Stonehenge As You Can No Longer See It

These pictures were taken in 1971, just before the parking lot, pedestrian tunnel, food concession, and bus terminal were erected, and before barricades were put around the monument. That was a very crass move done by the government of the time, and there are now proposals to relocate the main highways and do other things to restore this monument to its pristine setting, as much as can be done considering the volume of visitors (the trampling of feet was actually undermining the foundations of the stones).

There are people in a couple of these photos, but you can hardly notice them. What you did was drive up to the place, park along the road, and just walk on in. Unfortunately, one of the reasons Stonehenge was enclosed can be seen in this enlarged section of one of the photos (you can't really see it in the low-resolution of the black and white main picture). It is a 'ban-the-bomb' symbol that somebody had spray-painted on one of the menhirs* -- it had been removed for the most part by the time this picture was taken, but you can still see the residual image (looks like a face). That was a really thoughtless, stupid, and criminal act: What did Stonehenge have to do with the Vietnam War that it should have been so desecrated? (However, I don't think Bill Clinton was involved in this!)

* As I understand it, a Menhir (Breton: long stone) is a standing stone and a Dolmen is one lying flat on the ground or as a lintel over other stones (Breton: table), Menhirs being parts of stone circles, Dolmens being the stone parts of burial mounds that have lost their earthen covering. Leave it at that -- this does not pretend to be an academic web page. In fact, the defacement is not on a menhir, but rather one of the trilithons, a structure that is unique to Stonehenge (at least in Britain); a trilithon is just what it sounds like, if you use the Greek root -- three stones, two uprights and a lintel. There is a very tall stone in the top picture that has a knob on top. This menhir was once part of a trilithon, and the knob actually fitted into a socket in the bottom of the lintel to hold the thing together -- very ingenious and sophisticated -- hence the Ancient Astronaut type folk insist there must have been an outside influence, Phoenicians, Atlanteans, Martians, because the natives would have been too uncivilized to come up with such a thing on their own. Bullshit, I say.

Was Stonehenge an Astronomical Observatory?

Yes, one can hardly doubt the conclusive proof of the alignments of the stones, and the outer circles of moveable ones that would have been shifted around during the year like a cribbage counter. Whether other stone circles had this function is problematical, but they probably did in a much simpler way -- at least able to determine midwinter and the solstices. Stonehenge was able to do a lot more than that, which makes sense given that it was in the 'capital' area of the pre-Celtic civilization that permeated the British Isles then. The masonry labor and skills exhibited during its several phases of construction mark the governmental importance of the site, as opposed to the local stone circles in other areas (which, however, were built under the influence of the same culture that was apparently widespread over the British Isles). The presence of such an important monument as Silbury Hill or the gigantic stone circle of Avebury in the neighborhood marks Salisbury Plain as the center of whatever you want to call this lost civilization.

Beware of occult books that state exactitude of astrological alignments as given fact. Things have changed in the sky over the last few thousand years ('Precession of the Equinoxes' and things like that), so if they say these two stones line up exactly with the rising full moon nearest the summer solstice, then they wouldn't have when the stones were erected, and if they did back then, they wouldn't now -- you can't have it both ways.

What Should Be Done about Stonehenge?

My own opinion is that this was always a public site (like a cathedral), and not some forbidden ground for religious initiates and witch doctors. And that is why it is so galling to have to visit it now along predefined footpaths bounded by bank-queue sheep-run railings. Here, as in most stone circles, you feel the urge to touch the stones, lie down on them if you can, or just put your head against them.


What they really should do is get Disney to build a theme park nearby (but out of sight) where the henge as it was 3000 years ago could be conjecturally reconstructed as it was, with audio-visuals and robotized Bronze-Age priests. Even build a town as it might have been and have people in costumes, smithing bronze or whatever they did back then. Twenty percent of the profits of this enterprise would be dedicated to maintaining the real sites like this as is (and restoring the damage caused by the presence of too many visitors). Let those who are interested visit the original Stonehenge via a footpath that slogs a couple of miles across the open fields (and let the only access be that way -- and, frankly, I don't care that much about access for the handicapped or infirm, or other moves to make it more convenient for tourists to overwhelm the site).

There is plenty of land available in the Salisbury Plain area for such an undertaking that is now uselessly reserved by the military for training recruits to re-fight the Second World War (or even the First) -- get them out of there, and out of Dartmoor, the Dorset coast, and other great places, and let the people in! Huge areas in Southwest England, including the whole northern half of Dartmoor, were taken over in WWII as training grounds, entire villages were evacuated and converted to educating soldiers in the fine art of house-to-house combat, and thousands of acres dedicated to land-mining and tank practice and jet fighter bombing runs. Those places were never given up after the war and are the bane of hikers in some of the most scenic areas in that part of England. That anti-military attitude might have been part of the rationale of defacing Stonehenge, although it doesn't justify it.

Have you got a super-fast modem? Click here to see Stonehenge in color. This image is very large, so beware (it also is just a larger version of the file on the Stone Circles Page). However, I can tell you that in BMP form it makes for a very fine desk-top background (if you want the high resolution scan, write to me).

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Copyright © 1998 by Grobius Shortling

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