Thursday 5 June 2014

Those Old Stones

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn...Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 
― T.H. WhiteThe Once and Future King

I find it amazing that there are still mysteries in the world. We have no idea how Neolithic people got the stones of Stonehenge here about 5,000 years ago, or why they did it. One story says that Merlin, the great wizard of Camelot, thought that the area should be a proper burial ground for the great men of Britain, and so he used his magical powers to fly the stones from hundreds of kilometers away to erect a great monument fit for kings.

So, a big circle of big stones. It doesn’t sounds like it could be that exciting. I was excited because I have a special interest in prehistoric archaeological sites, but why were there so many cars there? And why did it cost £20 to get in?

The little Ps were excited, but I did rev them up about it, amping up the mystery of the stones and how long they've been standing.

The circle is staggering. I can’t explain how impressive the stones and the surrounding landscape are. Big M ran up the hill screaming, he was so excited. It’s other-worldly. How did they make a perfect circle with these massive, blue-tinged monoliths without the help of industrial machinery, or even proper wheels? And why? What drove or inspired the ancients?

After the initial excitement wore off, it got ugly. It was cold. And windy. I read that because the stones are on top of a plateau that it is always windy, and in the winter even those people who are accustomed to cold have a hard time spending any length of time up there, but this was August. We’re from Florida. So the kids cried and complained because of the biting winds, and we hustled through the last half of the walk around Stonehenge.

I like to think that the stones are a permanent structure in a world of impermanence, but Stonehenge and other henges across England are at risk because of climate change. Their physical location is in danger because of the increase in temperature and extreme weather events that will occur more frequently because of global warming. Flooding and erosion will be an issue with these kinds of events. There is also the question of the lichens covering the stones. Lichens? (!?!?) Yes, lichens are a plant that look sort of like a moss, and they cover much of the surface of the stones, giving them the familiar appearance that we see on TV shows and in tourist pamphlets. Many of these lichens are rare species, and they have developed a preserving effect on the stones. Many of them are also now at risk of dying off because of climate change, and there is a big question of what would grow in their place.

The larger issue here is the context and preservation of henge study and tourism. It takes money and interest to preserve cultural heritage. With strains on resources to mitigate predicted heat waves and other extreme weather, funds for Stonehenge and others like it will become more scarce. This beautiful green grass will be brown in the summers with higher summer temps and less rainfall. There will also be a loss of habitat for woodland creatures, a draw for walking tourists coming to Stonehenge. 

As part of the bigger picture of climate change mitigation, Stonehenge could easily fall by the wayside, and we will lose this link with our ancient past, perhaps never to solve the mystery (unless you believe that Merlin story).

More to explore:


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