Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Reading the recent news coverage about the great uncoverage at Stonehenge, how the archaeologists have discovered where the folks lived (or at least hung out) who partied among the stones in the old days, I noted that various articles here and there mentioned that the Stonehenge we now know was begun at around the same time as the pyramids, that Stonehenge was a cemetery monument and that they partied bigtime there, at least during the winter; but the articles never addressed what really got me thinking in regard to all this, a question I have never seen properly addressed, to wit: what happened in the world that suddenly caused completely different groups of people on several distant sides of the globe to go gaga for vast stone monuments of uncertain function?
In Egypt they had a pharaoh and slaves, so a series of wiggy pharaohs with many thousands of free laborers goes a long way toward explaining the pyramids and other mega-items (though it doesn't answer the question that kick-started this ramble). But in the case of Stonehenge, all you've got is a bunch of farmers, herders and warriors - there weren't many career alternatives available in those days - doing their farming, herding and warring, when suddenly one of their number jumps up and says: I've got a fantastic idea, let's do more than just dig a huge circular ditch for a thousand years—why don't a bunch of us just drop whatever it is we're doing and trek as far as 240 miles, to what will one day be called Wales, chip out a four-ton slab of rock over X number of years, using our stone tools - or your bronze tools, if you want to ruin them - then for a few more years roll the big rock slab back here, all at no salary. Waddaya think: sound like fun, or what?
And not only is he not killed on the spot, or run out of the community on a rail, or at least marked forever as a wastrel of everybody's time-- a large number of locals (and their descendants) actually take him (and his descendants) up on it, for 500 years or more! Nobody says 'Sorry Beowulf, I’ve got a wife and kids to support,' or 'My back just went out,' or 'I’m getting married next week,' or 'spring break will be over soon,' or just 'Sorry, Beo baby, but I'm completely sane.'
Instead, several hundred or thousand of them say OK, Big B, I'm in. Let's do it. See you some decades hence, wife and kids, mom and dad. And off they go and do it, chip out the slab for a big chunk of their productive lives, roll and float and roll the monster 240 miles back home on a fleet of logs, precisely dig a big hole, finally drop the stone in so it stands upright, then all fall flat on the ground gasping from exhaustion, when Beowulf jumps up and says: Let's go get another one! And they DO it!! 80 times, give or take, 43 times to Wales, till the whole Stonething was completed or a majority ran out of overtime, whichever came first.
One has the feeling that people were different then. Incomprehensibly different. Imagine trying such a thing now, when you can't even get a plumber. If you tried to talk a bunch of your neighbors into doing such a thing nowadays, What the hell for, would be the first response-- if they ever tried to speak to you rationally again, once they realized you were insane. What did those ancestors have that we don't have, apart from short longevities of free time? Whatever it was, I say we don't look for it. I ran out of overtime years ago; anyway I've got firewood to split and weeds to pull. Plus, I'm completely sane.