Chapter 8


Chapter 8

Stage 2 Movement from Wales to Stonehenge

Several references in romances to this journey will be studied to seek memories of the voyage of the bluestones from Wales to the Stonehenge site

Includes Table 3

As mentioned in the Foreword Professor Stuart Piggott when a young man in 1941 published his opinion 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 story referred to is as follows: Geoffrey says that the King wished to enhance a cemetery, where 300 noblemen who had been killed by Saxons were buried, with a suitable memorial that would last forever. They had been buried at the Monastery of Ambrius, a place that can now be identified as Stonehenge. He was advised to consult  Merlin (his name for Ambrius/Embreis) who had an aptitude for devising engines of artifice. When messengers found him he was at the Spring of Galabes. He recommended that the king should fetch the stones called the Giants’ Dance from Killare in Ireland where the stones had a mystery and a healing virtue. Giants of old had brought the stones there from Africa. Not all of this can be taken at face value but as the stones actually came from Wales there should be a reason for the mistake. It could be that a Welsh name beginning Kil- suggested Ireland to a narrator who did not realise that there are place names beginning Kil- round the source of the bluestones even today.  Giants have already been mentioned as thought responsible for large neolithic monuments in Britain, Africa could be a memory of Cessair’s origin in Meroe.

Merlin when instructed to bring the stones  set off with ships and troops to capture them. After that was accomplished he set the stones into ships and brought them to Britain. There is no hint of a magic wand here. The king then asked the people to assemble at the Mount of Ambrius where they celebrated Whitsuntide (that is Beltaine/May 1st) and Merlin set up the stones there as they had been on Mount Killare (GoM VIII 9-12).

The story refers to the Giants Dance, Geoffrey’s name for the stones brought from ‘Ireland’ and set up on Salisbury Plain. Geoffrey twice comments (GoM VIII 10 and 12) that the stones should be erected as they were in ‘Ireland’. As the bluestones were in fact set up in a stone circle in Britain, they would have been in that shape in Wales. ‘Ireland’ is irrelevant here, perhaps a memory of West Wales as being in the façade. For a stone circle to be moved rather than stones from a quarry suggests they had a ritual value. Geoffrey had theft of the stones in mind but movement by the Welsh, motivated by religion, would account for both transport of the stones and the presence of west coast beliefs at Stonehenge in long barrow country far from the sea. Geoffrey’s story about enhancing a cemetery is supported by the fact that cremation burials were made at Stonehenge in the centuries following the setting up of the bluestones, some of them in the Aubrey Holes, the 56 holes the bluestones were first set up in. The remains have been examined and are not all of the same age. Saxons as the perpetrators  of the ‘massacrc’  is a mistake can easily  be explained

Geoffrey made a serious mistake by confusing the Ambrius of the ‘Tale of Embreis’ with the real post-Roman leader Ambrosius Aurelianus. This caused prehistorical events to be set in a historical period, as already mentioned in section 4 of Chapter 5. We can now safely remove from the Giants’ Dance story anything that depends on the wrong date or wrong place, such as Saxons and the improbable Africans. Professor Piggott’s conclusion that the story is a remnant of an ancient oral tradition now seems likely to be accurate.

There is another version of moving the Welsh bluestones in The Quest of the Holy Grail translated by Pauline Matarasso (pp280f). In it Galahad and his companions Bors and Perceval, after many adventures, came to Sarras, a name for Stonehenge, in a ship and took the Grail and the ‘silver’ Grail Table ashore. There when King Escorant died the people elected Galahad as king. He and his companions continued to worship at the Table ‘until when the year was up and the self-same day that had seen Galahad crowned came round again’ he died in a ceremony at the Table. Heroes are often sheltered from ritual deaths by narrators bur Galahad expired at the altar in a blast of hot air and in the presence of a being with a face as bright a lightning (Sommer VI 195n). The buried noblemen are said to have been killed by Saxons, a replacement for Sarasens. Sarras being a name forStonehenge they were killed by their own people.

In this story the site is Sarras/Camelot and the Grail Table/Round Table is the bluestone circle. The difference is that ritual and belief are now included. There is a reference to annual kingship at Stonehenge. The 300 or more burials of earls and barons in the story were not killed in a massacre as ‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey say .

The a sequence of annual deaths suggests the name Galahad is a job description.  Any burial at Stonehenge in antiquity is likely to be ritual, particularly annual deaths of an elite at Stonehenge. Elite burial, remembered in a romance, is a myth.

