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Constructing the Past

There is to be another consultation about the 'display' of Stonehenge in time for the Olympics of 2012, at least that is how the government sees it. The archaeologists maybe see it from a different light, and so may the public and various bodies interested in what must happen so they gather together to discuss the possible options.
What is landscape? hills, mountains, downs, rivers and streams, what do we do with it? we farm it, build towns and roads in it, walk in it, take visual pleasure in its beauty.
What is a prehistoric landscape? now that of course is a difficult question, the land would not have been so manicured as it is today, its rough edges and bumps would be on show, trees would not follow a straight hedgeline or field boundary, they would be dotted around savannah type, the grass would not have that unnatural green colour we see today, but would be full of summer flowers, yellowing to that bleached looked wild grasses have.... stones would lie scattered around the surface and no metallic roads with their load of cars and lorries would be seen, only narrow brown trackways.
So Stonehenge has a long way to go before it even begins to vaguely look like a prehistoric landscape.
It is of course a vast necropolis with great barrow cemeteries stretching across its plains, the stones themselves the great altar to which the dead might have been brought, also the scene of ritual ceremonies that gathered round the natural cycles of the year.
Cursuses, ceremonial roads leading from the river, all part of the drama of a vibrant landscape, so how do we get from this scene to the one that faces us at Stonehenge at the moment..
Probably impossible, the focus is always on the lintelled stones, imprisoned in wire, with an artificial surface to traipse round, this is not the way to present such a monument, though footfall dictates otherwise of course. A 'temporary' reception area and the car park so closely juxtapositioned with the stones may be removed in the future, and modern day trappings removed.
Perhaps the answer lies in opening out the landscape, allowing the barrows to tell their own stories, small winding trackways, removal of straight lines, whether they be trees, fence lines or hedges, they just did'nt happen in prehistory. Such a lot is lost with the trunk road that drives it miserable way through the whole scene, that it seems an almost impossible task, but a modern tunnel would not have helped, perhaps the best that can be done for Stonehenge is to keep the stones intact and to allow future events to dictate its place in history.
Temporary measures could screen the road, but the greatest problem that Stonehenge faces is of course that it is a 'tourist honeypot' sold by one and all as the greatest treasure of prehistoric fame this country has. This is its downfall, the narrowed vision of ignorance and imagination that sells the stones without its place in a prehistoric landscape, it fails because of lack of education, that somehow thousands of years ago, a group of people very different to us once lived and occupied this land.
Perhaps in the end all we can do is reconstruct this landscape, make it visually aware to the modern eye that villages such as the one at Durrington Walls had houses, crafts, a living existence that related to the temple of Stonehenge, we have obscured this fact with the arrival of modern day pagan assemblies, coach parties, solstice parties, look at any reconstructed iron age house such as the one at Barbury, and we see today's artists replicating the past quite happily...

So instruction and education maybe - through the visual presence of the past, the same could of course also be said of Avebury.
Keiller re-erected some of the fallen stones in his day, much more lies hidden, the great fallen stone that lies near the entrance to the lane up to the Ridgeway would be a start, but that is another argument, but until we show the public what there real heritage is and was, interest in it will only be superficial, a day out amongst the fields of Avebury and Stonehenge will be a pleasure, adding the 'feel of place' so much more.

Links to this post - Dr. Peter Reynolds

The Hurlers — Images

<b>The Hurlers</b>Posted by moss
moss Posted by moss
3rd August 2008ce
Edited 3rd August 2008ce

Comments (2)

I know that it's a serious issue, but I really enjoyed your evocation of the prehistoric landscape. Very interesting. gjrk Posted by gjrk
7th August 2008ce
The answer is - don't go to Stonehenge if you want answers and a great experience of prehistoric place and luminosity. Kilmartin, Long Meg, Swinside, Brodgar, Callanish (sorry, forgot the Gaelic - Calanais?), Carrowkeel, Loughcrew - these are powerful places in powerful landscapes. Stonehenge is, and forever will be, enmeshed in roads, traffic, prehistorians and bureaucrats often playing with 'prehistoric' (aka: 21st century ce) power - and more money than Thornborough and hundreds of other sites can shake a stick at. Posted by mick l dore
29th August 2008ce
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