Legal Success for Stonehenge Alliance is great news, but…

The recent legal halting to the original plans for a tunnel to cut under the Stonehenge landscape may have slowed down one process of degrading the archaeological value of the monument’s extensive landscape, but it’s a temporary pause, and  plans are again back underway. But this massive road works within the landscape of Stonehenge is not the only degradation threat that is going on at England’s ‘National Temple’. In this post I want to point our another threat to our understanding of this monument, one which increasingly restricts the future interpretation of the design of the monument, what it was for, and what it represented.

Drayton’s poem, Polyolbion, concerns the fate of those who located and placed the stones at Stonehenge, and well sums up the subject of this article,

Ill did those mighty men to trust thee with their story;  Thou hast forgot their names who reared thee for their glory.

I first visited Stonehenge sometime around 1964.  I remember very little other than being overwhelmed at the size of the sarsen trilithons, and at how massively ancient the monument was, although in 1964, the Sarsen circle remained ‘officially’ dated to around 1750BC. This was before the radiocarbon revolution had fully hit home within British archaeology. There was resistance from within the professions, and Stuart Piggott even described the new fangled radiocarbon dates as being ‘archaeologically inacceptable.’

A man with a push-operated lawn mower kindly showed our little group around, and there were no other visitors present on the site. In the early 60s there were, as yet, no ancient vans with bearded occupants and emitting herbaceous odours. The only pot was strong tea and this was served in a VLT (very large teapot) with some scones and it featured highly in my remembered experience. And then we all left, resuming our journey in a Bedford minibus. The whole experience probably only cost the 1964 equivalent of Chubb’s maximum of ‘one shilling per person entry charge‘, the terms agreed when selling the land upon which Stonehenge stands to the nation, sometime during  or just after WW1.

Since then Stonehenge has had to endure the curse of having not just one but two Visitor Centres imposed on it. The first was so loathed that when it was to be ripped up and replaced by a shiny new Visitor Centre, no one believed its replacement could be other than an improvement, but my God, how wrong we all were! To adapt the admirable Drayton poem , Ill did those mindless men, who reared this dud for their glory (Perhaps the reader could fudge up a suitable second line)

I remain confident that this design fits perfectly into HRH, The Prince of Wales’s category of being classified as a ‘Carbuncle’, for it is veritably, for all sorts of reasons, a Blot on the Landscape. With its pre-rusted leaky outer roof and its apparent dependence on crookedly placed scaffolding rods to hold it all up, the rest resembles some third-world tin-pot ‘international airport’ terminal building. All it would need to complete this image would be some clapped out Dakotas parked up on the nearby straight runway formed by the now redundant A344.  One can only pray that God so loves nearby Avebury that here he will spare the site a visitor’s centre.

No one can look me in the eye and say that this grotty monstrosity has anything much to tell us about one of the most sacred monuments in the world. It tells us much concerning our present culture, for the new Visitor’s Centre is culturally equivalent to putting a fish & chip shop in the Narthex of Chartres Cathedral. 

But there are other things going on behind the scenes that cause me much more concern about the future interpretation of Stonehenge. It would appear that the interpretation of prehistory, of which Stonehenge continues to play a crucial role, is itself being slowly rewritten, and I want to suggest how this is happening and investigate why, and what are the most likely outcomes.

If one has ever worked for EH, or has read the (now) old 1999  110 page report on the future of the Stonehenge site undertaken by the architectural consultants, Chris Blandford Associates, they will be familiar with the average visitor time being measured at 45 minutes (p69; 3.4.17), with some extra time in the then envisaged enlargement of the souvenir shop, where our visitor could then buy a plastic paperweight of the centre of Stonehenge (the Sarsen circle) which, when shaken, would cause a snowy blizzard to descend upon the stones in a most ersatz manner. This was kitsch Disneyland for sale on Salisbury Plain.

Everyone who knows someone who works for English Heritage will probably have heard them relate that that Stonehenge is the perfect milchcow, a cash crop that keeps on giving, year after year, as visitor numbers consistently reach close to what is described in the Blandford report as ‘approximately 2.08 million overnight and day trips made to Salisbury, generating £93 million in tourism’.

