Wednesday 8 June 2016

It's been emotional, it's been a real journey...

Gillings, Mark and Pollard, Joshua (2016) Making megaliths: shifting and unstable stones in the Neolithic of the Avebury landscape. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 26, 1-32.

"This paper focuses upon the web of practices and transformations bound up in the extraction and movement of megaliths during the Neolithic of southern Britain. The focus is on the Avebury landscape of Wiltshire, where over 700 individual megaliths were employed in the construction of ceremonial and funerary monuments. Locally-sourced, little consideration has been given to the process of acquisition and movement of sarsen stones that make up key monuments such as the Avebury henge and its avenues; attention instead focussing on the middle-distance transportation of sarsen out of this region to Stonehenge. Though stone movements were local, we argue they were far from lacking in significance, as indicated by the subsequent monumentalization of at least two locations from which they were likely acquired. We argue that since such stones embodied place(s);their removal, movement and resetting represented a remarkably dynamic and potentially disruptive reconfiguration of the world as it was known. Megaliths were never inert or stable matter, and we need to embrace this in our interpretative accounts if we are to understand the very different types of monument that emerged in prehistory as a result "

We are hearing more recently that the transport of th eStonehenge  Bluestones from Wales overland "would have required significant manpower and organisation, but would have emphasized the special nature of the task being undertaken. In some ways, the journey of  the bluestones may have been similar to the journey of the Olympic Torch through Britain  in 2012, in terms of promoting a sense of communal celebration and pride." (An Archaeological History of Britain: Continuity and Change from Prehistory to the Present. Jonathan Mark Eaton 2014) It is also worth noting as Julian Richards reminded me yesterday that the "Bluestones" are a motley collection of stones from several different sources. The reason for them being chosen is obviously not the quality or beauty of the stones.

I cringe when I think that the X Factor cliché of the importance of the "journey" is coming to the fore but Mark and Joshua's paper is very thought provoking. They acknowledge how Colin Richards work on the Orkney stone circles is a background to this idea and how as Richards puts it :"the focus on risk (physical, reputational and spiritual) inherent in extracting and moving large stones; the social performance of construction and the way it offers context for negotiation and reaffirmation; and the transformative dimensions of such work".

We also have the very base of Silbury Hill where a plausible interpretation of the mixture of fill material is that different families brought baskets of their own particular soil from some distance away to start the mound off.

So maybe the stones can lay claim to the cliché that they have been on a long/tough/real/interesting/emotional “journey” and that part of their story is as important as the final settings of them.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with most of this.

    Unlike today (for the most part) the people then stayed in one place for long periods, having originally settled there for conventional reasons, ie: plentiful food, water and security. Those places became imbued with significance as the folks developed local ideas and the eventual homogeneous rationale which defined their society.

    A natural corollary would be to lug remembrances from the original home to a new place as the growing culture spread.

    All of us today have such remembrances from places we've visited or lived at, and the reasoning is very similar. Julian Richards is on the right track.

    I can neither confirm nor deny that I have four shards of sarsen collected from the Stonehenge work site, and that these chipped slivers are among my most prized possessions. They have come on an extremely long journey to a place where the workers who fashioned them could scarcely have imagined. By nature of this provenance they'd be museum pieces here, c.3000 miles away.

    Often missing from the narrative is the timeline. Those folks lived in their various locations for extremely long periods, so the move to new environs would have been culturally significant. 500 years is pretty lengthy when the life-span averaged only 40. In most of these discussions we lightly bandy time in terms of thousands of years. So taking a series of native bluestones with them would probably have been a natural act, regardless of the labor involved.

    If we ever discover the source of all the various types of bluestone represented at the Pile, I believe we'll find the nearby settlements of the people who eventually moved them. It's here that the work of MPP & Co will prove important.

    But, at this point, I believe the Sarsen used at Avebury and Stonehenge was the product of expedited convenience, rather than a culling of 'The Ancestors' or some such other hogwash. This tough stone was nearby, they used them - end of story.

    But in the beginning, the Blues were the thing, and a pursuit of their sources will prove to be enlightening in the context of that long-lived culture.



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