Thursday, October 30, 2008

Floating Stonehenge Into Place

As I watched a documentary recently on the History Channel that discussed the ancient standing stone sites of pagan Britain, I was struck by how often archaeologists are baffled by just how these enormous stones got to their current location on the Salisbury Plain from where they were quarried many miles away.

It seems an unimaginable feat to primitive neolithic peoples some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago (there's much debate). Yet, it is well-known that many of the enormous obelisks of ancient Egypt were floated up the Nile River from much further south where the stone was quarried.

While undoubtedly smaller standing stone site, like those in the Orkney Islands, were constructed by hand, the megalithic sites like Stonehenge may have had some help. No, not the extraterrestrial kind. I mean the River Avon.

To many scholars, like Mike Parker Pearson, head of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, the river is simply seen as the metaphoric passage from the land of the living, as represented by the "live" trees that once formed the lesser known Woodhenge, to the center of death rituals in pagan Britain. But what if the river served as the freeway upon which barges floated these massive stones from their source?

The ditches and berms might have served as canals that further moved the stones to the site where they were floated into position before, once more, brute force was required to haul the stones into place.

Now, I've personally no evidence to bolster this supposition, but I think it would be a fascinating hypothesis to look at for any scholar willing to try.


Alex said...

Oh dear. I'm no scholar, but it's easy to dismiss this idea. The local map shows that between Stonehenge and the Avon is a ridge about 30m (100') above the river. That means a mighty big flight of canal locks of which, unsurprisingly, no trace has been found. But there were much bigger obstacles than that between the source, 20 miles away, and the Avon. Why is it so hard to accept that a lot of highly motivated and tough people were involved, helped by straightforward Mechanics involving levers etc., and a complete absence of Health and Safety regulation?

Cullan Hudson said...

I wonder, though, if the topography of the region hasn't changed somewhat over the past several millenia?

While, as I stated, there is no evidence to support this idea, it still remains possible - if not wholly plausible. As for physical evidence, just recently new findings have shed light on just how old the Stonehenge site may be and what really took place there. Perhaps in time more evidence will come to the surface that will take our understanding of this enigmatic site in altogether new directions. It's hubris to dust our hands off and call it a day.

And I wouldn't say it is hard to accept that a lot of brute force was required to move the stones into place. A whole lot of people and all sorts of simple machines were doubtlessly employed to erect these megalithic sites. I'm simply wondering if the builders might not have made use of water as well. After all, 'work smarter, not harder' isn't an axiom for nothing.

Word Woman said...

There could be several places that periodically went under water that might have provided water transport routes. Just as the land between Ireland and England rose and fell (and other similar places such as Portugal and the Canaries, France and England, Bering Straits)in prehistory, inland areas could have been swamped providing larger bodies of water at some times.

Ken said...

Interesting idea, though since people point out the elevation, perhaps river water was used to create muddy slopes to slide the stones along with log rollers? The "avenues" may just be ruts from moving the massive stones to the location.

I think in our day of technology and delusions of grandeur, we belittle our ancestors as "stupid" and "sluggish" to bolster our own self-esteem. In reality, they were bright, hard-working, and very ingenious. Ancient Rome had coin-operated drinking fountains, heated floors, and bread factories and we still use some ancient aqueducts for water. Just because we've lost all these skills over our years of becoming dumber doesn't mean they too were Neanderthals.

Cullan Hudson said...

Also, the river may have changed course over 5 millenia. A detailed stratigraphic analysis of the soil profile and geology of the region could tell us more about what the area looked like so long ago.