Earlier in the journey to Stonehenge Perceval’s sister, Dandrane accompanied the three companions. On there journey they came to Castle Felon, where the custom was for royal virgins to bleed a vessel full of blood. Dandrane did so and failed to survive. There was a special cemetery at the site where12 (or possibly 24) princesses were already buried. Unlike the others her body was put in a boat that floated away without human guidance (Sommer VI 168ff, also 247-50 and Malory XVII 10). The boat arrived at Stonehenge at the same time as Galahad and his companions, who the buried her there.

Another romance mentions a block of a type of stone, unknown to the people of Salisbury Plain, found in front of the Cathedral on Christmas Day. The stone had been sent by god to show the people who would be king (Sommer II 80/81). In this story the destination of the stone is said to be London, assumed to be an intrusion replacing Camelot.

Summary up to this point

‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey have now been shown to know of elite burials at Stonehenge, a ritual that began when the stones were taken there. The archaeologists who found them in the 1920s failed to understand their importance. Also, in ‘Nennius’, a few sentences of the Welsh tradition have been shown to be part of a chain of communication stretching back to a time when pagan ideas prevailed. The Giants’ Dance story points consistently to a functioning stone setting being moved. The circular footprint of the first bluestone setting in the Aubrey Holes at the Stonehenge site is matched in Geoffrey’s story. Merlin set the stones up ‘about the compass of the burial ground in such wise as they had stood’ in ‘Ireland’ (compass here means boundary GoM VIII 12), which probably indicates that the shape and alignments of the earlier setting in Wales had been replicated in Britain.

The ‘Tale of Embreis’ had  already been used in Chapter 5 to support Geoffrey’s version of the Stonehenge myth but the ‘unbuilt castle’ in the story remains to be explained. The so called ‘castle’ of the ‘Tale’ is the bluestone circle so the Tale is about a drainage scheme that enabled stone pillars to remain vertical either in Wales              or in  disturbed soil in the Aubrey Holes.

The ancestors of Embreis are not mentioned in the Tale but, as Merlin, he is son of a princess of Dyfed in Geoffrey’s History and is King of Dyfed in Geoffrey’s other book, Vita Merlini. Embreis is from the ruling family of what was the western enclave of South Wales, appropriately so for a mover of the Preseli stones.

Table 3A

There are other versions of Geoffrey’s Giants Dance story in romances and some other relevant stories. They are set out in a table to make comparison between the stories easy. Each is presented in a column and the elements that make up the story are placed in the lines. The Giants Dance story and its versions are listed in Columns 2,3a and 3b with 4 and 5  so they can be compared with reality in Column 1. The Table is arranged to bring out any topographical and ritual associations. The constants used to choose the stories in the Table are in lines (a) and (b). The next three lines are factual, referring to Source, Method of transport and Finishing point. These are all factors of interest in the context of moved stones. During collection of material for the Table it was noticed that Balin’s sword, the floated stone and St Stephen’s Day, implying the winter solstice, appeared in some of the stories. An extra line, line (f), has been introduced to bring these and some other pagan aspects of the stories into the comparison.

The Table that follows compares traditional stories with reality. In doing so it completes a process begun in the small Table on pp 92/3 of Darrah 1981. Details of each column are now provided:

Column 1 is included so the other columns can be compared with reality. It shows factual aspects of Stonehenge.

Column 2 shows Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Stonehenge story: how Merlin and Uther moved the stones of Stonehenge from ‘Ireland’ and had them set up in a circle in the same way as they had once been in ‘Ireland’ (VIII 10 and 12).

Column 3a refers to the Floated Stone: a knight called Balin acquired a special sword by being the only knight able to take the sword from a damsel sent by the Damsel of the Isle of Avalon. After Balin’s death Merlin fixed this sword into a stone standing upright, as great as a millstone, and let it float at random. It eventually floated to Camelot, where Galahad was the only man able to draw the sword from the stone, on Christmas Day (Sommer VI 6). The same floated stone is also mentioned in Matarasso 34/35.

Column 3b The Excalibur Stone is a parallel story to 3a but it has been allocated by a narrator to a more famous hero, Arthur, whose status has led the narrator to use his name to replace that of Galahad. This column matches others in several ways but adds that when Uther died only Merlin knew of the existence of his son Arthur, who had been fostered. Instead of disclosing this information, Merlin arranged for a test to discover the rightful heir. A block of an unknown type of stone (Sommer II 81) appeared in front of St Stephen’s Minster at Camelot with the hilt of a sword protruding from it. It looks as if the Welsh dolerites and rhyolites were not known on Salisbury Plain. At several festivals starting with New years Day ‘Arthur’ was the only knight able to draw the sword so, it is said, demonstrating his (but really Galahad’s) right, or perhaps duty, to sit on the ‘throne’, the Perilous Seat, that would mark him out for kingship and an early death.

