Did Stonehenge Hold Up a Giant Stage?

A new theory poses that the prehistoric structure could have been something like an “ancient Mecca on stilts”

The mysteries surrounding Stonehenge persist. Jason Hawkes/CORBIS

If ancient mysteries had a mascot, it very well might be Stonehenge. The details surrounding England’s iconic Neolithic monument have been speculated upon as far back as the 12th century and likely longer. We know it was likely a sacred site where ancient peoples performed ceremonies important to their culture—but the specifics of its intended purposes have elicited theories ranging from plausible to downright ridiculous.

Now, the Guardian highlights a new theory recently introduced by Julian Spalding, an art critic and former museum director. He argues that previous hypotheses approached the mystery from a “20th century viewpoint” and don’t fully factor in the way ancient peoples may have thought. Here’s what he thinks you would have seen had you been at Stonehenge around 2,500 B.C., when the stone monoliths were erected: a giant wooden, circular platform suspended in the air by the huge rocks still standing at the site today. 

Rather than performing their ceremonies on the ground as previously speculated, worshippers—possibly hundreds of them—would use the raised “great altar” to be closer to the heavens. As the Guardian outlines, Spalding bases his hypothesis on the practices of other ancient cultures around the world:

He said: “In early times, no spiritual ceremonies would have been performed on the ground. The Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of China were always carried – as the Pope used to be. The feet of holy people were not allowed to touch the ground. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge from a modern, earth-bound perspective.”

“All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth,” he went on. “That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.”

Spalding expands on his ideas in his new book, which explores art works through previous generations’ possible understandings of the world. But there’s a good deal of doubt around the new theory—particularly because no known physical proof has been found to suggest that a stage or wooden platform ever existed.

“There could be something in it. There is a possibility, of course,” archeologist Aubrey Burl, who specializes in prehistoric stone circles, told the Guardian. “Anything new and worthwhile about Stonehenge is well worth looking into, but with care and consideration.”

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