Stonehenge and Civilisation

Does history go in circles or is it more like a piece of string? CJStone sets out to discover the secrets of Stonehenge.

The Megalithic Yard

I took my son to Stonehenge to watch the midsummer sunrise. It was the first time that he had seen the monument close up. He was not all that impressed. “It’s not as big as I thought it would be,” he said.

I can’t blame him for that. Compared to a modern skyscraper Stonehenge does, indeed, appear small. It has to be put into context for the sheer scale of the achievement to be understood.

The people who built Stonehenge probably hadn’t invented the wheel yet. They knew nothing of modern engineering methods and had nothing but stone axes and bone shovels to create this extraordinary monument.

It probably took over a thousand years to build, from its first to its last, and was in constant use for several thousand years after that. Indeed, you could say that it has never really gone out of use, if my visit to see the sunrise with Joe can be counted too. Who are we but the latest in a long line of visitors come to admire and wonder at this mysterious structure?

The question then has to be: why? Why did these ancient people go to all this trouble, dragging these huge stones over all those distances to make a circle in the middle of nowhere? What, exactly, is its purpose?

This, of course, is the subject of much debate.

Was it a temple or an observatory? Is its purpose religious or scientific?

The problem with questions like these is that they seek to divide the world according to modern concepts. Why not both? Maybe the people who built it were neither one nor the other, but both. Astronomer-priests, perhaps. Engineering-magicians.

What is clear is that whoever was responsible for it may have understood some very remarkable things. For example, if the work of the Scottish engineer Alexander Thom is right, then it was built using a unit of measurement (the so-called “Megalithic Yard”) which turns out to be an exact proportion of the circumference of the earth. In other words, the people who built Stonehenge not only knew that the earth was round, they even knew it’s exact size.

How long is a piece of string?

The usual response when confronted with information like this is disbelief. People either deny it completely, or they ascribe the knowledge to some outside source, such as alien beings from another planet, or to supernatural intervention. What we cannot believe is that our ancestors may have had access to sources of information that we have since lost.

This is because we think that history is like a piece of string. We imagine a straight line from some technologically inferior past to a well-informed present. From dumb to clever, from stone axes to mobile phones. But any clear understanding of the process makes it obvious that it is more like a wheel. History goes in cycles, from dumb to clever and back again, on a regular basis.

So, for instance, in medieval times we thought the world was flat, that the sun went round the earth and that the king had a right to rule his subjects absolutely. We were dumb. The ancient Greeks, however, two thousand years before that, knew that the earth was round and went round the sun and that people fared better as a society when they were allowed to make their own decisions democratically. They were clever.

The people who built Stonehenge, over five thousand years ago, only had stone axes. But they knew the size of the earth. They lived in wooden huts and cooked food on an open fire. But they understood how to measure the stars.

Meanwhile we’ve invented TV, we have mobile phones and SatNav and we fly all over the world in jet aircraft. But all we watch on TV are variations of Big Brother, we’ve lost our sense of purpose in life and we’re busy messing up the world for future generations.

So – now - who is really dumb?

More by this Author


Comments 21 comments

AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Well, Big Brother and things like that are distractions designed to prevent us watching what our elected masters are doing. So some of us (The political and corporate elites) are smart and some are dumb. Today it is Big Brother not religion that is the opium of the people. Religion is the hallucinogen of the people.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

I have always been intrigued by Stonehenge and how it was built and by whom and for what purpose? Life is full of intrigues and it certainly will keep us guessing. I wonder what our future space journeyers will say when they look back at earth and wonder about what we built or accomplished for that matter:0) There is so much mystery in the world and Stonehenge is just one of thousands. Enjoyed your hub.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

I am in full agreement, Chris - I do a lot of writing about ancient science, and I find that modern humanity is very arrogant towards our ancestors. They built great monuments, developed agricultural techniques, performed sophisticated mathematics and travelled great distances, sharing information and ideas.

We certainly do seem to be in a dumb cycle - I hope that we can climb out, but the return to cleverness usually involves strife :(


Blue Crow profile image

Blue Crow 6 years ago from Yorkshire

I always find it bigger than I remember... you are right about cycles of dumbness though. I find that when religion has been the strongest denominator, the population has generally been far dimmer. Good hub


lynne morgan 6 years ago

I use a metal axe, know the size of the earth, live in a wooden hut, cook food on an open fire, understand how to measure the stars and DON'T watch TV. Love it!


