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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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Stonehenge and the Great War

I have done a number of posts in the past about the socio-political climate that existed in 1920-21 when HH Thomas was formulating his ideas on the Stonehenge bluestones -- and preparing and presenting his lecture to the Society of Antiquaries in which he flagged up the heroic efforts of our Neolithic ancestors.

I have picked up on the fact that there was a great need, in Britain at that time, for reassurance and for a demonstration of the  fact that Britain was a place of ancient wisdom and high civilization -- and having to cope with barbarians and the forces of darkness in various parts of the world.  The trauma of the Great War was still in everybody's minds.  The aspirations of the British Empire were of course never far away either....

Two authors who have found expression for this are David Keys and Stephen Briggs.  David Keys, in the article copied above (from The Independent, 22nd April 1990), said:  "But then came the Great War, twilight of Empire, and the supremacy of man.  Out went natural explanations as to how Stonehenge's monoliths arrived on Salisbury Plain.  In came a theory that made prehistoric engineers look, in their own Stone Age sort of way, every bit as capable as the ancient Egyptians............. The idea that the monument was constructed by ignorant savages directed by engineers from some superior civilisation struck a chord with 20th century Britons who lamented the passing of Empire, but cherished what they perceived to be Britain's civilizing role in the world."

Stephen Briggs, in an unpublished paper called "Preseli, Stonehenge and the Welsh Bronze Age", said this:  "Because archaeology in the post-War years (ie after 1918) demanded our forebears to have been intrepid and sophisticated, and since it could be demonstrated that a bunch of schoolboys were able to devise a method to move the stones, therefore if it were possible, therefore it was probable........."

... and then this:  ".........British prehistory has been anxious to own an important proof of early human prowess, but instead of being satisfied with the achievement represented by the erection of the stones at Stonehenge, we have cast Neolithic and Bronze Age man in our own mould, as a man of extensive geographical knowledge, a man of taste and one who left behind remains from which his political systems and trading routes could easily be traced."

That all feeds in very neatly to my comments about the lack of scrutiny of Thomas's ideas, and also into my post about the romance of the venturesome traders.

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