Monday, 30 July 2007

Seeing things ...

Two more bluestones get made today, 61 and 68. Analysis of the real stone 68 at the beginning of the 20th century showed that it had been set into the rubble which supports stone 56 in its own hole, thereby proving that the large sarsen trilithons were put in place before the smaller bluestones.

Brian and Lizzie Sanders have explained the answer to the riddles of the antlerless deer and the shielded man. Here I have photoshopped some lines onto the Cardhenge stones, to show how it all works. The deer with no antlers is stone 3:

and the man with the shield on his back is stone 58:

It's possible to see shapes in some of the other stones too. Today we tend to assume that these are happy accidents, but were these shapes visible to neolithic humans too, and were they the reasons why these particular stones were chosen, rather than others?

The caves of Lascaux and elsewhere in France are full of instances of animal-shaped outcrops of rock being painted as the animal itself. The most convincing theory of the creation of paleaolithic cave art (a.k.a. the theory I like best...) is that the ancient cave dwellers believed that real spirit animals lived in the walls of the caves, and that shamans could engage with these animals during their drug-fuelled visions. Whereas today we see cave walls as being seriously solid objects, in the neolithic mind they may have been paper-thin membranes, through which the visible world and the spirit world touched... Could the same be true of the stones in the stone circles of the British Isles?

Here is my impression of how Cardhenge stone 3 may have looked thousands of years ago, when its Lego builders painted it to commemorate the Lego deer god they believed slept within, and which could be freed during terrifying shamanic rituals.

At Cardhenge, of course, the faces of the stones literally are paper-thin. Are there spirit beings living inside, waiting to be freed? The packaging does not say.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Yes! - you can now buy cardboard Stonehenge from the English Heritage shop!

Woooh, this is a genuine result - English Heritage have resumed selling this awesome model from their shop at Stonehenge, and you can buy it online from them too. You really must buy this model... Soo and I both think that Cardhenge is easily the best thing we have bought all year.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Meditations on finished-ness

Our most loyal reader, Unkle E in Australia whom we have never met, has asked some questions which really deserve answering in the main blog, his first one being how close we are to finishing the circle... well we have done about 70-ish stones, and only have six to go from the official packet, although we also have two special additional stones which we are saving to the end - you'll hear more about these soon. In theory we could finish the circle by Friday at this rate, but we're not around for the rest of the week (Soo will be on leave and I have been called out on work trips) so it's not going to be done just yet.

Here's some before-and-after photos of stone 70, which I have done at lunchtime today, to show you just how tiny the remaining stones are.

Of course, this begs the question of whether there actually ever was a 'finished' Stonehenge in the first place. The real Stonehenge is known to have gone through numerous changes of design while it was slowly being built, the bluestones being a good example of this: they were all dragged there with the intention of being erected in a circle, but the circle was never completed, the stones were removed, and their holes were filled in. Some of the bluestones were then re-erected in a horseshoe layout a few centuries later.

This seems quite common with stone circles in Britain. It is accepted by archaeologists that many of the recumbent stone circles in north eastern Scotland were never finished. At Arbor Low in Derbyshire, the stones are lying on their sides; Aubrey Burl in his book thinks they all blew down over the years, but other experts have pointed out that there's no archaeological evidence of any holes ever being dug for them, so perhaps the project was abandoned.

Uncompleted projects are familiar from other ancient cultures too. After Djoser's Step Pyramid was constructed in Old Kingdom Egypt none of his successors - Sekhemkhet, Khaba, perhaps Huni too - managed to get higher than a few courses until Sneferu built one at Dahshur. Djoser's pyramid would have towered above his successors' feeble attempts, a mute indictment of their failure.

Abandoned, half-completed projects are something wholly foreign to the modern western world, of course.

Monday, 23 July 2007

And another three stones...

Soo and I have cut, scored, folded and glued stones 33, 49 and 129 during our lunchtime today... they are all fairly wee stones but in fact these little ones are very atmospheric. The large trilithons form the recognisably iconic part of the structure, but the scattered and broken remnants add to the feelings of remoteness and mystery.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Two more wee little stones

Soo has just finished stone 38 - "ah, sweet" she says - and I have just placed stone 130 onto its uprights. There hasn't been much time this week to do very much as we have had some major deadlines to meet on work projects. Roll on next week!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Meditations on underground access

The renegade firefighter heads underground only to crash in the subway next to the English Heritage souvenir shop. And so the chase comes to an end.

The underground access to the real Stonehenge has received much criticism over the years since it was built in 1968, but in my mind it has a great deal of symbolic significance. The modern entrances to many heritage buildings are too simplistic: they are above ground, with simple linear access to the monuments, thus denying them any sense of mystery. At Stonehenge it is different. There is nothing linear about access at all. Instead, you have to park your car on the wrong side of the road from the monument, then pass through an underground subway, which symbolises your death and rebirth. When you emerge from the ground you are a new being; you are now on the right side of the road, in the sacred space, and you are now allowed to approach the holy place. You then make one full circuit of Stonehenge following the path laid out by English Heritage, in the same manner that thousands of pilgrims before you have done. Then you pass back through the underworld to return to the secular reality from whence you came.

