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Mr Graham Hancock has launched a bitter attack on the new Stonehenge arrangements. He’s entitled to of course but it loses it’s potency in the absence of any explanation of how HE would do things better, given the practical difficulties. As such it’s reminiscent of some of the output from the more loopy wing of the Free Stonehenge movement. How would they – and he – improve the quality of a visit to Stonehenge while still meeting a global demand currently running at more than a million people a year?

It’s hard not to have sympathy for some things he says ( “officials who have imposed their control on the site” – a lighter, less proprietorial touch would be welcome from those who are currently paid by the taxpayers)  but one wonders what evidence he has for saying People are still able to walk in the surrounding fields half a mile or so away nearby the Neolithic long barrows and round barrows in the vicinity of Stonehenge but I have no doubt that this freedom, too, will soon be removed.” Dare we say none? 

Here are some more of his criticisms that may initially evoke sympathy but not when it turns out he offers no solution:

“This weekend I took friends visiting from Peru to see Stonehenge, Britain’s most renowned ancient monument, which they were naturally very keen to see. We were stunned and horrified by what we found there. This world heritage site is managed on behalf of humanity by “English Heritage” who are clearly gripped by a bureaucratic, unimaginative mindset and who are in the process of turning the megalithic circle and its surroundings into something with about as much charm and mystery as Disneyland. Anyone who has been to Stonehenge within the last year will know that things were bad before, but they are a thousand times worse now. One must go first to the newly built visitor centre about a mile from the henge, and then be taken by shuttle bus or on a little supposedly ecologically friendly “train” drawn by Land Rover to the site where you are of course not allowed to approach the stones themselves but are kept at a distance by ropes and barriers. The theme park atmosphere induced by the shuttle bus and/or “train” ride completely destroys the mystery and creates an atmosphere in which the megaliths appear to be held captive, tamed, forced into obedience by the narrow-minded officials who have imposed their control on the site. No longer does it feel in any way that this is an English heritage or a British heritage or a world heritage monument of great mystery and spiritual power but rather that we are confronted by a beaten, destroyed, subjugated, enslaved monument castrated by the dead hand of bureaucracy.”

All good exciting stuff but the one thing that’s missing is an account of precisely how Mr Hancock or those of the Free Stonehenge persuasion would retain the unspoilt mystery of the monument and free it from “control” AND still let a million people a year experience it? No Visitor Centre? No transport system? No ropes? No rules? Everyone allowed inside and indeed many claiming they shouldn’t be constrained at all and jumping ON the stones – like at Summer Solstice, but every day?! Is  that what’s being called for? Or do they have a cunning plan that’s yet to be announced?  If it’s “anarchy” we vote no!

Following on from our recent forays into the world of music, looking at pieces entitled ‘Stonehenge’, comes a timely piece from the BBC, concerning acoustic research by London’s Royal College of Art upon the stones in the Preseli Hills, the source of the Stonehenge bluestones.

With this study, thousands of stones along the Carn Menyn ridge were tested and a high proportion of them were found to “ring” when they were struck. 

“The percentage of the rocks on the Carn Menyn ridge are ringing rocks, they ring just like a bell,” said Mr Devereux, the principal investigator on the Landscape and Perception Project. 

“And there’s lots of different tones, you could play a tune. In fact, we have had percussionists who have played proper percussion pieces off the rocks.”

A Lithophone made of Phonolite in the botanic garden in Schellerhau (Germany) - Creative Commons

A Lithophone made of Phonolite in the botanic garden in Schellerhau (Germany) – Creative Commons

A musical instrument where stones are used as an acoustic device is known as a ‘lithophone‘, or sometimes as a ‘stone marimba’. Though we’re not entirely sure that something of the size of Stonehenge could quite qualify for that name!

Stone marimba (from Emil Richards Collection) - Creative Commons

Stone marimba (from Emil Richards Collection) – Creative Commons

And a brief message for all our Cornish readers: Gool Peran Lowen! Happy St Piran’s Day!

In our previous article on music titled ‘Stonehenge’, we included some artists and songs that many antiquarians may well be familiar with. In this second article, we list 5 further songs called ‘Stonehenge’ which may not be quite so familiar!

The Miracle Orchestra – Stonehenge (11:28)

The band came together in 1996 as members attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA. After constant gigging in the area, they recorded their debut album, Coalesce (1998), as a septet. The Miracle Orchestra, along with fellow Boston musicians and friends, the Slip, are part of a developing trend of jazz-rock revival. The music is both upbeat and improvisational. It is these attributes that the Miracle Orchestra successfully embodies. ‘Stonehenge’ was included on the album “Three Sets: Vol 3“,  a live album of three differing jazz bands released in 2001. Uplifting.

