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STONEHENGE The ignorance, with fabulous discourse, Robbing fair Art and cunning of their right, Tells how those stones were by the devil's

force from Africa brought to Ireland in a night, And thence to Britannie, by magick course, From `giants' hand redeemed by Merlin's


Looking back The wonderful and mysterious stone monument called Stonehenge has puzzled and mystified mankind for over fourteen centuries. The poem above was written by Samuel Danyel in 1624 in response to the earliest written acknowledgement of Stonehenge in the History of the Kings, "This year (483 a.d.) Giants' Dance (the gigantic arrangement of stones) was brought not by force (the work of men) but by Merlin's Art (magic), from Ireland to Stonehenge."

Imagine gathering a group of relatives, friends and neighbors to move some very large, fifty ton stones at least twenty miles. Imagine that you do not have any machines. Imagine that you do not have any wheels, or cables. Imagine also, that you do not have any roads--only dirt paths--to follow. Imagine that you would like to stand these stones up and make a sort of enclosure or meeting place, but you do not have any bulldozers or steam shovels or even any concrete. Think of how long it would take and how hard it would be to do this kind of work.

The history of Stonehenge Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain in Southwest England, is one of nearly nine hundred circular stone monuments found in the British Isles. Archaeologists have concluded that Stonehenge must have been constructed in three specific stages spanning more than seven hundred years. The first stage occurred about 2700 B.C. when the Neolithic people constructed a circular earthen bank about 300' (91m) in diameter. Inside the space they erected a large thirty-five ton crude boulder. This stone is now called the Heelstone or Sunstone.

The second stage occurred about 2100 B.C. when the Beaker people, named after their highly sophisticated pottery, arrived in Britain from the Continent through the Low Countries. They constructed a double circle of approximately eighty-two bluestones in the inner part of the Stonehenge circle. The bluestones came from the Prescelly Mountains of South Wales. They weigh up to seven tons each, and are named for their blue-gray color. The stones were probably carried on rafts up the Bristol Channel to the Avon estuary. It is estimated that it would have taken thirty-two men more than a month to move a stone from the river over land to the Stonehenge site.

The people of the Bronze Age (about 2000 B.C.) were the next architects of the Stonehenge monument. The architectural craftsmanship of these people is clearly reflected in the remarkable "post and lintel" structures which they introduced in Stonehenge. They erected a complete circular edifice, one-hundred feet in diameter, from a hard and durable sandstone called sarsen. The sarsen stones, weighing up to fifty tons, were brought about twenty-five miles from quarries of Marlborough Downs. Each stone was carefully shaped and dressed. The circle consisted of regularly spaced rectangular uprights with continuous-curved, interlocking lintels. They also erected five large "trilithons" (Greek, meaning three stones) in a horseshoe shape inside the circle. Each trilithon was a freestanding post and lintel structure, increasing in height from the open end of the horseshoe to the tallest one at the opposite end.

Historians believe Stonehenge served as a temple for rituals, and as a primitive conception of the solar and life forces. They also believe it was the basic feature and landmark of the knowledge system of the Druids, serving as a calendar and astronomical guide. However, the thirty uprights of the sarsen circle, representing the days of the lunar month, may be solely symbolic and not astronomically functional. The same could apply to the nineteen-bluestone horseshoe symbolically representing he nineteen-year moon cycle. The early period of Stonehenge seems to be more associated with lunar and solar observations, while the last phase appears to emphasize the awe-inspiring architecture, perhaps more closely linked to religion than astronomy. The Druids seem to have developed the belief in the ritualistic use of Stonehenge. To this day, modern-day Druids, the Ancient Order of Druid Hermetists, assemble at Stonehenge on a Midsummer's Eve and keep a watch to see the sun rise over the Sunstone. In ancient days a sacrificial victim was executed as the sun's rays first touched the stone.

Comparing The circular form used by the builders of Stonehenge has been part of virtually every culture. This common form, called the Mandala, has appeared throughout history as a universal symbol of integration, harmony and transformation. The Mandala is a symbol of the cycle of life and death, of the progression of planets and stars, of the earth's seasons and cycles.

This circular symbol can be found today in many contemporary works. Beverly Pepper's Basalt Ritual is an example. This multi-columned sculpture made of basalt stone invokes many of the sensibilities embodied in Stonehenge. Placement, scale, vertically and open spaces suggest an otherworldliness somewhere between architecture and sculpture. The simple, geometric forms and texture of Pepper's work create a timeless presence.

What rituals might take place here? How might they be similar to or different from the rituals of Stonehenge? Both structures possess an air of mystery and quiet awe. What are their messages?

PHOTO : Beverly Pepper, Basal Ritual, 1985-86. Basalt stone, 7'11" (24m) high; 4'11" (15m)

PHOTO : diameter of base. Courtesy Andre Emmerich Gallery.
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Title Annotation:Looking-Learning
Author:Doornek, Richard R.
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Environmental installation.
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