"Even the Druids are happy with this project"
April 1, 2008 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Excavation Starts at Stonehenge - "The two-week dig will try to establish, once and for all, some precise dating for the creation of the monument."

AP story
"Dig Watch" - a daily journal of progress
posted by Burhanistan (24 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

Nobody knows who they were, or what they were doing.
posted by stargell at 6:48 AM on April 1, 2008 [6 favorites]

Here's a pretty good blog post on rock bands' affinity for Stonehenge.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:57 AM on April 1, 2008

Oh, how they danced.
posted by vronsky at 7:03 AM on April 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Blog of one of the project participants (involved in a ground penetrating radar survey of the site)

I have to say that I'm a little dubious about the idea that was built as a healing site. I'm trying to dig up any papers from Darvill & Wainwright on the topic, but haven't come up with any so far.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2008

I have this perverse wish for it to turn out to be prehistoric branding exercise for a sugary beverage/fast food outlet.
posted by srboisvert at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2008

that Stonehenge was built...
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2008

If someone knocks one of the big stones over on themselves, I hope that someone else is there to get good video of it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:13 AM on April 1, 2008

LONDON, England -- (April 2nd 2008) BBC and English Heritage officials today announced that conclusive proof has been found dating the creation of the Stonehenge monument to 4.5 million years ago.

Professor Tim Darvill responded to skepticism claiming "Yes, 4.5 million years. That's right. What? No. No, look, read the napkin. It says 4.5m years on the napkin."
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:14 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sneaked into Stonehenge without paying. Jumped the fence, in fact.
posted by signal at 8:02 AM on April 1, 2008

I am terribly fed up with combing through every bloody story today for anagrams of April Fool's Day (usually the name of some quoted expert...).

However - assuming this dig is true (and the animation link is fantastic), the BBC story that goes with the animation correctly points out: "The bluestones seen by visitors today are later re-erections."

That's a bit of an understatement.

I remember a wonderful article years ago showing how even early Victorians (I think) would have been stunned by the prettified Stonehenge we see today - it wasn't quite a ghastly pile of rubble in the 19th century but nor was it anything like as tidy as now!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:09 AM on April 1, 2008

posted by TedW at 8:13 AM on April 1, 2008

Foamhenge almost made me wreck my bike. It's sort of hard to explain how much you don't expect to see that when you're just out for a cruise. It's also sort of hard to steer accurately when your head is swiveling around in an involuntary Tex Avery-style doubletake.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:07 AM on April 1, 2008

Where in recent history are people undertaking collective projects that last even one generation, let alone dozens?

The Internet?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:29 AM on April 1, 2008

The sense of solidity and continuity of culture that the builders must of had to see Stonehenge through is hard to really imagine properly from our isolated and selfish modern viewpoint.

You say "isolated and selfish," I say "freedom".
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on April 1, 2008

One thing that particularly struck me when I heard Wainwright being interviewed on the radio this morning was that it is the BBC themselves, via their Timewatch programme (see third link), that have fronted the money for this excavation. I know that this is something that has become increasingly common over the previous decade and half or so, but something in this just seemed to be a new step along this road, although I don't know precisely what to put my finger on as a significant development. In the past we've been used to television companies funding archaeological investigations that were focussed on the more exotic (Discovery Channel-type stuff), or that had a gimmick (Extreme Archaeology, etc.), or that were principally post-ex (like Meet the Ancestors). Time Team, obviously, "have just three days to find out" whatever it is they're digging. Don't get me wrong at all on this: I think that the partnership between archaeology and television has been fantastically fruitful, and all of the above-mentioned programmes have done nothing but raise the profile of the discipline, and increase awareness of and interest in the material remains of the past, and the processes involved in discovering it. I'm more remarking on a kind of new stage we're at with this programme, with the BBC apparently approaching/recruiting heavy-hitting academics like Darvill, and getting permission to go after probably the most high-profile prehistoric site in the UK, with a specific research-driven agenda and serious questions to answer, with a programme being made every step of the way.
posted by hydatius at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2008

So if it's proven sufficiently old, will they move the goddamned road that runs right past it?
posted by three blind mice at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2008

Some years ago I read there was at least one man in the 18th century who made his living traveling around England destroying megaliths.

