6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Brilliant Book,
This review is from: Solving Stonehenge: The New Key to an Ancient Enigma (Hardcover)Stonehenge is National treasure and a Scheduled Ancient Monument; it is owned by the Nation, managed by English Heritage and has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1986. It is extremely difficult to get permission to go in there and start digging it up, the recent limited excavations by Darvill and Wainwright being a rare exception. That so, you'd think it was equally impossible to say anything both substantial and new about the place, but Anthony Johnson has just proved otherwise. Johnson is not only an academic but also has two decades of practical experience in survey and geomagnetics under his belt, as a commercial archaeologist. His approach to solving Stonehenge is likewise resolutely practical: he asks, and answers, how on earth Neolithic folk armed only with ropes and pegs, and bereft of modern laser-technology, could possibly construct something so elegant. His answer strongly suggests, contrary to the complex astronomical alignments proposed since the 1960s, that Stonehenge has only a single northeast-southwest axis, and that everything else is due to mirror symmetry and the circle-square geometry required to set it all out. It is an extremely simple solution.
This is not 'big science'. There are no particle accelerators and none of the hysteria one sees on the Time Team, with hordes of termite-like workers burrowing around and CGI reconstructions of Roman latrines. This is science in the style of the solitary English genius tinkering away in his workshop. Isaac Newton, from the comfort of his own study, first demonstrated that different colours of light carried different levels of energy, simply by using a prism to split a sunbeam and positioning thermometers at various points along its spectrum. Now Anthony Johnson has fathomed how Stonehenge was surveyed using only plans that were published 250 years ago and his CAD workstation, "a powerful but temperamental machine assembled for this project from a wish-list of disparate components which probably had never been brought together before, and certainly ought never to be again." With it he has generated an extremely convincing account that his colleagues will have to take seriously.
Aside from presenting its big hypothesis, Solving Stonehenge provides an ideal introduction for anyone visiting the famous monument for the first time; if read beforehand it would enhance the visit considerably. For those more familiar with the Stonehenge story, all the usual characters get their fifteen minutes of fame, but none of them to excess; their contributions and eras are summarized in a handy diagram. Likewise, the intricate dynamics of the monument itself, in the various phases of its centuries-long development, are also explained clearly and summarized in diagrammatic form. The book's gentle narrative style makes it extremely easy reading, even for those whose first language is not English. However, this is not a coffee-table book: it is a genuine contribution to archaeology. The last third of it is taken up exclusively with Johnson's explanation of how the stones were surveyed into position, and at that point the diagrams become not merely useful but essential to the explanation. Instead of degenerating into a tedious lesson in Stone-Age geometry, however, this is the moment the author chooses to make the story personal. Switching from a passive, objective voice to a more active, personal one has a dramatic effect on the text. All of a sudden the reader is working alongside the author to figure out the puzzle and in places the tension is palpable. Documenting one moment of complete frustration, Johnson admits to interrogating the long-gone builders directly: "Show me, because I have absolutely no idea." A brilliant read from page one to the very end; destined to become a classic.