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Volume 1, No. 2
Review: Riddles in Stone: Myths, Archaeology and the Ancient Britons, Richard Hayman, The Hambledon Press, London, 1997, pp. 332
The literature on megalithic culture continues to grow, but many texts suffer from either an excess of technical complexity, archaeological dullness or new age enthusiasm. This excellent and highly readable volume is an antidote to all three failings. It sets out to provide not so much an account of megalithic culture and astronomy in Britain, as a history of the research and theories concerning that culture from medieval literature through John Aubrey and William Stukeley to Norman Lockyer, R.J.C. Atkinson, Alexander Thom, Alfred Watkins and John Michel. Hayman’s account is inclusive, encompassing both contemporary astronomical solutions to the megaliths’ purpose and modern mysticism and neo-paganism. By telling this history he covers not only the evidence for and against competing theories, but also the arguments between their protagonists, particularly the grudging acceptance of orthodox archaeologists that stone age people may have had a fairly sophisticated ability to measure the heavens. Quoting the conventional early-mid twentieth century view he writes that ‘Orientation to events in the solar year seemed reasonable on religious or ceremonial grounds, but no archaeologist was going to flatter Neolithic and Bronze Age barbarians by calling them “astronomers”’. That, of course, is precisely what has happened, and Hayman’s timely book documents the fact that our understanding of Neolithic culture has been revolutionised by astronomers and engineers (Thom) in the face of opposition from many archaeologists