THE BOOK
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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Monday, 29 November 2010

The Seductive Charms of Fred Flintstone


It's interesting that in various forums (fora?) on Stonehenge my ideas (which are of course not unique, having also been articulated by many others over the years) have come in for a lot of stick from people who claim that it is tantamount to sacrilege to deny that Neolithic tribesmen were in possession of some Ancient Wisdom, not to mention technical abilities (navigation over sea and land, stone-handling, boat building) which were far ahead of their time.  Some people clearly WANT to believe in the technical wizardry and even spiritual sophistication of our ancient ancestors, even if there is remarkably little evidence in support of their ideas.  We could call this the Fred Flintstone syndrome -- on the basis that Fred, Wilma, Barney and the rest of them made us feel good because we saw many of our modern foibles and obsessions (and our handy gadgets) placed in a prehistoric setting -- and we were able to enter a hilarious fantasy world which was somehow totally different from ours but at the same time reassuringly similar.  So Fred and the rest of them could drive a car, take photographs, play records and even fly........

The other widespread belief is that this Ancient Wisdom has been LOST.  It was there once, and it was truly wonderful, but we cannot see any signs of it today (except in monuments like Stonehenge) because mankind has been foolish enough, in making progress on certain fronts, to lose sight of the ancient instincts and esoteric knowledge of our ancestors.  So man has maybe advanced technically while regressing spiritually.  The fact that we have no real records of this Ancient Wisdom is all down to the foolishness of modern man -- but it was there nonetheless, and we have to show it due reverence.  Hmmm.......

When I'm wearing another hat I write historical fiction, and the key piece of advice I have to bear in mind all the time is this:  "Beware of populating your story with modern people dressed in fancy dress."  It's very hard to recreate another era in which patterns of speech were different, public and private morals were different, technology was different, and belief systems were different.  In my novels I frequently have to remind myself that in the early 1800s there was (at least among the bulk of the UK population) a fundamental belief in the "truth" of everything in the Bible, and no inkling at all of the ideas that Darwin was later to introduce to the scientists of the world.

So back to the Ancient Wisdom enshrined in Stonehenge ........  in short, poppycock.  Generations of archaeologists have maybe not subscribed to some of the more extreme forms of Ancient Wisdom Worship, but they have not helped with books like "Stonehenge Complete", "Stonehenge Decoded" and "Solving Stonehenge" which have all promoted the idea of the immaculate Stonehenge, designed and constructed with wondrous precision by technically sophisticated men who deserve not only our admiration but also our unswerving loyalty.  

I much prefer a view of life which has space in it for grand aspirations, inspired leadership and technical innovation alongside material shortages, incompetence, flagging enthusiasm, and assorted cock-ups.  That matches much more precisely what we see on the ground at Stonehenge -- a ruinous monument from which at least 70 stones are missing, in which the straight lines are not quite straight, the stone spacing is anything but regular, the stones themselves are a strange assortment of all shapes and sizes and rock-types, and the circles are not quite circular.  Exactly the sort of thing that could have been built -- or at least dreamed of -- by those incompetent clowns Fred and Barney.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You describe your piece as "the Fred Flintstone syndrome", and end by describing Fred and Barney as "those incompetent clowns".

Beware lest your blog is labelled "the Brian Clough (not John) syndrome"! THAT Brian made the tragic error of calling a Polish goalkeeper (playing an England team, for our Welsh readers) a clown. He went on to play a blinder, and prevent England progressing to the World Cup Finals in 1974.Even Brian Clough was fallible. Some may wish to recognise an analogy here.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks, Anon. I make no claims to be any less incompetent than everybody else.

Anonymous said...

'At least 70 stones are missing' a fact that tells us nothing about the integrity of the original construction, do you really believe that 'the stone spacing is anything but regular'? Take a long and hard look at the spacing especially as represented by e.g. the centre of the inner faces of the sarsen ring, surely it is as regular as any contemporary ‘grand aspirations, inspired leadership and technical innovation’ would have allowed.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh, I don't deny that the inner faces of the sarsens in the sarsen circle are pretty close to an arc. But in general I still think that the "regularity" of stone placing throughout the monument is more imagined than real. There are 3 factors at play here: the original placing of the stones; the re-positioning of the stones over the years following various big projects well described in the literature; and the mixing up of actual surveyed stone positions with computer-generated and idealized reconstructions. In some of the texts it's very hard to separate these out!

Neither do I deny that the builders had a pretty good shot at putting stones where they wanted them to be -- it's just that they had to cope with real stones with strange shapes, and probably with unpredictable variations in the character of the substrate as well. On top of all of that we add human frailty and fallibility as well.

Why does all that apparently cause you such problems?

Anonymous said...

My December/Christmas reading is going to be a book I recently found on my local library's shelves.

Entitled "Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods", by David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce, 2005, it is said to develop and enhance the visionary experiences that were identified as central to the Palaeolithic images of the cave artists. It is claimed to explore the very different cultural expression of those same experiences in the world of the successor farmers.
The authors both work for the Rock Art Research Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

This book seems a long way from preposterous Von Daniken-type theories, or, indeed, Fred, Barney, Wilma and company! Yet it is claimed to be a synthesis of archaeology and human neurology.It concentrates upon The European Neolithic, and includes the Near East, Turkey, Ireland and Britain.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks again. Interesting! Please report back when you have read it ....... sounds as if it may well be worth a browse.

I too quite like the idea of Neolithic men having visionary / spiritual / out-of-body / trance experiences, and indeed it would have been strange if they had not discovered the effects of alcohol or some form of narcotic. Shamanism, trances induced in dances etc -- all very intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Just heard a stimulating report on John McCarthy's Radio 4 Programme, "Excess Baggage", from Reading University archaeologist Steve Mithen. This concentrated on his work for over 20 years to find traces of the Mesolithic in the Hebrides.
Whilst Steve feels that, in broad terms, he can engage with our Mesolithic forebears - same animals, plants, landscapes, broadly, and some of the island paths may be ancient, when he was asked "how did these people think?", he at first replied they must have thought something like ourselves, as they faced similar problems to the islanders of today. However, he said the landscapes would have been covered with their own Mesolithic "dreamtime" mythology (Mesolithic man was around for 4,000 years) which we are unable to access.
There is a very good review of his new book, "To The Islands" in a recent article on the web from The Scotsman, I can recommend.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I heard a bit of the programme as I was driving off to a book signing session this morning! Interesting info -- I like the idea of the hunter + gatherer community having a "dreamtime" landscape and mythology. Impossible to prove, of course.

Brings to mind the thesis that Lionel Jackson and I put forward a couple of years ago, using a Blackfoot story about how the Big Rocks erratic train had been created, as an explanation of how the Stonehenge builders might have interpreted and then followed a bluestone erratic train westwards from Stonehenge......