Of the ‘less important aspects of the monument’s design‘, such as its astronomy,  geometry, and  measurements, (all three disciplines are objectively measurable), the report goes on, simply, to inform its readers, within a single paragraph headed ‘Spiritual Values’ on page 19 of  the 110 page report that ‘theories abound‘ and suggests ‘these can be but speculation‘. In other words, nothing from these sources can likely ever be proven. All that astronomy, geometry and measurement is untouched and unexplained within this report, clearly it is already ear marked for the lunatic fringe, don’t you know, so don’t even think or ask about these things. Don’t ask questions. Why would one think of going there, with all that complicated science and number stuff, when there’s snowy plastic paperweights of the middle bit of Stonehenge to be collected, and cherished on one’s mantelpiece?

It is hard to square this rough and hapless account of Stonehenge’s ‘spiritual values’ with some of the other commentaries concerning our national temple.  Having called the monument ‘the most famous stone circle in the world‘ (p19, 2.4.10) the authors never refer to the monument as a Neolithic temple, although there’s a sentence reminding its readers that ‘Today, the Henge continues to have a role as a sacred place of special religious and cultural significance in the minds and faiths of some visitors.’ Interpretation: “clearly, only some visitors share these beliefs, so we’ll move quickly on and away from this aspect“.

So just what does Stonehenge offer to be awarded the WHS (World Heritage Site) seal of approval? Fortunately, on Page 17 (2.4.5), the authors bullet list the required qualities,

  • represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  • exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in monumental arts or town planning or landscape design;
  • bear a unique or a least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared.

It must be clear to almost anyone who has studied Stonehenge in the slightest capacity beyond the trivial level that the monument fits all three of these criteria, almost rendering this big fat Consultation Draft redundant and unnecessary.

The draft report rambles on, and by page 82 it gets to discuss the management of visitors to Stonehenge, and cites the Principles established in a Governmental ‘sustainable tourism‘ report, acronymically but inadequately called ICOMOS [International Council on Monuments and Sites UK]. It promotes a list of objectives, including the following(p83 4.5.1);

The design of new buildings, sites and transport systems should minimise the potentially harmful visual effects of tourism. Where sites of great natural beauty are concerned, the intrusion of man-made structures should be avoided where possible.

It is hard to know here whether this implies that Stonehenge, itself an intrusive man-made structure set in a site of outstanding natural beauty, thereby needs to be avoided, i.e. demolished.

The above perfect description of Stonehenge within its environment is a really basic error,  but to its credit, it must surely herald the kiss of death for the future of the New Visitor centre, just as surely as was the fate of any new wife for Henry VIII.

Even the above review  paints a more cheerful scenario for the monument than do the following observations, gleaned over the past twenty five years of visiting, surveying, photographing, and taking visitors from all over the globe on special access tours of this temple monument. So gird your loins and let’s cut to the chase.

STONEHENGE – A STUDY IN SELECTIVE PREHISTORY  

A close inspection of the historical images of Stonehenge held by Google Earth will quickly reveal that one of the most important features of the monument, indeed, the earliest known geometrical construction on the henge site, has become a steadily diminishing feature. I am, of course referring to those ‘cavities’ first discovered during a day’s hunting through Stonehenge by that greatly connected scholar, socialite, scientist, gossip, author and chronicler of the seventeenth century, John Aubrey. A founding fellow of the Royal Society, Aubrey’s discovery at Stonehenge led on to the eventual excavation of these ‘cavities’ to reveal  fifty-six regularly spaced holes spaced in a very accurate circular formation that are today named after him – the eponymous Aubrey holes.

My first Special Access tours took place in the late 80’s, a few years after the brouhaha of the 1985 midsummer ‘Battle of the Beanfield‘ had begun to fade a little. In those days, those fifty-six holes, now filled in and silted up were archaeologically described as ‘once might have held’ wooden post holes. Their average diameter was 1.07 metres (42.136 inches), so we are talking hefty posts here.

The construction of the Aubrey holes was the earliest example of geometry being applied to the henge site, taking place around 3100 BC.  It is the largest circular structure on the site, the accurate circular structure averages a mean diameter of 283.6 ft (86.456m). The only other accurate circle within the vallum or circular boundary is the sarsen circle, whose average mean diameter 100.8 feet (30.724m), and which was erected around 2600 BC.