Column 4 A and B show Two stones each called Merlin’s Perron. To avoid squeezing in another column the descriptions of the two perrons are shown in the same column. There is no mention of transport, though A is in Cardoel and B is near Camelot so that can be inferred from the previous two columns. Neither Löseth, editor of the Prose Tristan, and nor G.D.West, author of indexes of names in Arthurian romance, separates these two perrons in their indexes in spite of the different locations. As mentioned earlier perrons are sometimes a block of stones.

Column 5 shows The Pillar on Mount Dolorous, another stone erected by Merlin for Uther. The unnamed Damsel of the Pillar is Merlin’s daughter and she lives at the site in a tent (Roach, Continuations of Perceval V 31583ff). In 1992 P. Gallais (179), when he published this, was the first author after Piggott to identify any link between romance and the reality of Stonehenge except for Darrah 1981 (94f also 134), where Merlin is said to have proposed that a temple should be moved from Dyfed to Salisbury Plain. This column adds a new name for Stonehenge, the Dolorous Mount, interesting because it refers like Mons Ambrius to the site as a mount. Also it introduces a new goddess, Merlin’s daughter, identified as such by living in a tent like the Proud Damsel.

Table 3B

The idea that the Round Table is another name for the setting of bluestones can now be tested by comparing the traditions of moving the Round Table with those of moving the stones in Table 3A. The information used to construct Table 3B is as follows:

Column 6 is the ‘Joseph’ version of moving the stones. The concept of the Grail Table that had been introduced to Wales by Joseph was copied by Merlin when he made the Round Table for Bran (as Uther) at Cardoel. There is no mention of any transfer of materials between source and destination but Joseph/Josephe converted some of the people of Camelot. In his absence the local ruler Agrestes killed 12 of Joseph’s men. Joseph returned with more troops, destroyed the pagan temple there and replaced it with a minster dedicated to St Stephen (Sommer I 244/246 and (Hucher III 383), The ‘minster’ in this context will be the winter solstice aspect of Stonehenge. The only other church at Camelot was built and dedicated to St John, the summer solstice saint, to hold the remains of Lot of Orkney (Huth Merlin I 263). Joseph’s story follows that of Bran (as Uther) in other respects.

Column 7 in the Galahad version, entirely different from the others, Galahad set off with Perceval and Sir Bors, on a journey to find the Grail, described in The Quest of the Holy Grail. The name Galahad is likely to mean a succession of individuals with the same name from the ruling family who would each suffer the same fate. The story is told  as if Galahad, not Embreis/Merlin, is the mover of the stones and it tells of the moving of the Grail, its rituals and the bluestones from Cardoel (as Corbenic, the Grail Castle) to Camelot. Galahad has already appeared in Table 3A as drawing the sword from the stone. He and the other Grail achiever Perceval were men. The others in these stories are deities. So, since Galahad was born at Corbenic/Cardoel in Wales and his mother was the Grail bearer there, he may have travelled with the Grail ritual and the stones. The splendid setting he set up for the Grail would have been the bluestone circle/Grail Table. This version includes a reference to Dandrane, sister of a Grail achiever, who also died a ritual death and was buried at Stonehenge.

Column 8 is the Guenever version. An alternative account of the moving of the Round Table in Malory’s The Death of Arthur (bk III ch1) is that when Guenever married, her father handed her over to Embreis (as Merlin) with her dowry the Table and 100 knights. They then travelled with the Table by water and by land to Camelot (replaced by London in some versions). In this column Guenever’s father Ocuran is a doublet of Bran as already mentioned.

This column introduces a second, more familiar, goddess to Stonehenge: Guenever, daughter of Bran (as Ocuran) at Cardoel. Perhaps Stonehenge was big enough to accommodate two versions of the Sovereignty, the other being the Damsel of the Pillar on the Dolorous Mound in column 5 of Table 3 A. Thus the original goddesses of Stonehenge, those associated with the moving of the stones, are the daughter of Embreis (as Merlin) its builder and the maker of the stone setting, and the daughter of Bran, its owner.


Table 3A

The story of the Giants’ Dance compared with reality and with

relevant accounts in romances of erected, moved or floated stones.

