distinguished the lesser home of divinity, not were the stones so elaborately dressed. The Temple of the Plain was something of an observatory as well as a house of deified presences; it had its Cursus for the sacred spectacles and ball games between the sky and the underworld,..

It is interesting to see how early 20th education coloured the minds of its writers, and perhaps more important 19th century books with their flights of fancy, to imagine the world of the bronze age people. Today, archaeologists still play a somewhat different game, now the words have become more analytical and scientific, they may also play the game of imagining the past, but has anyone actually unfolded or come nearer to the truth of what happened round these great monuments? The answer is of course no, we still shuffle the bits around the board, like a great complicated jigsaw, we try to fit the pieces together but that picture of the past will never really be complete, it belongs to the people who lived it.

No comments:

Post a Comment