Welcome to my annual flurry of posts about books, where I realise I haven’t posted anything in months, have a few weeks of activity, and then get distracted by work and life again.
Anyway, recently I went to the World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum and, as I do, I bought a book. Stonehenge by Rosemary Hill is about how Stonehenge has been interpreted, treated and used throughout the centuries. From the romantic fiction dressed up as fact of Geoffrey of Monmouth to roughly about ten years ago, Hill traces the history of our efforts to understand the ancient monument.
Particularly interesting is how the druid theory has taken on a life of it’s own. Starting as an idea based on nothing much more than a mention of druids by Tacitus, supposedly an eye witness account, and an idea that Stonehenge dated from the Roman era, it has morphed into a movement that sees druids celebrating the summer solstice amongst the stones. We know nothing about the druids as they left no written records. Everything that is said about them is a modern invention. It might be right, but we don’t know.
Hill covers the ownership of Stonehenge, mostly private and the campaigns to acquire it for the nation. Some of those owners chose not to allow any archeaological digs, which given the damage some of the early ones did is probably a good thing. More recent digs have discovered burial mounds, human remains, and evidence of the age of Stonehenge and that it was built in at least three stages.
Stonehenge has inspired art, literature and poetry for centuries. Hill’s explores how it has been used as a canvas for the spiritual and philosophical ideas of the age. She shows how the more bloody, sacrificial interpretations are comnected to times of civil unrest.
This is a thoughtful and engaging book, well researched and constructed. Definitely worth reading.