  Column1 Column2 Column3a Column3b Column4 Column5
The bluestones in reality   The Giants Dance  The floated stone The Excalibur stone Merlin’s perrons(A)  The Pillar on the Dolorous Mount
Source of information Fact Geoffrey of Monmouth Romance Romance Romance Romance
(a1) Material Stone Stone Stone Stone Stone Stone
(a2) Shape of plan Round Round
(b) Maker or mover Unknown Embreis as Merlin and Bran as Uther Embreis as Merlin Embreis as Merlin Embreis as Merlin Made by Embreis (as Merlin) for Bran (as Uther)
(c) Source of the stone or stones In the Preseli hills north of Arberth in s-w Wales ‘Ireland’, assumed here to be the west coast enclave in   s-w Wales An island Cardoel, where the sword was fixed in the stone in Perceforest. At Cardoel Bran’s daughter Guenever had the Table as her dowry Near Cardoel In Wales
(d) Method of transport Human,   by water and land Human, by water By water By water (B)
(e) Finishing point The Stonehenge site, near Amesbury The Monastery of Ambrius, that is, the Stone-henge site On the bank of the river at Camelot Camelot Near Camelot On Mount Dolorous
(f) The pagan elemants of the stories The original entrance through the bank and ditch of Stonehenge contained a summer solstice alignment and one to the furthest north of winter full moon (see Plan B in Ch3) Embreis/Ambrius/Merlin/ Mabon the last name being that of a god and the same as Macan the god of solstice oriented Newgrange in Ireland. Embreis as Merlin fixed Balin’s sword in a stone pillar that floated to Camelot, where the sword was drawn by Galahad. Arthur drew Excalibur from the stone in St Stephen’s churchyard on Christmas Day and again on New Year’s Day in a ritual symbolizing accession to kingship. At Cardoel Bran had decreed that Beltaine, Samhain and Christmas should be held at the Round Table Balin drew a sword from a magic scabbard before killing a prince of ‘Ireland’ at the Perron of Embreis (as Merlin) near Camelot The Damsel of the Pillar on the Dolo-rous Mount is Merlin’s daughter. Living on the site in a tent identifies her as a goddess.


Looking along the lines there are satisfactory correspondences between Columns 2-5 and reality in lines a to e, with the island in (c) perhaps ‘Ireland’, except for 2 blanks in line (d).


In Column 3a line (f) it is Galahad who draws the sword from the stone. In Column 3b line (f) it is Arthur. A narrator has used the latter being a god to replace the former in doing a man’s task.

Table 3B

Stories of the Round Table moved from Cardoel in Wales to Stonehenge compared with those in Table 3A

Column1 Column6 (a) Column7 Column8
The Bluestones in reality   A version of the Stonehenge myth in which Joseph takes the place of Bran The story of Galahad taking the Grail and the Grail Table to Stone-henge  Malory’s story of Guenever moving with the Round Table has some detail not shown elsewhere
Source of information Fact Romance Romance Romance
(a1)Material Stone Silver (an embellishment)
(a2) Shape Round Joseph’s Table, as the prototype of the Round Table would have been round. (Perhaps round as in the previous column) Round
(b) Maker or mover Unknown Bran (as Joseph) Galahad is the mover in this version. Perceval and Bors accompanied him. Owned by Bran (as Leodegrance), Guenever’s father, She travelled to Camelot with Embreis/ Merlin, the Table and 100 knights.
(c) Source of the Table In the Preseli Hills north of Arberth At Cardoel in Wales where it was called the Grail Table and had a Perilous Seat Pryderi and Perceval both sat on a perilous seat atArberth/Cardoel. .
(d) Method of transport Human probably partly by water 6 (b) Human, by water Human, by water and land (Malory III 1)
(e) Finishing point The Stonehenge site near Amesbury Stonehenge as Cam-elot, where Bran (as Joseph) built a Minster dedicated to St Stephen to replace a pagan temple. Stonehenge (as Sarras) Stonehenge (as Camelot)
(f) The pagan elements of the stories The original  N/E entrance through the bank and ditch of Stonehenge contained summer and winter solstice alignments and one to the furthest north of winter full moon, St Stephen. Is associated with Christmas so with the winter solstice aspect of Stonehenge Galahad as king built a splendid setting for the Grail at Stonehenge. The seat was perilous for him because he died at the year’s end, to be replaced immediately by the next king Associations with Bran (as Uther) and Embreis (as Merlin). The Table is Guen-ever’s dowry, which identifies her as the Sovereignty of Stonehenge.


Looking along lines (a) to (e) in columns 6 to 8, there are good correspondences except for a blank in line (c).

In line (d) the route is generally supposed to have been up the Severn Estuary to what is now Bristol and then up the River Avon. The force of the current there is demonstrated by the depth of the gorge. An alternative route suggested by Jules Nurse that would avoid the gorge is to enter the Somerset levels at Burnham on sea and follow the course of the river Brue. Sixty tears ago Langport was remembered as a functioning port. The traverse from there to Stonehenge by land does not seem to present any special difficulties.

