Merlin and the Making of Stonehenge

8 06 2019

The archaeologists have their ideas about how and why Stonehenge was built. The annals of legend have another story, one that involves Merlin the magician plus the uncle and father of King Arthur.

The story begins not in Neolithic times but in the troubled years of the fifth century, after

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21st Century Merlin at Stonehenge

the Roman legions had withdrawn from Britain. The Saxons had invaded and were advancing rapidly across the land. The native British sought to resist them and to sustain the remnants of Romano-British civilisation. So there was terrible fighting between Saxon and Briton. So much bloodshed that their respective leaders agreed to meet at a spot on Salisbury Plain to try to negotiate a peace treaty.

The thing is, some people take a more hardball approach to ‘negotiation’ than others do. It had been agreed that the leaders should meet together unarmed, but the Saxon chieftains treacherously smuggled in their knives. The leaders stood in a circle in which Saxon and Briton alternated. They began to parlay. But not for long. At a signal, all the Saxon chieftains drew out their knives and each stabbed the Briton standing immediately to his left.

So the Saxons had the upper hand for some time. Till a British prince in exile in France, Aurelius Ambrosius, returned to Britain with his brother Uther Pendragon. Ambrosius won a major victory against the Saxons. Having done so, he desired to honour the British chiefs who’d been murdered on Salisbury Plain, by building a monument in the exact spot where the atrocity had occurred.

He called for advice from a wise man of prodigious repute, Merlin, who told him of a fabulous stone circle that had been built by giants – hence its name ‘the Giants’ Dance’ – on a mountain in Ireland. Ambrosius sent Merlin with Uther Pendragon to lead an expedition to Ireland to steal the Giants’ Dance. There was fighting of course, because the Irish quite understandably wanted to keep the structure in Ireland. But Uther’s warriors prevailed.

There was then the problem of how to transport this huge stone circle. Merlin applied his esoteric knowledge to uproot the stones, transport them on ships, and then re-erect the monument on Salisbury Plain – at the very spot where the Saxon chieftains had so treacherously slain the British leaders.

When, in due course, Aurelius Ambrosius died, he was buried in the Giants’ Dance – or Stonehenge, as it became known. So too was Uther Pendragon. Uther was the father of the future King Arthur. According to the legend, Arthur was expected to be buried there too. But Arthur never dies and is instead transported, badly wounded, to the Isle of Avalon, there to sleep and dream, waiting to return in his country’s hour of need. That being so, perhaps we ought to hope he might return quite soon!

We have this story from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, written in Oxford in the 12th century. You can find a fuller telling of the tale in Kirsty Hartsiotis’s Wiltshire Folk Tales.

One doesn’t want to pull the rug out from beneath a lovely, enchanting legend, but of course there’s no easy way to match up this story with the archaeological knowledge that Stonehenge was built in Neolithic times. But there are elements that do fit. For one thing, the use of Stonehenge as a burial ground. For another, the likely transportation of the bluestones on watercraft from what is now Pembrokeshire in West Wales. An intriguing observation is that sea communications between Ireland and West Wales throughout antiquity mean that this western extremity of Wales could have been colonised by people from Ireland and therefore might, in a cultural rather than narrowly geographical sense, have been regarded as part of ‘Ireland’. Finally, although legend presents Merlin as a magician, the esoteric skills he demonstrates in the story in uprooting, transporting, and erecting the megaliths invite us to view him as symbolic of the engineering experience that some individuals must have possessed in the age of Stonehenge’s construction.

Article by guest blogger and author/storyteller Anthony Nanson

Recent Blog: Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

English Heritage: The King Arthur Story and links to Arthurian locations

BBC HistoryKing Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer King Arthur Tours including Stonehenge and associated sites in the South West of England.

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Megalith tells stones’ secrets. New book focusses on the Wiltshire stone circles.

29 06 2018

SOLSTICE morning marked both the longest day of the year and the release of new book Megalith: Studies in Stone that claims to reveal secret behind the mystery of the cosmology surrounding stone circle constructions like Avebury.

Megalith is the first global study into the stones at both Avebury and Stonehenge and megalthhas been penned by stone circle experts including Robin Heath, that focusses on the Wiltshire circles.

Among the insights in Megalith, the book argues that there were probably once 99 stones in the outer circle at Avebury.

