A few words….
Science is increasingly providing new and vital clues both to the origins of Stonehenge and the lives of the prehistoric communities of Salisbury Plain. There is no need to drag into the 21st century tools blunt with age and repetition, nor theories which confound rather than aid our understanding of the monument. ‘Solving Stonehenge’ focuses on the hard archaeological evidence for the construction and dynamics of the monument rather than simply offering another grand theory or monocausal explanation.
The ultimate secret lay within the heads of those who built Stonehenge, but by unlocking the elements of its design we come nearer to understanding its purpose. We can do this by examining what the builders actually did, by carefully examining what evidence we have for the knowledge they had, and applied. This has to be done before advancing theories about why it was built, and there is an important difference here. Even archaeologists sometimes need to remind themselves that though we are looking back to a distant past, what are our ‘ancient monuments’ were the very substance of people’s desires and aspirations. At Stonehenge these aspirations were expressed with a skill and imagination rivalling those of any age to follow. Stonehenge was a preconceived and largely prefabricated structure, time has long since overtaken it, but the ideas of the prehistoric architects and builders are as sharp, and the concepts as fresh, as when they were first enshrined in the stones.
The Authors Profile
Dr. Anthony Johnson is an archaeologist. He began his career over 40 years ago as what is often colloquially known as a ‘circuit digger’, long considered to be the toughest apprenticeship, but by far the best way of gaining essential field experience (and yes, they also use trowels). Beginning in the late 1960s, and after some six years working on many varied sites, from rural to deep urban excavations. He went on to study at University College Cardiff, graduating in 1977 with an BA Honours degree in archaeology. Later gaining a DPhil from the University of Oxford. For the last 23 years he has been field director of Oxford Archaeotechnics, a company specializing in the magnetic location and mapping of archaeological sites. He is also a part-time tutor in landscape archaeology at Oxford.
His unconventional CV also includes seven years service with the maritime rescue auxiliary service of HM Coastguard, where he was a cliff rescue man with the Lands End Sector. In his youth he also worked as guard on the London Underground, on building sites, a car factory, and as farm worker and tractor driver. This wealth of practical experience makes him exceptionally well qualified to look at the world not only through the eyes of an academic, but as a man who thoroughly understands the dynamics of the wider world. Former students may recall his comment ‘you can’t possibly begin to understand the past unless you have a grasp of the present!’. ‘Archaeology’ he says ‘ is not simply a technical subject, but one wherein you have to come terms with all the vagaries and capricious nature of human endeavor’. He is unimpressed by those academics who claim to be ‘too busy’ for a chat over an evening pint or two in one of Oxford’s many delightful pubs, where he adds ‘wherein such informal discussions have traditionally resolved as many problems and inspired research topics as the library or lecture room’.
It was an early interest in computing and archaeological prospection was to shift his focus from excavation to topographic and geophysical survey work, subsequently investigating and reporting on over 350 sites. Writing ‘Solving Stonehenge’ brings to fruition a deep and lifelong fascination with the structure that began as a student in the 1970’s (during a field trip to Stonehenge in the company of the late Professor Richard Atkinson). He adds that it also brings to a close three decades of frustration – at seeing endless utterly nonsensical theories written about Stonehenge, which adds are ‘often concocted by people who don’t have the first clue about the true nature of archaeological evdence, let alone Stonehenge and its protracted history’. So that’s just part of the story.
Described by top journalist Michael White, of the Guardian newspaper, as a man ‘used to looking after himself’, if you ever get to meet him, don’t say you ‘always wanted to be an archaeologist’. Why? there are many reasons, but not least because he has one ambition left – to run a practical field training school employing the most experienced tutors from the circuit. And the prospective students? well, in his own words ‘to take the ‘best of the best’ and ‘make them even better’. Archaeology? It sounds more like a Boot Camp to me, ‘you bet’, he says, and no apologies.