The following review of “Sailors of Stonehenge” has appeared in The Megalithic Portal.
The most famous megalithic monument in the world is, unarguably, Stonehenge. Its construction began in the early 3rd millennium BC as a large henge (110 m of diameter) built on the southern plains of England.
By the 24th century BC, it also had –among other features– a tall bank along the inner side of the ditch, a concentric ring of thirty standing stones with as many horizontal above (Sarsen Circle), and five huge trilithons arranged inside in the shape of a horseshoe.
Later, another ring and horseshoe of stones called Bluestones were also erected inside the Sarsen Circle. About its center there was a unique stone known as Altar Stone.
The transit of the Sun at midsummer over the star Regulus, which took place around the 24th century BC, had to be an astronomic event of capital importance for a solar culture. This moment would be anticipated and signaled as the propitious occasion to reform the ceremony of monarchical renewal, outdated by the precession of the equinoxes.
The solution to their problem could be very simple yet revolutionary: to move the ceremony from summer to winter.
The inadequacy of Avebury’s design to accommodate the necessary shift from a static to a dynamic scenario, reflection of the sky, would be the insurmountable motive behind its abandonment.
The entrance of Stonehenge would be, therefore, designed to be oriented towards the rising of Regulus during midwinter, and not, as popularly believed, towards the midsummer sunrise.
The Bluestones placed inside the Sarsen Circle of Stonehenge were collected in Wales, concretely in Preseli Hills, more than 200 km away from Stonehenge, a fact that has puzzled archaeologists, but to which we can now give a compelling reason based on the sky of that epoch.
The kings and princes would gather for the monarchical renewal ceremony in Avebury –later Stonehenge– arriving from different directions, the princes would do it from the east, navigating on the Thames and Kennet Rivers, whereas the kings would arrive from the west, along the Bristol-Avon River.
The people gathered for the monarchical renewal ceremony would live mostly in provisional shelters dismantled at the conclusion, and near to a good source of water. The locations of the living quarters at Avebury have been already suggested for the different participants in the previous installment. In Stonehenge, these quarters could have been at Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, large henge-type structures built by the Salisbury-Avon River. This river was connected to Stonehenge by an avenue of about 3 km in length, which would be for the exclusive use of kings, princes, princesses and priests.
At Stonehenge, the ceremony had to begin exactly at sunset, when the kings (rising Regulus), walking along the avenue, reached the entrance, illuminated by the last solar rays filtered through the stones. The regicides would happen when Leo culminated and reflected inside the Sarsen Circle.
The crowing ceremony would start when Corona Borealis reached the zenith, and it would finish with the following sunrise, some minutes later, when the princes would be declared as new kings.
Once the ceremony was over, the kings would navigate southwards on the Salisbury-Avon River, into the English Channel and from there to Carnac in Brittany to erect the stones in memory of their fathers, the late kings.
Avebury is a huge megalithic complex in the south of England. It comprises several stone circles, avenues, enclosures, mounds and long barrows, being its principal element a large henge (ca. 400 m in diameter), a type of megalithic construction consisting of a stone ring (the largest in Europe) surrounded by a ditch and a bank.
Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. As a matter of fact, I am going to propose which could have been that ceremonial usage, and describe the ritual performed in it.
The first signs of activity at this megalithic complex can be traced back to the first half of the 4th millennium BC, but it was not until the end of this millennium that construction took on a larger scale, about the same time than in Carnac.
The complex has suffered severe damage, mostly from the 14th century AC onwards due to farming and religious zealotry, although reports from antiquarians and archaeological research have helped to reconstruct virtually its original aspect.
Inside the henge there are two extra stone rings; the north one containing three large stones (two extant) at its center known as The Cove, and the south one containing a single tall monolith called The Obelisk (non–extant) along with an alignment of smaller stones.
The henge had four opposing entrances, the south one connected with an avenue, the West Kennet Avenue, formed by paired standing stones that ended on top of a hill, at a wooden circle called The Sanctuary. A similar avenue, the Beckhampton Avenue, led out from the western entrance of the henge towards a structure called The Longstones.
A huge man-made mound, the largest in Europe (pre-modern times), known as Silbury Hill, is the other great element of the complex. It has a conical shape with an imposing height of 40 m ended in a platform that was reached by a spiraling ramp around the mound. Silbury Hill was erected near the source of the Kennet River.
