***image1***Some years ago when reflecting on my first visit to Stonehenge in 1975, I realised the monument was a very complex construction indeed and that ‘Woolly-minded savages’ could never have undertaken such a mammoth building project.
As a child I had believed, without question, everything I had been told at school about the pre-history of Britain. Yet, I was faced with evidence erected in stone, which contradicted everything I understood to be the truth.
Certain of our forefathers had to have been remarkably intelligent to have constructed enormous earthworks like Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill. Yet I had never once been given the slightest indication concerning the truth of the situation. Indeed, in 1975 the official guidebook to Avebury and Stonehenge contained suggestions regarding the actual methods of construction, which were a positive insult to the intelligence.
I tried to put myself in the position of the people from the earliest Stonehenge period, using criteria provided by orthodox archaeological thinking. New dates for the earliest origins of the site had been re-evaluated to about 5,000 BC. Consequently, I assessed the practicalities facing a group of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers intent on building the henge during what is called Phase I. I believe they might have had to deal with the following major difficulties:
Problem 1: The folk of these islands were supposed to have been ‘hunterâ€‘gatherers’, which meant they spent a lot of time locating food simply to exist. So the first major difficulty emerged – how much time would have been available for building a henge?
Problem 2: Assume a Stone Age/Mesolithic spiritual ‘spark’ conceived the bright idea of building a vast henge including deep ditches, banks, with a few standing stones positioned around it to mark the seasons for ritual purposes. The second difficulty then manifested – who actually mapped out the sophisticated henge design and why choose to construct it in this particular location?
Problem 3: Our Stone Age visionary had to convince his companions to help him build Stonehenge in honour of their Sun god or local deity. How do you convince your fellows to undertake a vast construction with little hope of seeing it completed? The third difficulty had to be the problem of persuasion.
Problem 4: The would-be builders must have hunted a considerable number of deer, to provide everyone with enough deerâ€‘antler picks to execute all the ditch digging and earth moving. The fourth difficulty was availability of tools.
Problem 5: We are told the social groups of the time were about fifteen to twenty in number who needed about one square mile per person of fertile landscape, for foraging and hunting. Logically, a group this size would have needed a minimum of twenty square miles in which to hunt, fish, or forage. The fifth difficulty would have been the food supply.
I conceptualised a lush area, five miles by four miles, being used to feed a small group of hunter-gatherers. Yet, Professor Stuart Piggott, a recognised authority on stone circles and early man, estimated the one hundred and twenty square miles of Salisbury Plain would have supported:
“Only one very small Mesolithic hunting band,
perhaps no more than fifteen adults…”
John Fowles – The Enigma of Stonehenge – Jonathan Cape (1980)
Problem 6: The selection of the site obviously created additional problems for the henge builders. How did primitive, nomadic folk adjust to, or subsist on, a huge project like the building of Stonehenge? Surely, the work must have tied up hundreds of personnel in a comparatively unproductive area, for a long period of time?
If we take an arbitrary figure of one hundred hengeâ€‘building men, they might have needed at least two hundred and fifty other active men, women and children to help feed and cater for them whilst undertaking their hengeâ€‘building and ditch-digging duties. Theoretically, as hunter-gatherers, those in charge of the food supply would have had to cover at least three hundred and fifty square miles of productive territory, away from the barren Salisbury plain area – a colossal undertaking in primitive conditions, particularly when you remember they would have had to do this virtually every day!
Three hundred and fifty square miles of foraging would have covered an area approximately nineteen miles by nineteen miles. This territory would have to change from day to day; otherwise it would have become totally depleted of foodstuff. If we take Marlborough as a central point, then one area of foraging territory would have stretched to Swindon in the North, Calne in the West, Devizes in the Southwest, Pewsey Downs to the South and Hungerford in the East.
The one hundred ditch diggers might require two deerâ€‘antler picks apiece, which suggests an initial total of one hundred head of deer to be rounded up and killed; quite an achievement in itself. Certainly, this would have provided food for everyone, but how did they store the meat and prevent it from rotting, or being stolen by wild animals? Perhaps they corralled the deer and only slaughtered them when necessary, yet this would have needed a colossal amount of ‘animal feed’ for extended periods of time and presupposes animal husbandry skills too.
Are we looking at a rudimentary type of early farming people? Did they grow food to sustain the henge builders? Or did they only work on the henge during the months of winter? Certainly, this would have helped to alleviate the problem of rotting food.
However, such widespread culling of deer would have had a disastrous effect on the natural food chain, threatening the ecological balance in the area. There does not appear to be any evidence to show that such an imbalance did occur. Unless the henge-builders were actually responsible for creating the barren wilderness Professor Piggott describes?
Given the barrenness of Salisbury plain, it seems unlikely deer existed around the Stonehenge site in sufficient numbers to make this a viable thesis. Indeed, from the information given, such a vast hengeâ€‘building project would have to include at least 20-25 different groups of people, who probably came from widely divergent areas to work together on a major religious artefact. Yet, they would never have lived to see the henge completed in their short lifetimes. I cannot conceive of this working out logistically, or psychologically, can you?
The situation becomes a logistical nightmare when you include the Avebury and Silbury Hill building projects in the equation as well. The three sites must have involved colossal construction programmes, rivalling the pyramids in ancient Egypt. I contend all the foregoing suggests there must have been some kind of superior organisation on a vast scale about which we know absolutely nothing.
Exactly how was it all done? How many people were involved? What prompted them to do it? Perhaps we will never know.
Peter Quiller had an extraordinary meeting with a cosmic energy in 1975 that he came to know as ‘Merlin’. It changed his life in that he severed all his connections with his previous career in the film industry to return to full-time higher education. After having graduated with honors from the University Hertfordshire with a degree in English and Drama, Peter became a fully qualified teacher in 1992.
For ten years he taught both disciplines, whilst continuing his magical and geomantic interests. On a number of occasions he has been requested by Merlin to perform certain geomantic rituals and over the decades, has been studying and rediscovering the Round Table of Britain. These have formed the basis of four books, which appear under the umbrella title of “Quest”. Occasionally, Peter gives lectures about his experiences with Merlin to youth clubs, New Age groups and spiritualist churches.
To contact or find out further information on Peter Quiller and his work with Merlin, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org