Readers who have studied Plato will remember the number 504 as being a key number in defining the recommended radius of a circular temple. At Stonehenge, the mean sarsen radius is 50.4 ft (15.362m). Coincidence it is not, as will be made clear.

Aerial Photographs of the site taken around 1987  clearly show over thirty whited Aubrey holes (see photo). In 1994, these photos were kindly given to me by the then director of the English Heritage site, Clews EverardOn site At that time one could easily and rapidly identify over thirty Aubrey holes , the tops of their concrete markers all marked out in white lime-wash, and the grass kept cut very short, by the fit man with the push lawn mower. By 2005, this number had declined to twenty-one markers,  while by 2017 there were just seven fairly easily marked out and in 2018, at midsummer, one had to scratch up the the grass to locate any of these markers, and none were whited out.  This failure to present and maintain adequate visibility of this earliest geometrical feature at Stonehenge is  wholly unacceptable. At best it shows a serious flaw in the management of the Stonehenge site, at worse, there’s the hint of this feature somehow not fitting into the archaeological narrative of the monument, which has always been highly speculative and avoiding of astronomical, geometrical or metrological information.

This past year, 2021, I led a special access group of twenty-five people onto the site, and they could not find more than four or five Aubrey markers, and all of these were hidden from view under grass, except one or two near the station stone 93. Some of this group measured the spacing between each hole centre, using a builder’s fibreglass tape, finding it averaged 15 feet and 10 inches.

The  56-sided polygon   that connects all the stones thus has a perimeter of 56 x 15.833 ft (4.826m) which totals 891.464 feet (271.72 m), the mean diameter of the Aubrey circle is minutely different from this figure 891.464 ft when divided by pi, is 283.6 ft (86.456m).  These figures are identical to those values arduously obtained through lengthy processes of accurate surveying ‘ground level’ of the Stonehenge monument, during the early 1970s. 

The 1972/73 Thom-Atkinson Theodolite Survey of Stonehenge

During this survey, the Aubrey holes were each identified by Professor Richard Atkinson, they were clearly marked out, each with a concrete circular marker having small hole at the centre, into which which Thom and Atkinson stuck a marker pole which was used to mark them up as surveying data points, during 1972 and 73. Antiquity rejected the detailed report on the survey. It was instead published by Mike Hoskins, the astronomer-editor of The Journal of the History of Astronomy [JHA]. 

Most of the original survey was published in The Journal for the History of Astronomy in 1974. This extensive report was largely ignored by archaeologists. Here, Thom stated that the previously mentioned mean diameter of the Aubrey circle, from an individual hole centre to the opposite hole centre, averaged 283.6 feet (radius 141.8 ft). The perimeter of the Aubrey circle can thus be assumed to accurately have been 283.6 ft multiplied by ‘pi’, making the mean perimeter 891.464 ft (‘pi’ = 22/7) or 890.95 ft (using actual ‘pi’).

There is little wriggle room for argument or debate surrounding these dimensions for the original circle laid out at Stonehenge. From these measurements the average distance between each of the 56 Aubrey holes to its adjacent neighbours can be calculated to be an average length of 15ft and 10 inches. This can readily be checked on site, if one can locate the individual Aubrey holes.

The same techniques can be applied to the sarsen circle, erected some 500 years later. The inside diameter, first accurately established by non other than the ‘founding father of modern archaeology’, Sir William Flinders Petrie during the 1860s, and subsequently found to be just that figure in more recent surveys, has the inner diameter of the lintel circle as 97.32 ft, outer value 104.27 ft, making the mean value 100.795 ft. I am not aware of anyone contesting Petrie’s survey figures, or terming them ‘speculative‘ or having emerged from the luunatic fringe? These lengths can hardly  be classed as ‘theoretical‘. They are what they are – fundamental lengths incorporated into the design of the only other circle to be built at Stonehenge, after that of the Aubrey circle.

So let me make it perfectly clear  what is implied within these measurements, which are neither theoretical nor can they be classed as speculative or nebulous. A good builder’s tape measure, or Google Earth are all that is required to check out the figures given above to well within a fraction of one percent. Even employing a good surveyor’s theodolite, the above values are extremely close, (within a quarter of one percent) to those triangulated lengths derived from angles to various points on these two circles, as was done during the Thom survey.

