Stonehenge is something of an enduring mystery. We’ve been fascinated by the how and why of it, and both dimensions have seen their fair share of possible explanations.
For an interesting explanation of how, have a look here: I remember seeing this on the Discovery channel a few years back, and being struck at how much simpler it was than some of the other explanations I’ve heard over the years.
As for why? Well, people have posited a number of things: astronomy/observatory, prediction, or a site for worship and rituals? Now, however, a doctoral researcher from La Trobe university in Australia reckons that she might have an answer.
And it’s sciencey! (But still involves rituals and a little observation)
Presenting at the inaugural Marshall McLuhan* Lecture at the National Communications Association convention last year, she put forth her hypothesis that the ‘henge encoded the formal knowledge that the oral culture of the time needed to retain as they developed. This meant that they didn’t have to move around between different sacred places meaning different things – the ‘henge allowed them a sort of mnemonic (chants and rituals) ‘one monument fits all’-based approach over as they moved from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.
“When people settle in one place, solstices can be observed. So the monument was aligned, 500 years into its use, with the winter and summer solstices to better retain the calendar for both resource management and the ceremonial cycle”
Kelly’s been studying oral cultures all over the world, and looking at how they encode and pass on knowledge, and as seen parallels between them and the ‘henge.
* Marshall McLuhan, for those unfamiliar with him, is seen as the father of modern communications theory. Copywriters worship him. Wired magazine named him their patron saint for a while. Etc. I strongly recommend the reading of his work…