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.
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