Tuesday 26 August 2014

Vince Gaffney's Liturgical Routes

Vincent Gaffney's research on the Hidden Landscape of Stonehenge is dominating the Stonehenge news at the moment. Lots of impressive stuff but I noticed one phrase kept coming up:

Vince Gaffney, one of the lead researchers is quoted as saying: “The point I think we’re coming to is that increasingly we can see the area around Stonehenge as providing extensive evidence for complex liturgical movement—which we can now understand, largely because we know where things are.”

The break in the Cursus to the north of Stonehenge seems to be one of these liturgical routes.  This theme is one that Gaffney has covered before. His co-authored book Stonehenge Landscapes: Journeys Through Real and Imagined Worlds, published in 2000, examines the same idea:

To quote:
The importance of paths and tracks within the formation of past landscapes has been much discussed within the recent literature (Edmonds 1999, Ingold 1993). It seems clear from this debate thai paths are not passive or simply functional landscape features. Paths and tracks make statements about signifìcant features within a landscape. and ultimately have a formative role in that they begin to guide movement. In highly charged landscapes, like that around Stonehenge, paths and tracks may have a liturgical role. They may guide the observer through a directed sequence of movements and spatial relationships, perhaps emphasising links with past landscapes, or relationships between groups, and indirectly restating the importance of social or power relationships through repetitive movement in a prescribed manner. Despite the importance of movement within a landscape archaeologists only occasionally have access to this information, and in the past have rarely attempted their reconstruction at a landscape level. Only in exceptional circumstances such as the preserved tracks on the Somerset Levels can we physically experience such paths, but it is intriguing to note that, however interpreted, these paths may also have had a ritual aspect through the deposition of specific objects including flint or figurines within the body of the track (Coles and Coles 1986).

This pessimistic statement is not entirely true for Stonehenge. Here there are a number of tracks defined formally within the landscape. The cursus monuments and the Avenue appear to function as processional ways and, as such, can clearly be interpreted as tracks of a highly specific type..... 

I eagerly await his new results, due 9th Sept I believe, I would like liturgical routes to have evidence of erosion or depositions along them, all we can do is wait to see.

A timeline of the Hidden Landscape Project is here

UPDATE - I am reminded in the comments of a previous Press Release from 2011.

Discoveries provide evidence of a celestial procession at Stonehenge


  1. "complex liturgical movement" - yet another one for you Sherlock!!

    Explain this line with using the words Religious or Ceremonial? LOL!


  2. I have already pointed out the problems with the procession suggestions , years ago when it was first mooted , using data to refute the idea .
    There is a simpler explanation below , but it will be beyond you .
    Yelping isn't refuting .

  3. Tim , one thing for sure ,the Chapman quote “If you measure the walking distance between the two pits, the procession would reach exactly half-way at midday, when the sun would be directly on top of Stonehenge. This is more than just a coincidence, indicating that the exact length of the Cursus and the positioning of the pits are of significance.” is demonstrably wrong .
    They are gilding the lily ,the eastern pit is close to the solstice sunrise alignmnet from the Heel stone but the western is not on the solstice sunset bearing as seen from the Heel stone and none of the "half way " measures work for a procession to move due south and arrive at the Heel stone , they are all too far east . The gap in the cursus if produced due south ,which is inferred in the noon mention , is even wider off the mark than the two possible midpoints i.e. mid point between the pits ,or midpoint between terminals .
    Ingold on paths and tracks can be good , but Chapman's procession with it's geometry and noon stuff falls apart .

  4. Geo - thanks for that - I had forgotten that PR story - http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2011/11/25Nov-Discoveries-provide-evidence-of-a-celestial-procession-at-Stonehenge.aspx . I could never work out how you could have a day long procession that only covered a mile and a bit.

  5. "I could never work out how you could have a day long procession that only covered a mile and a bit."

    Apprentice bards walked backwards carrying a bluestone between them , ovates hopped whilst blindfolded and third degree druids took to the water .

  6. I too eagerly await the new results. Somewhat more than three decades ago, I remember stopping on the roadside on the main route between Toronto and the East Coast. It was a desolate route: There turned out to be one set of traffic lights on the entire journey and, when the realisation dawned upon us that it really was a set of traffic lights out in the middle of nowhere on Canada's main highway, having to do an emergency stop came as quite a shock.

    Some time later, our exhaust fell off. Fortunately a spare coat-hanger proved an effective short term repair solution. At the time, I was amazed at the array of curious objects found in just a short section of track-way set within this wild and unforgiving landscape: Shallow chromium plated bowls with insignia and the most strange set of evenly spaced holes around the rim, many transparent vases with long thin necks; far too small to be used as a vase, together with the distinguishable remains of shoes, clothing (though it only just resembled clothing) and weathered remnants from various electrical offerings.

    It is only now that the potential importance of social and/or power relationships related to the complex liturgical significance of such objects has come to the fore: Something for future generations to ponder whilst re-taking such pilgrimages through a ritual landscape.

    But one should never forget to carry a coat hanger.