Rodney Castleden presents an illuminating and convincing interpretation of Stonhenge's cultural context and historical meaning.
A wonderful book in every sense of the word, a true gem. If you too have nursed a life long fascination for the distant past and the fragmentary remains that have survived into our lives, you will find this book a revelation, no, an avalanche of revelations into the lives of our distant ancestors in British Isles.
The author treads a finely balanced path between the fine detailed scientific study of the archaeologist and the misty eyed dreamers of the new age visionary to evoke a new synthesis of what life felt like to those distant, forgotten people. Taking the results of countless meticulous surveys of monuments and artefacts throughout these isles and the related sites in Europe, he has lyrically brushed off the dust then carefully pieced them together like some massive jigsaw into a picture of such detail and clarity that I, for one, will never be able to look at some obscure, tattered little stone circle in the same way again.
This book has answered so many questions for me, put the whole subject of Stonehenge, who built it - and why - into its' true context for perhaps the first time. Many archaeologists must revile his name as he has overturned hundreds of tentative conclusions from so many digs by taking one long step backwards and reconsidering all of their work as a body and letting it speak for itself. In a way, it feels like he has organised a school reunion for a group of senior citizens, then taken notes of the flood of interconnections he'd never seen, or suspected, before and then re-written the whole subject again from scratch.Read more ›
Environmental constraints and overuse of resources forced changes in lifestyle over the centuries. Neolithic peoples originally inhabited the fertile landscape as farmers. Their crops, however, quickly depleted the soil. Castleden cites a study in Denmark of Neolithic einkorn wheat reducing soil nutrients in only three seasons. Loss of fertility drove people to new locations or converted to a pastoral existence. In either case, the ommunities remained small and tightly integrated, with settlements only a few kilometres apart. The conditions also inhibited experimenting in farming or lifestyles. Maintenance of a secure life took precedence over trying the novel. The resulting conservatism led to a commonalty of thinking. We see evidence of that in the multitude of Neolithic religious sites. Stonehenge, Avebury,
Woodhenge, are distinct from each other in many ways, but their basic pattern is consistent.
Conservative rural life instilled fertility rituals dealing with crops and cattle breeding. Respect for surviving elders led to cults dealing with death. Castleden argues that it wasn't worship of the dead, but death itself that occupied their thoughts and practices. Burial rituals and cemetaries ultimately produced the great henges and stone monuments.Read more ›
Diagrams and photos throughout the text illustrate his points well, and using as much evidence as is available he attempts to complete the puzzle, for example, using evidence from near-contemporary Scandinavia to look at clothing. The final chapters on society and religion are very thought-provoking. The people remain intriguingly elusive and always will, but Castelden’s exploration captures the very essence of their culture and at times they felt very much alive.