Showing the direction the book will take with examples of memories. ‘Myth’ is used here for a memory with a ritual element,
The main topic of the book is the people who set up the megalithic monuments. There are plenty of books about the stones and the mounds of earth set up by our ancestors but few try to explain what the beliefs of the builders were or why they made structures that still stand today. These people first came to Britain some time after the ice of the last Ice Age retreated, perhaps 10,000 years ago. That may seem remote but as to be shown later the genes of the men and women hunter-gatherers who came up the Atlantic coast in boats remain those of a substantial proportion of the populations of Ireland and Britain now.
The book began half a century ago when the guide on a tour in Greece, looking over a barren landscape, pointed to a stunted tree, saying: ‘By that tree two paths cross. That is the place where Oedipus met and killed his father’. Back home in England it occurred to me that no one here would make a statement about any mythical event with such absolute confidence. I set out to find our missing myths and turned to the only source of information then available, a book. My choice should have been the ancient Welsh tales though there is very little about deities and rituals in the Mabinogi, the most accessible source. Instead I looked at French Arthurian romances where there were enough references to paganism for me to list 60 Celtic deities in Paganism in Arthurian Romance, though some Welsh scholars recognized only five at that time.
There is a simple reason for the absence of references to paganism in Welsh sources and their presence in French romances. The Welsh tradition was censored by Christian narrators but survived into literate times in Brittany, where many references to goddesses, gods and rituals were picked up by poets from the underlying tradition of both Brittany and Wales. These they used for the entertainment of French-speaking Breton courts. The mythical material, crafted into stories of illicit love, elopement and hand-to-hand combat, was remembered in Arthurian romances. An example of Welsh censorship is that St John’s Day, June 24th and often regarded as the saint of the summer solstice, which occurs on June 20th or 21st, is the commonest day in the prose romances (West 1978 p 172) but neither sun nor moon is mentioned in the Welsh tradition.
As a result of Welsh censorship the romances turn out to be almost the only available source of British myths, in the sense of stories of goddesses and gods, heroes and heroines, and of memories of tangible objects associated with them.
What is offered here falls into two categories. One is the response of missionaries to paganism. This may be material, such as burial under a Christian building and is only relevant to the time the building was constructed. Looking forward a page or two, the Venus of Quinipili a slab of stone two metres long was buried under a monastery in about AD 500. But the ‘breasts and necklace’ motif on it, which suggests she represents a goddess, can be found in Breton covered alleys of before 2500 BC and the last idol of that kind was buried under a church in AD 1500 suggesting continued worship in Brittany up to that date. AD 1500 is 300 years after the death of Chrétien de Troyes, the best known author of Arthurian romances. This validates the suggestion that pagan themes were available to the Breton poets who told Arthurian tales, all probably on parchment by AD 1500.
The other category is memories, stories that seem to describe prehistoric fact. In The Real Camelot (Darrah 1981 22) a text from a romance is quoted in which Camelot is called ‘the richest city the Sarrassins had in Britain and it was of so great authority that the pagan kings were crowned there, and paganism was more important there than in any other city in the country’ (Sommer II 244 and see Darrah 1981 149 for the French text). This suggests that Sarras and Camelot are names for the same place. If so they should be equal in other respects. At Sarras people worshipped the sun, moon and planets and there was a sun temple there (Le Saint Graal ed. Hucher II 130f.) A sun temple sounds like a description of Stonehenge. For Sarras, Camelot and Stonehenge to be names for the same place does not lead to any contradictions.
Some memories have been published before being noticed by archaeologists. For instance there are many references to associations between Camelot and Orkney in romances, such as Arthur was married to king Lot of Orkney’s sister, but it is only recently that archaeologists have discovered close links in reality.
The whole of the Arthurian romances may contain useful information. Several stories which are present in more than one source have been collected together and set out in Tables 1.,2 and 3 for comparison both among themselves and with reality. The results are the core of the book. They fit together in a comprehensive view of the area and period specified in the title.
There are other stories that might be memories of the same period and are mentioned in Paganism in Arthurian Romance but have been excluded here for the sake of simplicity.
The book needs to refer to aspects of the past that may be unfamiliar to the general reader. An objective of this Foreword is to introduce the background for such potential memories as will be pointed out. A notable feature of the megalithic episode of the Neolithic Age is conspicuous human control over the landscape. This will be displayed by photographs in Chapter2a and b
When the Welsh missionary St Gildas built a new monastery at Castennec in Brittany, in about AD 500, he buried a slab of granite, with the breasts and necklace on it in relief, under the monastery. About five centuries later, when Norse raiders destroyed the monastery, the villagers recovered this statue from the ruins and continued to worship it. In later years the Church had the idol damaged by hammers and thrown into the river Blavet more than once but it was dragged out with oxen.
