Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Archaeology and the "feel-good factor"

"Seriously clever, they were....."

A few months ago I spoke to the archaeologist and antiquarian Stephen Briggs about the idea (which I explore in the book) that sometimes an archaeological idea can be used for the promotion of the national interest. We only have to look at the manner in which the pyramids, the Easter Island heads, Angkor Wat, and the Great Wall of China are promoted as national icons or as symbols of great and ancient civilizations. Stonehenge is no different -- as journalist David Keys has pointed out in assorted newspaper articles. Stephen confirmed for me that after the First World War there was a strong emphasis -- during the rebuilding of a battered world -- on the triumph of civilization over the forces of darkness, and on the civilizing influence of the British Empire. Archaeologists and politicians were interested in flagging up the great achievements of our ancestors -- and when HH Thomas came up with his story of the great stone-hauling expeditions this was like manna from heaven! The media loved it, and I actually think that the lack of critical analysis and criticism from other academics was largely down to the fact they they thought any criticism would have been UNPATRIOTIC. There was also, says Stephen, an attempt to show that the Neolithic tribes of Britain were actually cleverer than the Neolithic tribes of Germany -- the defeated enemy. German archaeologists were, at the time, discovering that most of their megalithic monuments were built of stones collected from the immediate vicinity; what better way to show the "superiority" of British Neolithic tribes than to show that they were capable of collecting their stones from vast distances away? So the Stonehenge story was born -- as a way of flagging up to the world that the inhabitants of this small island were incredibly clever, at a time when others were still brutes who were incapable of organizing great civil engineering projects. "Anything you can do, we can do better!" This all sounds too crazy to be true? Indeed -- but you'd better believe it, since it's quite well authenticated.

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