Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Seeing Stonehenge

This is a fuller copy of the letter I sent British Archaeology which was published in Issue 132  in an edited, and more readable, form. It was written before I noticed the parch marks so it was very prescient.

For they look, but they don't really see – Matthew 13:13

Frank Stevens’ guidebook to Stonehenge was first published in 1916 and continued in print until 1938. It is still admired especially for the woodcut illustrations by Heywood Sumner. The first one is this.

But there is a problem with this illustration which Stonehenge geeks may notice immediately but seems not to have been noticed when the book was in print.

There is a second mistake which is with the caption, the view is towards the north east, not the south east; a mistake I have only just noticed despite studying this picture many times over the last year.

 As a clue here is a contemporary postcard from Frith’s showing the same scene, which also has a similar captioning mistake saying it is “from the N.W” when it is from the South West:

Here is an earlier version of the picture:

The problem, if you didn’t notice it is that the tall stone, stone 56, was straightened on the 19th September 1901.

It seems that the postcard printers altered the picture rather than have a new photo taken.

Which was a shame as on the evening of the 31st December 1900, the trilithon on the left, Stones 21,22 and 122, was blown down in the course of a severe storm. So you can have stone 56 upright with 22 fallen or 56 leaning with 22 standing or for eighteen months 56 leaning and 22 fallen, but at no time in the early twentieth century were 56 and 22 both upright.

So the illustration in the official guidebook was taken from a faked photograph and not from reality.

The history of Stonehenge is full of examples of people looking at it but not really seeing it.

From the public path looking across the width of the monument the dagger carvings on Stone 53 can be seen clearly on any sunny afternoon. But it seems no one noticed them until Richard Atkinson did in July 1953. They show up in early photographs; they are in view but not seen. Once they were seen many other were spotted. When we know what to look for we can easily see it, it is much harder to see something we don’t expect to see.

In the 1960s C A “Peter” Newham and Gerald Hawkins, and others, looked for astronomical alignments at Stonehenge.  This illustration is from Hawkins’ book.

Peter Newham produced a similar one, below, which concentrates on the Station Stones and the indeterminate F, G and H holes (some authorities think they may be natural rather than man made features).

Peter hypothesised a hole G2 to make an alignment to Station Stone 92 to match the alignment from Station Stone 94 to Hole G which is to the Winter Solstice Sunrise and Summer Solstice Sunset. Gerald Hawkins thought this line was between Station Stone 93 and Hole H.

Whilst they were busy looking at the small Station Stones and on plans where missing stones and holes were they failed to see a much larger object already on this alignment towering over them.

As to whether the alignment is a real artefact or not is another argument, what is indisputable is that many people were looking for it.

The Great Trilithon at the centre of the inner sarsen horseshoe consisted of Stones 55, 56 and the lintel 156. 156 lies on the ground beside the broken 55 but Stone 56, as mentioned above, stands upright. It has, as did 55, highly worked flat sides. But these sides are not symmetrical to the horseshoe or the acknowledged Summer Solstice Sunrise – Winter Solstice Sunset alignment through the monument.  The stone is skewed about 10 degrees from this line, which puts it on the alignment that Hawkins, Newham and other were looking for. 

It might be argued that Gowland, who straightened the stone did not get it back into its original position but close examination of his records and acknowledgement of his skill and experience makes this unlikely. He stated that the original position of Stone 55 and thus the whole trilithon was in line with 56.

I believe that the skewing is significant, others may not,  but either way  millions of people have looked at it and investigators have studied it but they all failed to see it and what it might mean.

There is still a lot to be properly seen at Stonehenge.   


  1. The history of Stonehenge is full of examples of people looking at it but not really seeing it.

    Interesting post Tim. What it really needs is a bright young archaeologist, someone who is in the exclusive circle that can get published in archaeological journals, to really look at the monument without being influenced by old notions: It's very good to see new and interesting ideas like these being put forward.

    But what is perhaps most needed is a theory which explains the early phases of Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape in a manner consistent with the knowledge of the time: Something of a profound, simple, logical and obvious meaning to anyone who would have lived back then.

    Perhaps a theory could even lead to an archaeologist being able to predict what else could be found? If such a theory were published in a suitable peer reviewed journal, that might even lead to further studies: Perhaps everything else about the monument would then just fall into place.

    Until then, it seems to me that theories about the late stage monument are unlikely to receive much attention: As you've noted, there is a legacy of failure of interpretation which has been inherited from the past.

    I am wishing you luck with your endeavours!


  2. You are both correct in your assertion that " The history of Stonehenge is full of examples of people looking at it but not really seeing it."

    As an amateur astronomer as a child I used to find points in the sky (clusters and nebulas) by aligning my garden telescope with the neighbours chimney pots at certain times of the year. I never for once believed that the houses were ever build for this purpose!!

    Hawkins elaborate calculations were based on a construction date of 1500BC which we know to be inaccurate based on two stones that are important - hence the mound and ditch/moat and two picked at random from the 56 Aubrey holes available to anyone who wants to find something from nothing.

    We need to clear the clutter and strip back the monument to its original construction to find its true history. Otherwise nonsense like mike pitts article in British Archaeology this month supposedly 'proving' that the Stonehenge was a circle made of half sized uprights (bluestones?)in shallow pits - as the parched sized holes seen this year are the same size and shape as the "Z" hole parch mark holes found in previous hot summers.

    This clearly shows to anyone with any comprehension of construction methods and techniques that they were added at a later date (probably by a different society)and at a guess at the same time as the 'Z' holes which lay next to these parch marks. Such public misdirection by BA perpetuates these inaccurate myths about Stonehenge as shown in the article.


  3. We need to clear the clutter and strip back the monument to its original construction to find its true history. Otherwise nonsense like mike pitts article in British Archaeology this month supposedly 'proving' that the Stonehenge was a circle made of half sized uprights (bluestones?)in shallow pits -

    Yes. It does need to be stripped back: It is possible that anyone who wants to make the next set of significant discoveries at Stonehenge really needs to look at what was there and in what sequence.

    I heard on Brian's site that Mike Pitts has published something. I didn't read it because I don't have much time these days, but thought the article content, from Brian's description, seems to have had no consideration given to how things are constructed. Thought it worth an additional comment here because Brian's site seems to be out of action again:

    One of the first things you do, when considering the construction of anything which has fixed length components, is to dig trial holes: You would do this very early; when you have only a rough idea of what will finally be there. What you may find could change what you do (especially where chalk is concerned) and could save you vast amounts of time and effort. So disturbed soil, at least down to the bearing surface of the chalk, would be expected, regardless of whether or not the final intention was to install stones at those locations.

  4. Mike Pitts article is quite remarkable in a sense as it claims that this patch marks resolves an ancient mystery (as if patch marks are new - the summer of 1976 when water was banned at Stonehenge are the best to date) yet at the end has a unnamed archaeologist stating the circle was incomplete as we have always imagined.

    So we have a problem that can easily be resolved - if EH really wishes to resolve it?

    As I've found out trying to find out information through the freedom of information act:

    They are more concerned with 'commercial licenses' and income than historical truth.