Kellianna – Stonehenge (5:41)

Kellianna is a pagan artist who performs songs and chants inspired by myth, magic, sacred places and ancient times. ‘Stonehenge is included on the album “Lady Moon“, released in 2004. A relaxing, affirmative chant.

Ted Heath – Stonehenge (3:11)

No, not the Tory politician! Ted Heath was one of the most famous big-band leaders in Great Britain of the 1950s. His bands played modernized swing music that was always danceable but occasionally had worthwhile solos played in the tradition. A live version was included on the “Ted Heath at Carnegie Hall” album, first released in 1957, and re-released in 2005 as a double album with “Ted Heath’s First American Tour”. Laid back swing – time for cocktails!

King Missile – Stonehenge (1:29)

Essentially a vehicle for the musings of John S. Hall, King Missile merged off-kilter spoken word monologues with eclectic, mildly psychedelic rock & roll. Hall’s dry, absurdist sense of humor colored much of the group’s output, blurring the lines between comedy, Beat poetry, narrative prose, and simple rock lyrics. ‘Stonehenge’ appears on “They“, an album described as having ‘a warped sense of humor’, released in 1988.

Ruins – Stonehenge (3:51)

Japanese post-punk prog rock by Tatsuya Yoshida. Released in 1990 on an album also entitled ‘Stonehenge’, there’s not really musch can say about this one! Enjoy?

And that concludes our round-up of Stonehnege songs for now. From 1950′s Swing, through the free festival and post punk eras, to New Age noodling and dreaminess. there should be something there for everyone.

If you have a favourite ‘Stonehenge’ track that we missed, please let us know via the comments section.

Heritage Action and the Heritage Journal, as previously documented, had their beginnings on a web site forum “The Modern Antiquarian“, after the book of the same name written by Julian Cope. Mr Cope is possibly better known for his prime activity as a musician, and yet I don’t recall having had many musically themed entries here on the Journal.

A search on the major music sites for names of ancient monuments brings up a plethora of results, depending upon the monument selected. We decided to start with an obvious one – ‘Stonehenge’. This alone returns over 600 songs on AllMusic.com, with many more on Spotify and YouTube – although the YouTube results are somewhat skewed by videos of festivals, documentaries and travelogues, and duplicate entries. But here are five versions that may, or may not be familiar.

Ylvis – (What’s the Meaning of) Stonehenge (3:55)

This tribute  by the Norwegian comedy duo, brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, from a few years ago created a minor stir amongst the antiquarian community at the time of it’s release in 2011. The absurdity of the lyrics, and the fact that the video is played ‘straight’ make it a classic of its type. Like Marmite, you’ll either love it, or hate it.

Hawkwind – Stonehenge Decoded (8:20)

Hawkwind and their various offshoots have released more songs than you can shake a stick at, all with the name ‘Stonehenge’ in the title somewhere. This version of ‘Stonehenge decoded’ was recorded live at the 1984 free festival at the stones, and released on the subsequent ‘This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic‘ album released the same year. We cannot condone the desecration of the stones depicted in this video. Possibly best appreciated whilst ‘under the influence’.

Black Sabbath – Stonehenge (1:58)

You’d hope that a track called ‘Stonehenge’, from the band whose Stonehenge stage set, when it was discovered to be too large to fit inside most venues wound up serving as inspiration for the ultimate rock & roll spoof movie (This Is Spinal Tap) would be memorable. However, this track, taken from the “Born Again” album released in 1983, is nothing more than an experimental sound-bite instrumental filler. Disappointing.

Spinal Tap – Stonehenge (5:01)

Another ‘spoof’ band, Spinal Tap have had considerable success, both in the album charts and on live tours on the back of the original ‘rockumentary’, “This is Spinal Tap” (1984). The band members are portrayed by Michael McKean (as David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (as Derek Smalls), along with various temporary drummers who all meet with unfortunate ends. One of many high points in the film.

The Disrupters – Stonehenge (3:42)

The Disrupters were a British anarchist punk band who formed in late 1980. Originally influenced by the early punk bands of the late 70s (The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash etc.) the band were eventually drawn to the anarchist scene. The track, ‘Stonehenge’ was included on the album “Gas the Punx“, a ‘Best Of’ collection of studio recordings from 1981-1986, released in 2005. Energetic, if a bit repetitive.

