According to David Jacques, Stonehenge took over 4000 years to create into what we recognize as its present form. And David Jacques ought to know. He’s a Fulbright scholar, an archaeologist at University of Buckingham in Southeast England and one of the foremost authorities on Stonehenge landscape in the Mesolithic Period (8500-4000 BC). Which is, fairly unique. I mean, how many authorities on Stonehenge landscape in the Mesolithic Period can you name?
David Jacques has discovered clear evidence of not just human habitation in the area, but of some kind of ritualistic construction. It was around 8500 BC (that would be Early Mesolithic for those of you who failed 7th grade science) that the most recent ice age was taking its final bow. Ice was melting and oceans were refilling. And it was during this time, suggests Sir Jacques (and others) that the soon-to-be first Britons clambered across the quickly disappearing land bridge which connected what is now continental Europe and what was to become the British Isles.
Evidently, these clueless baby Brits were big into building ritual sites. Around 3800 BC, the first large wooden monuments appeared and some 300 years later, a two-mile long and 100 yard-wide trench was dug near the Stonehenge site. 300 years later than that, henges started popping up all over the place. Just north of Stonehenge, for example, is a place called Avebury with 3 stone circles, the outer one being more than 1000 feet in diameter. And another, even closer to Stonehenge called Durrington Walls which runs 1600 feet across. Stonehenge, as we know it, was evidently built somewhere between 2600-2500 BC. Giant stones – some weighing more than 40 tons – were hauled 18 miles or more, carved and stood upright.
David Jacques – Mr. Fulbright himself – knows a lot about the what and where of all these historic sites. But what he, nor any other Hengie, doesn’t know, is why. 5000+ years is a long time to be diddling around building stone and timber circles. Come on, now. Didn’t they have better things to do, like… survive? But build them, they did. And a whole heap of them in this one area of southern England.
Some authorities say they were places of healing. Some say they were festival sites celebrating solstice & equinox. Others suggest they were ceremonial circles for a variety of rituals. And then, of course, there are those who are pretty sure it was all the work of aliens. I mean, come on… the stones are in the shape of a flying saucer, for God’s sake! And, it’s on the internet, so it’s got to be true.
But the actual truth is, we don’t know why. We can only surmise. Which is finally all we can do with the why of life, itself. Despite the claims of religion, no one can actually claim to know why life exists.
But, it does seem pretty clear that these ancestors of ours had a sense that there is more to life than eating, sleeping, pooping and procreating. These giant-circle-builders spent thousands of years, generation after generation, working their British butts to the bone building rings of wood and stone. And chances are, they weren’t all that clear on why, either. But it’s somehow reassuring that we humans have been trying to connect with that mystery for a long, long time.
Tom Robbins (not a Fulbright scholar, but a wise man, nonetheless) writes, “Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.” Or… a stone circle.