Contributing author Robin Heath, author of 11 books on prehistoric and ancient sciences, said: “The eight contributing authors to Megalith have undertaken original research on the nature and purpose of megalithic monuments outside the boundaries of the present day archaeological model of prehistory. This pioneering collection of their work celebrates megalithic society’s abilities and achievements in a new light, revealing an intellectual facet of prehistory, one that was employing an integrated and coherent cosmology, a megalithic science, more than 6,000 years ago.”

Mr Heath was joined by publisher and editor John Martineau giving talks about at both sites about the monuments. John Martineau, founder of the Megalithomania conference said: “The megalithic culture of western Europe left behind some vast and enigmatic temples, and yet there is little understanding of the cosmology driving their construction.” On solstice morning 9500 people flooded Stonehenge and 600 attended Avebury. No arrests were made at Stonehenge and two in Avebury.

Eight co-authors and experts in their fields have contributed to the book to shed light on the original purposes of Avebury and other sites where stone circles dominate the landscape.

Article (source) by Alison Grover: The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald

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Hundreds of druids and pagans descend on Stonehenge to celebrate the Autumn Equinox

24 09 2017

Hundreds of pagans and druids descended on Stonehenge on the 23rd September to celebrate the equinox as autumn began.

Visitors headed to the famous 5,000-year-old site in Wiltshire in the dark to ensure they got to see the sun rise.

And they made the most of one of only four public annual events that allows people to get so close to the stones.

Photographs showed attendees singing and wearing a variety of extravagant outfits as onlookers watched on.

 

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Stone Circle (“Special”) Access

20 08 2017

Before 1978 you were free to walk around inside the stone circle at Stonehenge once you’d paid your admission fee. The lack of any guards overnight meant people also hopped the fence once the site had closed.

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Stonehenge at dawn.  A special access ‘inner circle’ visit at sunrise.

Finally, in response to the over 800,000 annual visitors, access was restricted. An article entitled “Heritage Under Siege” in New Scientist (Sept 27th, 1979) reports the Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings as saying:

“The whole problem of Stonehenge is numbers … all through the year. What menaces Stonehenge are the millions of feet (and hands) of the ordinary visitors.”

… and continues:

“An archaeologist calculated that if each visitor walked around the central area just twice during his or her visit, the effect would be the same as having one man standing on each square foot inside the ring and jumping up and down on that spot 62 times every day throughout the year.”

After March 1978, everyone was banned from inside the circle – including archaeologists and other researchers, much to their annoyance. Department of the Environment officials said that the plans to allow out-of-hours access to “those with a special interest” had to be abandoned because the custodians were unwilling to work overtime. And so it remained for a long time.

Eventually things changed and these days it’s possible to book to go inside the stone circle on what is called a “Stone Circle Access” or “Special Access” visit. These are one-hour long slots before and after the monument is open to the public during the day, and a maximum of 30 people are allowed inside at a time.

You can book as an individual, or via a tour company who may (or may not) provide a well-informed guide to show you some of the hidden features that you might otherwise miss.

Once inside, if the light’s right you can pick out some of the hundreds of examples of wrencarved initials and names on the stones. One of them might even be that of Christopher Wren – a local lad who made good and went on to design the new St. Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

One thing that a lot of people fail to notice is the sound of the place – there’s a definite sense of entering into an enclosed, peaceful space a soon as you come in through the primary entrance beneath the central lintel of the three on the northeast side of the circle.

It’s only when you’re up really close to the monument that the epic scale of the stones really strikes you – the tallest one is over 7m from grass to top, and there’s a further 2.5m in the ground. Weighing in at over 40 tons it’s a beautifully shaped monolith that was part of the tallest trilithon on the site. Sadly its partner upright fell and broke long ago, leaving the lintel they both supported lying on its side in the southwest part of the central area.

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The bluestones, though much smaller than the sarsens, are still impressive rocks – the tallest one stands leaning in front of the highest sarsen stone and has a wide groove worked all the way down one edge. No-one knows why.

There are a few rules – no standing on the stones, no touching them, no smoking – but apart from that you’re free to wander around and properly appreciate both the enormity of the large sarsen blocks, the elegance of the bluestone pillars and the ingenuity of the builders who created the monument over 4,500 years ago.

If you have the chance, by far the best way to see Stonehenge is through a Stone Circle Access visit.  