Stay tuned for more, pop-pickers! (I’m showing my age now…)

This press report is worrying: “Flooding crisis to see A303 upgrade fast-tracked“.

Why? Because in September it emerged that English Heritage was “still pushing for the A303 to go into a tunnel eventually” and we commented “bravo if EH are quietly pushing for a Stonehenge tunnel – but only if it’s a long, deep-bored one that all the main archaeological and conservation organisations support”. Then in December their Chief Executive Simon Thurley confirmed they will continue to argue for the tunnel “with all our strength” but again it wasn’t made clear which tunnel he meant. Then last month we asked “Surely, if EH are arguing for a tunnel with all their strength on behalf of the public they owe the public an explanation of which tunnel they’re arguing for?”

But there has still been no clarification and now it seems the A303 improvements may be fast tracked. It would be awful if the first time it became clear which tunnel EH had been pushing for was on the day they hailed the announcement of a fait accompli – a fast-tracked A303 improvement programme incorporating a Stonehenge short tunnel.  At that point – with the whole of the West of England cheering and the scheme budget irrevocably fixed – all the bodies that have previously argued against a short tunnel on archaeological grounds might find themselves pretty much ignored. Maybe they should ask EH to clarify their intentions now, before the die is cast?

SH fog

The Prime Minister has just said  the Government is “committed” to ending the traffic nightmare on the A303 between Devon and London. Everyone will welcome that (although even the preliminary study isn’t going to be produced before the next election). But from the point of view of prehistory fans the big issue that springs to mind is what will it mean for Stonehenge? There are three big reasons for concern:

1. For years English Heritage supported putting the A303 at Stonehenge in a massively damaging cut-and-cover tunnel.

2. Then, they supported a bored “short tunnel” despite the opposition of UNESCO and nearly all archaeological and heritage organisations on the grounds it too was very damaging.

3. It was cancelled due to cost but just last month Simon Thurley said they’d continue to argue for the tunnel, “with all our strength”.

We did ask WHICH tunnel [see here] but no-one seems to know. Surely, if EH are arguing for a tunnel with all their strength on behalf of the public they owe the public an explanation of which tunnel they’re arguing for? Don’t you think?

It’s all very well English Heritage selling cute little furry birdies at their new Visitor Centre but what is to become of the REAL ones?

Jackdaws that have been gathering on the stones for many a year, regularly nesting in the crevices, certainly as far back as the 18th century. In recent times every night when the site closes they’ve been flying down to feast on bits of food left by the visitors but since the old visitor centre and carpark closed a week ago they have been having to go without their supper.

.

combined 3.

Legend has it that if ever the ravens leave the Tower of London the kingdom will fall. Does the same apply to the jackdaws of Stonehenge? What arrangements have English Heritage made to feed them so they stay at Stonehenge? The public should be told!!

good job.

The feedback from the new visitor centre yesterday was nearly all positive. The architecture works well (whatever happened to the holes in the roof?!), the exhibits are impressive (although rather limited in scale) and of course the location, just out of sight from the stones, is a huge relief. It still remains to be seen how things will work out when maximum tourist numbers turn up but the general consensus seems to be: so far, so good ….

One issue did seem to keep coming up though – the fact that as from February it will be necessary to book in advance. A lot of people are complaining about that, saying an  element of spontaneity has been removed. They have a point, so the question arises, why? There’s plenty of room inside the visitor centre and at the stones so if there’s any lack of capacity it must be the parking or the land trains. Surely the answer is to increase the supply of both of them rather than cause irritation by imposing a system of pre-booked timed tickets? With gate receipts of £15 million a year, it’s hard to see why there should be a shortage of anything crucial to a good visitor experience. Or have we missed something?

GR

EH Chief Executive Simon Thurley has just been quoted as saying English Heritage will continue to argue for the tunnel, “with all our strength”. But WHICH tunnel does he mean? If it’s the long one then fine.

tun1.

But does he mean the “Short Tunnel” – the damaging one that EH supported for many years at the Government’s behest, the one that involves building 1.5 miles of access roads to it over the World Heritage Area against the wishes of UNESCO and practically every archaeological and heritage body including the National Trust, the Council for British Archaeology, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Friends of the Earth?

tun2.

Clarification would be good. EH used to have to do the bidding of their paymasters but now that their paymasters pay so little, who knows? If anyone knows which tunnel Dr Thurley means could they let us know?

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