In Column 7 the narrator has allowed the man Galahad to replace the god Merlin (as Embreis), exactly the opposite of the comment after Table 3A

The narrators who changed the goddess of Sovereignty into a woman of easy virtue happened to create a genre that ensured the preservation of the stories about the cruel world of our remote ancestors, whose genes we share.

After this Chapter nothing more is heard of Arthur. It is time to describe his end.

The sword in the stone and the death of Arthur

In romances Arthur when at the height of his power was campaigning abroad when his nephew Mordred abducted Queen Guenever and married her so obtaining the throne. Arthur’s army fought Mordred’s until the two leaders met. Only Arthur survived but was mortally wounded. When he lay dying he asked Sir Bedivere to take his sword Excalibur and throw it into a pool. When Bedivere  threw the sword as far as he could a hand and arm rose above the surface of the pool, caught the sword by the hilt flourished it three times and withdrew below the surface. After that the dying Arthur was taken to Avalon in a barge with black-clad women including Morgan le Fay in the hope that he could be healed. Excalibur had some association with Avalon. The timing suggests that the deposition might have been the return of the sword to its original owner, in which case it would have been a female hand that caught the stone. Deposition of a valuable object in water is a well-known practice in prehistory. This story and the other depositions in list 2 could be  a combination of memories  of fact and, since there was ritual in the acts, myth.

The Grail found

In Matarasso’s translation of The Quest of the Holy Grail there is an alternative version of moving the bluestones to Stonehenge. The difference is that the god Embreis (as Merlin) is not in charge but it was Galahad who travelled with the stones and the Grail.  The emphasis has been changed from a description of moving the stones to  the beliefs that went with them.

In The Quest Galahad, Perceval and Bors were accompanied by Perceval’s sister, Dandrane. at the beginning of their journey. On the way she was stopped at Castle Felon and was asked to provide a dish of blood to cure a lady. In doing so she bled to death. Unlike the other 24 (or possibly 12) princesses already buried in a special cemetery at the site, her body was put in a boat that floated away without human guidance (Sommer VI 168ff, Matarasso 247-50 and Malory XVII 10). Galahad, with Perceval and Bors continued their quest, facing many more adventures and obstacles. They eventually attended a ceremony at Cardoel (as Corbenic) in which a bleeding lance dripped into the Grail. With blood from this lance Galahad cured a maimed king (Matarasso 277). Later they went aboard a ship with the Grail and the Grail Table, the latter said here to be made of silver but that is an irrelevant embellishment and that it could be taken aboard by three people follows from the mistake that the Table was a dinner table. They sailed where the winds took them landing at Stonehenge (as the city of Sarras), reaching it at the same time as Dandrane’s boat drifted there. The first act of the three companions was to bury her in the Spiritual Palace, unlike the many other royal virgins who had bled to death at Castle Felon. The next act of Galahad and his companions was to take the Grail and the Grail Table on shore. The Grail Table is another name for the Round Table (under the heading Cardoel)and has been shown to be the bluestone circle (Chapter 1a).

Dandrane’s burial may be the only memory of a female sacrificial victim at Stonehenge but her name is, like almost all names of individuals remembered in romances, not a personal name but a job description so she might represent the female cremations at Stonehenge in the same way as Galahad seems to represent the men. The mover of the bluestones has of course already been named as Ambrius (as Merlin Ambrosius). In this story Galahad as the annual king has been given the most important position with Ambrius present as Bors in a less important position. Perceval, the other Grail achiever, is a doublet of Galahad.


The king of Stonehenge, Escorant, about whom nothing is known, imprisoned Galahad and his companions. Escorant died after a year and the people elected Galahad as king (Matarasso 282). He built a splendid shrine to hold the Grail. When a year had passed and the self-same day came round (282) Galahad perished at the altar in a blast of hot air and a being in the sky with face and limbs a red as fire took away the Grail and lance from the altar (Sommer VI 195n). His body was then buried with Dandrane’s in the Spiritual Palace. This story is a clear illustration of annual kingship at Stonehenge in addition to being an alternative version of moving the bluestones (as the Grail Table). After the event Perceval moved away, became a hermit, and died after a year and three days. Galahad had no named successors but judging by the three successive deaths in the story, each after a year, annual kingship would have continued at Stonehenge. The meaning of the title ‘Grail achiever’ is now made clear.

Dandrane’s life and Galahad’s are parallel in several ways. They floated to the same place, arrived at the same time and both their lives ended with their blood in a cup.

In Matarasso’s introduction (13 and elsewhere) she hints at the pagan ambience of the original of the story but does not spell it out in detail.