Photo f.1The Venus of Quinipili RJD
Photographs with people on them are used if available to show the scale.
This photograph shows the statue menhir of Castennec after it was removed to a local lord’s estate at Quinipili near Beuzy, recut as a classical statue and used as a garden ornament. The affair is well documented. Also in Ogée’s Gazetteer of 1778-80 it is said, under Beuzy, that until the second half of the 18th century offerings were still being surreptitiously deposited at the statues where she was in the estate gardens. A motif in relief on stone of the Late Neolithic Age continued to be used until AD 500 after which it was worshipped in Brittany until little more than three centuries ago.
Photo f.2 The Venus of le Castel buried under a church in about AD 1500 Man vyi
The original features of the ‘Venus of Quinipili’ can no longer be seen but a simpler statue of the same kind is now in the churchyard at le Castel on Guernsey. It was found in the 19th century under the nave of a church built in about AD 1500. It shows in addition to the breasts and necklace only a headband and a mark on the small of her back, supposed from similar statues to indicate the end of a cape held in place by the headband. The illustration above shows a fault in the stone across the necklace and continuing across the broken breast. Another more complicated version of a stone statue of the same kind from St Sernin, further south in France, is shown later.
This motif was first carved in France in covered alleys of the Late Neolithic Age, before 2500 BC. It appeared again in the Bronze Age and in 500 AD was buried at Castennec under a Christian building, signifying worship. At le Castel worship continued at least until AD 1500 when the church was built, 4000 years later than the neolithic examples. Being buried under a church indicates pagan worship so this memory is also a myth.
An example of the motif in a covered alley
Photo F.3 Kerguntuil Covered Alley PDD
Covered alleys have parallel sides and had stone slabs for a roof the whole being originally covered by an earthen mound. One end with a side entrance is blocked at the other end and the far end section was equivalent to the chamber of a passage grave and like them may have held bones.
Photo F.4 Five of the six pairs of breasts of breasts on a stone at Kergutuil PDD
In this and some other examples the necklace of each pair is below the breasts. On the opposite side of the passage there are said to be another seven. There are illustrations of two other covered alleys with the motif in Chapter 4.
Several stories in traditional tales of making love to idols in underground chambers will be listed in Table 2 of Chapter 6 in the book, The presence of a goddess in this group extends the geographical range of the goddess, though without the motif on a slab, to Ireland and Britain. In the Neolithic Age it was not unusual for different types of monument to be used north and south of the Channel. For instance almost all stone circles are set up north of the Channel in Britain or Ireland, and rectangular spaces bordered by stones are unusual. South of the Channel the reverse is the case.
The goddess concerned will be shown to be the most important deity in Atlantic coast prehistory as well as the longest survivor into Christian times. Another example of memory of a deity, that is a myth, this time of a god, is references to a cattle cult that will be presented in stages as the book follows the course of the northward flow of megalith builders first from Brittany to South West Wales and then to Stonehenge. It is represented at both ends by buried cattle bones in significant positions and there are memories at all three places.
A good match between memory and fact will usually be duplicated in different forms. In Tables 2 and 3 six or seven stories are compared so the conclusions reached have a good chance of being correct. But there is an acceptable single-text example in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History (III 12). A British king was returning from Denmark when, near Orkney, he met a Spanish duke called Partholoim leading Basque people in search of land on which to settle. The British king directed them to Ireland. Partholoim seems to be Partholon, who in the Irish foundation legend is said to have taken his people to Ireland with the apparatus of arable farming. The list of places: the Basque country, the coastal areas of Britain, Ireland, Orkney, and Denmark was not written at random. It neatly defines the genetic trail of migrants northward along the Atlantic coast, shown on Map 1 in the book and the area of the megalithic episode of the Neolithic as shown on Map 2. To have five places, linked by their positions, mentioned in two or three sentences is unlikely to be an accident because, though Spain is often mentioned by Geoffrey or in foundation legends, this is the only mention of Basques, and until genetics came into use in about AD 2000 no one would have dreamed that male Basques and Irish have the same gene. This is a memory from 4000 BC as Partholon dates the event as the beginning of the Neolithic Age.
The geographical range of this book is for the most part decided by such memories of prehistoric places and myths as have survived in traditional stories and foundation legends. Their distribution happens to correspond to a linear culture that has been referred to as that of the Atlantic façade by the archaeologist Barry Cunliffe in Facing the Ocean 2001. Facade will be used as a convenient name for this culture, which includes the great stones of the Megalithic era of the New Stone Age and a language that would later divide into Goidelic Celtic in Ireland and Brittonic in Brittany and the West of Britain. Immigration of farmers from the east would fill the land up to the eastern boundary of the Atlantic façade.
