Riddles in Stone

Richard Hayman. Riddles in Stone: Myth, Archaeology and the Ancient Britons. Hambledon Press.

This very nicely produced book is a study of changing interpretations of Britain's megalithic monuments from folklore to the radiocarbon revolution. It is of interest to both professional archaeologists and to the lay public. I think the sections most likely to interest Magonia readers are chapters 18 to 24 which deal with some of the theories of Sir Norman Lockyer, Gerald Hawkins and Alexander Thom, and the ley-hunters from Alfred Watkins onwards. Hayman, who admits that he entered archaeology via ley-hunting, deals with these topics in a critical but sympathetic manner.

Like many more mainstream theories, such ideas appeal to their times: Hawkins astroarchaeology, worked out on an old-fashioned giant computer was a product of the years of the 'white heat of the technological revolution', whilst ley-hunting derived from the counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s. Hayman points out that, far from being a solitary prophet, Alfred Watkins was in many ways a typical product of the English county archaeological society milieu. Theories about alignments had been around since the coming of the Ordnance Survey maps. In particular Hippisley Coxe's Green Roads of England, published in 1914, could be seen as a predecessor. Watkins was an old-fashioned figure, an antiquary rather than an archaeologist, and was heavily influenced by his Herefordshire background, where there were few megaliths and no stone circles.

New Age interpretations of leys probably began with Alfred Lawton's Mysteries of Ancient Man (1939) in which he introduced the idea that leys were connected with some kind of terrestrial current. Other writers, such as Miss Olive Pixley (whom Hayman describes as being "A large bustling woman dressed in uncompromising tweeds") also added mystical footnotes.

Hayman notes briefly the role of Aime Michel and Duncan Wedd (but omits Philip Heselton) in the revival of ley-hunting. John Michell gets a chapter to himself, largely based on View over Atlantis. Also treated in some detail are Paul Screeton, the Bords and Paul Deveraux, and Hayman notes the latter's move away from energy grid theories into more mainstream activities.

Overall, Hayman concludes that such fringe ideas evoked an Arcadian image of the past far removed from the evidence encountered by archaeologist, which is then coupled with a romanticised town-dweller's view of the countryside. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 60, August 1997

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