Table 3 is intended to demonstrate that the moving of the bluestones has been remembered in several ways and to confirm that the bluestone circle and the Round Table are names for the same thing. That is supported by the Galahad/Grail Table episode in an entirely different and much shorter alternative version.

Galahad as the first of a long series of annual kings at Stonehenge is the figure in myth who most resembles the description by archaeologists of elite men being buried in a special cemetery over many generations. Galahad’s story, though written in the form of a Christian pilgrimage, describes the moving of a temple, with its religion and its main icons, from South West Wales to Salisbury Plain. It explains why young men died sacrificial deaths, and reveals something much more important, the dynamics of the Megalithic culture, how the elite maintained its power over the labourers who did the work. It  provided the sacrifices that were thought necessary to ensure prosperity. There is an independent reference in the Mabinogi to the attitude of a community at Preseli towards a childless ruler, Pwyll,  (Gantz 49).

The 300 or 460 British elite men who died on May 1st and were buried at Stonehenge in romances are represented in reality by the cremated remains that finished up in leather bags in the Aubrey Holes  . Dandrane may be a prototype for the female equivalents of Galahad who were also buried there. There is another reference to a male body wrapped in sheepskin at Stonehenge (below under the heading:

Other references that might be to Stonehenge.

Table 3 concludes the story of Stonehenge for the 500 years from the setting up of the bluestones to that of the Sarsens. As mentioned earlier, an estimated number of cremation burials, which might determine the length of this period, is 240 . This is far less than 460 but not all cremation burials may have been found and of those that have  some may not have been recorded.

A combination of features: circularity, solstice alignment, an annual calendar, the Grail religion with its Perilous Seat and ritual mutilation seems to have travelled from a starting point at Cardoel in Wales to Salisbury Plain and are present at Stonehenge. All except circularity, solstice alignment, and the annual calendar all shared with Ireland seem to have been unique to Wales including observations of the moon.

Choosing where to take the bluestones

The change from Geoffrey’s raid on Wales to bring back Welsh stones to movement to Stonehenge by the Welsh prompts an entirely new enquiry. What was there about the site that made it a suitable place to put a ritual structure?.

The Stonehenge site had been occupied by hunter-gatherers who left a conspicuous marker on the landscape, three substantial pine postholes 1.5m in diameter, roughly in line, that were found when making the original car park. They date from 9000-7000 BC and seem to be the oldest monument on the site. They would have been a majestic sight if the height matched the width of the posts, an early instance of mankind’s desire to make a conspicuous demonstration of his presence. Hunter-gatherers also established bases at Vepasian’s Camp, a hill fort close to where the Stonehenge Avenue meets the River Avon at Bluestonehenge, and at Blick Mead a pool to the north-east of the hill. Blick Mead ‘may represent the greatest concentration of worked flint from any Mesolithic [hunter-gatherer] site in Europe’, with at August 2014 31,000 pieces (Current Archaeology 293 25). There is also a record of buried animal bones from about 7596 BC to 4700 BC, approaching the beginning of the Neolithic. Four of them were wild boar, seven aurochs and two red deer (Current Archaeology 292 July 2014 9). Evidence of seven kills in 3000 years does not signify an aurochs migration route, as has been suggested.

Later, two neolithic cursuses and 15 long barrows near the Stonehenge site may have provided a more recent suitable background but it was the discovery of natural furrows and ridges, on the summer solstice alignment, in the chalk to the north-east of Stonehenge that made it a suitable place to take the stones of a summer solstice aligned circle (for natural furrows Mike Parker Pearson p 244f).

Avebury, already built 30km away 200 years earlier, is more likely to have been a competitor than an asset.

The decision to set up the Bank, Ditch and Aubrey Holes, the earliest phase of Stonehenge, may have been made a century before its implementation, judging by the age of the animal bones deposited at the entrances and by Newham’s interpretation of the post holes in the entrance.

The first stage at Stonehenge could be considered as setting up a temple that was also an astrological observatory with fairly level horizons, at first without substantial interference of the view along the horizon so with great potential for making observations from the centre that could be used for predictions to support a priestly dynasty. The river nearby could have been another element in the choice of site and the probable presence of the descendants of the Blick Mead people with the same genes might have been an influence on the choice of site, perhaps with Ganor/Aganor in both Dyfed and on Salisbury Plain, a substantial one.

Events on Salisbury Plain

The journey of the bluestones with their associated beliefs and rituals from the façade to Salisbury Plain has been recorded in several ways in the Table but that is not the whole story. Some other events on Salisbury Plain mentioned in Darrah 1994 remain to be described.