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 6 years ago from West Virginia

I agree with Blue Crow, Religions have been a stumbling block of true knowledge. Instead of focussing on what we know they want to punish those who want to find out and make it some evil thing. We certainly are not learning from the past. I have watched many of the programs on Engineering An Empire to surmize that we were very smart and very intelligent with what we did have to use. I think Rome (Christianity) made us lazy or made us prisoners to their thinking.


nextstopjupiter profile image

nextstopjupiter 6 years ago from here, there and everywhere

I believe that the people who built Stonehenge had no financial system which destroyed the planet, and I believe that these people lived in social structures based on cooperation ..., they were rather educated than manipulated. Thank you for this interesting hub!


knell63 profile image

knell63 6 years ago from Umbria, Italy

Great story, I've driven to Stonehenge from the Preselli Mountains in West Wales where the blue stones are from.That was hard enough with a wife and dog, I'd hate to imagine what it was like dragging a massive lump of rock as well.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

knell63, they must have brought them up the Avon by raft.

nextstopjupiter: they certainly would have had a financial system of some kind, but I agree, it would have been one based on co-operation rather than exploitation.

Hi Lady G: religion is often a method by which an empire can reproduce itself internally. A form of ideology. I think that was true of Roman Christianity.

Hi Lynne: I used the word "we" because I think we are all implicated in this. TV is a great invention, it's what it's used for that's the problem.

Hi Blue Crow, I always find it deeply impressive, especially when you can get in amongst the Stones.

Hi Sufi, where can I see you work on ancient science? It's my belief that the lines weren't drawn so rigidly back then, and that science and religion and art and philosophy were all part of the same discipline.

saddlerider1 I think that Stonehenge provides us with one of the essential mysteries of our humanity as it brings into question the idea that stone age people were primitive. Stonehenge is the work of a great and sophisticated civilisation.

AlexK2009 : agree that Big Brother and its like are distractions, but I also think that the economic elites are dumb since we are all in this together and if they make the world uninhabitable for humans then they're just as buggered as the rest of us.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Hi Chris

I write for a site at:

http://www.experiment-resources.com/research-proce...

He is in the process of uploading a few more batches of articles, including Mesopotamia, Roman Engineering, megalithic science and the Mayans. I share the same view as you - the ancients did not try to put knowledge into boxes and took a much more holistic approach to learning.

Writing for that site is my favourite assignment - I am currently writing about Archimedes and the brilliant Hero of Alexandria :)

Building upon one of the comments above, religion is a double edged sword. Much of the ancient knowledge was driven by theology and the quest to find the divine hand underpinning the universe - The Islamic Age was a great example - but religion also caused many dark periods.

I think that philosophy is the key, and acts as the bridge between science and religion - without it, the 'how' overshadows the 'why.'


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Sufi, I'll take a look at that.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK

I first saw Stonehenge as a small child. The place wasn't as crowded and hemmed in in those days. I was with my Dad who was born in the 1920s, and I remember him describing how he had visited the site as a boy. He and his father and his sister walked across the fields on a misty day, and the stones just appeared in front of them. It must have been magical.


H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

Who are the people who built Stonehenge – they are the most enlighten people of the age. We are looking in this age ‘Stonehenge’ as a collection of huge stones. But what it was in that Stone Age, the mystery of which we don’t know. These stones might not be dead but active in many ways which we don’t know in this age. It is alive for endless research study.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

Great piece. Stonehenge has long fascinated me. I appreciated your insights & perspective. Thank you.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Amanda, I like that term "hemmed in" in relation to Stonehenge today. That's exactly how it feels like: kind of trapped somehow. I can imagine coming across it in the mists as your father saw it. What an experience that must have been!

H P Roychoudhury : I agree, the stones are still active in some ways, an endless source of fascination for me.

Thanks Ken: we obviously share an interest.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 6 years ago from India

I hope we aren't in the dumb phase of history, but increasingly it seems as if we are...


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

I think we are Feline. Look at the economic system. It makes a very few people very rich while it impoverishes the rest of us. How dumb is that?


Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 6 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

CJ, great story. Thank you for sharing. Your son is lucky to have seen it


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Yes, it's a great place Granny's House. I'm glad we went there together.


amorea13 6 years ago

CJ thank you - another excellent and very concise hub, full of thought-provoking detail.

I would have to agree about the 'cyclical' aspect of human understanding and knowledge; from 'dumb' to 'clever' (as opposed to 'dumber' as we seem sometimes to be going these days!).

I read somewhere that these megalithic stone-circle builders of Stonehenge (and other henges too around the world) might have erected them as 'signal-interrupters', sort of 'circuit-breakers' for the Electro-Magnetic frequencies that were at that time running through the planetary EM grids.

We know now that these 'frequencies' are vastly important to the 'health' of all planetary bodies. Maybe the megalith-builders knew this back then and that the circles were their attempts at ordering the grid-frequencies. I'm laughing a little here as I wonder if their 'world' was heating up then and that was their way of countering 'global-warming' - possibly a far cleverer way of helping than WE are currently doing!

Anyway, thanks again for a great hub. Your work is always interesting CJ.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Interesting thoughts amorea13. This monument certainly invites endless happy speculation. "Signal-interrupters" now! How fascinating.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working