Houses of the Holy: Architecture and Meaning in the Structure of Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK,
Timothy Darvill (2016)
Time and Mind, 9:2, 89-121, DOI:10.1080/1751696X.2016.1171496
ABSTRACT: Stonehenge in central southern England is internationally known. Recent re-evaluations of its date and construction sequence provides an opportunity to review the meaning and purpose of key structural components. Here it is argued that the central stone structures did not have a single purpose but rather embody a series of symbolic representations. During the early third millennium this included a square-in-circle motif representing a sacred house or ‘big house’ edged by the five Sarsen Trilithons. During the late third millennium BC, as house styles changed, some of the stones were re-arranged to form a central oval setting that perpetuated the idea of a sacred dwelling. The Sarsen Circle may have embodied a time-reckoning system based on the lunar month. From about 2500 BC, more than 80 bluestones were brought to the site from sources in the Preseli Hills of west Wales about 220km distant. Initially arranged as a Double Circle they were variously rearranged at least four times over the following centuries. The diverse lithology of the bluestones reflects the landscape from which the stones derived so that the monument embodied a microcosm of the distant land. Associations with water and healing suggest one reason why Stonehenge became such a powerful place in prehistoric times.
The paper is interesting and provoking and an excellent addition to the canon of Stonehenge research.
It is wide ranging and discusses many different ideas and sets them within the historical context.
It is probably just because I have spent many hours studying the exact layout of the sarsens that I am uneasy with one of the central themes of the paper.
The central theme that concerns me is that the sarsens represent a ‘square-in-circle’ structure, To quote: "specific similarities between the Sarsen Trilithon Horseshoe and the form of late Neolithic houses....the central square-shaped elements, the hearth and living floor, are usually set within a circular or near circular outer frame forming an integral part of the structure in which the difference in shape is absorbed by the thickness of the wall itself. Looked at as a kind of house, the Great Trilithon at Stonehenge could be seen as the equivalent of a dresser with a clear bipartite left and right division." This identification of the houseyness of Stonehenge then underpins his thesis of it being a house of the Holy.
There are many examples of neolithic ‘square-in-circle’ structures given and the accompanying plan of Stonehenge supports the comparison. The position of the stones at Stonehenge has been measured and recorded many times and so it is understandable that the source for Darvill's plan of the central Sarsen arrangement is just given as "various".
But to my mind the plan doesn't compare well with many of the other published plans of Stonehenge.
Darvill plan left, English Heritage plan right, click to enlarge.
His plan makes the ‘square-in-circle’ more obvious than other plans do, but I worry if it is accurate.