The Furthest Ends of Africa

Mar 22, 2011 by

The Furthest Ends of Africa   800px Mediterranean Relief

I’ve conducted many studies into different aspects of Stonehenge; apart from the ruins themselves, one thing that all these investigations have had in common is sheer amount of work and preparation went into them beforehand. There are four or five still waiting to be completed in the archives, and I don’t doubt for a moment that others will make themselves known to me in the fullness of time.

There are some, however, whose future is doubtful, either because I’ve belatedly realised that I’ve been mistaken about an apparent matter of fact, or else because it has proved impossible to investigate a particular matter further, despite years of patient effort. For example, there’s one particular avenue I’ve been exploring into the ‘missing years’ of Jesus and I had hoped to be able to publish it last summer, but as time goes on, it’s proving increasingly unlikely that it will see the light of day. As for Stonehenge, today’s post concerns a matter that’s equally unlikely to ever come to fruition, so I’ll just publish the bare bones and plans, and I’ll wonder about what might have been another time.

So, as I’ve written before, something that went on to be a cornerstone of my thinking was Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of the fabled city of Troy, an event I learned about many years ago from reading C. W. Ceram’s excellent book ‘Gods, Graves and Scholars’. The part that made a lasting impression upon me was the fact that, in the nineteenth century, the entire academic establishment regarded Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as mere collections of fairy tales, but Schliemann thought differently. Simply put, this man chose to believe every last word of the details of the siege of Troy, as recounted by a long-dead poet, and by following this simple method, he made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Others, of course, are free to practise whatever methods and to subscribe to whatever doctrines they see fit, depending, I suppose, on what end they wish to achieve. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll give as my stated the aim the desire to have a meaningful and thought-provoking glimpse into Stonehenge’s past, so I could begin by looking into a recent discovery made in the Stonehenge landscape by professional, well-funded archaeologists.

On July 22nd 2010, the BBC news site announced the discovery of a new henge to the northwest of Stonehenge. It was described as “…probably the first major ceremonial monument that has been found in the past 50 years or so.” Well, it was certainly an exciting announcement , but it was also odd, because the BBC piece completely overlooked the sensational discovery of Bluestonehenge just a year before.

Be that as it may, a suggestion shortly followed that the ‘henge’ by the Cursus was actually a ploughed-out Bronze Age barrow, while there was further speculation that some of the [underground] features of the new henge could be the result of modern work at the site. The search for the truth is of course admirable, but it leaves us contemplating the unremarkable idea that, a few hundred yards to the northwest of Stonehenge, there are the remains of what might be a henge, or a barrow, in an area where there are already plenty of interesting prehistoric structures above ground.

After the initial excitement of the headline-grabbing announcement, we’re left with very little substance to ponder before any excavation and subsequent publication provide us with further details, so while it’s interesting, it provides little food for thought and it’s disappointing, to put it mildly.

So much for ‘Hillside Henge’ – what about the The Boy With The Amber Necklace? This was the discovery of a young boy, not far from Stonehenge, whose remains were analysed and dated to around 1,550 BC, but it was also announced that he grew up somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea. Although I didn’t say so at the time, I was distinctly underwhelmed by this revelation, dramatic though it appeared to be, because scientific analysis had managed to narrow down the place where this young man grew up to somewhere in one of twenty-one modern countries on three continents. The surface area in square kilometers of the countries involved is as follows:

504,030 (Spain) 547,030 (France) 2.02 (Monaco), 301,338 (Italy) 300 (Malta), 20,273 (Slovenia) 56,594 (Croatia) 51,129 (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 13,812 (Montenegro), 28,748 (Albania), 131,990 (Greece) 783,562 (Turkey) 9,248 (Cyprus) 185,180 (Syria), 10,452 (Lebanon) 20,770 (Israel), 1,002, 450 (Egypt) 1,759, 541 (Libya), 163, 610 (Tunisia) 2,381,741 (Algeria) and 710, 850 (Morocco).

By my admittedly amateur calculations, this provides us with a total of 4,761,856 square kilometres, or nearly 3,000,000 square miles. Even if we accept just one tenth of this figure to cover the coastal areas, we’re left with 300,000 square miles in which the “Boy with the Amber Necklace” might have grown up, all of which seems terribly vague and not in keeping with the scientific exactitude hinted at by the archaeological establishment.

A recent, highly-publicised letter to the Guardian newspaper arguing for the retention of human remains was signed by an impressive array of senior British archaeologists and it included the observation that “Such research makes important contributions to the public’s understanding of the lives of the people who came before us; it helps put our own lives into perspective.”

