This is another assignment I wrote for an on-line archaeology course:
Elly wanted to visit Stonehenge. She’d taken us to many interesting places when we’d visited her in the Netherlands, now she was visiting us we were delighted to plan a trip to Salisbury Plain, to the ancient stones.
I’d seen them before, once when visitors were still allowed to touch them, sit on them, climb them. The last time I’d visited there was a fence round them and they were huddled into the landscape, looking less than impressive.
I wanted them to look wonderful for Elly, she was so looking forward to the trip. It was a hot journey, only a couple of hours but much of it behind lorries and trucks; we arrived and the site was crowded, the carpark full, a long queue to get to the site. We didn’t mind and we stood and chatted and laughed about silly things.
I turned to look round; the land rose away from us, and on the nearby ridge was the hump of a burial mound. Stonehenge was not an isolated structure within a lonely landscape it was in a context of ritual and ceremony and meaning that we’d never know, only guess at. The earliest found evidence of this site being of special significance is from over 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) years ago. The henge itself was just part of the whole experience, but I’d never realised or thought of this before.
Through the barrier, we collected our audio-guides and walked through the tunnel under the road, taking us to the henge itself.
The path wound round and we traipsed along with the visitors from every corner of the world… five, four, three thousand years ago other visitors would have come, a throng of people speaking different languages, wearing different garments, bearing different tattoos and weapons, all coming to celebrate some special moment. Travellers also came from far away in ancient times, as far away as the Orkney Islands… the stones themselves, the bluestones of the inner circle had been brought by Neolithic technology from the Preseli Hills, 150 miles away.
The stones were cordoned off by a low rope strung between short, slim, non-threatening metal posts; there was no sense of being cut off from the henge, nor of the henge being aggressively contained; we were just kept at a respectful distance. The stones are on a slight rise so as we looked at them we could barely see visitors on the other side of them and there was a sense of space and openness beneath the wide sky.
We followed the path round, taking our time, I gradually became aware of the henge within the landscape; the site had been chosen not by chance, but specifically because this was where it was right. There was no random positioning, plans had been made, the site must have been measured, cleared, and maybe even levelled. A wooden circle consisting of mighty timbers was here prior to the stones, maybe as many as 6,500 trees had been cut down with flint axes. Four massive ‘station’ stones were placed well outside the circle, positioned at the corners of a perfect square; where the diagonals intersected, the ‘alter’ stone was placed.
We walked slowly, stopping to stare, and each time I turned away from the stones and looked away to the horizon, knowing that within this area there are hundreds of other contemporary sites, burials, barrows, tombs, Woodhenge… for there were other henges than just those made from stone.
Because we were apart from the stones the banks were clearly visible, showing what a huge area the site was. These vast circular ditches would have been dug with deer antlers and the shoulder blades of cattle, thousands of tons of soil shifted. It must have been a stable and fairly secure society to be able to devote the amount of labour needed for construction. I looked to the distant hills, fields full of golden grain ripening in the summer sun.
At the south side of the site was the Heel Stone, aligned with the Slaughter Stone (it turns red when wet, there is no reason to believe it was a sacrificial altar) and standing by it and looking south I could make out a faint trace of The Avenue, twelve metres wide, descending to the River Avon.
I stood for many minutes, just looking at the henge, and then with my back to it again, looking at where it sat in the landscape.
“It’s wonderful,” Elly said. “Het is geweldig, echt geweldig”