The Ratio between the two circles at Stonehenge 

Taking the mean values for the numerical diameters of each circle, then, forms the ratio 283.6/104.18. Expressed as a fraction, this which is within 99.92% of the value of the megalithic yard, or 2.72 ft.  Thom’s original estimate of this megalithic measure was derived from the original statistical treatment designed by the leading statisticians of the time (mid 1960s), of the measured diameters obtained from over 200 stone circles. His later mid 70s surveys at Stonehenge and Avebury, Brodgar and Carnac, lead him to amend this originally calculated value of 2.72 ft, to 2.722ft, which numerically is within 99.85% of the fraction given above.

For those with time on their hands, you may like to suggest what the  chances would be for these two fundamental measurements that define the only accurate true circles within the Stonehenge ditch and bank structure, to define numerically, in feet, the independently ‘arrived at’ value ascribed to this length by the top statisticians of the time, 2.72 feet (plus or minus 0.03 feet).

A second article will appear shortly to conclude this foray into the hoary recent history of Stonehenge and the interpretation of our national temple, with a view towards showing how unwise would be any major upheaval to the landscape around this sacred landscape.  There will also be some nice illustrations of the key issues concerning this vexatious threat to the future safety of the area around Stonehenge.

End of part one – Robin Heath, March 6th 2022]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Original Bluestone Circle, yes or no?

Waun Mawn – is this the site of the Original Bluestone Circle?

a) How to find the site

The Waun Mawn sites are accessed from the B4229 Eglwyswrw to Haverfordwest road, along a gated farm track by the cattle grid at Tafarn y Bwlch ( Lat 51*58′; Long 4* 47′). During the recent Documentary The Lost Circle Revealed, shown on February 12th we saw evidence that supports the old folk legend that an original bluestone stone circle was once taken from the Preseli Hills of West Wales to Stonehenge. I would like to suggest some comments that may be useful in assessing this evidence and clearing up some unfortunate confusions that appear to have been made in the presentation of the material.

During the week following the documentary I  received and answered over 90 emails , and one of the main issues raised by these correspondences was a confusion as to just which of the involved stones formed the Waun Mawn referred to during the documentary. The OS map shows three separate areas where standing stones are marked. Below, I have included photographs of all three sites. The OS Map allocates this ‘title’ to the higher reaches of the prominent hill Cnwc y Hydd, yet there are extensive peat bogs down to the lower levels, and mawn means ‘peat’ in Welsh.

Locating the Three Groups of ‘Waun Mawn’ Standing Stones

a) The Two Leaning Stones

Walking along the pathway to Gernos fach farm from the small parking area next to the cattle grid at Tafarn y Bwlch, the first two stones are found to the left of the gated track, around 300m from the large gate. These are small, less than three feet high, and very much an aligned pair, each sloping at the same angle to the west and about six feet apart.

b) The Solitary Waun Mawn Stone

This is without doubt the largest stone on the moor and it stands, with considerable presence, some sixty yards from the right hand side of the trackway some 500 yards from the entrance farm-gate. The side by side photographs show the difference in size between this whopper and the much smaller standing stone within the claimed bluestone circle.

 

Th larger stone forms the southern point of a large geodetic structure,  a diamond shape aligned to the cardinal points of the compass (N-S-E-W). Revealed through surveying in 2009 it was found to suggest a vesica piscis construction, with Pentre Ifan on the East, the Neolithic burial chamber near the summit of Carningli (West) and the weird and spectacularly sited second ‘motte’ at Nevern Castle (North).  This largest upright stone is the Waun Mawn I refer to in my book Bluestone Magic, a Guide to the Prehistoric Monuments of West Wales (available from website online book-shop and elsewhere).

b) The Remains of a Stone Circle?

To get to the third set of stones requires that one takes a right just after passing through the gate, and follows the track up are around to the right for about 400m, taking a left turn and walking uphill to a fairly level plateau where there are four clearly identified stones that appear to have once been originally set along a curve. The first stone (going left to right) is recumbent, about eight feet long, the second is the sole upright stone, of pleasing symmetry and remaining fully upright. This stone is frequently referred to by earth mysteries folk, dowsers and ley hunters, cited as being a highly energetic stone that can cause ‘tingling’ when held or touched.  The third is another recumbent stone, and similar in size to stone one. The fourth stone is much smaller than the rest.

