Two British geologists have located the spot in Wales where the rocks used for the original circle of Stonehenge originated. The site is more than 150 miles from Salisbury Plain, where the megalithic monument now stands. The stones were part of a now-destroyed circle believed to have stood on the Stonehenge site prior to the construction of the current monument some 5,000 years ago.
This announcement reignited speculation into how the stones were moved from Wales to Salisbury, including predictable reactions about the "impossibility" of carrying stones so far and th necessity of extraterrestrial or Atlantean intervention.
For me, however, the question of "how" the stones were moved is much less interesting than the question of "why" the stones were moved so far. What ideological or economic motive compelled ancient people to carry heavy stones from what must have then been close to the edge of the world? Surely, this discovery tells us something about ancient social networks and possibly something about the ideology of the early residents of the area.
It also calls to mind the corrupt medieval legend preserved in Geoffrey of Monmouth, which probably derives from an older story, that Merlin carried Stonehenge to Salisbury from Ireland:
_ _“If you are desirous,” said Merlin, “to honour the burying-place of these men with an everlasting monument, send for the Giant's Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.”
At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst into laughter, and said, “How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so distant a country, as if Britain was not furnished with stones fit for the work?” Merlin replied: “I entreat your majesty to forbear vain laughter; for what I say is without vanity. They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coasts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.”
Source: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 8.10-11, translated in The British History of Geoffrey of Monmouth , trans. A. Thompson and J. A. Giles (London: James Bohn, 1842).
Corrupt and confused as this legend is, it does correctly preserve a memory that Stonehenge's stones came not from England but from the Celtic fringe beyond the control of Anglo-Saxon monarchs. Though I'm pretty sure Stonehenge was never used as a spa.
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