Stonehenge Guided Tours pioneered these Stonehenge access tours and offer frequent scheduled coach tours at sunrise and sunset. They can often arrange private custom inner circle tours with expert guides.  The Stonehenge Travel Company are based in nearby Salisbury and are considered the local Stonehenge experts.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Stonehenge and other stone monuments were probably used for special moonlit ceremonies.

10 07 2017

In a new study, archeologists have proposed the claim that Stonehenge and other ancient stone monuments were probably used for special moonlit ceremonies which would have taken place deep in the night. These Neolithic structures have always been thought to have been used primarily in the daytime, as the rocks at various stone monuments are meant to align with the sun, one example of which would be Stonehenge lining up in perfect fashion for the yearly Summer Solstice. (Inquisitr)

 

  • An analysis of Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall revealed multiple carvings visible in moonlight or low sunlight – suggesting the stone was viewed at night
  • Archaeologists Dr Andy Jones of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit and Thomas Goskar found a total of 105 engravings on the axe-shaped stone
  • Dr Jones believes many more markings would be found at sites across the country if the monuments were looked at in a different light

 

However, fresh evidence now shows that Stonehenge and other ancient stone

Full Moon Stonehenge

Druids celebrating the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge.

monuments were also very likely to have been used at night for moonlit ceremonies. Dr. Andy Jones, who has been studying the Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall, has found that at this particular site, you can see at least 10 times as many markings on the engraved panel when viewed directly under the moonlight.

Archaeologists have also discovered that at some point, people smashed up many pieces of quartz around the area which would have glowed in the dark and created a very unique effect at night. Dr. Andy Jones has been working in conjunction with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit and believes that this phenomenon is probably not limited to the Hendraburnick Quoit, but can also be found at other ancient stone monuments such as Stonehenge, as The Telegraph reported.

“I think the new marks show that this site was used at night and it is likely that other megalithic sites were as well.”

After noticing some very specific markings on the stones that had never been seen before, Dr. Jones explained that the archaeological team then went out at night to photograph the ancient stone monument and discovered even more art which was only truly visible at night and beneath the moon.

“We were aware there were some cup and ring marks on the rocks but we were there on a sunny afternoon and noticed it was casting shadows on others which nobody had seen before. When we went out to some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight.”

With the ancient quartz that is smashed all around the site, this would have created an eerily surreal atmosphere at night next to these ancient Neolithic stone monuments and would have lent magic to whatever nighttime ceremonies were performed at these locations. It is known that Stonehenge also has unusual markings which can only be seen at night, and archaeologists believe that many other stone monuments do as well.

“Then when you think about the quartz smashed around, which would have caused flashes and luminescence, suddenly you see that these images would have emerged out of the dark. Stonehenge does have markings, and I think that many more would be found at sites across the country if people were to look at them in different light.”

At the Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall, there had originally been 13 markings detected on the stone, but Dr. Andy Jones and his colleague Thomas Goskar discovered that there were actually 105 markings here when viewed under different light. Archaeologists now believe that it is extremely likely that nighttime ceremonies were conducted at ancient stone sites like this as the night was associated with the supernatural. Individuals involved in these ceremonies may have smashed the stones to release very special luminescent properties from them, which would explain the many pieces of quartz that have been found at ancient stone monuments like this.

“After the ritual, the broken pieces, once they had fallen on the ground, could have effectively formed a wider platform or arc which would have continued to glisten around it in the moonlight, and thereby added to the aura of the site.”

While Stonehenge and other ancient stone monuments are usually only studied by day, archaeologists will now be trying to discover what may have taken place during these special ceremonies that would have been conducted at night by way of moonlight.

Source: Inquistir

Related Stonehenge Links:

Cornish stone monuments have carvings that are only visible in moonlight, investigation reveals Daily Mail
Astro Moon Calendar shows phases of the Moon each day, astronomical events and astrological forecast for the year.
Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy. Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site
Stonehenge Full Moon Guided Walking Tours.  Explore the landscape with a local historian and astronomer.

The Stonehenge News Blog
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily Stonehenge sunset / sunrise / moonrise / moonset times.





Memory Code: The Memory Technique That Unlocks the Secrets of Stonehenge and Ancient Monuments the World Over.

