The Island of Britain, home to the British Empire, was not always a major player on the world stage. In truth, until the Roman conquest, the inhabitants of the island were considered to be culturally backward. Bronze Age Britain is a far cry from the world power it is today, and is surprisingly understudied. However, despite the neglect of our modern world towards the pre-roman history of the island, there is one monument that has grabbed our attention, Stonehenge. This monument has served as a constant reminder to the world that there is a preroman Britain.
But, because of the understudied nature of Bronze Age Britain, Stonehenge is possibly shrouded in more myth and lore than any other monumental structure in the world. The other monuments are awe-inspiring in the same way as Stonehenge, but Stonehenge is shrouded in mystery. And that is the magic of the monument. It could be anything, made for any purpose, allowing our imaginations to run wild. In this paper, some of the more popular theories behind Stonehenge will be explored, and they each will be put to an archeological test, to establish if there is evidence for any of these ideas to be plausible possibilities.
Before these theories can be explored, however, having a ground work understanding of Bronze Age Britain is important. The history and study of Britain pre-roman invasion is understudied, but that is not to say nothing is known about the people who lived there during the time period. These people were fairly isolated from the actions of the Middle East and its interactions with Eastern and Central Europe. When examining the spread of agriculture, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that agriculture was brought to the island, but rather it was dopted and developed on its own (Scarre, 399). Another sign of the relative isolation of the people is the usage of the term Celtic. Today it means the ancient people of the British Isles, particularly from the island of Ireland. What it had meant originally in Greek was anyone from beyond the Alps, Western and Northern European. So modern day France was also considered Celtic (Scarre, 430). What makes this a sign of isolation is that these people were called Celtic by the classic writers as a way to describe them as “their barbarian neighbors,” (Scarre, 430).
These people were known about by the “advanced” civilizations of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but they’re of little importance to them and brushed aside. Finally the creation of the Island of Britain itself is an explanation of isolationism. During the Ice age it was possible for one to walk from the western edge of Ireland all the way onto the Main Part of the European continent and beyond. Once the glaciers receded the water levels began to rise. And the former Channel River became the modern English Channel, and along with the creation of the North Sea, the Island of Britain was born around 6500 B.
C. (Scarre 180). Therefore, similar to the land bridge theory, once access was no longer walkable, the island inhabitants were cut off from the mainland. It is through this isolation that the people of Britain created their own evolution of societies. But, they never created the state level society that modern humans explore for when searching for traces of ideological lineage. Granted, Stonehenge’s completion was nearly 1,000 years before the rise of Old Kingdom Egypt and the Pyramids.
And when comparing to Mesopotamia (the cradle of civilization) the city of Uruk was founded around the time Stonehenge’s completion. Therefore, it is not truly fair to expect that the builders of Stonehenge would have been able to create a state level society before the cradle of civilization’s first notable city had risen, but they also never create a sophisticated state authority afterwards. As a result, the fascination with ancient Britain begins and ends with the stone monument that is Stonehenge.
And, because the Celtic people were quasi-isolated in the Bronze Age, and they are little studied now, conspiracy theories have the room to run amok and dominate the general public’s understanding of the monument. According to Lucy Kinder of Britain’s Daily Telegraph, there are 8 popular theories about the purpose of Stonehenge. These theories are as follows, it is either a concert venue, a burial ground for elites, a health spa, a team building exercise, an ancient calculator, a sex symbol, the work of aliens, or finally a Druid temple (Kinder).
Some of these theories could be probable, and several of them could have been one of the reasons for the construction or purpose of the monument over the thousands of years it has been in existence. However, one of these theories stands out as outlandish, that being the presence of aliens. The ancient aliens theory is a popular conspiracy theory that has been popularized by the History Channel’s television program of the same name. This argument can be considered to stem from racist undertones, especially when it is applied to the Pyramids of Egypt, and the mounds of the North American mound builder cultures.
It also holds a sense of ageist, not these people are too old to and frail, but they have not progressed through enough scientific ages to possess the engineering knowledge or tools to have accomplished these tasks. In the History Chanel’s program the evidence is based on images and carvings found at these sites where our ancestors were leaving us a record of extraterrestrial interactions. This form of thinking follows the same logical thinking of chalking up anything that remains misunderstood as a religious item or depiction.
It is just a different way of saying that the artifact in question has not been understood yet. But, for others the racist and lack of scientific advancement of our ancestors is the main draw behind the explanations. Erich von Daniken has been considered the founding father of this line of thought. In his book Chariots of the Gods? he makes this assumption of extraterrestrial involvement at Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, Easter Island, and other such places of early monumentality.
Daniken begins his work by explaining the immense improbability that humans are the only form of life in the universe. He argues that in the Milky Way alone, there could be 18,000 planets that are inhabited with life, and even 1% of those 18,000 there would still be 180 potentially inhabited planets in our galaxy (Daniken 17). This is a fundamental point to Dankien for a few reasons. First, if alien life exists, then the possibility of aliens coming to earth would become more likely than if there were none at all.
Also, it falls under his central belief that until something is proven wrong, it is a possibility. The book itself does not spend much time on Stonehenge specifically (actually it is only mentioned by name once), but it is tied into the central theory he employs for all other ancient monuments. These places were places of contact holy sites, because that is where the contact was made. And apparently, somewhere still buried in the ground at these sites will be relics that will be important in improving our modern day space flight (Daniken, 115).
While all of this conjecture is fun to think about there is no concrete evidence to suggest it to be true. There are monuments of impressive size and scope, but the evidence of alien interaction is just conjecture based on legends, and poorly crafted artwork. Unfortunately, there is not a way to resolve this dispute over aliens, because the mainstream community requires proof to support a theory, and the outsiders such as Daniken only ask for proof that proves them definitively wrong. Given that no substantial proof exists either way, the question of aliens will never be put to rest.
While the question of aliens is a fun and simple theory to grasp, the other more plausible, more provable theories will now be examined. To help illustrate why these other theories are more plausible an understanding of the construction of the monument is needed. The Monument was not built overnight, it took approximately 1,500 years for the monument to be fully completed. Unlike anyone of the Pyramids of Giza, which were completed in a singular ruler’s lifetime, but a project spanning 75 generations (assuming a generation to be about 20 years).
Also, unlike the pyramids the evidence suggests that Stonehenge was not a singular monument that just took 1,500 years to build, but was a series of monuments being added on over the course of the 1,500 year period (Chazan, 259). In Michael Chazen’s textbook World Prehistory and Archeology he breaks the development of the monument into three phases, and phase three is broken down further into categories a-f. The first phase is an earthwork circle with these holes called the Aubrey Holes that ran along the inside of the earthwork ditch.
Phase two, the holes and the ditch are filled in and human remains can be found inside the ditch and some of the holes. And in a recent development, some of these burials have been reexamined and found to actually be from phase one. Also timber posts were erected in the center of the circle made by the earlier earthworks. Phase three is where the recognizable stone structures begin making their appearance at the monument. This phase takes about 1,000 years and occurs between 4,500 to 3,500 years ago. Part a, the stone work made with bluestones.
These are not the enormous stones that come to mind when one thinks of Stonehenge, but the significantly smaller ones. These stones fill what archeologists have called Q and R holes which are concentric semi-circles in the center of the monument. The smaller bluestones are not questioned in regards to how anyone could have arranged them, because they are only about two meters (6ft) in height, and only 1. 5 tons in weight (Scarre 416). The real issue with the bluestones is that geologists say they are from the Preseli Mountains 240km away in Wales. This is a point of contention among archeologists.