How to build Stonehenge
By Mike Pitts
As Mike Pitts writes in his introduction, "Stonehenge is among the best known and most visited ancient sites in the world...There really is nothing like Stonehenge. The most basic of concepts (verticals, horizontals and rings and nothing else) is despite this simplicity - and perhaps also because of it - unique".
And Stonehenge is one of the most recognisable historic sites in the world, along with The Pryamids of Giza, Angor Wat, The Great Wall of China or Machu Piccu. But questions still remain regarding how it was built, where the stones came from and how they got there; and so this book is most timely. Archaeologist Mike Pitts excavated at Stonehenge in 1979 and 1980, and now drawing on a lifetime’s study and a decade of new research, he explores the mystery of how Stonehenge was built.
There is nothing like Stonehenge: the simple, graphic genius of these great, arranged blocks. The stones seem to rise from the ground in some antediluvian heave of the Earth: lintels, great horizontal slabs, roughly squared, the grey rock now covered in subtle lichen green. But who made it? When did they make it? And most importantly, how was it built?
Raising the repaired lintel for Stones 57 and 58 into position in 1958. © Historic England Archive
It is clear that Pitts is deeply in love with the site. His first chapter describes the stones in great detail, each one carefully described as the site is also put in context, in a mix of historical and contemporary settings. He writes " I could wonder endlessly among these stones, were it possible to do so, and perhaps you could too: speculating about this and that, noticing little blue flowers cgrwowig hidden beaneath a fallen sarsen and markelling at the great masses and the still fresh-looking scoops of hammered dressing".
The following chapters looks at the different stones used at the site and where they might of come from. What has the latest research revealed about the Bluestones and Sarsens found at the site? How were hey were carved and positioned to create the ultimate in megalithic architecture, and how this was taken down and left to ruin until the decay was arrested in the twentieth century with substantial restoration works.
A freshly cut stone is dragged from a quarry over sleeper logs on a makeshift sledge, in Sumba, eastern Indonesia. © Ron Adams
Having identified the sources of the various stones, the next questions are about how they were transported to Wiltshire and how the monument was put together. Looking at the actual logistics of moving the stones, Pitt recounts how he took part in a film in 2012 for the Discovery Channel, in which a crew of 12 paddled a bluestone -sized rock near the coast of South Wales. Alhtought the boat was a little smaller than the replica it was based on, he writes that there was 'never any question of it being up to the job of shipping a megalith'. However, the consensus 'now favours land transport for the Bluestones'. But how did they do this? Pitt looks to how people move megaliths today - in Madasascar, India and Indonesia for inspiration.
And so to the final chapters on construction of the monument. As Stonehenge has such a long and complex history, Pitts has split the construction chapters into two, Bluehenge and Stonehenge. The former was under construction from c.3200 BCE and is characterised above all by Bluestones, and was a focus of cremation burial throughout its time. The latter began about 2,500 BCE and is dominated by huge sarsens, is the site we know today as Stonehenge. But it started with the bluestones and they were found in Wales.
This is a fascinating book which everyone can enjoy, scholar or amateur alike. The recent groundbreaking discoveries using cutting-edge scientific techniques have given us incredible new detail on the sources of these immense stones and brings it into the wider context of other megalith buildings around the world, as well as placing Stonehenge at the center of a network of European Bronze Age cultures.
How to Build Stonehenge
Published by Thames & Hudson