21 02 2017

The memory technique that unlocks the secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and ancient monuments the world over. Lynne Kelly has discovered that a powerful technique used by the ancients can unlock the secrets of the Neolithic stone circles of Britain and Europe

Without writing, indigenous elders memorised a vast amount of factual information onmemorycode which survival depended both physically and culturally: knowledge of thousands of animals and plants, astronomical charts, vast navigation networks, genealogies, geography and geology … the list goes on and on. How did they remember so much? And why does this explain the purpose of ancient monuments including Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Nasca Lines? Can we use these memory methods in contemporary life?

This lecture will focus on the transmission of scientific and practical knowledge among small-scale oral cultures across the world, drawing on Australian Aboriginal, Native American, African and Pacific cultures. Dr Kelly will explain the exact mechanisms used and why this explains the purpose of many enigmatic monuments around the world. We have a great deal to learn from the extraordinary mnemonic skills of indigenous cultures.

Dr Lynne Kelly is a science writer and Honorary Research Associate at Latrobe University, Australia. Her most recent books are Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture (Cambridge University Press) and The Memory Code (Atlantic Books).

Wednesday 22nd February, University of Nottingham: Indigenous memory and Stonehenge – yes, there is a link, Workshop and public lecture. Click here to book

The Memory Code
The Allen & Unwin description:

Lynne Kelly has discovered that a powerful memory technique used by the ancients can unlock the secrets of the Neolithic stone circles of Britain and Europe, the ancient Pueblo buildings in New Mexico and other prehistoric stone monuments across the world. We can still use the memory code today to train our own memories.

In the past, the elders had encyclopaedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across the landscape, and the stars in the sky too. Yet most of us struggle to memorise more than a short poem.

Using traditional Aboriginal Australian songlines as the key, Lynne Kelly has identified the powerful memory technique used by indigenous people around the world. She has discovered that this ancient memory technique is the secret behind the great stone monuments like Stonehenge, which have for so long puzzled archaeologists.

The stone circles across Britain and northern Europe, the elaborate stone houses of New Mexico, the huge animal shapes at Nasca in Peru, and the statues of Easter Island all serve as the most effective memory system ever invented by humans. They allowed people in non-literate cultures to memorise the vast amounts of practical information they needed to survive.

In her fascinating book The Memory Code, Lynne Kelly shows us how we can use this ancient technique to train our memories today.

Praise for The Memory Code:

As we rediscover the extraordinary endurance of the oral memories of people who do not depend on writing, and as we begin to rediscover that many of those memories include knowledge of distant times, Lynne Kelly has explored how vast, non-written memory systems can work. She explores the notion that memories were or are encoded in spaces that can be marked by natural or build elements and applies that exploration to some of the remarkable physical monuments of the last ten thousand years. She takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the past and around the world and into the minds of people who would not need to publish a book like this. They already knew it. An engaging and exciting read.
Iain Davidson, Emeritus Professor, University of New England

Dr Kelly has developed an intriguing and highly original account of the purpose of Stonehenge, Avebury and other stone monuments. The depth and breath of her research, and experimental experience she has brought to study, command respect and invite serious attention.
Dr Rosamund Cleal, Museum Curator, Alexander Keillor 

Visit her website and blog here

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WINTER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE 2015

29 11 2015

English Heritage will once again welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Sunrise is just after 8am on Tuesday 22nd December and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

frosty-sunrise

Why 22nd December? 

Many people – not least diary manufacturers – believe that the Winter Solstice always falls on 21st December. But the celebration of Winter Solstice at Stonehenge is not fixed to a specifiic date – this is because of a mismatch between the calendar year and the solar year.

MANAGED OPEN ACCESS PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Please read and respect the Conditions of Entry for Winter Solstice 2015 and the English Heritage website.

Public Transport is being provided by Salisbury Reds buses and will be running from 06:00 from Salisbury.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are offering their usual transport with expert guide service from London and Bath. Booking essential (click here to book direct)

Please be aware that parking is very limited. There is a thirty minute walk, depending on where you are parked, in low light or darkness, from the parking areas to the monument. You are therefore strongly advised to bring a torch with you for personal use.

Accessibility – parking provision for people with disabilities

A limited number of permits will be avaialable for blue badge disabled parking and there will be dedicated accessible transport to the stone circle – which will begin just prior to the opening of the monument field. Please apply to Sandra.Ross@english-heritage.org.uk

Please note that there are no other amenities or facilities available to visitors until such time as  commences.

Conditions of Entry

Please read and respect the Conditions of Entry.

Stonehenge Audio Tour: Free Download from English Heritage

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