Лекция 2 | Megalithes and the Celtic Period

2) Megaliths and Stonehenge

Оne of the most famous buildings of England is Stonehenge. At the same time it is one of greatest enigmas of the British history. But it is a part of the world enigma.

  1. About 6000 years ago the Neolithic period began. some unknown reasons Neolithic people started building huge stone monuments. The weight of the stones they used could have been dozens of tones, 20-30 and more. Such kind of buildings is called Megalithic (of big stones). The ancient people had no cranes, they spent tremendous, enormous efforts in order to build such monuments.

We know how they did it – with the help of ropes, blocks and sand. We don’t now why they did it. What for? What was their aim? What made them spend tremendous efforts to pull giant stones.

The most mysterious thing that it was done all over the world. The example of Megaliths are the Egyptian pyramids. We can see Megaliths in Russia, in America, in Africa – everywhere except Australia.

But the oldest Megaliths in the world were built in Britain. They are the oldest known man-made stone structures, older even than the Pyramids of Egypt[1].

There are two types of Megaliths in Britain – dolmens and henges

Neolithic people built huge stone monuments. The oldest are in Britain. They are dolmens and henges

Dolmen has 2-7 giant stones standing upright as walls and one stone laid across horizontally like a roof.

Sometimes these blocks are fitted so firmly that you can’t even thrust a blade of a knife between them. In some cases human bodies were found inside, but not everywhere. That’s why sometimes dolmens are called tombs. But not all the explorers agree that they were tombs. The aim of their building remains enigmatic.

If the dolmen consists of two vertical stones with a roof it is called Threelith

Another kind of Megaliths are henges — circles of great stones. The famous Stonehenge is one of them, but not the only one.

Stonehenge is situated in the south of England not far from Salisburyin a plain. It is surrounded by hundreds of round barrows.

It consists of

  • the round ditch 115 in diameter
  • the circle of 4-tone blue stones, which were 82 first
  • the outer and inner circles of threelithes (stone gates) weighing up to 50 tones[2]

The 50-tone stones were lifted across for the height of 7 meters – the level of the 3-store house

What is the weight of the elephant?

Up to 5 tons, so each of the big stones is about ten elephants, the little stones weigh as one elephant

But the weigh of the stones is not the only surprising thing. The other one is connected with the place they were transported from. The 50-tone stones were transported from the place located 30 km away. It was done with the sledge. Modern calculations show that 500 men had to pull one stone with ropes and 100 men had to put rollers in front of the sledge

The 4-tone stones are from Wales, from the mountains, located about 400 km away. One theory supposes that they were also transported by roller and sledge and the other one — by glacier[3] long before the people started the construction.

In the Middle Ages people in Britain couldn’t promise, that Stonehenge was constructed by people, so they composed a legend. It tells that 300 Britons perished during the struggle with the Saxons, who invaded Britain. British king, Aurelius wanted to create a memorial to these men. And magician Merlin transported the giant stones from Ireland with his magic.

Stonehenge is not far from Salisbury. It has a ditch and constructions of 4- and 50-tone stones. They were transported from 400 km away with sledges, rollers and ropes. By the legend Merlin did it

But the most surprising part of the story that Stonehenge was built in several stages. The interval between the stages could have been more than several centuries. People of different societies and different cultures went on building it.

3000 BCa ditch
2000 BCa circle of 4-tone stones
1500 BCa circle of 50-tone stones

The situation is the same as we would continue building something started by the ancient Romances

Nobody knows what was the function of Stonehenge, what was the purpose of itsbuilders

The versions differ. Some scholars think

  • It was a temple of ancient gods
  • burial of chiefs
  • An astronomical observatory.

(The latest investigation has shown that the arrangement of the stones allowed estimating the date of the eclipse)

  • It might have been all these at the same time.
  1. the name “Stonehenge» remains enigmatic. The meaning of the first part is clear, rhe origin of the second root is unclear (obscure). There is the word “hedge» (изгородь) in English, but it is “henge”. Some scholars connect its origin with the ancient form of the verb “to hang” – “висеть”. It meant “stone gallow», because the threelithes resembled gallows.

Another version[4] connects the origin of the name with a legend. It tells about the giants who were dancing and froze. So “Stonehenge” means “hanging stones»

There were several stages of building with the intervals of many centuries. “Stonehenge» might have derived from «hanging stones»

The builders of Stonehenge didn’t have writing, so we don’t now how they named themselves and their land. But for the first time in history British Isles were probably mentioned in the V century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus. He called it “Tin islands”. It is supposed that the name was given by the Phoenicians[5].They lived in the Western Asia and werethe best sailors of that period. They attained Britain. And they used to go there for tin (олово).They called the British Isles the Tin islands. For many centuries tin had become the main item of British export.

Why was just tin so important for the people of the Bronze Age?

Because Bronze can’t be produced without tin. Bronze is an alley of copper and tin. And Bronze was the most durable material of the period.

These is our knowledge about the earliest inhabitants of Britain. The thing we don’t know is the language they spoke. Only archeological evidence remained, no written sources.