It is interesting how many stone circle sites in England have strange kinks in their modern access routes. At Avebury for instance, the lane from the National Trust car park kinks and meanders it way past houses and gardens before emerging in the village street. At Stanton Drew there is a dog-leg approach from the car park to the circle, seemingly for no reason other than the farmer's whim to make it so, because a straight-line, linear approach would be just as possible, as far as I can tell. Arbor Low and Boscawen Un have strange dog-leg walks too.

Why should this be? Perhaps there is an unconscious need to make access difficult, or to make it special. By forcing the visitor to make turns and twists in order to reach the monument, the paths are forcing the visitor to exert righteous effort. And Stonehenge, by symbolising death and rebirth in its underground subway, has perhaps the best modern access of all.

A masculine stone

Here is stone 58, Alan's favourite stone, as seen from two different angles. It's getting quite tricky to photograph the stones of the inner circle now that the outer circle is more or less complete. This sarsen trilithon had to be hewn from not one or two but three pieces of card. A herculean effort on Alan's part I think you will agree.

Friday, 13 July 2007

The A344 forms an attractive addition to the model

The impact of the real Stonehenge is enhanced by the presence of the A344 trunk road linking Amesbury and Devizes. The road gives European juggernaut drivers a chance to appreciate the silence and sprituality of the circle, as they thunder past with their cargoes of magazines and beauty products.

So we have modelled the road.

Here you can see our brave Lego police motorcyclist on the trail of a renegade fire fighter.

While all this excitement has been going on I have added stone 160B and Soo has added stone 41.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Alan's favourite stone so far ...

... is stone 58, one of the inner sarsen trilithons. This has been very satisfying to make. It's a very masculine stone somehow, all rugged and chipped and gnarled, whereas Soo's favourite has been stone 56, a much smoother stone, with graceful and subtle curves.

Now that we've made 58 we have also been able to remove stone 158 from its glacial agony, and install it on top.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Ice Ice Baby

One unexplained puzzle about the real Stonehenge is how the bluestones managed to get all the way from the mountains of Wales to Salisbury plain. Many scientists think that the stones could only have arrived there naturally, by prehistoric glaciers: the stones were carried by the glacial action as far as Salisbury, at which time the climate warmed, the glaciers melted, and the bluestones were left lying on the ground.

We have tried to re-enact this for the construction of our cardboard Stonehenge. The freezer compartment in our office fridge had a great chunk of ice in it, which we chipped out, and used as a means of transport to carry stone 158, which Soo made on Friday. Here you can see the Legomen watch its progress.

It is now Monday, but the stone has not travelled very far.

Friday, 6 July 2007

We have discovered some leys

Indeed we have. In 1909 astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer claimed to have discovered alignments between Stonehenge and other ancient monuments in the area; he was followed by Alfred Watkins and various successors who asserted the existence of "leys," straight lines crossing the English landscape.

We thought we would check to see whether our unfinished Cardhenge ties in with similar leys. So we wheeled it into the centre of the office, and guess what? - there seem to be dozens! We have marked the main ones on the photo. There appear to be many such lines of force, criss-crossing our office like laser beams in a Mission Impossible film.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Another stone ...

Not much free time to do very much today: Soo is at her lunchtime watercolours course, and I need to go into town to get my motorbike fixed.

Time enough, though, to add stone 15, which is one of the shattered fragments of the largest trilithon in the inner sarsen circle. Originally this trilithon would have stood 24 feet high. Today only one upright remains, this being the 'nipple stone' which we made back on 12 June; the other two lie in pieces on the ground on the south western side of the monument.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


Today stone 14 has joined its companions. More importantly, however, Britain has been flooded over the past few weeks, and our cardboard Stonehenge is no exception. Here you can see a quick snapshot Soo has taken of the rain pouring down on Cardhenge. The Lego men have had to find refuge next to a mountain of files, where it is dry. Let's hope the site dries out by tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Yes! - the original model IS still available!

Brian and Lizzie Sanders, who are the original artists behind this awesome model, have contacted us to say that cardboard Stonehenge is available from Moduni in Germany, Book Ends in London, and directly from themselves. We've added links to Moduni and Sanders-Art in the links bit on the right. Isn't the web great?

Monday, 2 July 2007

Meditations on stability

Stones 122 and 154 get placed on top of their uprights today. Stone 122 is famous for getting smashed in half in 1900, when a gale blew it from its perch and hurled it 80 feet across the ground.

Oddly, the more you learn about the real Stonehenge the more fragile and contingent it becomes. It seems to fall apart at the slightest puff of wind. I think at least three stones have fallen or blown over from 1900 to the present day, and it seems statistically likely to me that another one will topple within our lifetime. This is very different from the iconic Stonehenge image familiar from UK national branding, where the monument is celebrated for being 'constant' and 'unchanging'.

Our cardboard Stonehenge, which would appear to be under no such national identity pressure, is in fact very much like the real henge in that it too is an extraordinarily delicate structure. Especially if it gets knocked onto the office floor.