Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This and that

A Game of Henge - Stonehenge

Phillip Gross

A game of Henge, my masters?
The pieces are set. We lost the box
with instructions years ago.

Do you see Hangman? Or
Clock Patience? Building bricks
the gods grew out of? Dominoes?

It's your move. You're in the ring
of the hills, of the stones, of the walls
of your skull. You want to go?

You want out? Good - that's
the game. Whichever way you turn
are doors. Choose. Step through, so...

And whichever world you stumble into
will be different from all the others, only
what they might have been,
you'll never know.

I start with Gross's poem, so apt when you try to start to unravel a theory as to the how and why of any particular aspect of the prehistoric past - they did not write it down; today we can bumble around  words such as 'sacred' and 'ritual' and guess till we grew old with age what really happened but never get to the truth of the matter  So reading this interesting paper, with various theories analysed and debunked can be very confusing.  So where do I stand? the answer is simple, I shall for this moment in time say the building of Silbury Hill  is ancestral in that viewing the mound from either the Neolithic monuments of East Kennet or West Kennet long barrows can be one of the answers; it lies at your feet serene in its startling man made appearance on a flat piece of land. Then just a few hundred metres further on where the conjunction of the Winterbourne meets the Kennet river at Swallowhead Springs, this also gives it a special symbolic meaning within the landscape.

The 'cone shaped shadow', in this aerial photograph of Jacquetta Hawkes 50 years ago...

Water in the moated ditch that surrounds the monument, appearing and disappearing as the little Winterbourne does, perhaps that is magical, once someone put a video on of the water rushing down the dried river course in winter, that was magical, the reappearance of water.

"When contemplating the options available to the Avebury monument builders a possibility was  available to them to use the western extension of the Silbury Hill ditch to create the illusion of a ‘full moon’ from the reflection of a fully scoured surface to Silbury Hill in the water of the winter fosse. However, it is not clear that the builders had any interest in such an exercise. There is no evidence of scouring to the whole face of Silbury Hill, although there is to the northern sector of the top terrace. 

Just a paragraph in the paper, this time the moon reflected in the fosse/moat that surrounds Silbury, speculative and not really relevant. A white chalk mound distinct in the moonlight, of course the practical in me says, you have to keep scouring the hill to keep it white.  It is a bit like Julian's Cope theory that as you descended The Ridge Way to the Sanctuary stone circle,  that Silbury would appear on the horizon dancing before you.
Reading Tilley mentioned below and you come to the latest archaeological trick to read the landscape, it is called phenomenology, and I have read the landscape by its ancestral beginnings and by its close proximity to water - clever - or not!
All I know, even now, is the warm feeling of just 'being' within the landscape, a sunny day up by EKLB with LS as he photographs Silbury from afar; following the course of the little stream called the Winterbourne, past the old willows, Moss walking ahead, deer in the field and a hare, its ears poking above the wheat. And I suspect that this is just what the prehistoric people felt, the warmth of the sun, a good harvest, wild flowers and wild animals making up their landscape.  As to their religious beliefs it did not matter, as it does today.

Over the last two or more decades the work of Tilley has proved particularly appropriate for examining the Silbury Hill ‘residual’. Rather than seeing landscape as a Euclidian space filled with natural and artificial features, Tilley’s phenomenological approach discerns active choice on the part of the builders in selecting each place for its distinctive topography and long ­established memories traceable to ancestral forager track­ways and sacred sites. Tilley emphasises how the choice of landscape context for a monument reveals how the builders wanted to manipulate a viewer’s interpretation of its meaning.

Shafts and Wells

An earlier blog 2008


  1. I often wonder what people in another thousand years will make of what we manage to leave behind - if the whole world hasn't been blown to smithereens by then.

    1. True, my first thought is of that great plastic dump that wallows in the sea somewhere, but at the moment as the fighting escalates in different parts of the world, and the ravaged buildings of Palestine dominate the television screen, don't think the human race will be around that long...

  2. Lovely post, Thelma. When I hear "ritual", I think about asking "What ritual is that then?"

    My late wife was a teacher. Once she asked her students what they thought would remain of their lives after a few thousand years that would show who they were. They had various answers but Carrie told them that all that material would have turned to dust by then. She said that the thing that would most likely survive would be the very large piece of porcelain in their bathroom!

    1. Hi John, I suspect the word 'ritual' should be banished from every archaeological book written at the moment, it is a subjective interpretation nothing more....Though having said that it is a fascinating source of speculation, I do love my Welsh saints for instance!
      Carrie was probably right, though of course if the bath had been destroyed by war not even that will remain.

    2. It wasn't the bath she was thinking of :-)

      I agree about the misuse of "ritual". Often, rituals are carried out with the participants not really understanding the history of what is going on. A bit like the archaeologists who use that word inappropriately!

    3. I suspected that she was not referring to the bath but decided to go with it.....

  3. I was a (mature!) student when Tilly's book first came out and as he had been a partner to Mike Shanks we had to practically be able to quote it chapter and verse. There's a lot to be said for his theories, but I wonder what the latest theories are - have we moved on? Personally I think the awareness and use of the celestial calendars may have had much more influence than acknowledged. But it's just guessing in the long run! I think "control" of the lesser mortals also played a big part - exclusiveness not participation.

    1. I have Lilley's book 'Stone Worlds' he wrote it with two other authors. It is about the B/A Leskernick settlement site in Cornwall. Can only describe it as a dialogue with everyone contributing their thoughts. They also wrapped 'special' stones, read symbolic, in bright red and yellow paper so that the stones could stand out and make sense amongst the jumble of stones.....

  4. P.S. I forgot to mention that Mike Shanks was one of our lecturers, and my personal tutor. I can still remember the horror when he asked me how Shrodinger's cat was related to quantum physics.

    1. Lecturers love being clever, but then they have to be ;)