The Phoenicians gave the first known name to Britain. They called it “Tin Islands”

The Celtic period

(VII – I BC)

  1. 1) The Celts in Europe

2) The Celtic society in Britain

3) The Celtic heritage in the modern British Culture

  1. 1) The Celts in Europe

The first people in the islands of Britain whose name and whose language we know were the Celts. Their culture and language has survived in many forms in Britain today more than in any other European country.

Britain wasn’t the only area of Europe inhabited by the Celts. The Celts were one of the most important groups who formed European cultureon the whole.

We call the Celts people who spoke the languages of the Celtic group. In order to understand European language picture we have first to speak about the classification of the languages.

Languages are divided in families and groups. The division is based on their similarity[6]and the origin of the same basic language. In Europe the most widespread family is Indo-European. It has several language groups

Indo-European family

Roman group(derived from Latin)Slavonic groupGermanic group  
French, Italian, Spanish,PortugueseRussian, Ukrainian,Bulgarian, PolishGerman, English,Swedish, Danish, Dutch

In the III Millennium BC the single Indo-European language devided in several groups. The Celtic languages were one of the first groups derived from Indo- European. The other one was the Indian group.

In the I Millennium BC the big part of Europe was inhabited by the Celts. They inhabited modern France, British Isles, Austria, Switzerland, a part of Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and up the western body of the Ukraine.

How do we call these areas altogether?

Western Europe and Central Europe.

So we may say that Celtic culture is the basement of European culture.

  1. Greek and Roman authors wrote a lot about them. They called them the Celts or the Galls. Both words are of the Celtic origin, and they are synonyms.

The Celts occupied the most part of modern Western Europe and were among the founders of European civilization

2) The Celtic society in Britain

In the VII century BC the Celtic people arrived in the British islands.

The Romans named the western Celts «britons«. Later on after Romans had escaped, the British Celts named themeselves «Britt-os«. We are going to speak about the origin of this name in the seminar.

Their main occupations were crop-growing and cattle-breeding. The cattle-breeding was important especially. For different crime and misdeeds people were fined with cows.

Their craftsmen were highly skilled in using iron, bronze and gold. They produced shields, swords, mirrors and sold them to the Romans.

  1. They enjoyed ; the most widespread was a torque — a twisted metal necklace. Both men and women wore it. It was a common offering to gods and is often found in the graves.

The Celtic poets and singers were called «bards«. They glorified three virtues:

  • Hospitality at home
  • Braveness in the battle
  • And magnificent, splendid appearance at any circumstances. The person had to preserve his smart dress and beauty at any conditions. Torques were the necessary items for that.

Their craftsmen were highly skilled in using iron. They produced torques The main virtues were hospitality and splendid appearance.

Aristocracy participated in wars, using chariots[7]. A love to chariots was the specific feature of Celtic aristocracy. Warriors jumped in different ways during the battles. They had to scare enemies. Women also used to participate in battles. When the Romans came two Celtic tribes were led by women. Women also waged from their chariots.

Some tribes formed unions and were ruled by chives. These chives were influenced by Druids very much.

The Druids were priests, teachers, doctors and keepers of traditions at the same time. They played unusually big role in the ruling. Once a year all the British Druids gathered at the Isle of Anglesey. They discussed not only spiritual problems but also reconciled the tribes.

In spite of the highly developed economy and social life the Celts never created a state. It seems that they weren’t interested in conquering another lands and tribes. They were the Romans and the Germans organized the earliest states on the British land.

They waged using chariots. Some tribes were led by women. The priests were called Druids. They used to gather on the Isle of Anglesey. They worshiped mistletoe

The Celtic religion is called Druidism sometimes. The word «druid» means «a man of an oak» in Celtic. It is connected with the Celtic most sacred plants — [8] an oak and a mistletoe (омела). The mistletoe is an evergreen bush. A sort of it grows in oaks and blossoms blue.

The Celts believed that gods lived in the thickest and darkest parts of the forests. Just there the Druids fulfilled their rituals. They hadn’t special temples.

The main Celtic god was Taranis — the god of war and thunder. Druids had to please this god with the offerings and sacrifices.

Ancient writers tell, that the Celts sacrificed human beings. Sometimes Druids announced that Taranis was angry and people had to be sacrificed. The Druids put men into huge baskets and burned them in the presence of people. Sometimes they drowned people or hung them in the trees. Modern scholars can’t say if it was so or not. The Romans conquered the Celts and they might have tried to discredit them.

Some time ago there was an archaeological sensation. There was found the cauldron (big boiler) with the next depiction: the man being put with his head into the boiling liquid.

At first it was regarded as the proof of the human sacrifices. But then it was compared with the Celtic legend about the people who are put in the boiling water of life after their death. It is done not to kill them but to reanimate. So the scholars hesitate if the Celts had human sacrifices.

The Druids also taught the traditional doctrine of the soul’s immortality and reincarnation. The Celts hadn’t any conception of the place, where the souls live after the death. They believed souls to revive in newborns of the same families.

It is similar with Hinduism. Religion is not the only sphere which demonstrates a likeness with an ancient Indian culture. There are some parallels in language as well. Scholars suppose that is because Indian and Celtic were among the first groups derived from the single Indo-European language.

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