Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stonehenge Excavation: A Place of Healing?

Recent news from the BBC - forwarded to me in high excitement from one of our fiction editors who has only just recently flown back from England: this very week excavations are beginning at Stonehenge, the first practical archaeology (meaning digging) to occur there in fifty years. Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill (how thoroughly British their names are!) have secured permission from the British government and funding from BBC Timewatch and the Smithsonian to undertake the dig in order to verify whether there is anything to their theories of Stonehenge's origin.

Archaeologists have been speculating for long decades about who built the monument, where it came from, and when it came to be. Most enthusiasts of archaeology and mysticism know that there are two types of stones at Stonehenge - the massive ring of gray sarsen stones, and the much, much older stones of dolerite that appear eerily blue. These are the 80 stones that somehow traveled 200 miles from Carn Melyn to the site of Stonehenge, in an age that had yet to discover bronzeworking. Some time over 4,000 years ago, something drove the ancestors of the modern Welsh to transport the massive blue stones over all that distance, through the darkness and wet of the stone age English countryside, without roads. Students of Stonehenge have postulated all types of reasons for this feat, reasons astronomical or religious (observatory? burial site? temple to the sun?). Wainwright and Darvill note that many of the human remains that have been disinterred at Stonehenge show signs of sickness or wounds. This has led them to an intriguing theory: that the blue stones may have been believed to hold healing properties - in short, that Stonehenge's purpose was curative, a holy place to which the sick and the dying were brought in hope of healing. Later, the sarsen stones were added in a great circle, but originally there were just the blue healing stones - if that is what they were.

This may be the most fascinating and compelling theory yet advanced, to my mind. Certainly it has struck the powers that be in the United Kingdom as such, and we are now witnessing one of the digs of our century - young as our century is. You can read more about it in the BBC article here, and you can find there two very good documentary-style video clips, one of them an interview with Professor Wainwright.

During the excavation, Stonehenge will remain open to tourists, and large plasma screens will allow them to see details of the work. The dig will last until April 11 (it is a "fortnight" dig - fourteen nights - another very British detail), and the archaeologists hope to verify the date that the blue stones were brought to Stonehenge, and to find further evidence to clarify the stones' purpose. We wish them luck, and hope that whatever they find, whether it deepens or resolves the mystery, will prove wondrous and offer much food for thought.

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