Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Message of Stonehenge

Stonehenge has tantalized and mystified generations.  These monumental stones were not only arrayed in some incomprehensible pattern--the stones came from many different locations, some of them very far away.  What was its purpose?

A ten year archaeological investigation has resulted in a conclusion: Stonehenge was "a monument to unify the peoples of Britain after a long period of conflict and regional differences."

When Stonehenge was built,” said Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, “there was a growing island-wide culture – the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast. This was very different to the regionalism of previous centuries. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification.”

This all happened some 5,000 years ago., at about the midpoint (so far) in the history of human civilization.

The people who built Stonehenge selected a site of particular importance--because like monuments thousands of miles away (in the U.S. for instance) it does align with solar and lunar events. Professor Parker Pearson said: “When we stumbled across this extraordinary natural arrangement of the sun’s path being marked in the land, we realized that prehistoric people selected this place to build Stonehenge because of its pre-ordained significance. This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solstitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else. Perhaps they saw this place as the centre of the world.”

The particulars of this history are so far lost to us.  Only so much can be inferred from surviving evidence.  In a way it is as mythical as the United Federation of Planets posited in the Star Trek future: another instance of peoples coming together after a self-destructive time. 

But it is the kind of myth we need.  We can guess that within us there is the possibility of coming together to solve our common problems.  It is worth something to suggest that even on this scale, humans have done so before.  That they may have done so by affirming the natural, the cosmic rightness of it, is perhaps the most heartening of all.

[The bottom photo is an official White House photo of President Obama with Nichelle Nichols, who not only played Uhura on Star Trek, but successfully recruited minority astronauts for NASA.  The photo was taken some months ago but posted recently by Nichelle.]

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