If you visit this claimed stone circle and the weather is good, I cannot recommend highly enough the value of walking on up to the summit of Cnwc y Hydd, where there are some very special perspectives on the Preselis and beyond to enjoy from the summit.

I hope this clears up the matter of which Waun Mawn stones are which. Slightly misquoting the late archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes I now hope you will all ‘get the Waun Mawn stones you deserve!

Since the Lost Circle documentary, and as we are enjoying the first dry sunny days since over three months of fairly wet, windy and impossible surveying weather conditions, I decided it would be fun to check the measures, geometry and astronomy now being offered by Mike Parker Pearson’s team during that recent TV documentary, who were suggesting a diameter of 361 feet (110 metres), a circle almost identical with the size of the outer bank at Stonehenge. This does not wholly agree with my own measurements, taken too many years ago, but the Preselis is a big patch for just one person to get around.  In due course I will report back. Watch this landscape!

 

The Recent Passing of Dr Euan MacKie

The recent passing of Dr Euan MacKie, together with the earlier passing (in April) of Dr Aubrey Burl,  and that of professor Keith Critchlow, brings to an end those stalwarts who were part of the surge of interest, during the 1960s and 70s, in archaeoastronomy, earth mysteries and a general quest to connect to our ancestors, to better understand the ancient world so as to include the new data that was pouring in from the work of those three professors, Gerald Hawkins, Alexander Thom, Fred Hoyle and those such as John Michell, whose lot it was to become part of, if not found, an alternative way of exploring  our ancient and prehistoric past, often tabbed  ‘the lunatic fringe’  within archaeological circles.

Continue reading “The Recent Passing of Dr Euan MacKie”

Durrington Walls Pit Ring – Part Two

Part Two: Redefining the Stonehenge Landscape

Durrington Walls Pit Ring is by far the largest known example of a megalithic egg, when compared with other existing types of ‘egg’, such as Woodhenge (Type II, Thom, 1967), just south of Durrington;  Allen Water, near Hawick,(Type I, Thom, 1967 ); and Castell Mawr henge in Pembrokeshire (Type III, Heath, 1916), adjacent to the ‘bluestone’ outcrops of Preseli, in West Wales. Other surviving examples of ‘Type III’ eggs, which have semi-elliptical ‘blunt’ ends, include Hirnant cairn circle in Montgomeryshire (Type III Hoyle, 1977), and Glasserton Mains rock art, on the Machan peninsula, Dumfries and Galloway (Morris and Bailey, 1967).

In Part One, the map of the pits around Durrington Walls was shown to clearly define the known geometry of a circular ended Type II egg, based on the locations of the many pits that make up the ‘pit ring’ discovery at Durrington. This geometry was compared with that of Castell Mawr.

Part Two shifts the focus to a metrological analysis of the shape of this pit ring, exploring its apparent properties and the relationship between Stonehenge and Durrington Walls pit ring ,  whose centre is located at a distance of just under 2 miles to the north-east of Stonehenge.

A New Circle around Stonehenge.

Stonehenge displays some similar qualities to the pit ring in that both monuments have identifiable centres and both have connections with megalithic constructions beyond their enclosing ‘walls’or ditch and bank, which extend out into the wider landscape. My earlier posts on Woodhenge provide a good example of such an extension to Stonehenge. Both monuments are also redolent with geometrical and metrological information, the kind of evidence that I routinely work with.

The investigation here identifies and quantifies these similarities, and  concludes by identifying a possible further large circle, concentric to, but set well beyond the present boundaries of Stonehenge’s bluestone, sarsen and Aubrey circles, and analysis will suggest a highly significant underlying purpose for such a circle’s existence. 

Continue reading “Durrington Walls Pit Ring – Part Two”

Exploring Durrington Walls Pit Ring

Part One:  Joining up the Dots

For pandemic reasons, the 2020 summer solstice sunrise gathering at Stonehenge was cancelled . The awesome sight of the rising sun over the Heel stone in line with the monument’s axis and the ‘avenue’ was replaced by an important discovery: A  huge ring of very deep and very wide pits had been discovered in the chalky subsoil around Durrington Walls, just two miles northeast of Stonehenge and a little north of Woodhenge.

