Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Two Little Ducks From Stonehenge (well, almost...)

The Mail Online (www.bit.ly/pWFjd6) today ran a headline “How two little ducks could transform our understanding of Stonehenge.”

Gavin Allen’s article refers to discoveries made by my Open University colleague, David Jacques, at a site near Stonehenge (actually closer to the Iron Age hillfort known as Vespasian’s Camp – not “Vesper’s Camp” as stated in the article). I would have been delighted if the two stone figures dated to the same period as Stonehenge, since it would fit uncannily well with the plot of my short story, “The Raft and the Waterfall,” available from Ether Books (http://www.etherbooks.com/). The ducks appear, however, to be around 1700 years later than the first stone circle at Stonehenge.

The article goes on to talk about animal bones from the same site, which go back to the Mesolithic period (c6250 BC, around 3850 years before Stonehenge). Since Jacques’s previous finds from the site include Roman artefacts, this suggests activity on the site over a period of at least 6500 years.

The site itself is centred on the bed of a spring in which objects were formally, perhaps ritually, deposited. There is nothing new in the idea that prehistoric people in Britain deposited objects in this way (Richard Bradley and Francis Pryor, to name but two, have written extensively on the subject), nor even in the suggestion that such practices persisted over a very long time period (Bradley points to the tradition of Excalibur being returned to the Lady of the Lake as evidence that they may have survived into post-Roman times), but there are very few individual sites that provide such clear evidence for continuity down the millennia as this one appears to do.

The two little ducks, therefore, may not transform our understanding of Stonehenge, but they do form part of a bigger story which may transform our understanding of the complex ways in which prehistoric communities, over long time periods, established symbolic links between the present and the past, and between themselves and the landscapes they inhabited.