My interest in Stonehenge and in the people who built it and conducted ceremonies there is as great as it ever was, and I’m grateful for any scrap of information that comes my way, but the knowledge that this young man originated ‘somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea’ didn’t really help me a great deal. Nonetheless, I gave the matter a considerable amount of thought, as did others elsewhere, but then it turned out that there’d been a mistake somewhere along the line – The Boy With The Amber Necklace hadn’t come from the Mediterranean, after all, but from somewhere in the Wessex area of Britain.

Well, sticking a pin in a map and hoping for the best was a method used to great effect by the legendary Bay City Rollers when they chose their name back in the 1970s, but as a means of determining the precise place of origin of one of our ancestors and of “putting our own lives into perspective”, it leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know if last year’s discovery at Stonehenge is a henge or a barrow, and I don’t know if The Boy With The Amber Necklace came from the Wessex or the Western Sahara, so there seems to me to be little point in spending any more time pondering these particular archaeological offerings.

An altogether more captivating scenario opens before us, however, if we choose to follow Schliemann’s example and place our faith in ‘fairy tales’ in the hope of making a discovery. As far as Stonehenge and modern archaeologists are concerned, the most shameless purveyor of fairy tales was the Welsh monk Geoffrey of Monmouth, who left us with a detailed account of the construction of Stonehenge.

This strange monument was somehow moved from Mount Killaraus in Ireland to its present position on Salibury Plain by Merlin; it’s all enthralling stuff and I’ve written about it at great length, but I was always intrigued by Merlin’s statement to Aurelius that “Giants of old did carry them [the stones that went to make up Stonehenge] from the furthest ends of Africa and did set them up in Ireland what time they did inhabit therein.”

Now, many people will be aware of the Neolithic temples in Malta, whose upright and lintel components bear a close resemblance to the structures at Stonehenge. The Maltese Ggantija temples are thought to pre-date Stonehenge, having been built around 3,500 BC at roughly the same time that the Cursus was being built. While Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account doesn’t apparently specify where “the furthest ends of Africa” are in relation to Britain, we can see that Malta lies roughly in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, not far from the northern coast of Africa. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that he’d received his information from an old book lent to him by his friend the Bishop of Oxford, so it seems to me that the unknown author of this book may have known a thing or two about both Stonehenge and megalithic building in prehistory, which is remarkable in itself.

The Furthest Ends of Africa   The South Temple

However, there may be something even more striking about Merlin’s statement that the Stonehenge stones were brought from “the furthest ends of Africa”. Some years ago, I came across a mention of trilithon structures in what is now Libya – how they made themselves known to me is unimportant now, but the mere mention of such things fascinated me, because it would be perfectly reasonable to describe Libya as one of the furthest ends of Africa as far as Britain was concerned, especially as far back as the twelfth century, when Geoffrey of Monmouth was composing his account of the building of Stonehenge.

Nonetheless, an author called Robert Temple seems to have got there before me, because in his book Egyptian Dawn, he devotes a chapter to Stonehenge in Africa, while he reproduces a series of photos from H. S. Cowper’s The Hill of Graces: A Record of Investigation among the Trilithons and Megalithic Sites of Tripoli, London, 1897.

The Furthest Ends of Africa   PLATE 60

I’ve not seen H.S. Cowper’s book, but if the accounts and photographs it contains are true, then Geoffrey of Monmouth’s statement that the stones that went on to become Stonehenge were brought from “the furthest ends of Africa” would seem to be dramatic proof that our legends, mythology and folklore are a potential treasure-trove of information about our past, particularly as far as Stonehenge is concerned.

I had been trying to organise a visit to Libya and I was particularly interested in hearing any and all stories the local people may have had about the site’s mentioned in Cowper’s book. As Carl Sagan once wrote “Somewhere, something wonderful is waiting to be discovered”, but a trip to Libya is clearly out of the question as things stand.

Apart from any other considerations, the American military have had a track record since Word War II of carpet-bombing everything from the Ardennes Forest in the West, to Tokyo in the Far East. As I write this, the news reports are speaking of ‘precision strikes’ and the like by coalition forces, so I truly hope this doesn’t signal the rest of Libya being bombed back into the Stone Age to join the ruins photographed in H.S. Cowper’s book.

The Furthest Ends of Africa   594px USN Tactical Tomahawk launch

Dennis Price

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About the author

Dennis Price is a classical scholar and former archaeologist; he is also a writer, speaker and broadcaster, who lives in the West of England among the enchanted and sometimes unnerving relics of Britain's past. Regarded as an expert on Stonehenge, he is also the author of The Missing Years of Jesus and is co-author of Ancient Code.

One Response to “The Furthest Ends of Africa”

  1. Dead Of Night Productions says:

    [...] March 23, 2011: a major piece on the African origin of Stonehenge is published on the Mindscape site. [...]




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