Saturday, 17 March 2012

The British Isles in the Neolithic Stone Age

The British Isles are home to monuments and even houses built of stone thousands of years before the foundation of Rome

Neolithic Stone Age Monuments
The many Stone Age monuments in the British Isles are silent records of prehistoric populations who carried out their architectural work using stone and flint tools but left no written accounts of themselves. In Britain and Ireland, the Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age around the end of the third millennium BC.

The latter part of the Stone Age is known as Neolithic, when people no longer lived in caves or depended on hunting and gathering, but had learned to build wooden houses, to farm the land and keep herds of cattle. The age of monuments from this period is calculated using radiocarbon dates, and as these give only an approximate estimation, dates referring to the same monument may vary by hundreds of years.

The Neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Salisbury in the south of England is the most imposing testimony to British prehistoric civilisation. According to English Heritage, the first works were carried out on the site around 5,000 years ago. It is thought to have been completed around 500 years later with the transportation of enormous stone blocks from as far as Wales.

Although there is no indication as to whether the people who carried out the work of dragging, shaping and erecting these enormous blocks of stone spoke a Celtic language, the mystical outlay of the site and the absence of inscriptions seem to have at least some parallel in the secretive functions of the druids, the priests among the Celts.

Ancient British Religion Without Script
The druids were renowned for maintaining secret many aspects of their knowledge, apart from that which they would communicate orally. The result is that, owing to the absence of any form of writing or inscription, no written history of the Celts or of any other population in Britain prior to the first century BC has been passed on to later generations.

This is in stark contrast to the priests among the ancient Israelites, who meticulously wrote all the scripts of the Old Testament and copied them throughout the ages; and to the priests of ancient Egypt, who sought by way of hieroglyphics and wall paintings to give a descriptive account of their time.

The enormous blocks at Stonehenge are written in the ground, like gigantic letters, and yet to this day no-one can understand with certainty their purpose and function, or significantly fathom the religious customs of the people who placed them there. Although there is no formal link between Neolithic monuments and the Celts of the Iron Age, the druids would have almost certainly known the original purpose of the circular henges and stone chambers of Britain and Ireland.

Knowledge of ancient Celtic traditions, together with archaeological research, suggests that the Celts of the Iron Age believed in a spiritual presence within nature. The natural presence of groves, water and trees fascinated the Celts more than any structure of human origin.

The much older culture of the Neolithic Age, therefore, may have been centred on a different perception of religion, on a celestial God whose presence can be mirrored in the light of the sun entering a circular stone construction. It would seem, however, that the religion of the Celtic druids replaced this with a perception of divine presence to be found within nature itself, an earthly presence of the Divine.

Architecture Aligned to a Cosmic Order
The Neolithic chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu on the island of Anglesey in Wales, according to the Ancient-Wisdom web page, dates back to about 5,000 years, and is thought to have been built on an even older site. Although described as a burial chamber, it has been suggested that it may have also served as an agricultural calendar.

The three mounds, or cairns, of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, near the town of Drogheda in Ireland, are estimated to be about 5,200 years old. Detailed information can be found on the online web page Mythical Ireland as to the original functions of these stone chambers. Generally described as passage-tombs, they share a fascinating secret with Stonehenge, Bryn Celli Ddu and many other Neolithic stone chambers and henges: their structural design may be based upon the cosmic order.

A similar pattern is found at Maeshowe on the Orkney Islands, where a cairn with entrance passage and chambers dating to about 2700 BC incorporates the same form of Stone Age architecture that is seen in England, in Anglesey and in Ireland and appears to be designed according to a specific alignment with the sun.

There is a general acceptance that these and numerous other Neolithic structures in Britain and Ireland were designed to receive the light of the rising sun and of the setting sun within stone chambers by way of an entrance; or to receive the sunlight that passes in a particular lapse of time between vertically erected stone slabs, such as at Stonehenge.

The winter solstice and the summer solstice are considered essential calculations of time in determining the positioning of the entrances and pillars. This would imply a firm belief on the part of Britain and Ireland's ancient inhabitants in a cosmic order that ensures day and night and the repetition of the seasons, a repetition that is vital to human life on Earth and ensures prosperity and posterity.

Skara Brae and Prehistoric Stone Houses
The Neolithic village of Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands is made up of stone houses that were linked to each other by a system of stone passages covered with slabs. According to the online web site Orkneyjar, its origins go back to the late fourth or early third millennium BC.

The even older Orkney farmstead of Knap of Howar, comprising two oblong stone buildings, could have been inhabited as early as 5,600 years ago. Skara Brae and Knap of Howar are two examples of stone architecture used in the building of houses that existed in Britain thousands of years before the foundation of Rome!

  •  English Heritage online;
  •  Ancient-Wisdom online;
  •  Mythical Ireland online;
  •  Orkneyjar online.

Article written by D. Alexander

Read about Celtic Dover in Kent:

Read more: Celtic Origins in Britain and Ireland

Photo: ancient pathway of stone in Dover

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