For those who have been following regularly, this will be the final installment of Alistair Moffat’s book called Before Scotland, and I think it will be a dilly! You remember from the previous blog Phil Harding of Time Team. It seems he was raised near the famous “Stonehenge” monument in southern England. He says that as a child he watched the archeology being done there and that appears to have influenced his choice of occupation, much to his mother’s chagrin. An interview in The Guardian tells us that Phil was very different from his mother and that she tried to prevent him from pursuing archeology. His father was more open but he died tragically of a heart attack when Phil was in his twenties. Many of us would wonder why and try to plum this painful mystery if it happened to us, and poor Phil maintained a long bitterness over it.
As for Stonehenge, many of us will be surprised to learn that throughout Britain there are or have been hundreds of these circular structures. In one county alone, Aberdeenshire, there are about seventy of these ancient circles still visible! Many of the circles used to be of wood, though obviously the material could not survive the decaying effects of the centuries. A few of these wooden circles have been recreated from soil stains which were made by the wooden posts that used to stand there, so now we have a Woodhenge within sight of the more well-known Stonehenge.
One day I came across a quotation from an old Roman writer (Tacitus in his book “Agricola”) that said the following about Celtic tribes — “The [sacred] grove is the center of their whole religion, regarded as the cradle of the race and the dwelling-place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient.” That sentence made me wonder if symbolically the circles (the wooden ones especially) represented an original grove where the first people had met with their god. But that was just speculation, and what was needed was some scientific basis to it or to any theory about the circles. So I went back to Before Scotland and its mention that 80 per cent of modern Brits are descended from ancient hunter-gather-fishers who came to the British Isles many thousands of years ago.
That certainly begged a question — “What about the other 20 percent?” The author Moffat is very emphatic that most of the 20 percent had their origins in (of all places) Mesopotamia, which we know as Iraq and part of eastern Turkey. These ancient people (not the much later Arabs and Kurds who live there now) arrived in Britain not long after 4,000 B.C. and introduced there the practice of agriculture — they were farmers, shepherds, gardeners. Gradually, these early settlers transformed the whole culture, including for the first time in Britain the building of large monuments of wood and stone — presumably the now famous circles.
These immigrants with Middle-Eastern DNA brought with them many ideas from the ancient Middle-East. Among these ideas would perhaps, like the Celts, be the notion to use monuments as reminders of the origins of the race, that is, of a very ancient grove or garden. Indeed, we know that such a story of origins appeared in the ancient Middle-East. What’s more, many of Britain’s stone circles, especially in Aberdeenshire, contain two tall upright stones within the edge of the circle (see photo above). Two tall stones within the place of origins? Put there by people familiar with Middle-Eastern legend? Could these two stones possibly represent the two special trees in the Garden of Eden? Hmm.
I couldn’t help but follow the thread. The DNA evidence about the 20 per cent appeared to lead to interesting possibilities, and now it will have be researched further by experts in the field. Time to get Phil Harding working on the case!