I was anxious to see Stonehenge.
It is the giddy sort of feeling only art teachers might understand.
As an art history teacher, this is among the first point of entry to the subject–Stonehenge, Lascaux cave paintings, Venus of WIllendorf and other prehistoric art. To finally be in England and the Stonehenge so nearby–I couldn’t pass it up.
Of course, I didn’t want to expect too much. I talked to a few people who have seen the Stonehenge already–half of them said Stonehenge has a life of its own, while the other half says it’s not worth seeing just a bunch of stones.
Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plain in Southern England. There are tons of Stonehenge tours offered with bus transfer. Tours often range £45 to £105 per person, and they may or may not include entrance fee and food. We chose a cheaper option and commute from London to Salisbury via train (1 hr 30 min) where Ejay’s friend, Eric, fetched us at the station and drove us to Stonehenge. Their official website states that advance booking is required, but we arrived at 1pm without booking and came in fine. As of 2015, their entrance fee is £14.50 and opening hours vary widely depending on the season. Be informed that the last admission is two hours before closing time. See more information on their site here.
We opted to see the Stonehenge Visitor Centre first instead of heading straight away to Stonehenge to learn more about it.The visitor centre holds a collection of prehistoric tools, weapons and artifacts, even jewelry and household items excavated in the area. It provides great insight on how the people lived during those times. The centre attempts to answer frequently asked questions about Stonehenge: Why was the Stonehenge made? How was it made? Who built the Stonehenge? What was its purpose? Why did Ylvis have to write a song about it? The first room is a 360-degree projection of Stonehenge, gives us a pretty good idea on how massive the stones are in comparison. It gives a realistic projection of Stonehenge on certain times and dates of the year, e.g. rising and setting of the sun, winter and summer solstice.
Here stands the skeleton & face reconstruction of a man who lived in the Neolithic times. You’ll notice the short stature– the neolithic people averaged only from about 5″1 to 5″5! That’s the average height of a Filipino. If I could go back in time to the Neolithic era I’d probably hate it. It’s like high school and I’m-unable-to-find-a-date-because-I’m-taller-than-most-boys once again.
Despite the short stature handicap, our ancestors reconciled by working as a group. A man alone is helpless, but men together are formidable. Dangerous. Hence, how else could they have built the Stonehenge?
Interestingly, humans who lived pre-Neolithic times were much taller, averaging 5″6 to 5″10. It isn’t only until the 20th century that humans returned to the pre-Neolithic height averages. This was mostly due to the shift from the more balanced and healthy hunter-gatherer diet to the limiting agricultural diet. Neolithic people were found to have vitamin deficiencies and health issues. Hence, your cousin doing that Paleo diet is probably on to something.
Outside, there is a reconstructed Neolithic village which got me all giddy again. This part was a significant to me, I remember chanting: I can’t believe I get to be in an actual neolithic hut and bed and fireplace and clothing! (albeit they were only reproductions, it was exciting nonetheless.)
The Neolithic Revolution marks the human development of agriculture and animaldomestication, which led to a shift from hunting/gathering to a sedentary lifestyle. Food is now more available, and people can now settle in one area rather than continue to wander for food.
Because milk was now more available, mothers can raise a younger babe and older children concurrently–this was not possible before. The neolithic revolution also led to rapidly rising populations, deep social divisions, gender inequality and land disputes leading to the earliest wars. Why? Because we don’t need to constantly struggle against nature for survival anymore–humans learned to fight within themselves. Humans were now at the top of the food chain, after all.
I am amazed at how many of the earliest settlements look the same in all parts of the world–in Europe, South America, or wherever. The tepee-looking huts look like our very own Philippine nipa huts. How was knowledge shared to all parts of the world without present technology? Without Google providing answers to our ancestors ‘how to build a village’? Even their weapons, tools and pottery are almost the same across continents. Were they learned by different communities at roughly the same time, or where they shared from one generation to another and through constant human migrations? Or, aliens?
Another fact that dumbfounded everyone is the mysterious stones used to erect Stonehenge. They weren’t local to the area. The biggest stones called ‘sarsens‘ were around 30 feet tall and weighed 30 tons. They were transported from Marlborough Downs, some 32 km up north.
More interestingly, 80-something of the smaller stones were from Preswell Mountains in Western Wales (that’s 230 km away and from a different country. It’s not an easy feat of transporting it to the site–when I said ‘smaller stones’, I meant that they were 10-12 ft tall and weighed around 5 tons each! Until now, scholars are still arguing how the ancient people were able to transport the big stones, and why they had such the will to do so. The Stonehenge’s site was built in Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau. The open landscape would’ve been an unusual contrast of the landscape of South England, most of which were dense woodlands back then. This is probably why it was the chosen site for the Neolithic monument.
Thousands flock to Stonehenge to celebrate the marking of the annual winter and summer solstice. The summer solstice is every June 21, what’s remarkable is that observers standing within the stone circle would see the sun rise in the exact alignment of the heel stone.
During winter solstice every December 21, observers can also see the perfect alignment of the sun setting. The Stonehenge is already 5,000 years old and it shows us how carefully the first humans watched the sun. They relied on such astronomical observations on their way of living–harvesting crops, hunting animals, marriage, commemoration and more.
The real purpose of Stonehenge is still unknown. But, judging by the perfect alignment of the stones, it was probably used as an astronomical tool or a sun worshipping ritual. Whatever the purpose, it held a very important part of the ancient people’s lives.
By the way, because of the area’s vast openness, it was so windy that day. I never felt so cold in England than I did in Stonehenge. Prepare and bulk up in several layers! The Stonehenge was beautiful and massive. I left ‘in awe’; with a big smile on my face; and that’s an understatement. Happily, Stonehenge wasn’t just ‘a bunch of stones’ for me–it was a sight to behold.
I left Salisbury Plain with more questions about humanity and philosophy. There is poetry written in the stones, and it opened my eyes at how human faith could move mountains, if there need be.