His technique was to build a huge bonfire against a side of a stone and then dash barrelfuls of water against the hot stone to cause it to crack from thermal shock. He repeated this procedure until the stone was reduced to rubble.

I don't remember if the very brief account I read addressed motivation for this desecration (quite literally), but I'd be surprised if the whole enterprise didn't have a lot in common with the destruction of the stone Buddhas by the Taliban.
posted by jamjam at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2008

“Where in recent history are people undertaking collective projects that last even one generation, let alone dozens?”

Agreed. But I think the nature of labor is different given mechanization and social interaction is radically different given scientific advances.
Looking at the cost in terms of expenditure of time one can translate that into a fairly good thumbnail of expenditure of wealth and resources. So, yes, modern cities and infrastructure, very roughly speaking.
The space program is comparably expensive and requires a great degree of solidarity and goal unity.
The U.S. highway system. Or the Panama Canal say. Which would have been impossible in antiquity (really, dynamite made it possible).
Given the advances in communication, the ubiquity of education, and so forth, we just don’t need the centralized kind of permanent (for all intents) touchstones they needed back then.
I’d grant we’re more isolated, less absolutely dependent on each other but I’d argue we’re by no means more selfish since modern society is fragile and still founded on a web of assumed interdependency and trust (you cross streets in front of traffic when they have a red, right? Water comes to your home. etc. etc.), it’s just less visible.
I also doubt the construction was purely egalitarian. Megaconstruction typically occurs under a strong centralized authority (a pharoh say). So we probably do have more individual autonomy.
Not that it’s always slavery or some such, but the kind of long term goal coherence to build a megastructure typically requires that kind of single-minded attention.
So it could well have been in everyone’s best interests to build and still have a high human cost in lives, bondage, whatever (like the Panama canal).
The U.S. highway system could be equally perplexing to people 10,000 years from now absent all the primitive (physical and conceptual) tools associated with its use (cars, trucks, the entire petroleum-based logistic chain).
(“WTF were these long continent spanning ribbons of stone for?”) Given that 10,000 years from now food and energy supplies are far more localized and information transfer/ interaction is sophisticated enough to require less and less physical presence. Or whatever the situation - the simpler and more convenient the technology, the greater the impact on individual life.
(I mean hell, I’ve got a plastic water bottle sitting here that completely belies the need to have a local potter, his tools, the entire chain of supply from gathering clay and wood to crafting potters wheels, foot paths to the river to carry water, etc., eliminates that level of interpersonal dependancy (while adding a broader, albeit less personal one) - not to mention the vast store of knowlege I no longer need such as how to get to the river, feed a horse, mend a pot, etc.)

I’ve heard the theory that it was a stellar observatory. Absent written communication and other methods of communication and the lack of generalized knowlege of mathematics, I can see that. You’d have to ask the central authority when to plant, all that. And as soon as people could write, and contain information locally, it’d be superceded technology. Just like the monks stranglehold on information was outmoded by the printing press.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:53 AM on April 1, 2008

I don't remember if the very brief account I read addressed motivation for this desecration

To get rid of an obstacle to plowing in a farmer's field?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2008

I hope they find the flying saucer this time.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2008

I hope the flying saucer finds them.
posted by jfuller at 4:26 PM on April 1, 2008

To get rid of an obstacle to plowing in a farmer's field?

Quite common, no doubt, as well. But the 19th century was disastrous for megaliths because of the new, modern, improved, cobblestone road. Stones were broken up for re-use in building projects from churches to ditches. Their historical value was only barely beginning to be understood, even by scholars. At least one German government even laid a bounty on stones.
posted by dhartung at 9:39 PM on April 1, 2008

Is Stonehenge Roman?
posted by homunculus at 1:11 AM on April 16, 2008

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