Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Stonehenge and its history

Recently I listened to a couple of podcast made about Stonehenge and its history. One thing I have learned over a number of years of archaeological interest, is that there is no clearly defined reason for Stonehenge's existence. There have been many reasons postulated over the years – a visit by aliens from space is one. That Stonehenge is an astronomical observatory is another. If I was to look at both of these as plausible, I would give some credence to the observatory and none to the little green men. I prefer the pragmatic way of establishing the plausible facts. Using a 'why would they approach' for looking for an understanding.

There is some well established evidence that you can do a 'why would they' with. The whole of the Stonehenge site was under development and subject to later changes for a very long period in time. The time period is quite considerable covering many generations and thought to be for around 500 years. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. In this period the type of tool available for digging the ditch and forming the bank were made of stone, wood and antler. This would have required considerable effort to achieve.

The main way of life for people at this time would have been gathering and growing enough food to survive. However, I actually believe that people were more aware of their surroundings than we give them credit for. I think that their lives were ordered by a celestial clock not measured like ours in seconds, hours, weeks or even months. I think their time-scale was the seasons. With the concept of time being so different to ours. I imagine there would have been little in the way of an 'end date' in mind.

So why would they?

I have a feeling that in their time, there were just three seasons. Nature sets the clock, there is the time to plant crops and breed beasts, gather in and forage. Leaving the winter season for construction. It would be hard to establish if the labour was seasonal. But the winter season would be logical, as the rest of the year would be vital to survival. There is however one little clue. In the winter 3807 BC - Spring 3806 BC, the Sweet Track on the Somerset Levels was built. It's a wooden trackway (footpath) and its precise age was revealed by tree-ring dating, called dendrochronology.

To expend additional energy working on Stonehenge a construction project on such a scale, would normally be unthinkable. To start such a project and maintain the construction over such an extended period as 500 years would have required a very powerful reason.

So why would they?

The answer to this can only be pseudo religious. Throughout the world people have harboured mystical belief's of a great powerful omnipotent god. Whilst my beliefs are not religious in the traditional sense. I can understand that people would be awed by nature and its bounty. I think that people would experience times of famine or shortages. So why would people not want to acknowledge the effects of nature in some way. By giving thanks or asking nature for better times.

I think that weather patterns during the period could also hold a significant clue. Following the end of the last Ice Age, around 8,000 BC. The weather improved and crops and foraged food would have benefited from the general improvement. Evidence for increasing clearance of land for farming, which occurred 4,000 BC indicates steady population growth. There would have been a natural increase in the available workforce. Man moved from being a nomadic hunter gatherer into becoming a farmer. Setting down so to speak his own roots.

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