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.


Anonymous said...

hey Robert.
I suppose the cathedrals took decades and decades to construct themselves. Maybe the Sun God told them to build rings.

My mate in Orkney swears the Ring o' Brodgar and the Stones o' Stenness (3100BC) are primitive football fields.....

Robert Brady said...

Football...now that you could organize a crowd around!

Anonymous said...

Back in the 70s - 80s a dude named Eric van Daniken (spelling?) had all the answers to these questions. He got rich selling his books to fools around the globe. Fools like me - I've got all of them, and have read all of them. Don't know what happened to him, but he was widely thought to be a nutcase, which he was, who bilked money from fools, which he did.

But, as nutty as he might have been, I always felt he was onto something with his theories. If only he had stopped short of trying to sensationalize his case just to hype-up the book sales...

Football? Hmmm... yeah, a real possibility... American rules?

Anonymous said...

What makes you think people don't do this type of thing anymore? There's a cathedral in Barcelona that has been under construction for about 100 years. They expect it to take another 100 years to complete.

I was looking at a flickr slideshow a few days ago that showed a big resort/housing complex that was built in Taiwan but then abandoned shortly before completion. Granted that one didn't take generations to build, but it's still just another example of humans building stuff only to abandon it.

And for the record the latest theories from Egyptologists is that the pyramids were built mostly by paid laborers, not slaves.

Football, at least the American version, is another fine example of people gathering together and spending enormous amounts of time and money on something completely pointless, but don't get me started on that... :)

Chancy said...

I have no idea why your post reminded me of this except you mentioned something about getting neighbors together for an impossible task.

A friend of mine did gather together her neighbors for several days at sun down to bang on pots and pans just as the infestation of noisy, pesky,early rising black crows were settling down for their night time nesting in her lot line bamboo. She did have to serve them cocktails however. (the neighbors, not the crows)

Then again they did not have to move any heavy rocks around.

vegetablej said...

Bigger, older, and originally with as many as 154 stones, lying twenty miles north of Stonehenge, is Avebury, called a "temple" in this article (with great pictures). And the shape? How about a serpent passing through a circle? Sounds like a symbol to inspire the ancients, perhaps of the earth, herself.