I treated myself to the World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum for my birthday. I’d read a review that described it as ’emotional’ and ‘full of love’ for the people whose story it tells. But I tried not to be too influenced by this when I went to see it. I made my own notes and took my own pictures, and made up my own mind. And I certainly came away feeling emotional.
The exhibit began and ended with the sun; like each day and each year since the first humans came to Britain. Hunter-gatherers settled here when the British Isles were still attached to the European mainland. They created tools out of stone to help them tame and utilise the land. Creating, keeping, trading and acquiring objects that are beautiful as well as useful is something we share, across ten thousand years.
The sun followed me on the journey; depicted everywhere, it was worshipped as life-giving and all-seeing. Like the images of children, Stone Age and Bronze Age people drew and carved the sun with rays, making it unmistakable. How is it that we still draw the sun in the same way? Are the rays really there or are they just visible? Humanity have understood the sun like this since its infancy.
The further I went into the exhibition I saw how human culture developed and grew. Nature, mythology, science, art and faith were all mixed with love for their ancestors and children, for tradition and development. These people travelled, sought change and inspiration, learnt and traded objects and ideas with people from far away. Stonehenge was worshipped and visited by people from all over Europe, who brought tools, knowledge, culture and weapons to the islands. While the stone circle outside Salisbury might be seen as the epitome of English heritage, it dawned on me that the world of Stonehenge was collaborative, international, and multicultural. There is much to be learnt here.
There is joy in nature, in observation, in depiction and understanding. There is joy in sharing, cataloguing ad creating. This has been true for millennia, and is still so now.