Megaliths

Standing stones and stone circles dotted the British Isles, but they puzzled Aubrey’s contemporaries. Who built them? Why? When? The great architect Inigo Jones, swayed by his passion for the geometry of the classical architect Vitruvius, was sure that Stonehenge, the most famous of megaliths, had been mathematically constructed by the Romans. But from the 1640s, British scholars were starting to read recent Scandinavian analyses of the megaliths in Northern Europe. Aubrey’s friend, the F.R.S. and physician Walter Charleton, countered Jones with his hypothesis that the British megaliths were in fact Danish in origin. Aubrey, however, who discovered Avebury in 1649, correctly reasoned that the megaliths were pre-Danish, pre-Roman, possibly Druidic, and certainly very ancient. He also surveyed megaliths with a plane table, of which there is an example below. Aubrey, therefore, brought mathematics to field archaeology. His ideas were later copied and distorted by the eighteenth-century antiquary William Stukeley, who failed adequately to acknowledge Aubrey’s influence.

(All images protected by copyright. Please do not use without permission.)

Oxford, Bodleian Library, C 2.25 Art.Seld, plate between pp. 60 & 61.
Stonehenge, as imagined by Inigo Jones from 'The Most Notable Antiquity of Great Britain vulgarly called Stone-Henge on Salisbury Plain Restored' (London, 1655).
Oxford, Bodleian Library, A 2.19 Linc, plate between pp. 10 & 11.
Walter Charleton’s less mathematically determined Stonehenge, from the 'Chorea Gigantum' (London 1663).
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole 1722, from tab. XVI.
Oxfordshire’s Rollright Stones, as they appeared in Aubrey’s time, from Robert Plot’s 'The Natural History of Oxford-Shire' (Oxford 1677).
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS top. gen. c 24, fol. 64v.
Aubrey’s heptagonal Stonehenge, drawn from first-hand surveying.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 231, fol. 11r.
William Stukeley’s imagined construction of Stonehenge: ‘The manner of laying on the impost’.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Gough Maps 231, fol. 23r.
Stukeley’s ‘Druid Temple’ of Avebury, with ‘Solar’ and ‘Lunar’ carefully scratched out, as Stukeley sought to render his Druids monotheistic.
   

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