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Title: The Age of Stonehenge
Author: Duke, Edward
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Age of Stonehenge" ***

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Transcribed from the Brown & Co., Third (c1890?), edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          The Age of Stonehenge.

                                  BY THE

                            REV. EDWARD DUKE,
                            M.A., F.G.S., &c.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

                             _THIRD EDITION_.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

                          SALISBURY: BROWN & CO.
                     LONDON: SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, & CO.

                                * * * * *

                           _PRICE THREEPENCE_.

                                * * * * *


The first thought which is almost sure to present itself to the mind of a
visitor to Stonehenge is this—can we reasonably fix its age?

The author of the accompanying little pamphlet has endeavoured to answer
this question as far as, in his judgment, it admits of being answered.

Lake House, near Salisbury.

The Age of Stonehenge.

Will the precise age of the erection of Stonehenge ever be ascertained?
It seems very unlikely that it ever will be.  Perhaps it is not desirable
that it should be.  The mystery which enwraps it in this respect adds not
a little to the imposing grandeur of those weather-beaten stones.  But
though we cannot say exactly how old this wonderful structure is, we may,
I think, say with confidence that it is not later than a certain era,
_i.e._, that when the Roman legions invaded our shores (B.C. 55)
Stonehenge was standing as now in the midst of Salisbury Plain.  To the
proof of this I am wishful to draw attention, inasmuch as the post-Roman
theory put forth by the late Mr. James Fergusson has obtained credence
with not a few intelligent persons.

Mr. Fergusson’s well-known work, “Rude Stone Monuments,” contains much
interesting information on the subjects of which he treats, and the facts
which he adduces we may presume to be facts collected with care.  But
this proves nothing as to the truth of the inferences which he deduces
from his premises.  The observing faculty and the faculty for drawing
correct conclusions do not always meet in the same individual, as was
notably the case in the late talented Charles Darwin with respect to his
physical evolution theory.  Fergusson confidently maintains, in the work
to which I refer, that “Stonehenge was erected as a monument to the
memory of the British chiefs treacherously slain by Hengist.”  He
supposes that its building commenced about A.D. 466, and may have been
completed about A.D. 470.  And on what authority does he chiefly rely
historically for this theory?  On the mediæval historian Geoffrey of
Monmouth, who wrote about A.D. 1140.  But what does he himself say of the
credibility of this writer?  To quote his own words: “he was a fabulist
of the most exuberant imagination” (p. 106), and again he says of him (p.
88), “he is a frail reed to rely upon”; and yet, strange to say, we find
him building much on the uncorroborated statement of Geoffrey that
Stonehenge was erected in memory of the slaughter of certain British

But no less weak and inconclusive is his reasoning when he brings his
reader within the area of Stonehenge.  He points attention to the fact
that Sir R. C. Hoare had stated in his “Ancient Wilts,” I. p. 150:—“We
have found in digging (within the circle) several fragments of Roman as
well as coarse British pottery, part of the head and horns of deer and
other animals, and a large barbed arrow-head of iron”; and he also
mentions that Mr. Cunnington at an earlier date had discovered within the
area some Roman pottery. {4}  From this Mr. Fergusson infers that “the
building must have been erected after the Romans had settled in this
island.”  But what does the fact, assuming it to be a fact, that Roman
pottery was found at Stonehenge, prove?  Not that the Romans, or their
successors, were the builders, but simply what no one will question, that
the Romans during their stay in Britain, occupied this part of the
country, and visited Stonehenge.  He omits in his argument, it should be
observed, to take any notice of the fact that “ancient British pottery”
was found at the same time with Roman within the temple.  Does not such
an omission detract much from the fairness and force of his reasoning?
Moreover we find that Sir R. C. Hoare in his “Ancient Wilts” repeatedly
mentions that in digging within what were undoubtedly ancient British
camps in South Wilts, he met with Roman pottery as well as British.  What
does this indicate?  Simply that while these earthworks had been
originally constructed by our Celtic forefathers they were afterwards
occupied, and in many instances re-formed, by the Romans.  It indicates
thus much certainly, but nothing more, and similarly the finding Roman
pottery at Stonehenge is no proof that the Roman people, or their
successors, had any hand whatever in its construction.  Possibly it may
have happened, though I admit that we have no evidence to offer on this
point, that the Romano-British ladies were accustomed to have their
picnics at Stonehenge, as we do now, and “as accidents will sometimes
happen” an article or two of their pottery may have been broken, and have
become gradually embedded in the ground, so as to mislead some of the
learned archæologists of the present day.  Evidence drawn from objects
found beneath the soil is usually very inconclusive.  As in this case,
there may have been diggings at different times; stones we know have been
upset; earth is apt to accumulate in the lapse of time; and objects once
on the surface to sink down and become buried.  Time effects many such
changes, and mistakes often arise from not bearing this sufficiently in