The discovery of these pits is of great significance, and came in the form of a report of an on-going investigation report, the result of years of work by large team of archaeologists from many universities, and other specialists.

Due to the site’s proximity to Stonehenge – which is just under three miles to the southwest of Durrington Walls, the PR guys clearly thought it a good time to announce the launch at the summer solstice. The Guardian clearly thought so, coming on strong with this catchy title,

Vast neolithic circle of deep shafts found near Stonehenge : prehistoric structure spanning 1.2 miles in diameter is masterpiece of engineering, say archaeologists.”

Continue reading “Exploring Durrington Walls Pit Ring”

Avebury: Review of the recent OS-style map

The new ‘White Edition’ map of Avebury (megalithicmaps.com, 2019) should capture both hearts and minds, suggests Robin Heath.

Designer and collator Thomas Melrose has done what has been needed for many years – produced a superb graphical map of Avebury where all the stones are listed, all the recent archaeological evidence derived from LIDAR and aerial photography is included and, where applicable, shown on the plan. For the tourist or visitor it now becomes the must-have source material to have tucked away in a rucksack or large pocket during a walk around the Avebury Henge site.

But this new presentational format goes far further than this necessary accessory. Its accuracy is without doubt the best yet available to researchers, be they academic archaeologists or enthusiastic amateurs.

Continue reading “Avebury: Review of the recent OS-style map”

Finding Atlantis

A fully illustrated presentation beginning at 3pm GMT on Sunday, October 27 2019, at Small World Theatre, Cardigan. Robin Heath will be discussing his latest research which answers some of the trickier questions that get asked about the abilities of early prehistoric cultures. Includes Q&A session. Poster gives main details, here’s some more to whet your appetite…

Into Earth Mysteries? Ancient Landscapes? Alignments? Ley-Lines? (what are they, then?) megalithic and other prehistoric and ancient monuments? Atlantis – where was (is) it to be found and what was Plato’s myth all about?
Here’s an afternoon of time travel…going back in time and looking seriously at human origins as the clocks also go back in time . Booking recommended.

A NEW LANDSCAPE TEMPLE AT AVEBURY

An earlier shortened version of this article can be found on The Henge Shop website

StoneAgeSurveys

presents

For the Spring Brexinox, 2019

A Newly Revealed Temple at Avebury

The Avebury henge site was very nearly lost to us. We owe its existence to Alexander Keiller, the ‘Marmalade Millionaire’ who, during the 1930s, poured his family inheritance into restoring the site. Before Keiller, there were only eight original stones left standing at Avebury.

Avebury henge in the snow. The Henge Shop is at the centre, the Church just to its left.

During the early eighteenth century, the inhabitants of Avebury village became engaged in the wholesale toppling of Avebury’s huge stones and their subsequent reduction to building stone. If that great antiquarian and chronicler William Stukely had not publicly intervened, all of Avebury’s stones would have been removed and the site totally destroyed. A single generation would have demolished Avebury.

During Avebury’s darkest days, Stukely wrote,

‘And this stupendous fabric, which for some thousands of years, had brav’d the continual assaults of weather, and by the nature of it, when left to itself, like the pyramids of Egypt, would have lasted as long as the globe, hath fallen a sacrifice to the wretched ignorance and avarice of a little village unluckily plac’d within it.’  Continue reading “A NEW LANDSCAPE TEMPLE AT AVEBURY”

The Henge Shop launch their new E-magazine!

A copy of the first edition front cover is now available [see graphic below and try the link over the next day or two].  Within the covers of this first (and FREE) edition, due on-line on The spring equinox, (March 21st), I was commissioned by its editor, Naz Ahsun, to write an illustrated article on my latest research findings.  For those who are interested and/or attended my talk and mini-tour at the henge shop and within Avebury during the summer solstice of 2018,  you may now find the details I promised then.. which is… The identification and description of a previously unrecognised integrated temple monumental structure based on research undertaken during the past several years.  


Unless one takes account of the astronomy, geometry and measurements of a complex megalithic site like Avebury, one will never understand the integrated nature of these magnificent sites nor how they ‘talk’ to their neighbouring sites. There will shortly be more to follow on this website concerning this new material about Avebury…