I must admit I’m quite a fan of Family Guy. The way Seth McFarlane and his team continue to come up with humorous twists on contemporary issues is nothing short of ingenious. One of my favourite episodes is from Series 10 of the show where Peter Griffin, the show’s main protagonist, discovers corruption within his city’s government and encourages the people of the community to join him in usurping those who put personal greed before the people. Unfortunately for the city, chaos and anarchy unfolds with lack of a law system…. or any form of social and communal regulation. Eventually (and somewhat ironically), the chaos worries Peter who, in turn, decides that a group of people should be elected to run the city on behalf of the community, as can be seen in the video below:
In addition to the odd naughty word here and there, the episode carefully outlines the social cycle theory – that events and stages of society and history generally repeat themselves in cycles. Such a theory does not subsequently imply that there cannot then be any form of social progress, but it merely states that when social change happens, history has previously encountered something similar. From lack of governance to the sharing of resources and ideas to the dominance of the few and fortunate, and then back around again.
In truth, whether people are fond of those in government to represent them or not, any civilised society needs some form of governing body to regulate and encourage social progression. Even anarchism advocates voluntary associations and groups to accomplish tasks and requirements on behalf of the people.
As well as watching American cartoons, another thing that has grabbed my interest is stone circles – especially those of Neolithic and Bronze Age times. I have visited a few and have read a few books on them; each time getting lost in the mysteries of their likely purpose. These mysteries are explained impeccably in the film Standing with Stones by Rupert Soskin in which he uses the following metaphor to outline the secrets (and subsequent frustrations) of many of the British Isles’ ancient megalithic treasures: “Imagine it snows and somebody builds a snowman in the time-honoured way of a lovely carrot for his nose and two lumps of coal for his eyes. And then the warmer weather comes and the snowman melts. Then one day you’re walking across the field and you come across the two lumps of coal and the carrot but you have no knowledge of the tradition of making snowmen. What would be your interpretation? A messy coal man with a careless donkey? But then worse still, say, a sheep came along first and ate the carrot and you’re excavating the lumps of coal thousands of years later. That’s the problem with our distant past. Fragmented pieces from different jigsaw puzzles and we just don’t know what goes with what. It’s a nightmare but it’s so exciting.”
Another wonderful thing about these sites is that, even with the depth of knowledge from many learned sources, theories put forward can rarely be proved totally and definitely correct…. which means I too allowed to comment and to make suggestions without worrying about being told off. Smashing!
The question I’ve been asking myself lately concerns how plausible it may or may not be for some (if not most or even all) stone circles to in fact be seats of early government with, perhaps, one stone representing one representative to speak on behalf of the community. In many ways the notion itself seems more romantic than historically believable, but, bearing in mind the knowledge that any society requires governing, why wouldn’t groups of people gather at designated and decorated sites to discuss social progression?
There are many more tangible and better founded theories to the uses of stone circles. One of my personal favourites is their links to lunar cycles. From the recumbent stones of Scotland (mapping the moon’s course as if a megalithic observatory), to the placing of our planet’s only natural satellite in accordance to the stones such as those of the Nine Ladies (near Arbor Low in Derbyshire’s Stanton Moor) and the 19 stones of Cornwall’s Merry Maidens. It’s true that many stone circles in the British Isles (and elsewhere) consist of either 9 or 19 stones – thus giving rise to Alexander Thom’s notion in 1971 that many megalithic circles had been constructed to observe the 18.6 year lunar cycle which culminated in the major lunar standstill. The closest whole numbers to this proportion is 19 and, the closest whole number to half of 19 is 9 – but the fact these circles share any relationship to lunar activity could simply be as trivial as for ‘decorative effect’. Perhaps each representative’s particular stone represents an amount of time (governed itself by the timings of the moon’s journey across the sky) afforded for them to govern how they see fit? Or simply at which time a representative may offer his / her opinions and ideas? Do the horizontal recumbent stones between two tall flanking stones offer a higher seat (and higher rôles of responsibility) amidst the discussions? Is this enough to support the modern rituals of Druids and the negotiations they would undoubtedly have had?
As I previously mentioned, my hypotheses are based merely on a background of having read a few books, watched a few YouTube clips and scrambled up a couple of steep hillsides to actually witness these sites. I remain wholeheartedly aware that the theories of burials, sacrifices, religious temples and even recreational arenas are far more tangible and better certified than my guesses, but nevertheless government is necessary.
Whether we agree with the ones that govern us or not, we would do well to not underestimate the notion that the people who afforded valuable time and expenses out of their hard-working day-to-day lives to create these megalithic structures were regulated and maintained by communities sharing ideas on how to better their lives. To compare the creators of these sites with the common perceptions of cave-dwelling “ugg“-sayers is nothing short of vast naïvety. The website archaeoastronomy.com warns modern-day historians, archaeologists and scientists of the dangers of naïvety in misunderstanding and underestimating our ancestors: “Scientists who now tend to devalue yesterday’s legacies are only stoking the fires for the inevitable cremation of their own triumphs by tomorrow’s wiser progeny.”
So how possible is it that these stone structures once housed seats of government? In honestly, I’m fully open to the idea that such incredible sites were used for a multitude of purposes – one of which perhaps being that they were seats for representatives making decisions on behalf of their communities. Soskin also clearly describes how many stone circles adapted and altered their primary purposes: “In the same way that many of the deconsecrated churches across Britain have become things like community centres and apartments, the builders’ intentions are confusing. And I have to wonder how future archaeologists might decipher our present-day recycling of old buildings.” Even considering the vast array of cremation and burial finds at many of these sites does not, in my humble view, discourage any reason to believe that respected members of their communities were often sat there. How many modern churches preach in the grounds of those buried there? A countless amount, I might suspect. At the same time hosting meetings, musical concerts, weddings, funerals and much, much more.
Furthermore, many of our modern seats of government are today arranged in circles. The Senedd in Cardiff Bay, Hollyrood in Edinburgh and the European Parliament in Belgium all spring to mind.
Whatever the truth, chances are we will never accurately determine the uses of these magnificent sites. One thing is for sure, however. The mystery of these sites will forever plague and burden my imagination for as long as I live and, for that, I am happy.