Photo F.5 The original Stonehenge Adamsan
The elements are all circular. The ditch is outside the Bank. The white dots are the 56 evenly spaced Aubrey Holes. They each held one of the ‘bluestones’ brought from Wales. After 500 years the site was cleared of stones and the magnificent sarsen structures still visible today were erected.
The title refers to Stonehenge because it is a source of memories and myths. It is far from the coastal culture but will be shown to be an outpost of it, with its solstice orientation brought there with the Welsh stones of a circle from the Atlantic coastal area. That is where the other two substantial solstice oriented sites are. The Welsh contribution will be shown to be the solstice alignment of a stone circle, which on level ground, could act as an observatory, and an annual calendar. The Megalithic Era, an aspect of the Neolithic Age, is included in the title because its distribution and date match that of the façade in the maps of genes and megaliths in the Introduction. Stories of gods, goddesses and associated beliefs, linked to types of archaeological site, are the most interesting aspect of the book because they describe human attitudes and behaviour that cannot otherwise be found. For instance at the first Stonehenge elite burials were made in and near the Aubrey holes. The book will explain how and why elite male volunteers were killed or otherwise disposed of in Wales before the bluestones were moved, in the first five centuries at Stonehenge and after the sarsen stones were set up.
The archaeologist Stuart Piggott looked for memories when a young man, and concluded in 1941 that: ‘In the story of Stonehenge in Geoffrey of Monmouth [who lived from about 1100 to 1155 AD] we may have the only fragment left to us of a native Bronze Age literature’ (Antiquity XV 1941 305-319). The date the stones were moved would be called late neolithic today, not Bronze Age. Professor Piggott’s opinion was never accepted but will be confirmed and extended in Chapter 8 of the book.
An example from Geoffrey describes what other, more detailed, memories from the Late Neolithic might look like. Geoffrey says that several hundred barons and earls were killed and buried at ‘the Monastery of Ambrius’, his name for Stonehenge (Geoffrey’s ‘History’ VI 15 and VIII 9). The presence of a large number of elite burials at Stonehenge could match the cremated remains of individuals, probably wrapped singly in leather bags from about 3000 BC.
As Geoffrey’s description of elite deaths also appears in the earlier and more reliable Welsh History of the Britons of 830 AD and matches the modern archaeological view that any death at Stonehenge is probably ritual, elite burials are likely to be a memory. For the deaths to be on 1st May, an important date for ceremonies in the ancient Celtic calendar, tends to confirm the deaths to have been ritual. The book will show that the elite burials were not the result of a massacre, as Geoffrey of Monmouth suggests, but that they died in sequence on successive firsts of May over centuries at Stonehenge.
Later in Geoffrey’s ‘History’ (VIII 9) he gives the reason for moving the Welsh stones to Stonehenge being to enhance the cemetery where the elite were buried. This is the only surviving explanation of the purpose of the first phase of Stonehenge so is a significant statement. Many of the burials were made in the holes with the bluestones in them. The association of a cemetery with the Welsh stones is another possible memory of Stonehenge in 3000 BC.
A story in a romance refers to an unknown kind of stone which is said to have floated to St Stephen’s Minster at Camelot, where it arrived on Christmas Day (Sommer II 81). The narrators who preserved ancient memories usually replaced the main dates of the Celtic Calendar by saint’s days and the solstices by St John’s Day for the summer solstice and by St Stephen’s Day or Christmas Day for the winter solstice. In this instance the occasion is twice identified as the winter solstice, by St Stephen’s Minster and Christmas Day. The solstice alignment and the floated stone of an unfamiliar kind of stone both support Stonehenge as the destination of the stone. There are two possible memories of Stonehenge here. One is of the floated stone; the other is the solstice alignment. The winter solstice was the usual event to be celebrated as it presages the return to plenty and prosperity.
The identify of Stonehenge as Camelot was almost made by Stuart Piggott because it was Merlin, associated with Camelot, who moved the stones of the Giants’ Dance, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s name for Stonehenge. There will be much more said in the book about the greatest centre of British power and glory in romances being the same in reality as Stonehenge.
For instance in 1994 I published in Paganism in Arthurian Romance details of a close relationship between Orkney and Camelot. King Lot of Orkney was married to Arthur’s sister. He was buried in a Chapel dedicated to him and to St John (for the Summer solstice) at Camelot (29). His son Gawain was Arthur’s right hand man. Lot’s wife’s son Mordred mortally wounded Arthur and there is a record of a contingent from Orkney on Salisbury Plain (245 and Sommer II 372f). This was all in print before a real relationship was discovered so neatly confirms the identification of Camelot and Stonehenge.