Here we are proposing that Avebury was built as the venue where the Megalith Builders renewed their monarchy. The whole complex was designed as a schematic representation of the celestial scene visible during the heliacal rising of Orion’s brightest star, Rigel, some days after midsummer.
Avebury functioned, therefore, like a huge scenario where kings and princes enacted the drama they interpreted was being played in the sky.
The Alignments of Carnac are near the coasts of Brittany (NW peninsula of France), and constitute the largest and most spectacular megalithic monument in the world. This extraordinary complex contains more than 3,000 standing stones, huge granite menhirs aligned in several rows along approximately 4 km, divided into three main modules and a last one much smaller and degraded.
Many hypotheses have been raised, some really unusual, to explain the purpose of these alignments; for example, an antiquarian of the last century suggested that it could be the fossil of a large snake. Others suggested that it might be a Roman camp, or a way to temples disappeared, or even a prehistoric earthquake detector. A local legend says that they were Roman soldiers petrified by God while they were chasing St Cornelius, the local saint. Alexander Thom proposed, as he did with many other megalithic monuments, that they could have been an ancient astronomical observatory.
However, the most accepted hypothesis is that they formed a huge necropolis; in fact, in the vicinity of the alignments there are several mounds with a more obvious funerary purpose, such as that of Saint-Michel, one of the oldest megalithic constructions.
A colossal monument such as the Alignments of Carnac necessarily requires an equally colossal labor in its construction. Archaeology is faced with the dilemma of finding a megalithic society that complies with the grandeur of its monuments. What type of social organization would allow such a display? We should keep in mind that we are talking about the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, i.e. the European Megaliths Builders preceded the considered as the earliest civilizations, those of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
I propose as a working hypothesis that the builders of the Alignments of Carnac could have belonged to a solar culture, politically organized as a confederation of about ten kingdoms, each governed by a king who ruled for a fixed period of time established by a cycle of heaven. This monument in particular would be the royal mausoleum, each stone representing one of the kings of their history.
I entered into the subject of this blog with the archaeological and astronomic expertise of an amateur, ignorant about the ideas that only later I found out are so dominant about the prehistoric people.
After several years of studying this subject I arrived to the conclusion that, if we really want to have a coherent view about our prehistoric ancestors, we need to relinquish some preconceived ideas, no matter how useful they were up to now.
We must elevate our eyes to the sky while keeping the feet on the ground, because the landscape they interacted with was the land below, the seas around and the sky above, without sharp demarcations in between.
It is impossible to be absolutely objective in writing about history, much the less about pre-history, when instead of written documents we have rock carvings, when the archaeological remains have been ravaged by the pass of millennia, and when the artifacts have been retrieved mostly from tombs. The academic interpretations equate the lack of archaeological remains to no-existence, from where only very limited hypothesis can arise. Restraining judgment only to the physical evidences can render interpretations as deviate from reality as giving free rein to the imagination, both equally off the mark.
This blog will begin by investigating the people who inhabited Western Europe during the Neolithic Age, known as “Megalith Builders” because they used big (mega) stones (lith) in some of their constructions. We’ll find out that they were neither tribal people dressed with furs that lived in scattered chiefdoms where aggression and superstition ruled supreme, nor they constituted a paradisiacal society. We will see that they could have had customs closer to our understanding of a classical culture, organized in societies expanding over large territories, able to navigate long distances and, overall, reached a deep understanding of the cycles of life and death, of the interconnection between the Earth below, the sky above and the humans in between.
This blog is based on the assumption that much of the knowledge of the Megalith Builders’ culture may not be properly represented in the archaeological record, but it may have survived and reached us encapsulated in myths, as well as in all kind of cultural, political and religious manifestations of modern society. We could say that this blog is going to interpret the results of a very special archaeological excavation, one that does not dig on the soil but on the prehistoric stratum where the memoirs of our megalithic ancestors remain stored in our collective unconscious.
I hope the readers who will open the pages of this blog will equally open their minds and will be able to see our prehistoric ancestors under the new light that reveals them as tremendously curious people and adventurous travelers whose main legacy is not so much the big stones of their monuments but the foundation of our civilization.
The first three mysteries will be the three most monumental megalithic sites: The Alignments of Carnac, the stone ring of Avebury, and Stonehenge.
Note: Now you may read all the information at once and in detail in my new book: “Sailors of Stonehenge.”