But putting aside for the present the unsatisfactory evidence on which
this theory is based, let us see whether the surrounding barrows have not
something to say on the question before us.  These barrows are, as
everyone must have observed, more than usually numerous around
Stonehenge.  There are about 300 within a radius of a mile and a-half.
They are, in fact, much more thickly conglomerated hereabouts than
elsewhere on the plain.  This, I think I shall be able to show presently,
is no accidental circumstance, but that it has a significant bearing on
the age of this mysterious structure.

First, however, let us take notice of the contents of these particular
barrows, and of the evidence thence deducible as to the era of their
construction.  They are unquestionably pre-Roman.  They have all been
opened, and nothing Roman, whether coins, or pottery, or ornaments, or
weapons, has been found in any of them.  This we know on the authority of
that very able and most careful barrow-opener, Sir R. C. Hoare, _vide_
his “Ancient Wilts.”  In saying this, it must be borne in mind that we
are speaking of the barrows which immediately surround Stonehenge.  In
other parts of England, and indeed, in other parts of Wiltshire, there
are tumuli of later age; but in this particular district they are all,
without exception, of an era prior to the Roman occupation.

And now I need scarcely say that if only we can satisfactorily connect
these barrows with Stonehenge, we shall be furnished with a clue to its
age of no little value—not, indeed, to its precise or positive age, but
to its age in relation to the period when the Romans occupied Britain.

Our question, then, is this—Does the position of the barrows in reference
to Stonehenge, enable us to infer that they have been located with a
special view to the temple which they surround so numerously?  In
answering this question we may at once admit that no regular order of
position is observable.  They do not appear to be placed in concentric
lines, or avenues.  This, however, will at once strike an observer, that
the eminences rather than the depressions or hollows between the hills
have been chosen as sites for these sepulchral mounds.  The instances are
very rare indeed in which barrows are to be found in any of the numerous
little valleys where they would be out of sight.

But more decided evidence than this is of course needed.  And for such
evidence we have not far to seek.  The pedestrian may obtain it without
any great difficulty.  Let him visit, as I have done myself, every barrow
on the surrounding plain within the above-mentioned radius, and then
mount to the summit of each, whether it happens to be a bowl or
bell-shaped barrow, or any of the more elevated tumuli, and I can promise
him a view, in almost every instance, of the old stones from the top.
There are indeed a few exceptions, but only of such a nature as in fact
to “prove the rule.”  In some cases plantations, or similar modern
intervening objects, hide the view.  One or two cases also I noticed in
which a barrow in the foreground obstructed the view from one further
back.  But this was not, as I think, that the later barrow-builders acted
uncourteously towards the earlier ones, but simply that they did it
inconsiderately—they did not notice that they were thus obstructing the
line of view.  Again, there are other cases in which you do not perhaps
get the view from the base of the barrow, but as you ascend to the top,
to your surprise and pleasure you find the grand old stones suddenly
burst into sight.  But do there still remain a few instances unaccounted
for?  There are a few, but they are very few, and I do not think we need
feel the slightest difficulty in explaining these exceptional cases.
Bear in mind that these barrows were the burying places, not of the
common people, but of the chieftains and other distinguished persons, as
is evidenced by their contents.  They thus represent in all probability a
considerable lapse of time, during which the deceased bodies were
conveyed—some it may be from long distances—to this grand unfenced
cemetery.  It is therefore very probable that the interments may have
occupied a considerable number of years, and may have, in some instances,
even _preceded_ the time-honoured temple of Stonehenge.  But I again
repeat that these exceptions are very few in number, nor do they in any
degree shake the conclusion, which really is _irresistible_, that these
said barrows do not occupy chance positions, but that the selection of
the sites, as they became needed, was governed by a sacred feeling, such
as even heathens may have, that they would wish the ashes of their
beloved dead to repose in view of the temple where they worshipped in
their lifetime.

