Prehistory, Megaliths, and Open Questions about Stonehenge

Before the melting of the glaciers during the last Ice Age, sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower than they are today. This means of course that vast stretches of additional coastline were exposed and utilized by this land’s occupants. This also means that structures would have been built on these lands, structures long swallowed up by the slow yet steady rising sea tides. The encroachment of the sea took numerous centuries to unfold, but one may wonder if oral traditions had kept alive the locations of some of the more famous settlements and temples that were now known to be below the sea. Being that the rising ocean levels occurred worldwide, one may also hypothesize that these memories may have helped to develop the ubiquitous flood myth shared around the globe.

As evidence of ancient occupation on this prehistoric shoreline, a 30,000 pound stone monolith dating to about 8,000 BCE was recently discovered off of the coast of Sicily.  No one knows what it was used for, but its existence shows that standing stones of considerable size were being employed at this date. The construction and movement of such stones also implies complex social organization. Additionally, a Stone Age settlement has been discovered on the sea floor in the English Channel dating to at least 6,000 BCE, showing that what is now sea was once inhabited by peoples who were building, organizing, and creating communities well before the supposed “birth of civilization” recorded in our textbooks as occurring sometime around 3,500 BCE with the first established villages and small cities in Mesopotamia. The complex stone ring at Gebekli Tepe dating to at least 8,500 BCE proves that complex building as well as sophisticated social and religious organization existed millennia prior to our outdated models of human cultural evolution.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

Remains of a stone ring temple located in modern day Turkey and dating to 8,500 BCE.

One must remember that many of the earliest stone shrines in Mesopotamia and in Egypt are actually built after models of the nomadic tent. Tent cities leave no trace, and we assume that an ancient nomadic caravan was more interested in catching game and finding berries than in anything else. This assumption is grossly misplaced. One is reminded that when the Lakota Sioux journeyed with their teepees during the Spring, while catching game and collecting berries, they were actually following the sun’s entrance into specific Lakota constellations which had analogical representations on the ground. When the sun entered one constellation, the Lakota migrated to a mountain or hill which was the earthly representation of that group of stars.

Nomadic clans carry with them complex social, philosophical, cosmological, and religious constructs which organize their society. The megalithic rings, clay brick ziggurats, and stone pyramids are new architectural wonders predicated on very old cosmological ideas. We also assume that the nomadic tent predated these grand structures, but when we find giant monoliths and stone temples dating thousands of years before our ziggurats and pyramids, we are given pause to think that the nomadic clan may not be the prototype of civilization, but an afterthought of more complex social forms that had existed millennia prior. The conception of linear history is a product of literacy. Linear progression in history is a projection of a modern evolutionary model. These constructs are metaphysical projections which may or may not have relevance for the monolith builders of 10,000 years ago.

It is now clearly understood that megalithic rings had their architectural precursor in Neolithic wood henges. The structures are called Rondel Enclosures, and hundreds have been found throughout Europe dating to nearly 5,000 BCE. One of the most famous of these henges is the Goseck Circle, constructed in 4,900 BCE within the traditional Rondel design: concentric rings and mounds of earth with wooden palisades holding two or three openings. The openings of the Goseck Circle have been shown to be aligned with the solar cycle and allowed for the measurement of a solar calendar and most likely a lunar one as well.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

Typical Neolithic circle predicated on an established architectural design, including a series of ditches, mounds, and wooden palisades. Openings or gates have been shown to be aligned with celestial phenomena.

At least by 4,000 BCE this design had dispersed itself into ancient Britain. Perhaps the most famous stone circle in present day England is known as Stonehenge, first constructed from wood around 3,000 BCE, but then rebuilt with massive stones at about 2,600 BCE. Yet Stonehenge is a late model. Far to the north in Scotland is the Orkney Complex built at least 1,500 years before Stonehenge was constructed. Orkney is a Neolithic masterpiece, with one writer noting:

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

Orkney shows a massive building program incorporating multiple temples, buildings, walls, shrines, kitchens, and pottery making tools. Surrounding this complex was a sophisticated network of farms and villages interlinked by sacred space and liturgy, for most archaeologists agree that Orkney is a ritual center of some sort, though what was believed or worshipped is a complete mystery.

In the ancient world different sites were linked together. This contextual network is very different from our modern notions of sacred space, where worshippers go to “their church corner” where they worship within their tradition. Other churches have their own traditions. There may be similarities or differences, but the worshipping space is immobile and set. The idea of a pilgrimage is foreign to most modern church goers, unless it means going to some national or amusement park. Not so in the ancient world, where different sites represented different loci between heaven and earth, and where different yet related deities could influence the cosmic balance for those performing the necessary rites. Migration and pilgrimage are often blurred, as in the case of the Lakota whose Spring journey was both.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sacred sites were linked to together forming a network of belief and trade.

Every year tens of thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj, and every faithful Muslim must make this journey at least once in their lifetime. Such notions belong to the ancient world, where different sites were linked together forming a network of sacred space, belief, and trade.

