Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Stonehenge and the National Myth

I was encouraged by Barrie Foster's Blog to think again about British icons, British myths and national identity. This is interesting territory, and Stonehenge is right in the middle of it. Think about it. Our sense of "Britishness" is underpinned and supported by a wide range of myths which, taken together, contribute towards our sense of belonging to a community and a nation. Icons and myths abound, and their locations also become important -- King Arthur and Glastonbury and Tintagel, Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, Henry Tudor and Bosworth Field, Strange Monster and Loch Ness, the Battle of Britain and Kent, William the Conqueror and Hastings, Last Invasion and Fishguard, and so on. Add Clever Neolithic Ancestors and Stonehenge.

Woe betide anybody who seeks to "debunk" any of these, because we WANT to believe them, and if any one of them is debunked, we feel that our sense of belonging, or our sense of national identity, is reduced or devalued. So when I point out -- ever so politely -- that there is actually no evidence for the story of the human transport of the bluestones, the instinctive response is "So what? We want to believe it, so we'll believe it anyway." That's fine for the man or woman in the street (and I'm just as big a Robin Hood fan as the next man) but it's not so fine for those who purport to be scientists and academics. I stand to be corrected here, but it seems to me that academic historians do seem to have a pretty clear idea where history ends and mythology begins -- and indeed they happily do research into mythology and its roots. But prehistoric archaeology seems to have moved so far into the field of fantasy and speculation (maybe because there is no WRITTEN evidence to call upon) that the lines are blurred and even invisible. So they see evidence and proof where there is none, and convince themselves that they are being terribly scientific whenever they get some nice gadgets to play with. Am I being unfair here? You tell me!

My post from March 29th, 2010: I have expressed my amazement in earlier posts that he (HH Thomas) "got away with murder" in that NOBODY seems to have seriously examined his evidence or questioned his wacky idea that the stones had been hauled by tribesmen all the way from Presely to Stonehenge in a totally unique feat of Stone Age long-distance transport. And why did people not scrutinize his theory more closely? Why, because there had been great discoveries about megalithic structures in Germany, and because British archaeologists were desperate to show that in these islands we had even more advanced prehistoric civilisations and even cleverer engineers and technicians.

Sounds absurd? I don't think so -- and a number of other authors have suggested that Thomas's idea was carefully put together around the time of the First World War as part of a national "feel good" strategy, and that the whole nation (and not just the archaeologists) just loved the idea when he announced it, and were disinclined to examine it carefully.

So Thomas became famous, then the bluestones became famous, and the "bluestone transport story" entered the mythology of Britain. It is still trotted out ad infinitum, even though there is even less evidence for it now than there was in 1920. And anybody who dares to question it, or to undermine our cosy assumptions about the extraordinary skills of our Neolithic ancestors, is likely to get short shrift from the archaeology establishment. Look at what happened to poor Geoffrey Kellaway......."


Kostas said...


I have this terrifying thought. Is it possible that the British academic and scientific establishment knows the truth about Stonehenge but are purposefully suppressing it? It seems inconceivable that now with so many advancements in science and technology we cannot once and for all settle the questions on Stonehenge. The fact that little if any excavation and research by independent groups is allowed on Stonehenge proper by the authorities seems to suggest this is true.

This is terrifying become of the implications it raises about the 're-writing of history' and 'planting of artifacts' for narrow nationalistic purposes. We see more and more such attempts made now in a world where 'reality' can be defined and determined by controlled media.

Tell me it isn't so!


BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm not sure how "terrifying" this is, Kostas, since the truth about Stonehenge is not THAT important in the scheme of things. I am rather more concerned about corrupt science in the field of GM crops and foods, or climate change, or in the nuclear industry. More sad and pathetic, I would say. Not sure that the senior archaeologists and English Heritage "know the truth" about Stonehenge -- but they are pretty damned scared of finding out that they are wrong. Hence the complete lack of research in "the empty half" of the site, and as you say, the reluctance to allow independent research which might throw up something inconvenient. So for now they just play everything with a dead bat (excuse the cricketing metaphor) and pretend that there is no serious challenge to the Stonehenge myth. And anyway, as I have pointed out, the myth is worth MILLIONS to the UK economy every year. And the Olympics are coming up. Millions more expected.....!!

Kostas said...


The myth about Stonehenge is not what terrifies me. Rather, it's the ability by nations to fabricate falsehoods and have the means to convince the world of them! Easy example: The Iraq War!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Nothing new there, then.

This caught my attention on Barrie Foster's blog:

"The 19th Century saw the emergence of a truly scientific approach to history, especially in Germany; but here and elsewhere history was sometimes used to further nationalistic and chauvinist agendas.

1848, the ‘Year of Revolutions’, had brought pressure to bear in many quarters. The century had seen the growth of separatism, triggered by maladministration and corruption, in the quest for self-determination and democracy and in some cases with the added ingredient of socialist political theory. New nation states were created, and emerging nationalist movements proliferated through the propaganda of aspiring political classes and by the usual methods: the distortion and re-invention of history, the stimulation of patriotic fervour without regard to historical political geography, the creation of folkish ‘heritage’, the fomentation of ancient grudges, the incitement of hatred towards neighbours.

The use of history as a propaganda tool persists on the outer fringes of Western writing and even more so in regions of the globe where political conflicts or the clash of ideologies are current."