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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Does Stonehenge matter?




In the process of working out my talk for the Do Lectures, I wondered why on earth I had been asked to talk about Stonehenge (about which I have thought a lot and DONE relatively little) rather than about energy conservation, or renewable energy, or anti-GM campaigning (about which I have both thought a lot and done a lot.) OK. I thought, something frivolous and frothy to finish off a sequence of great and thought-provoking lectures by a group of very inspiring people...... to help folks to come down gently from the heights? But then I thought "Hang on -- this may not be quite so mad after all. Maybe there is a cunning plan here, on the part of Andy, Dave and the other organizers...."

And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. What was I talking about? At one level I was talking about myths and myth-making. When we are dealing with the Stonehenge myths (and there are several), we are discussing rather esoteric (and unimportant) things including the distance over which the stones were transported, the places of origin of the stones, the mode of stone transport (ice or men with rollers and rafts), the state of the building at the point of abandonment by the builders, and the purposes for which Stonehenge was built -- or partly built. But at another level this is all about authority, established wisdom, control, and even power.....

Now we get much closer to what the Do Lectures are all about. Nearly all of the 28 lecturers were innovators who have refused to take no for an answer, who have broken out of the mould, got out of the comfort zone, and have challenged themselves and the system by doing highly innovative and even inspired things. OK -- that sounds like an extended cliche, but in reality the achievers of this world have been those who have had new ideas, have turned their backs on the established way of doing things, and have gone their own way. In doing so, they have brought into their lives stress and even physical danger -- maybe they are all people who live close to one end of the stress / stimulus / security continuum?

Back to Stonehenge. It is really a wonderful parable or fable for our time. The myths about the iconic ruin (namely that it was once an immaculate and completed structure which caused wonderment and awe; and that it was built as a result of a gigantic long-distance stone collecting corporate enterprise) started off as tentative suggestions, but then became ruling hypotheses, and have now become THE TRUTH. For all sorts of reasons, THE TRUTH has to be upheld and maintained -- and woe betide anybody who threatens to undermine it, or who is foolish enough even to question it with a degree of persistence. In the bad old days we had the Inquisition, and the burning of heretics, and the Truth Commission. Nowadays people don't get burnt at the stake or stoned to death for their beliefs (or at least, we hope they don't) -- but they do get vilified, ridiculed, kept out of jobs, denied promotions, and prevented from publishing in peer-reviewed journals.



The problem is that once THE TRUTH has been established, there are huge numbers of vested interests, individuals and organizations whose status -- and maybe income -- will be threatened if it should be shown not to be TRUTH at all. So we have English Heritage and the English Tourist Board who use THE TRUTH in their marketing campaigns, and who refuse even to allow the slightest shadow of a doubt to appear in their promotions. They pull millions of visitors a year into the UK, and bring them to Stonehenge... why should they let another version of the truth get in the way of a good story and a good marketing angle? After all, Stonehenge is one of the greatest icons and brands in the world. Then there are the senior academics who have spent their careers demonstrating to generations of students -- and to the rest of us -- how truthful THE TRUTH actually is. Their reputations would be in tatters if it should be shown that they have been barking mad, or out with the fairies, for years if not decades. Then there are the editors, publishers, museums, TV companies, bus tour operators, web site managers, tourist guides and all the rest of them who use THE TRUTH in their everyday lives -- and make good money out of it. They don´t want anything to come along and disturb their equilibrium either.

Enough of this. You get the point. All I want to say is that this sort of paralysis, respect for authority, unquestioning obedience, and comfortable acceptance of the mythology of Stonehenge is both pathetic and intellectually lazy. It is also -- and I use this expression very carefully -- PROFOUNDLY DANGEROUS. I say that because those who live in this comfort zone have allowed a cosy myth which is quite unsupported by evidence in the field to become a ruling hypothesis into which all sorts of peripheral information is then pulled, in one attempt after another to elaborate and perpetuate THE TRUTH. But it is not the truth at all -- it is a modern and extremely flimsy myth which should have been slung out decades ago, on the basis of hard evidence which I have tried to enumerate in this blog.

So pseudo-science has taken the place of science. Don't get me wrong. There is some serious and excellent science being done on Salisbury Plain. But where researchers are sucked into wild fantasies and unjustifiable speculations (sometimes to bolster their own egos, or to satisfy the TV producers and programme sponsors) they stray into pseudo-science, pulling together all sorts of nonsensical and unconnected items and calling them "evidence." Even the senior academics themselves state that certain of their colleagues are out with the fairies, and that tells us something........

So shame on the archaeologists who simply go with the flow, out of some misplaced reverence for their peers or for "established beliefs." And long live those who question the status quo, who show that the Emperors wear no clothes, and who are prepared to follow their own paths and their own dreams! They may live dangerously, and some will fall by the wayside, but they are at least being honest.

4 comments:

Barrie Foster said...

Hi Brian,

As a tourism marketing specialist I couldn't possibly comment on all this ... or maybe I could ... What does Stonehenge have in common with Franz Kafka? All is revealed here: http://www.barrie.foster1.btinternet.co.uk/index_files/page0016.htm

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Barrie -- that's a nice link and a perceptive analysis! Although posted in 2008 nothing much has changed. Still the establishment refuses to acknowledge that there may be anything wrong with its ruling hypothesis, and still the various archaeological teams (and there are many) compete to out-do one another with wacky Stonehenge theories.....

This is particularly worrying because in the last 2 years a mass of new geology has appeared -- all of which confirms that the stones have come from many different places -- including sources currently unknown.

welshlass said...

Science is always evolving. What was known 5 years ago, now has a new understanding or facts that are TRUE and proven. As new truths are learned, it destroys some of the old myths--or it should. However, there are those who cling to the old stories. At one time Schiaparelli looked at Mars thru a less than fine lens and declared he saw "canali" criss-crossing the surface of the planet. This led to the stories that is was obviously inhabited by beings who used these canals for transport, etc. showing proof that it was another world with intelligent life. But the TRUTH was not there and many would cling to those myths for years after they were proven incorrect. Sometimes the myths seem more colorful and interesting as well as fodder for the lecture circuit and all the spoils that came with that and its notoriaty.
Welshlass

cathryn iliffe said...

ouch. bit of a rant there! but you make a good point that its so much easier to fossilise research and make money out of a mythology, than admit that the truth' ,like life today, is probably much messier, and less glamorous. one of my pet hates is the layering of modern religious thought onto prehistoric people. the tv is very guilty of this in the language they use: sacred,spiritual etc. i have daily almost 'holy' rituals of tea and cocoa making, but i do not believe in a tea god or a cocoa goddess. i think it was an atheist Gaul who in about 200 BC entered Delphi and laughed at the statues of Greek gods. if you have been brought up without religion it is impossible to think in such terms of reference. i personally think it more likely that neolithic people respect and reverence the land, sea, rivers and trees, in much the same way that ramblers and mountaineers sailors do today.