But there still remains to be mentioned another fact which, added to what
has gone before, seems to render the evidence in favour of the pre-Roman
antiquity little short of demonstrative.  It is this.  On the western
side of the temple there were formerly several barrows, now, I am sorry
to say, obliterated by the ruthless plough, which were opened first by
Dr. Stukeley, and afterwards re-opened by Sir R. C. Hoare, in one of
which were found numerous fragments, not only of the “sarsens,” which
would not have been so conclusive, but also of the so-called “blue
stones,” _i.e._, the igneous stones of the syenitic or green stone class,
which could have been brought from nowhere else in the neighbourhood, and
which therefore must have been chippings taken from the stones
themselves, as they were being prepared for their places in the temple.
Sir R. C. Hoare says, with reference to one of these barrows:—“On
removing the earth from over the cist” (and therefore from the very base
of the barrow) “we found a large piece of one of the blue stones of
Stonehenge, which decidedly proves that the adjoining temple was erected
previous to the tumulus.”  He also says that “in opening the fine
bell-shaped barrow on the north-east of Stonehenge, we found one or two
pieces of the chippings of these (blue) stones, as well as in the waggon
tracks round the area of the temple.”  I need not point out the
satisfactory evidence which all this brings to bear on the question
before us.  The surrounding barrows are all pre-Roman, and therefore, for
the reasons alleged, Stonehenge must be pre-Roman also, as being older,
possibly much older, than the majority of the barrows themselves.

And now what shall we say more?  The grand old temple pleads for itself.
To assign to it the later origin would be to deprive it of its
well-founded claim to take rank among the most interesting of all the
relics of the ancient heathen world which have come down to us.  Thus
dishonoured, it would sink down into the comparatively insignificant
monument of a treacherous slaughter said to have been perpetrated in the
neighbourhood about A.D. 450.  But can this be all the meaning there is
in this mysterious structure, which has been viewed with astonishment and
veneration by such numbers of persons through successive centuries?  Only
think of the time and labour—the almost superhuman efforts—which it must
have cost our forefathers to convey these ponderous stones to the spot,
and then to shape and to set them up.  Such sustained exertion as this,
so laborious and so costly, requires a motive to account for it.  And
there is no motive we know of so powerful as what may be termed “the
religious instinct.”  The force of this principle of human nature, even
in its sadly corrupted state as it exists in the case of the ignorant and
superstitious heathen, is nevertheless the strongest principle of action
in the human breast.  We see it in the tenacity with which heathen
idolaters cling to their ancestral deities, or, as in India, in the
enormous sums of money which have been lavished by the Hindoos on the
construction and adornment of their idolatrous temples.  Viewing
Stonehenge, then, as a temple erected at a very early period for the
worship of the Sun, or Baal, we have what may be regarded as an adequate
motive for all the time and labour which must have been expended in its
construction, while, on the other hand, such a sufficient motive seems to
be altogether wanting on any other supposition.  It may be added that the
author of “Rude Stone Monuments,” while strenuously maintaining his own
view, admits, with some degree of inconsistency, that “looking at the
ground plan of Stonehenge there is something singularly _templar_ in its
arrangements.”  It is also worth noticing that the utter absence of
anything like ornamentation in this building is itself a very strong
argument against its Roman or post-Roman age.  For we shall look in vain
to find amongst the acknowledged remains of Roman architecture any
example of such severe unadorned simplicity as we have here.

May we not then be suffered to retain our old belief that this is
unquestionably a relic of Pagan antiquity of surpassing interest, visibly
testifying as it does amidst the solitude and silence of the surrounding
plain to the state in which our Celtic or Belgic forefathers were before
the light of Christian truth visited our shores, and brought with it the
civilization, and other inestimable blessings, which we now happily

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

          Bennett Brothers, Printers, Journal Office, Salisbury.


{4}  It is due to the memory of that very able pioneer of discoveries in
our Wiltshire barrows—the late Mr. W. Cunnington, F.S.A., of Heytesbury,
who is here referred to—to explain that though he found some fragments of
Roman pottery among the loose earth which had slipped into the cavity
caused by the fall of the great Trilithon in 1797, he did not consider
that this pottery had been deposited before the erection of the stones,
but that it must have found its way into the ground afterwards, from some
cause or other.  That this was Mr. Cunnington’s belief is quite certain
from a letter of his on the subject, dated Oct. 2, 1801, and which is, I
believe in the possession of his grandson, Mr. W. Cunnington, F.G.S.

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