I went to Stonehenge for the second time on Friday morning. When I visited England in April, I decided to go to Stonehenge because, well, it's famous and I hadn't been there. I didn't have any romantic notions about Druids or aliens building it or anything, or any deep interest in such ancient history in Europe. However, visiting the site - which is both smaller and much larger than I realized - was really inspiring and powerful.
The stones that you see in pictures of Stonehenge are a small part of a much larger site. There are burial mounds, areas that were villages for builders, and an enormous field which includes a clear set of pathways and mounds. It goes on for miles. The stone circle itself is fenced off, and a bit smaller in circumference than at least I imagined.
My visit in April took place on a warm and sunny day, and I learned an enormous amount about Neolithic culture, the limits of archeology in telling us stories about the past, and the way that the past can be forgotten so easily. Stonehenge has been a mystery to those near it for the large majority of its history.
When I received the scholarship for the Oxford course, I realized that I could visit Stonehenge again. This time I took a special early morning tour where 30 people at a time are allowed into the stone circle itself. While the weather was not as beautiful (I forgot that England doesn't really have summer as I know it and didn't have quite enough clothes), the experience was even more profound.
In an odd way, this reminded me of seeing the Klan robe in Memphis. What is this stone circle? It's rocks. Rocks, lichen and grass. Nothing else. Rocks are incalculably old - the only 'new' rock is volcanic. Which this isn't. But the fact that these rocks were shaped and moved over 5000 years ago? By humans? Who clearly had better things to do, when it really comes down to it. Simple survival took so much of human effort - why use precious human and social resources to move giant rocks? And then human cultures are so temporary that people in the area forgot why their forefathers and foremothers had bothered? Wow.
And people have been carving graffiti into these rocks for millennia - everyone wants to be remembered in some way.
So I froze my butt off in the wind and just looked at these rocks for an hour. And looked at the highway behind them. And looked at the sheep on the other part of the site. And thought about what human cultures mean, how ephemeral they are, and how bizarre we are as a species.