A few days ago, I was drawn to look at Simon Banton’s excellent Stonehenge Monument site and I saw this intriguing article dealing with what was described as the “LV Question Mark” on Stone 156. The detailed, lengthy post consists almost entirely of a reproduced short paper, composed by John Thurnam and read out at the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society’s annual meeting on November 24th 1864, while Simon has added a letter that appeared in The Daily Graphic of Saturday Oct 12th 1901, which was written by T.H. Thomas of Cardiff and which included and referred to another letter written by George E. Robinson, a man who had in 1880 made a rubbing of the curious engraving.
As you’ll see if you follow the link and read the feature, Thurnam’s paper and Robinson’s letter contain much information and speculation about the nature and meaning of this engraving, but as no one in the twenty-first century seems to have offered any further opinion, I thought I’d write down what I thought when I first saw the strange engraving.
To begin with, George Robinson gave it as his opinion that the engraving was coeval or contemporary with Stonehenge itself, but this view seems to be firmly contradicted by a witness by the name of Mr John Zillwood, who seems to have been sure that the marking first appeared in 1819. However, a hedger and ditcher by the name of John Spreadbury recounted a detailed and convincing account that suggests that this engraving appeared no earlier than 1827 or 1828.
Now, anyone who has taken the time and the trouble to so much as glance at the voluminous available evidence will be well aware that there’s an overwhelming case for the ancient Druids having a long association with Stonehenge, but if not, this is something I intend to write up and publish as a priority. In the meantime, I will simply point out once more that William Stukeley popularised the idea of Stonehenge as a Druid temple with the publication in 1740 of his book Stonehenge, A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids.
Another prominent figure of that period, born seven years after the publication of Stukeley’s book, was the much-maligned Edward Williams, better known to us perhaps by his bardic name of Iolo Morganwg. This gentleman built on Stukeley’s work and claimed that ancient Druidic tradition had survived catastrophes such as the Roman invasion of 43 AD, the conversion of the British Isles to Christianity and so forth, while he founded the ongoing Gorsedd of Welsh bards in 1792 and published great reams of poetry in a successful attempt to further revive and popularise the Druidic tradition.
I mention all this because Iolo Morganwg departed this veil of tears on December 18th 1826, which to my mind coincides very well with the aforementioned John Spreadbury’s account suggesting that the strange “LV Question Mark” engraving appeared around the same time. When I look at the letters LV in this engraving, I see the Roman numerals for the number 55, which immediately puts me in mind of Julius Caesar’s ultimately doomed invasion attempt of Britain in 55 BC, something that would have been known to educated minds in early nineteenth century Britain, when this engraving was apparently made.
Of course, there will always be those who try to argue that Caesar’s expedition in that year wasn’t a failure, but the historical fact is that the great general left these shores without having anywhere near conquered the island and furthermore, the Roman historian Tacitus later put a speech into the mouth of the British hero Caratacus, in which he spoke of the ancestors of his troops having driven Caesar out of the island.
By coincidence, Julius Caesar was the author from antiquity to leave us with the greatest abundance of writing on the Druids and in the course of these observations, he related the ancient belief that Druidry had started life in Britain and that those wishing to study it travelled to the British Isles. For me, what’s important is the belief that ancient Britain was the home to Druidry and that more so than the sabre, the artefact or weapon most readily associated with the Druids was the sickle, the instrument I see here, rather than a ‘question mark’ in the engraving or rubbing in question.
The moment I gazed upon these enigmatic symbols, I saw a beautifully-formed Druid sickle surrounding and cutting down Julius Caesar’s abortive invasion of 55BC, represented here by the letters or Roman numerals LV. There’s a strange coincidence that one of the huge uprights on which this stone once stood should be designated Stone 55 at a later date by W.M. Flinders Petrie, but otherwise, this engraving physically exists at a place described by Stukeley in 1740 as a temple of the British, sickle-wielding Druids.
All the evidence suggests – to me, at least – that the engraving came into being shortly after the death of a man who promoted the idea that the British Druid tradition had survived the ravages of the Romans, so it was perhaps done as a tribute to him by one or perhaps two men who were inspired by his visionary ideas and who wished to commemorate his passing at the most relevant and prominent monument in Britain. It strikes me as yet another bizarre coincidence that another visionary, William Blake, should have died in 1827, or around the time this engraving seems to have been made; Blake was fascinated with Albion and with Stonehenge, so perhaps his passing, as well as that of Iolo Morganwg, played a part in these strange symbols coming into being at Stonehenge?
Somewhere on the internet is a photograph of massed ranks of Druids at Stonehenge in the early twentieth century and from memory, these men are forming two lines that lead to the ruins; they’re all prominently holding sickles, so this further reinforces my belief that part of the engraving on Stone 156 represents the military triumph of the ancient priesthood of these “sullen islands”. If, however, you have a different theory or explanation, then by all means write in and let me know.
Yet again, I am enormously grateful to my friend Juris Ozols of Minnesota, not only for the insightful comment below, but also for finding the photo I mentioned in the text of my post of the Druids with sickles gathering at Stonehenge, which I’ve reproduced below:
Dr Joseph Bell exhorted us to pay the closest attention to “…the vast importance of little distinctions, the endless significance of trifles…” so with this in mind, I would point out that at least one Druid sickle above the skyline on the left of the photo, and certainly a few more, possess blades whose curves almost consist of three quarters of a circle.
If the instrument on George Robinson’s rubbing made in 1880 was indeed intended to be a Druid sickle, as I’m certain is the case, then it too possesses a curved blade that consists of far more than a half circle. I have no way of knowing if perceptions of the shape of these strange implements were the same at the start of the nineteenth century as they seem to have been around a hundred years later, but on balance, I would say that the Druid sickles in the photo above lend weight to – rather than detract from – the idea that the curved symbol carved on Stone 156 was intended to represent a Druid sickle, as mentioned in the classical account given to us by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.