Once again, the astonishing Antikythera Mechanism is in the news and rightly so, because further detailed study of this intricate device has suggested that it’s older than was previously thought and may have been constructed as early as 205 BC.
I don’t think the significance of this mechanism can be overstated; somewhere here I have a book by the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke, in which he speculated that if Mankind had kept up with the technological advances embodied in the Antikythera Mechanism, we would now probably have spacecraft investigating the nearest stars. I do not know if this is true, but even to a layman such as myself, as far as technology is concerned, it’s evident that someone, somewhere, around 2,000 years ago, came up with at least one device that wouldn’t be matched in its sophistication for around a millennium.
This is all engaging and uplifting stuff, but one thing that stands out for me is the way in which the cognoscenti of the archaeological and scientific worlds are all over the classical sources like a rash, highlighting the fact that Cicero wrote about a device that sounds to some very similar to the Antikythera Mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with exploring avenues such as these, of course, while such things have long been a particular interest of mine, but it still baffles me that there is such a deafening silence when it comes to the matter of how Stonehenge was constructed, around 2,500 years before the Antikythera Mechanism was created.
I refer of course to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who clearly stated that Merlin the magician used engines to dismantle Stonehenge or the Giants’ Dance in its original setting on Mount Killaraus, then used those same engines to transport the stones to Salisbury Plain and then re-erect them in their present form. I’ve gone over this same ground many times before on Eternal Idol, but I think it’s well worth reproducing what Geoffrey of Monmouth had to say on the matter, with my own emphases added:
“Uther accordingly, seeing that they were ready fight, fell upon them straightway at the double-quick. Forthwith the Britons prevailed, and, his Irishmen all cut up and slain, forced Gilloman to flee for his life. When they had won the day they pressed forward to Mount Killaraus, and when they reached the structure of stones rejoiced and marvelled greatly. Whilst they were all standing around, Merlin came unto them and said: ‘Now, my men, try what ye can do to fetch me down these stones! Then may ye know whether strength avail more than skill, or skill than strength.’ Thereupon at his bidding they all with one accord set to work with all manner devices, and did their utmost to fetch down the Dance. Some rigged up huge hawsers, some set to with ropes, some planted scaling ladders, all eager to get done with the work, yet natheless was none of them never a whit the forwarder. And when they were all weary and spent, Merlin burst out on laughing and put together his own engines. At last, when he had set in place everything whatsoever that was needed, he laid the stones down so lightly as none would believe, and when he had laid them down, bade carry them to the ships and place them inboard, and on this wise did they again set sail and returned unto Britain with joy, presently with a fair wind making land, and fetching the stones to their burial-place ready to set up.
When this was reported unto Aurelius, he sent messengers throughout the countries of Britain, bidding summon clergy and laity, and enjoining them when summoned to assemble at the Mount of Ambrius with rejoicing and honour to set up the stones again round the foresaid burial-place. Accordingly, in obedience to the edict, came pontiffs and abbots and folk of every single order or condition that were his subjects, and when all were met together on the day appointed, Ambrosius set the crown upon his own head and celebrated the ‘Whitsuntide festival right royally, giving up the three following days running to the holiday. Meanwhile such honours as lacked a holder he distributed as bounties unto them of his household as rewards for their toil in his service. At that time two of the Metropolitan Sees, York, to wit, and the City of the Legions, were vacant without their shepherds. Wherefore, being minded to consult the common wish of his peoples, he gave York unto Samson, a man of high dignity and illustrious by the depth of his piety; and Caerleon unto Dubricius, whom the providence of God had before singled out as like to be right serviceable in that same place. And when he had settled these and other matters in his realm, he bade Merlin set up the stones that he had brought from Ireland around the burial-place. Merlin accordingly obeyed his ordinance, and set them up about the compass of the burial-ground in such wise as they had stood upon Mount Killaraus in Ireland, and proved yet once again how skill surpasseth strength.”
From this account, it’s evident that the engineers of the time couldn’t even dismantle Stonehenge, let alone entertain any realistic notion of reconstructing it, while it’s also clear that Merlin used engines of a different kind from any of those known at the time. I realise that Geoffrey was almost certainly describing 12th century mechanisms when he wrote of ‘huge hausers, ropes, scaling ladders…and all manner of devices”, but nonetheless, what he has to say on the matter makes clear that Merlin used an entirely different kind of technology to any known to Geoffrey or to engineers of his time.
My late friend Alex Down worked on the famous Bluestonehenge dig and while he was there, he took a photograph (which I have here somewhere) of an empty stone hole that had presumably once contained a bluestone. The startling aspect of this photo was the fact that the packing stones around the base were undisturbed, which suggests to me and to everyone else who saw it that the 6 ton bluestone had been raised vertically when it was removed. Quite how the Neolithic engineers achieved this near-miraculous feat is anyone’s guess, but it tells me that Geoffrey of Monmouth was once again entirely accurate about yet another aspect of the monument that had come into being over four millennia before his time.
It would be the simplest thing for me to write for hours more about how Geoffrey of Monmouth was ‘mysteriously’ right about so many elements of Stonehenge, such as his statement (that I’ve highlighted above) that people from all parts of the British Isles had a part in the original construction of Stonehenge, something that seems to have been confirmed recently by our archaeologists.
However, my point is this – if the Antikythera Mechanism had not been discovered, then anyone poring over classical texts and suggesting that the ancient Greeks had once built sophisticated robots, automata or analogue computers would have been laughed to scorn and banished to The Outer Darkness. However, it has been found, so certain ancient texts are now being viewed in an entirely different and more favourable light, presumably because the author lived so close to the time that the wondrous mechanism was created.
With Stonehenge, we have a monument that I would say is equally remarkable, when we consider its antiquity, the sheer size and amount of the stones, the distances they were brought, the intricacy of the architecture, the difficulty in working stones with a composition that makes some of them just about as tough as steel and the undeniable fact that no one’s yet come up with a convincing explanation for how all this was achieved. It patently exists, albeit in a ruined state, while we have a written document that has proved to be fantastically accurate when it comes to precise details of the monument’s construction.
We also have evidence that at least one 6 ton stone was somehow raised vertically into the air by the early “Stonehengineers”, but because none of our archaeologists can bring themselves to bite the bullet and concede that Geoffrey of Monmouth was right – almost certainly because of a Druidic oral tradition – then the mesmerising question of “Merlin’s Engines” remains unexplored.
By most people, at any rate.