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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Stonehenge: past, present, future

Stonehenge. It’s an archaeological treasure, a mystifying religious site, a prehistoric engineering marvel and above all, a pile of rocks. This past week, a large majority of our study-abroad group made the trip out to Stonehenge, waking up at 7 a.m. on a rainy morning for the privilege to do so. Upon arrival, the group crowded into the exhibition hall in order to learn more about the significance of Stonehenge. Wandering around in the hall, I was underwhelmed by the site. It seemed like there were no solid explanations for how Stonehenge came to be, nor what specific function it served for the ancient Britons. Sure, it’s a 5,000-year-old structure, but that was the only impressive note I could make about the monument from the exhibition hall. After about an hour of wandering around the exhibition in order to get ourselves acquainted with the facts about Stonehenge, we headed outside to catch the tram to the monument. The tram ride is only about three minutes long, but it served admirably as a way to heighten tension and expectation about the monument, which lay on the other side of a rolling hill we had to crest. As it came into view, the only word I can use to describe our group’s reaction was deflated. The whole complex is only about 100 yards in diameter, with the major stones enclosing a circle about 25 yards in diameter across. I’m not entirely sure what we were expecting, but what we saw definitely wasn’t it. Nevertheless, I hopped out of the tram, duty-bound to take pictures (and Snapchats) for friends and relatives to admire and envy on Facebook. Thus, I began to wander around the site, searching for the perfect angles to capture the famous stones. It was as I wandered around in the middle of the English countryside, with misty sunshine barely piercing through the scudding clouds, that I began to grasp the significance of the construction. Because while I was traipsing around the hillside, I was transported back 5,000 years to the height of Stonehenge’s social importance to the people of Britain. Being out in the middle of the countryside, I realized Stonehenge would have been the most magnificent, mind-bogglingly opulent construction the people of the area would ever have seen. It also would have served as the center for their religious practices, as it still does today for some Neo-Druids. Therefore, I realized, I was looking upon the prehistoric equivalent of St. Peter’s Basilica. Yes, you say, but today it’s a bunch of fallen down old stones that in no way can compete in splendor with the average family home, and it still doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know what went on there! However, it is exactly because we don’t know what went on there that it is easy to project whatever significance you want onto the site. Consequently, and paradoxically, the lack of grandeur the UNESCO World Heritage site has to the modern eye is exactly why Stonehenge is significant to modern life in the 21st century. The stones stand as a monument to the achievements of the past, the advances that make life great today and a limitless future. It reminded me of the effort needed 5,000 years ago to move the largest stones 240 miles across the English countryside. It reminded me of the state of technology today, that the average home is a much more awe-inspiring place than the grandest known temple of the pre-historic world. And it made me wonder, if we’ve advanced that far in the past 5,000 years, what is it possible for humans to do with the next 5,000? Not too bad for a pile of stones.

Jameson Ondrof is a junior studying in the Mendoza College of Business. He is currently studying in London. He can be reached at jondrof@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.