I accept that in our enlightened age, with our limited attention spans, there are stern, Procrustean strictures in place even when it comes to writing about momentous discoveries in the Stonehenge landscape, but I still can’t help feeling that journalists and archaeologists alike have missed several opportunities to elicit curiosity and wonderment as far as the recently-announced discoveries at Blick Mead are concerned.
To begin with, this BBC report alludes to the sophistication of the Mesolithic structure at Blick Mead, which was apparently in use for a period of around ninety years from 4336 BC. It is clear that the builders used their wits and ingenuity in a variety of ways when constructing this abode, but this is to forget that around four thousand years earlier, the ancestors of these same ‘Old People’ put in a place an enigmatic structure just a hundred yards or so from Stonehenge itself. This monument consisted of three massive pine posts that may have stood individually or else may have formed a single edifice whose precise form and function are apparently lost to us, although I personally doubt it.
This structure or monument amazed the archaeologists who discovered it in the 1960s, when an area was being cleared for what was then the forthcoming visitors car park, because up until that point, it was believed that the ‘Mesolithic’ people possessed neither the ability nor the desire to create large monuments of any kind.
To build this ‘thing’ must have required considerable effort on the part of the Old People, because even if they didn’t fell the trees in question, but instead found them already toppled as the result of a storm, perhaps, they would still have needed to lop the branches and roots off, trim both ends, drag them to the chosen site then put them in place by digging deep pits and somehow haul these massive posts upright, after which they’d have packed them firmly to ensure they remained in place.
It’s perfectly possible that these posts were further adorned, before taking their place as a monument, with carvings of an abstract, symbolic or even representative nature, but before any of this happened, there must have been a clear vision in the minds of the builders of what they would put in place, accompanied perhaps by some driving need as well. I say this because I think it unlikely that these people would suddenly abandon the habits of a lifetime (or era) to erect a huge, anomalous monument on a whim, at a time when they were at a loose end, but others will doubtless have their own views on this.
One aspect of this structure that particularly interests me is the fact that no Mesolithic artefacts were ever found in the area surrounding it, to the best of my knowledge. If this structure had been an idol or some shrine to which the Old People directed their prayers and offerings, I would have thought that they’d have left some trace of their presence there over the centuries or even millennia when this site was revered, but I’m not aware that anything of this nature has ever come to light. This leads me to think that it was some prehistoric ‘Holy of Holies’ that only the very elect could approach and that it was something intended to be viewed, adored or even feared from afar.
Either way, we know that around four thousand years before the Blick Mead abode was built, the people of this far-off era were perfectly capable of highly ambitious engineering feats. So, unless there were some intervening Mesolithic Dark Age, when all knowledge of these things was somehow lost, only to be discovered again through trial and error, it seems to be that the men and women at Blick Mead in or around 4,000 BC had inherited, retained and profited from an immensely long tradition that doubtless included other areas of interest to them in addition to construction skills.
As for any possible echoes of the Mesolithic at Stonehenge, then I noticed in the aforementioned reports that ‘exotic’ stones from outside the area had been used in the construction of the dwelling at Blick Mead. I don’t know how many stones were involved, nor do I know how big there were or from how far afield they’d been transported to their final resting place, but it naturally made me think of the later bluestones being brought to Stonehenge from as far afield as Wales.
As for the Blick Mead dwelling or house, then we know that it was fashioned from a natural feature, something that immediately made me think of Stonehump, the apparently natural feature at Stonehenge where charcoal dating back to 7,200 BC or thereabouts had been discovered during the excavation conducted there by professors Darvill and Wainwright, Stonehump being depicted on the diagram below as a shaded blue spot.
Then there is the mystery surrounding the various animal bones that were discovered at the bottom of the original ditch at Stonehenge. This structure had been built in around 3,000 BC, yet it was later discovered that some of the animal bones had been curated or kept above ground, possibly for as long as two hundred years, before they were carefully placed at the bottom of the ditch.
One bone found in a pit at the base of one of the sarsens at Stonehenge was around six thousand years old, or eight centuries older than the others found in the ditch, so when we consider the woeful excavation and recording of finds at Stonehenge under Hawley and Atkinson, it seems perfectly possible that there were other remains of extreme antiquity deliberately put in place during the earliest years of Stonehenge.
As fascinating and tantalising as all this may be in our search for meaningful links between the very earliest known structures at Stonehenge and the people who previously lived, died and built their monuments there, it is sadly nothing more than unscientific wishful thinking. It is after all A Well-Known Fact that the Mesolithic Era ended precisely at the stroke of midnight on December 31st 4,000 BC and with it, of course, died every last one of the myths, legends, sagas, tales, memories, rituals, ceremonies, languages, beliefs, taboos, folklore, customs, observances, dreams, aspirations, hopes, fears, skills, inclinations, abilities and scraps of knowledge that might otherwise have formed an enduring legacy of the Old People.
“Imagination takes us to worlds that never were, but without it, we go nowhere”.