1) In ‘The Tale of Embreis‘ ‘all the kingdoms of the west of Britain’ were given to Embreis, who enabled a substantial building to be constructed and was given in addition the unbuilt fortress.

2) At a great gathering the rulers of countries from Brittany to Orkney were summoned by Embreis (as Merlin) to meet on Salisbury Plain, significantly on All Saints Day, Samhain (Sommer, II 372f). At least the Bretons and Orcadians will have travelled by sea. The people of the facade would inflict a final defeat on the ‘Saxons’, perhaps a replacement for Sarrasins, the original people of Stonehenge as Sarras.

3) A landmark on the route to this gathering was ‘la Roche Flodemer’ or ‘la rochelle au flot de mer’. ‘Mer’, meaning sea and flot, wave are appropriate for a gathering of coastal people.

4) Another national event is that according to Geoffrey, a celebration was held at the Giants’ Dance when the stones were taken there by Embreis (as Merlin); at this ceremony Embreis (as ‘Aurelius Ambrosius’) wore the crown.

In all the items Embreis is the dominant figure. There is no direct link between Item 1) and Stonehenge but all four fit together as overlapping fragments of the same story. So the substantial building that Merlin in the ‘Tale of Embreis’ enabled to be constructed now looks like bluestone Stonehenge. As the structure given to Embreis was unbuilt, the alliance was formed early enough for its members to have taken part in its construction, perhaps contributing stones from their own territories to those from around Arberth.

Earlier in the book three methods of choosing consorts for the goddess of sovereignty were described. Maimed kings are associated with Joseph, an early form of Bran at Cardoel and an old knight spoke of mutilation at the Round Table there before the Bluestones were moved to Stonehenge so castration is probably how worn out consorts were disposed of then. The annual kings represented by Galahad ruled after the bluestones arrived. And in the last phase of Stonehenge at some time after the sarsen structure was built rulers were replaced by any stronger challenger who could kill the incumbent in hand to hand combat as at Nemi. The priestly rulers ceased to provide the sacrificial victims and communally built structures ceased to be set up. Burials changed to single or a few intact individuals with possessions under small round mounds without access.

The final event, the end of Stonehenge, is remembered in a romance. Merlin, who arranged the great gathering, prophesied that there would never be so great a number at that place until the fatal day on which Arthur and Mordred should meet there in the final battle in which they and almost all their followers would perish (Sommer II 384f and Löseth, note to 409). In this, the Battle of Salisbury, the opponents were Arthur and his nephew or perhaps his own son by his sister, Lot’s wife. The site was marked by a tall hard rock. A ‘prophesy’ by Merlin here means the introduction by a narrator of a theme or an event that had yet to happen to enhance the reputation of the hero.

Because the local sarsen stone is derived from the breaking up of a horizontal layer of rock, the pieces of undisturbed rock tend to lie flat. There are unlikely to be natural features on the Plain that correspond to a tall, hard rock. That could mean a standing stone but the word for a standing stone, perron, can also mean a structure of stones. There were other standing stones on the Plain in prehistoric times, but as the site of the great gathering has been identified as the Stonehenge site, this particular tall standing stone could be a reference to Stonehenge. To have two events of as much significance as the great gathering and the final battle on Salisbury Plain, in the presence of the tall, hard rock, supports the identification of this site as Stonehenge.

The battle does not seem to have affected the structure. King Mark damaged that later, apparently after the end of the ‘Arthurian’ regime. He started by demolishing the Perilous Seat, presumably because it his been the most sacred place there. Why Mark, when he was the king of Cornwall, is not explained but his actions and those of Mordred from Orkney, since presumably both were members of the Alliance, could signify its collapse.

Once the alternative names of Stonehenge were found there have been many interlocking references to Stonehenge in traditional stories. It is likely to be the most remembered place in British prehistory.

The cattle cult at Stonehenge

The cattle cult `already mentioned was represented at Stonehenge by the cowherd duke, Ganor/Aganor. Chris Catling in a report in Current Archaeology May 2014 No 290 on a debate about ‘How and why Britain joined ‘The Neolithic Club’ refers on p 25 to a decline in cereal production up to about 3000 BC. Julian Thomas points out that ‘it reflects a switch to animal husbandry as the main focus of farming activity’. The date 3000 BC happens to coincide with the burial of cattle bones as a foundation deposit and the arrival of bluestones a little later at Stonehenge

The buried cattle and the pictures of bulls at Locmariaquer were earlier than the stones. called after St Cornely at Carnac and those were earlier than the foundation deposits at Stonehenge. The presence of cowherd dukes representing herding is supported by the solid evidence of buried bones and can now be upgraded to memories of fact and, since ritual and a deity are involved, myths. The reference to a cowherd dukes in Wales is from a romances written in about AD 1200. A memory of herding has survived for about 4200 years.

