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Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Time Event
6:00a
Ah, yes ...
I have read a great deal of material dealing with Stonehenge and various other neolithic sites in the British Isles, and it is always so difficult to sort out the "wheat from the chaff". The fact is, even writers with quite respectable credentials (in perhaps not unrelated fields) will spin off into "eccentricity" when dealing with their early precursors, and, so every book dealing with the subject needs be taken with the proverbial "grain of salt". Another book that I'm currently reading claims that one cannot collect all the books written on the subject of the neolithic ruins of Britain, because so many of them come out in tiny editions from ephemeral presses, have their moment (perhaps just long enough to be quoted or refuted in another book), and fade from history.

Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain is one that one wouldn't suspect of being "on the fringe", as the volume I have is a somber hardcover from an academic archaeological press, and its author, Dr. Euan W. MacKie was writing from a position with a museum at the University of Glasgow. However ... the premise of this book, taken on its own, could be seen to be almost in the "von Däniken zone", which had me watching for "red flags" all the way through.

What, you ask, is this book about? MacKie is positing that there was a strong, centralized, entrenched and long-running theocracy beginning in late stone-age England, much in the style of the far later Mayan system in Central America. Yes, the mind reels through Arguelles, McKenna, "Druid" fetishists, etc., etc., etc., and wonders just what one has picked up! However, the tone of the book never varies from the starchily academic, and the case MacKie makes is based as much on the analysis of 5,000-year-old midden (trash) heaps as the mathematics of astronomical alignments. Frankly, I kept waiting for him to "go off the deep end", but there is none of the wild-eyed fervency that one typically associates with tomes dealing with "ancient knowledge". Indeed, when I finished reading this, my initial "take away" was of how dry it had been, which is, considering, not a bad thing.

Much of Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain is looking at old data in new ways ... taking surveys of the trash at places like Stonehenge, Avebury, Durrington Walls, Skara Brae etc., to see what was being eaten and putting to that the question of "by who?". MacKie suggests that there was a priestly caste that lived in isolation from the rest of the society (perhaps side-by-side with the temporal rules), somewhat like the later Christian monastic communities (which may have been organized along lines echoing their long-past forebearers), and developed the "science" needed to create the magnificent projects which survive in places like the Salisbury Plain. What can the trash tell us? That there was nearly zero grain found in these settlements, nor any animal skulls, although plenty of animal long bones. This suggests that bread was being brought to these places pre-baked, and that the meat consumed was being specially butchered elsewhere with the better cuts being brought in as well. MacKie does extensive comparative analysis of the nature of the refuse over various times, and the sudden shifts (breakdown in society?) when pig and sheep bones disappear and are replaced by deer (domesticated game replaced by hunted). His theories are fascinating in how they follow the available archaeological data.

Also interesting here are the examinations of various circles, ruins, and alignments, with a focus on the "megalithic yard", "megalithic rod" and other standardized measurements. Obviously, a book about Britain's neolithic builders could not be complete without various charts and maps outlining assorted astronomical alignments, but this is (as far as I can recall) unique in its measuring the perimeters of various stone circles, barrows, etc. Now, I've done a good deal of study in assorted extant shamanic practices, and know that precise measurements are often quite important (ala some of the "projects" in Serge King's awesome Urban Shaman) to attain the energetic results that one is attempting to create. MacKie shows how remarkably close the outer circumferences come to even units of these measures, especially the "megalithic rod". Obviously, extraordinary care had to be taken to be able to make sure these circles were of a certain size, and not in some easily attained way as by a specific diameter, etc.

Speaking of circles, many of them are not circles, but complex combinations of shapes that strongly suggest that their designers were cognizant of Pythagorean triangles (and, by implication, advanced mathematics), and able to use them to create ovoid shapes containing semi-circles, arcs, etc. ... all pointing to an institutionalized body of knowledge far beyond what the local village wise man would be likely to have.

I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain to those interested in its subjects, but, unfortunately, it appears to be very much out-of-print. I got this hardcover copy at the Newberry Library book fair, and was surprised to find no record of it on Amazon (it's old enough, from 1977, to not have an ISBN), although they have an equally unavailable paperback edition (also from 1977, but a different publisher) listed. If you want to go searching, it's Library of Congress CCN is 76-48755 ... good luck!


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