As such, what was once thought of as individual mounds and henges are now seen as connected in a network of sacred “zones.” It has now been revealed, for example, that Stonehenge was part of a massive landscape of standing stones. The original Stonehenge was not a solitary ring in the middle of the prairie, but was connected with colossal avenues of stone which in turn pointed to other related henges. Some scholars believe that the natural landscape was also part of this ritual cosmography, where hills and rivers also represented heaven-earth correspondences. We are dealing with a much greater cosmovision than most recently thought of, as well as a far more connected and complex society who were as sophisticated as any other people, but who were rooted in the Neolithic and Mesolithic cultures and techniques of the day.

Reflecting upon these connections has led me to propose a new theory to one of the great mysteries of Stonehenge. Stonehenge was originally a wooden henge, much like the Rondel Enclosures found throughout ancient Europe. Over the course of 1,500 years the site was rebuilt several times, and large standing stones eventually took the place of standing timber.

Eventually large rocks replaced the original standing timers. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan, with the larger standing Sarsen stones made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner “u-ring” of smaller stones made of dolerite or igneous rock.

The outer concourse of standing stones are called Sarsens and are made of sandstone or sedimentary rock. There is an inner semi-ring of stones called bluestones. These stones are made of various kinds of dolerite, which is an igneous rock formed by the cooling of lava. The rock is a kind of “fire-stone.” Recently the exact origin of these stones was discovered. These multi-ton rocks were quarried 160 miles away in Wales and transported to the site. (There are still a few geologists who insist that the blue stones were not transported by humans but by glacier drift.) The skill and labor required to transport the multi-ton stones from so far away has everyone asking, “For what purpose were they needed?” There are no definite answers.

 

Stonehenge was rebuilt replacing wooden timers with large standing stones. Curiously, there are several different kinds of rock used, with the large Sarsen stones being made of sandstone or sedimentary rock, and the inner u-ring of smaller stones being made of dolerite or igneous rock.

This graphic shows the  different kinds of rock utilized in the ground plan of Stonehenge.

The exact ritual or cosmological uses of the site are unknown. We would be remiss to think that the site was not used for rituals within a deep cosmological worldview. Ancient oral religion and cosmology cannot be separated. My own theory as to why the bluestones needed to be transported to the site is one of resonance. Nicholas Campion has pointed out that bronze was used even after the discovery of the much stronger iron because bronze held a symbolic equivalence with the sun. It was the “cosmic resonance” of the material that was prized over its utility. Meanwhile, Schwaller de Lubicz also provides a stunning insight when he mentions that in some Egyptian temples limestone was used in the outer walls but granite was used for the inner sanctuaries.

While granite is stronger, and again we might think of the sheer utility of the building material, ancient oral minds were always considering the types and functions of the materials they were using. Granite is also an igneous rock, and one sees in the Egyptian cosmovision that each temple was a recreation of the world, where sedimentary rock was the outer “watery” world of chaos and the central shrine was the created order of the sun god Ra. Granite was a fire rock indicative of this symbolism.

This is no idle speculation. One is reminded that when Rome was founded a trench was dug circumscribing the city. While in most textbooks we are told that this trench defined the defensive wall that was to be built, in truth the trench held a completely symbolic value as a sacred boundary between the cosmic watery chaos and the new cosmic order of the established city. In the Near East and in Egypt cities were models of the cosmos and were established upon symbolic rules that had descended from prehistory. Many temples were built also as representations of the cosmos, with the waters of chaos signified outside the temple walls and the temple shrine itself representing the ideal established order and the realm of the gods. In the Hebrew temple the holy of holies was constructed as a cube where the fiery throne of Yahweh lay. Beneath the altar was the Well of Souls representative of the apsu, or underworld waters. Here was a symbolic representation of the cosmos. It is no coincidence that Pythagoras insisted that the center of the universe was a fiery cube, or that the Egyptian dead had to sail through the dark underworld waters and arise through several lakes of fire to find eternal life.

So it is with Stonehenge. At least this is my proposal. The bluestones were igneous rocks and they held a cosmological resonance to the overall metaphysical scheme of the temple. The inner ring of bluestones was the realm of fire, the created order, and the domain of the gods. They may have also been linked with similar temples or rites that were located and practiced 160 miles away from where the stones originated. In other words, the bluestones were an absolute symbolic requirement that in some way linked the builder’s vision with heaven and earth and to other sites with similar connections. As one journeyed through the avenue of stones and entered the sanctuary they were making a “cosmic voyage” through the heavens, represented itself by the building materials, landscape features, and connections to other sites.

This theory still does not tell us what they were practicing. It simply provides a functional theory for the absolute necessity of the building material being used. There is a specific reason that the builders transported several-ton-stones nearly 200 miles for the sites’ construction. That reason is, in my view, symbolic resonance with a cosmographic scheme. The builders were reproducing a picture of the heavens in the stones of the earth.