Other references in romances that might be to Stonehenge

In Perceforest a temple is described as having great windows. This temple had a dual function, as it was the residence of King Perceforest of Britain and was referred to as the Noble Palace (Franc Palais). It was also a temple to the Sovereign God. Perceforest watched his assembled followers through the windows on a day when the sun was ‘en sa plus puissant roe’. ‘Plus puissant’ means ‘most powerful’ and ‘roe’, meaning wheel, can best be translated as its highest orbit in this context. ‘Sun-wheel’ is often used to describe the motion of the sun and at its most powerful suggests the summer solstice. The event is referred to as a solstice in Bryant 2011.

Again in Perceforest, a wandering knight came across a building in ruins. He found a well-made round temple of ancient construction, covered with flat stones. The usual word for the stone roof of a building is ‘vault’. To call it ‘covered in flat stones’ is unusual and brings to mind a passage grave or covered alley. This building was in a space surrounded by deep ditches, over which a single narrow plank led into the arena. The temple within was the most sacred place he had ever seen. There was a work of stones at the entrance, and there were walls and ancient structures, the roofs of which had perished. Looking from an altar at the east, he saw on his right a rich throne. The sun, which was then setting, directed a single ray through the door of the temple on to the throne, illuminating it brightly. It shone on the dried up corpse of a very old man, wrapped in a sheepskin (Perceforest 1528 pt5 ch37). To have the object of worship illuminated by a ray of light is an important reversal of the popular image today of solstice-oriented structures. In reality it seems that what mattered was what the sun shone on, perhaps a religious tableau, a relic or an idol, illuminating it briefly.

The first story sounds like Stonehenge as it was in its prime at the summer solstice, the second in decay at the winter solstice.

After seeing the ray of light the visiting knight prayed to the God of Nature and fell asleep. He dreamed that he saw an Otherworld Queen who explained an earlier dream that had occurred when he slept in the temple of the Goddess of Dreams. In that dream a beautiful girl gave him a drink from a golden cup and promised the kingdom to his descendants. The dream of the beautiful girl who promised a kingdom is a reference to the Sovereignty, who was present at Stonehenge. The body wrapped in sheepskin could be that of one of those cremated elite individuals there.

Another sighting of what might be the sarsen structure is that a knight and his companions, visiting a round temple to the unknown god, looked all round a hall that was a good three stories high ‘on a stone beam (liste)’. The beam supporting the vault seemed to them to stretch all round (tout autour) (Taylor 255). This could be an attempt to describe the towering trilithons and the lintelled sarsen circle.

In a more fanciful description of the table in the Noble Palace it is called the Noble Table and occupied the ground floor of a circular tower. It was of stone, was immovable and stretched all around the palace. The diameter was 200 feet (60m) and 300 knights could sit at it shoulder to shoulder with their backs close to the wall and windows. At the highest place of the Table was a throne that was also a perilous seat, which destroyed anyone sitting on it except the king. The 300 knights correspond in number to the 300 living bretheren at Stonehenge (in one version of the story). The figure 300 may be irrelevant except as a large number but it is interesting to see that it has cropped up in more than one description of prehistoric Stonehenge. Also the complement of Guenever’s Round Table when brought to Britain was 150 knights. Another text in Perceforest refers to a circular room containing a round table of marble associated with a temple. Perhaps this too is a distorted echo of a description of the structure.

When the winter solstice rising sun at Newgrange with its long entrance passage shone on to a great stone bowl it was only visible to priests in the chamber. Also the pillars at Stonehenge, many now fallen, would have obscured the view of what happened inside the horseshoe from watchers outside the site. In both places priests would have reported that they had seen the light fall on whatever icon was being worshipped, and if the occasion was the winter solstice that their prayers had assured the return of the sun, hence plenty and prosperity.

rood sreen

Photo 8.1  Rood Screen in St Alban’s Abbey                 MykReeve

Exclusion of the people from ritual acts has been standard practice, to make the ceremony a mystery to be proclaimed and explained by the priesthood. The Rood screens in pre-Reformation British churches are examples of separating the congregation from the chancel. The illustration of what is now St Albans Cathedral shows a screen of the 15th century, refurbished in the 19th. Another instance of a policy designed by priests to preserve their own power is the concealment of the content of holy books in languages unfamiliar to congregations, a monopoly first broken in Britain by Henry VIII, who required a copy of the Bible in English to be kept in every church.


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