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.


unkle e said...

Dear Soo and Alan

I am honoured to have received a mention and a detailed reply. I look forward to completion, but with a little sadness, as watching progress has been fun.

Granted the staged construction and modification of Stonehenge, I wonder whether Cardhenge could similarly evolve. Constructing stage 1, an earthen henge, from cardboard may be a challenge, but the wooden stage would be easier - if anyone knows what wooden structure was actually completed.

An alternative with a lot of interest would be to construct cardboard Woodhenge, which I recall had (they believe) a much more elaborate timber structure as its centrepiece.

I can imagine, granted the person-hours required to dig ditches and mounds and move and stand stones, that many ambitious structures could have remained uncompleted, due to a change in culture or religious belief, tribes moving on or even being wiped out, or just a series of harder seasons.

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

I hollowly laugh! In Sydney, we have a very small underground railway compared to London, but there are several half completed tunnels and stations, numerous unfulfilled plans for extensions, and the notorious Eastern Suburbs railway (a whole 4 stations) took almost as long as Stonehenge to complete. But in this case, the cause is easily understood - politicians!

Alan A said...

Ah these are very good points. Back then, people had genuine reasons for not completing a project, eg they had been eaten by a rhino, or had died of old age at 28, or had departed on a shamanic astral voyage into the spirit world of their ancestors and had never returned.

None of these specific dangers are listed on the risk assessments of my current work projects. They may, however, be contributory reasons to the current slow progress on the Sydney underground?