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  • (♪ John Barleycorn, Sam Lee ♪)

  • In the heart of the south west of England  the chalk plateau of the Salisbury Plain  

  • stretches out over 300 square  miles as far as the eye can see.  

  • As you step through this landscape, you're walking  in the footsteps of some of our most ancient  

  • ancestors. Amesbury, a picturesque town thatched  town on the southern fringes of the Plain,  

  • is the oldest continuously occupied  settlement in the United Kingdom.  

  • But some of the most dramatic evidence of our  deep history lies just west of Amesbury. There  

  • stands a ring of enormous stones casting  their shadows over the Plain. The sheer  

  • physicality of the structure is staggeringEach stone is said weigh around 25 tonnes.  

  • This is Stonehenge and it's part of  the most complex network of neolithic  

  • and bronze age monuments in Britainincluding over 100 burial mounds.

  • Stonehenge is one of the most iconic  prehistoric sites in the world, if not  

  • *the* most. Even before the construction of the  first enclosure on the site some 5000 years ago,  

  • there's evidence of bands of mesolithic  hunter-gatherers in the area. They left  

  • their mark on the landscape in the form of huge  pine totem poles that were raised near the site.

  • Stonehenge has been several phases of  construction but the great trilithons,  

  • these fantastic stone uprights with  the single stone lintel across the top,  

  • were erected around about 2500 BC or 4500  years ago. This place must have been built  

  • for a spiritual purpose. While awe-inspiring, it  serves no obvious practical function in terms of  

  • being a house or a defensive structureIt marks the passing of the year and the  

  • changing seasons which would have had a huge  significance for the people at the time.

  • Over the centuries, countless myths and  legends have grown up around Stonehenge.  

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the  12th century, tells us that the stones  

  • were actually originally from Africa  and then transported to Ireland  

  • by giants. They were finally moved to  their current site through the skill of  

  • the wizard Merlin and were said to have been  erected over the graves of British warriors.

  • The stones here tell their own remarkable  story. The larger stones, or Sarsens,  

  • are made from local sandstone. However  the smaller ones, known as bluestones,  

  • were quarried 140 miles away in the Preseli  mountains in Wales. It's astounding to think  

  • that these colossal pieces of rock we  see today travelled for so many miles.

  • There are countless theories about the function of  Stonehenge but it's certainly a place of the dead.  

  • From the earliest phases, human remains have  been buried here, sometimes as cremations and  

  • then later as inhumations where a body itself  is buried. It's even been suggested that the  

  • stones themselves might represent effegies of the  ancestors. This association with the dead is not  

  • just limited to the site itself but it stretches  out into the surrounding fields with monuments  

  • to the dead filling the countryside in the form  of these fantastic barrow cemeteries. So really  

  • Stonehenge must not be looked at outside of this  wider context. It exists as part of a huge ritual  

  • landscape and we're finding out more about this  landscape every year and we're even uncovering  

  • new monuments, some of them on a breathtaking  scale, literally dwarfing Stonehenge itself.

  • In keeping with Stonehenge's  rich history of ritual,  

  • we've selected the famous song of John BarleycornIt's a primitive tale which contains within it the  

  • instructions for making beer told via the murder  of a man who personifies the crop of barley.  

  • However, Barleycorn's brutal assault  also has a deeper meaning. The song  

  • charts the corn god's cycle of lifedeath, transformation and regeneration  

  • as well as documenting the important role the  brew held in the community in centuries past.

(♪ John Barleycorn, Sam Lee ♪)

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John Barleycorn | Songs of England #6 | Stonehenge, Wiltshire

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    Summer posted on 2021/02/19
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