Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Preseli -- A Stone Age Holy Land?

 Boulder of unspotted dolerite in the area of ringing rocks and sacred springs.....

The extract below is from a very attractive web site (with sound effects and superb pictures) called "Landscape Perception" -- created through cooperation between Paul Devereux and Profs Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright.  The emphasis is on the manner in which ancient man might have perceived his environment and landscape.  As one might expect from the involvement of the two professors, there is a lot in this site to do with healing springs, magical properties of rocks and water, and so forth -- and I have already had a good go at much of that.  So I will desist here.
A Stone Age Holy Land?
Everyone agrees that the Preseli bluestones made Stonehenge a special monument. Yet most discussion has centred on how the rocks were transported from Preseli over such a long distance to Salisbury Plain where Stonehenge stands, rather than why. It is the why that most concerns us here.
Theories have been few and far between, and most of them have been them pretty simplistic, such as suggesting the fact that the rocks are bluish in colour with white spots made them special. This might have been partially true, but there had to be other reasons as well. Archaeologists are now aware that rocks from natural places that were apparently venerated were circulated over considerable distances in the Neolithic era of prehistory. These “pieces of places” were, in effect, relics charged with the sanctity, the mana, of their homeland, much as the bones of saints that were circulated and venerated in Medieval times were thought to possess magical and healing qualities. So what besides their colour made these bluestones so special? Two unexpected factors may be relevant – water and sound. 

The idea that eastern Preseli was a sort of Holy Land deserves closer examination. Here is an extract from Chapter 5 of "The Bluestone Enigma."

The perceived abundance of megalithic structures in eastern Preseli encouraged the Rev Done Bushell (who was easily encouraged) to refer to the area as a "prehistoric Westminster."  He and other romantic travellers of the nineteenth century mentioned traces of at least eight stone circles in the southern foothills of the mountain.  It is easy to map prehistoric remains selectively, as Rodney Castleden and other authors have done, by giving large symbols for megalithic structures “centred” on Carn Meini and by omitting to map most of the others.  Modern archaeologists are much more circumspect, referring to most of the megalithic traces simply as isolated standing stones or stone settings; and the modern tendency is to view the area as richly endowed with megalithic remains, but by no means exceptional.   In a recent survey of Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites in Pembrokeshire, Dr Nikki Cook showed through a series of maps that remains are scattered across the county, with no particular concentration at the eastern end of Preseli. Indeed, any apparent concentrations (for example, of round barrows) above the 250m contour are related above all else to the extensive land clearance and “monument destruction” in the fertile lowland parts of the county.  The upland features have survived, whereas many of those in the lowlands have not.  She was also at pains to point out that an undue concentration  of work in the Carn Meini area (designed to establish a mystical link with Stonehenge) runs a grave risk of neglecting many “significant ritual landscapes” in other parts of the county.

Herbert Thomas and Richard Atkinson, in developing the Bluestone Myth, referred frequently to the eastern part of Preseli as a land of very special qualities, associated with mysteries and magic.  They cited authorities including Sir Cyril Fox and Prof WF Grimes in support of the idea that Preseli was a sacred mountain.  However, many of the references to “enchanted” Preseli relate not to the eastern part of the ridge but to Preseli as a whole -- ie the whole district including the upland part of Pembrokeshire and indeed many of the northern lowlands as well.  There is nothing in the Mabinogion which suggests any special reverence for the Carn Meini area, and nothing in the local folklore tradition either.  In the course of my “Pembrokeshire Folk Tale Project”  I have collected almost 600 tales, legends, myths and anecdotes, and they come from all over the county.  Tales and traditions are not specially concentrated in the eastern part of Preseli, and if I was asked to name the localities in Pembrokeshire which are associated with magic, sanctity or mystery I would -- without hesitation -- list Cwm Gwaun, followed by the St David’s area and Carningli as the top three.  Carn Meini would not figure in my Top Twenty.

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