In August 2014 I took a tour of the British Isles with my family. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the prehistoric monument, Stonehenge.
Stonehenge has been photographed approximately 97 trillion times, and I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of pictures like this one I took:
And others that feature tourists standing in front of the monument, like this:
(That’s me on the left, with my father Joe and my sister Suzi.)
What you don’t see very often is the monument in its wider surroundings. Here it is from a bit further away, with a typical bunch of tourists around it:
From here you can see part of the surrounding earth bank and ditch.
But I wanted to capture a still wider view. So here’s how Stonehenge appears when you’re in a bus, driving away from it:
The monument looks quite small and lonely sitting on a wide open, mostly empty plain.
But what even this picture fails to show is the mounds. You don’t notice them at first, but when you stand near the monument and look out over the plain, you notice a hump in the earth off in the distance. And then another, and another, and you realize that these mounds are everywhere. They are ancient burial mounds.
And then you understand that the Stonehenge monument itself is just the center point of a vast area of ritual significance to the people of the region, going back at least 5,000 years.
Knowing that the bones of the many generations of people who built Stonehenge are in the surrounding hills gives me a feeling of deep reverence for the place. I wonder what they did when they came here. I wonder what their lives were like. How they lived in the winter time. How they met one another and fell in love, how they raised their children, how they cared for their sick and elderly, how they died, and how they mourned their dead.
I also wonder how the original traditions around the monument were lost, to the point where now we can only speculate about its purpose and the activities that occurred there. Was there some cataclysmic event that ended this culture? Or was it a gradual process of turning away from old beliefs and practices, until the memories of them died along with the last few old folks who still held them?
A week after our visit to Stonehenge, I came across this on a sandy beach somewhere in the Scottish countryside: