I long ago grew weary of the hyperbole in press releases dealing with new discoveries in the Stonehenge landscape, but the latest announcement by Professor Vince Gaffney seems to be genuinely momentous. It appears that the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project has located something in the region of one hundred resting places for stones beneath the southern bank of Durrington Walls, while it further appears that as many as thirty or forty of these stones may still be there, buried three feet beneath the current ground surface.
Furthermore, some of these stones may be as much as fifteen feet long, while I gather from the announcements that it’s believed – presumably by the staff of the SHLP – that these were first put in place, then deliberately toppled at some later date before being covered by the gigantic bank at Durrington Walls.
If this is true, and I have no good reason to believe otherwise, then it seems to me that it conclusively puts the lie to the theory that nearby Stonehenge was never completed. There’s evidence that nearby Bluestonehenge was once home to as many as twenty-seven standing stones that were later removed, but this figure is dwarfed by the one hundred and sixty or more sarsens and bluestones that once comprised a completed Stonehenge. When we bear in mind the sheer numbers and also the immense size of some of the sarsens, not to mention the way they were brought from enormous distances away and then sculpted – or perhaps sculpted beforehand in Wales, in the case of some of the bluestones – it’s evident that our ancestors were capable of feats of engineering that leave us lagging far behind.
On top of this, the new evidence that as many as one hundred sarsens were brought to Durrington Walls and then raised there before being toppled, or moved elsewhere in some cases, makes unmistakably clear that hundreds of huge stones were being transported around the Stonehenge landscape almost at the whim of the prehistoric builders and once again, this is before we consider the many outsize stones at Avebury, about twenty miles to the north of Stonehenge.
All these figures are hard to take in and I don’t believe it’s truly possibly to grasp the Cyclopean scale of these mysterious works until such time as you’ve visited this strange corner of our planet for yourself. I long ago lost track of the amount of times I’ve visited Stonehenge over the years, but I’ve never failed to be astonished by the intricacy, size and uniqueness of the architecture at the ruins.
The stones at Stonehenge and Avebury are impressive enough, but I don’t think it’s until you’ve also seen the enormous barrow cemeteries, the avenues, the ditches and the banks, as well as the Cursus, Silbury Hill and others, that anyone can truly appreciate the otherworldly vista filled with outsize monuments our ancestors created around Stonehenge and again, this is before we try to consider vanished structures such as pits, wooden palisades, ceremonial walkways, ‘totem’ poles, excarnation platforms and myriad other features of life in the Neolithic.
I have no idea if there are any plans to excavate any of these newly-discovered stones at Durrington Walls, but I doubt it. I can’t help wondering how they’d raise even the smallest stone so as to be able to inspect it from all angles for possible rock art, inscriptions and other markings, while I’d say it’s not unthinkable that each stone might be laying on top of an animal or even a human sacrifice, as well as artefacts linked to the transport and raising of the stone.
It’s certainly a fascinating discovery, so until such time as an archaeological dig seeks to answer some of the many questions posed by the existence of these enigmatic monoliths, I would certainly be inclined to delve deep into the folklore and mythology of the British Isles, as I know from personal experience just how rewarding and enlightening such a literary foray can be when it comes to throwing some light on what are presumed by the majority of people to be the unfathomable mysteries of Stonehenge’s past.