In the Irish foundation legend there is an accurate description of the time before Partholon and farming, when hunter gathering was the mode of life. This legend describes a woman called Cessair who came from Meroe far up the Nile (Macalister vol 2 p 203) and eventually brought hunter-gatherers to Ireland. Celtic male genes will be shown to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa. The memories of Cessair, supported by those of the male genes of her crew, may be the earliest found in any British or Irish tradition.
Useful markers of date are the beginning of farming in 4000 BC and the first building at Stonehenge in 3000 BC. The simple circle of Welsh stones with its solstice alignment would be replaced by the more sophisticated and much larger sarsen structure in about 2500 BC. After that there is a presumption of ritual activity there until finally the site was abandoned in about 1500 BC, during the Bronze Age.
Maps 1 and 2 at the beginning of the Introduction will show that the spread of Atlantic coast genes matches that of megalithic monuments. The easily recognised visible signatures of this coastal culture are either passage graves, which are stone chamber with sentrance passages covered by round mounds and dolmens, stone slabs supported by three or more pillars. Also in Brittany only there are ‘covered alleys’. Illustrations of more than 20 of the three types are displayed in Chapter 2a and there are more in Chapter 3.
Men living in Cornwall, the western peninsulas of Wales, Ireland, parts of Scotland, the Orkney Islands and less so in the rest of Britain still share a common genetic structure. In the north-west of Ireland up to 98% of the male population has today what geneticists call the R1b gene, or in Sykes Blood of the Isles it is the ‘Atlantic modal Haplotype’. This is the male gene of the façade to the present day. The first holders of it were not descended from immigrants from the east who reached the coast and could go no further, as is sometimes supposed. Instead they were adventurous and competent sailors who got there before later arrivals from the east because they travelled in seaworthy boats at a speed much greater than the slow drift of farming. The hunter-gatherers began to arrive in Ireland and western Britain some time after the last Ice age ended. The sea broke through a narrow strip of land to form the English Channel perhaps 4000 years before arable farming came. At the pivotal point in Irish history when arable farmers arrived, two other changes occurred: a new proto-Goidelic language came that would displace Cessair’s, now vanished, speech and new female genes were brought in Partholon’s boats. After that, according to Sykes (2006 281), little change in the gene structure in the population of the British Isles occurred until recent immigration.
In a hunter gatherer settlement near where Stonehenge would eventually be built the skeletons of aurochs, wild boar and deer were buried. Centuries later, deposits of the bones of domestic cattle and the shinbone of a deer were made near an entrance to the first phase of Stonehenge. One of these bones was a century or more older than the ditch in which they were found, suggesting a consecrated relic. The buried bones match the view that, a thousand years after the introduction of farming, people still herded and hunted. At Stonehenge a larger proportion of the remains found in the rest of the site were of wild cattle, aurochs, compared with the nearby dormitory village of Durrington Walls at a date of about 2500 BC. By that time at Durrington Walls, home of the builders of Sarsen Stonehenge, large feasts left the remains of domestic cattle and pigs. The builders of Stonehenge lived off meat not grain.
Several memories of neolithic Britain, Brittany or Ireland have been mentioned already. One is the breasts and necklace motif carved on stone from before 2500 BC to buried under a church in AD 1500.; a second is the journey of Basques to Ireland. A third is of ritual burials of an elite at Stonehenge on May1st. A fourth is a memory of a floated stone and a fifth is the move of Cessair’s hunter gatherers up the Atlantic coast to Ireland. Underlying all is an Atlantic Coast culture that matches the distribution of both genes and megaliths. The potential memories discussed here will be supported by other memories provided in the book.
Archaeologists, who deal with tangible objects, are realists but in Stuart Piggott’s source it is Merlin who moved the stones to Stonehenge. Magic cannot explain moved stones but the name Merlin conceals a god, believed in by the people who moved the stones. In that source moving the stones will be shown to be done in an entirely practical way. I too was trained to deal with material aspects of life as a research scientist with an interest in statistics. Like archaeologists I look for the associations between stones, bones and burials but as memories in traditional stories.
To find about the goddess for whom elite men died at Stonehenge and how, when, and why they died read on. Answers will be provided in the book.
I thank the many people who have made helpful suggestions, the photographers who allowed their photographs to be used and Wikipedia, which published the photographs. Hovering on a photo will reveal the the format of the dedication to public use. Clicking will provide more detail.