Explorations in Arthurian History

The Importance of Geography

Part 8: Stonehenge

Continuing with the theme of Merlin, we turn to Stonehenge. That Giants' Ring or Giants' Dance, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, they were stones brought from Ireland under the direction of Merlin and plopped down on the Salisbury plain. Why?

Merlin says they are needed to help memorialize the 460 nobles that Saxon leader Hengist had murdered at a supposed peace conference. Irish tradition said that the stones were brought long ago from Africa by giants who inhabited Ireland and Britain. The stones were used in religious rites, and water poured over them was said to have cured the sick.

Uther led the expedition to Ireland, and his forces dispatched the Irish defenders with ease; but the Britons could not move the stones. Merlin used what Geoffrey called "devices" to dismantle the stones, which were then transported across the water and land to Salisbury to honor the dead. (Ironically, Ambrosius and Uther were both later buried inside the Ring.)

How did the stones get there? Could a magician have brought them? Why not? Geoffrey doesn't say Merlin used magic. Perhaps Merlin was wise in the ways of transportation physics. The Matter of Britain is filled with stranger possibilities.

Excavations and examinations of Stonehenge have proven that the stones are older than Arthurian times. However, some of the stones in the inner circle do seem to have been brought from a long way off, most likely Wales. If they are of Welsh origin, then they would have been transported on rafts up the Bristol Channel to make land transport as minimal as possible. Here again we see a legend tied to a fact.

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