Book Review: Stonehenge Revealed (David Souden) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews

Stonehenge Revealed, by David Souden, Facts on File, Inc., 11 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001, Tel: 800-322-8755, $29.95 hardback.

The crossword puzzle in a recent issue of British Heritage included a clue that read: “Many people are disappointed at their first sight of this prehistoric circle near Salisbury”. The answer, of course, is Stonehenge. Several readers wrote to us in response to the puzzle, expressing concern that this description of Stonehenge might discourage people from paying it a visit. Then, almost as if we had planned it all along, Facts on File published Stonehenge Revealed, which amounts to a nearly perfect dose of preventative medicine for those who might otherwise experience the “Bluestone Blues” at their first sight of Stonehenge.

The truth is, many visitors do feel a sense of disappointment when they arrive at this ancient monument. The unsympathetic modern setting must take part of the blame, but for many tourists, it is probably more a case of not understanding what it is that they’re seeing, and of therefore missing many of the details and most of the significance. Stonehenge Revealed provides the necessary context for really appreciating the jumble of stones littering Salisbury Plain, and it does so in several ways.

First, author David Souden provides a local geographical context. Surely, relatively few of the motorists who stop for a quick glimpse of the stone circle as they pass by on the A344 road realize that it is only the most conspicuous of literally dozens of prehistoric monuments found within a radius of just a few kilometres of the famous Heel Stone. These include sites famous in their own right, such as Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, and the Stonehenge Cursus, as well as several groups of lesser-known barrows. The possible relationships among all of these ancient structures makes for an intriguing detective story that is not apparent to the casual visitor.

Equally invisible are the various stages of growth and decay that predate Stonehenge’s current appearance. The clues to the appearance of the earlier “proto-henges” are still there, but even a trained archaeologist would miss many of them without the benefit of a very close examination. Stonehenge Revealed brings these to light as well, reconstructing a likely chronology of the landscape that accounts for its many barely noticeable post-holes, ditches, banks, and mounds–as well as stones that once occupied very different positions from where they stand today.

Finally, the book puts Stonehenge into a world-wide context by comparing and contrasting it with other ancient structures including the pyramids of Egypt and Central America, European temples, and other monuments from throughout the British Isles.

In conjunction with the usual descriptions of how Stonehenge was probably built and what purpose it may have served, these insights comprise a comprehensive but concise volume that should be a fun and informative read for everyone, and should help to kindle the imagination of everyone who views the “disappointing” pile of stones on Salisbury Plain.

Bruce Heydt