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Stonehenge Walkabout

16 June 2024

In Current Archeology 412 [June/July 2024] – see https://www.archaeology.co.uk … we learn that Woodhenge was built at the same time as Stonehenge – on the changes made to the latter around 2500BC. I suppose that is per IntCal dating rather than a calibrated date using only C14 and tree rings. In the late 20th century Woodhenge was dated around 2300BC – prior to IntCal methodology. Woodhenge, like Stonehenge at the same time, involved two phases – or changes. The timber rings, for example, were erected 150 to 200 years prior to the henge itself. Woodhenge also lies along an identical solstitial axis to Stonehenge. Presumably midsummer – a few days adrift from the June Taurids. It seems people were using the solstices, undefined, as a sight line at a number of monuments around Stonehenge. See Historic England’s ‘Stonehenge: Sighting the Sun‘, Liverpool University Press: May of 2024.

The same issue also has an article by Chris Catling, ‘Rolling Stone‘, on a walk by Keith Ray of Cardiff University, from a quarry in Preseli in western Wales to Stonehenge. It seems the idea of erratics is not popular with archeologists as wherever they might have been moved by ice and glaciation it would not have been anywhere close to Salisbury Plain. That is the thinking, as laid out in Mike Parker Pearson’s book, ‘Stonehenge‘ [2013]. On the other hand, we have knowledge of big stones being moved by people in various lands around the globe. Parker Pearson had experience of this in Madagascar but we also have it on film footage taken by an anthropologist in the 20th century. People in the Naga Hills of Burma moved stones up to 12 tonnes in weight with no physical bother. Similar first hand experience of this in Indonesia is also cited by Catling.

I was especially intrigued by the route way chosen by Keith Ray. He  had obviously thought long and hard about it as he chose a route, or a series of paths, that passed Neolithic sites such as causewayed enclosures and long barrows. These would have been waymarkers on the landscape. After all, there were no sign posts in those days. Catling even mentions nodes in the landscape. The meeting points of two or more paths. The crossing point of the River Severn, which would have presented a problem for people dragging blue stones, even on a sled, was chosen as Ashleworth. Here the river narrows and is quite shallow. It was a crossing point that much more recently was used by Welsh drovers moving herds of cattle from Wales to royal  estates in England, in the late medieval period, and later, to the cattle markets in and around London. Such as Barnet Fair. Much of the chosen route was along what are now called holloways – paths with high banks where the path itself has been worn down by many feet, human and cattle, or sheep. Catling is also aware that many of our modern roads were formerly paths and routes from much earlier periods. Obviously, Keith Ray would have avoided walking along roads and picked out the pathways that still exist independently of the road system. Many of these routes are waymarked by bronze age barrows – but this was after the Stonehenge bluestone journey, indicating they remained in use for a long time.

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