I’ve only just now been able to watch Part II of Operation Stonehenge, but over the past few days, various friends and relatives of mine had contacted me to say how much they enjoyed it, so these are the best accolades the programme could get. This installment was as visually stunning as the first, with an engaging commentary and a good few ‘new’ elements for those people who don’t study the monument closely or else follow developments there on a regular basis, but I found it strangely dissatisfying.
The reason for this is because I feel the series could have done with a third installment to do the discoveries and the achievements of our ancestors full justice. While some people will doubtless think this is a quibbling complaint, I’ll just say that I could have watched a great deal more of what Anthony Johnson and Rob Irving had to say about the geometry of Stonehenge, because their contributions were over far too quickly, before they’d had any kind of opportunity to really engage the viewer with the results of their fascinating studies. They were able to present no more than a fleeting glimpse of the mathematical skills of our ancestors, so I can’t help feeling I was robbed of all manner of food for thought as far as this aspect of the monument is concerned.
By contrast, I didn’t feel I learned a great deal from the other well-intended contributions from senior archaeologists, because what they had to say seemed to me to be pretty much a re-run of their nonetheless illuminating views from Part I. The re-enactment of a “ritual human sacrifice” at Stonehenge was visually pleasing and atmospheric, but I suppose I wasn’t remotely surprised to learn that no effort whatsoever was made to throw any light on precisely why this unfortunate man was killed with arrows in around 2,300 BC; all the same, it made me grateful for the fact that I’d written about this in great detail about 5 or 6 years ago, I forget which.
Otherwise, I was intrigued to learn that a prehistoric archer’s wrist-guard had originated in Spain, something that will presumably interest others who share my near obsession with the Silures tribe, but while I was pleased with the fleeting diagram on the screen showing where different Stonehenge artefacts had originated, the image was gone before I could appreciate it. While I’m not outright condemning the contributions made by the assembled archaeological experts, I couldn’t help feeling they were uninspired and that the speakers were largely going through the motions, which served to make the contributions from others all the more fascinating.
I was mightily impressed by the reconstruction of the Bronze Age boat, but just as I felt the revelations about Stonehenge geometry from Anthony Johnson were rudely curtailed, then so I could have listened to the man who built the Bronze Age boat for far longer than he appeared on screen. And finally, for me, the single most intriguing contribution to the whole programme came from Willard Wigan MBA, a man rightly renowned for his micro-sculptures, who demonstrated just how difficult it was to work at the level required to make the tiny gold pins from the Bush Barrow burial and who concluded it must have been the work of children, although I’d have loved to have heard a great deal more of what this skilled and insightful man had to say. I’ve probably been aware of these gold pins for decades, but nonetheless, in all that time, it had never once occurred to me to seriously question how they came into being, which in turn makes me wonder how often and where else I’ve been staring into the mist and tripping over the stone at my feet.