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        Altered Landscapes:

It is likely that the landscape was viewed very differently through prehistoric eyes. The interconnectivity between ourselves, the constructions and the landscape suggests that the Earth was perceived as a physically living canvas which megalithic structures and sacred places were sewn into.

 

Featured Items:

 

Article: Pieces of Landscapes. By Dr. J. Lewis. (Quick-link)

          Article:  Sacred Places: The Living landscape. By. A. Whitaker (Quick-link)

 

The very existence of these ritual landscapes and the monuments within them suggests the societies building them were prepared to invest large amounts of time and energy on 'work' that gave no direct return in terms of food and shelter. Alternatively, it may suggest a culture which could only envisage such security if such propitiation was carried out... This would suggest a society that could produce sufficient surplus to free up such time and effort. (1)

 

 

   Levelled Hill-tops, Beacon Hills:

Silbury Hill, England.

 

There are a large number of examples of hill-tops in Britain which share an association with either St. Michael or St. George, both of whom are reputed to have appeared and slain dragons.  Many of these hills or 'Beacon hills' were artificially levelled or constructed as in the case of Silbury Hill (Right).  They are also associated through traditions and solar rituals involving beacon fires being lit on their tops, such as on May 8th, St. Michael's day.  (Beltane). Many of them still retain the title of 'Beacon' Hill, and there is a clear association with Ba'al, the Phoenician sun god..

 

The tradition of replicating the path of the sun with beacon fires across the landscape is also seen in the middle east  in the form of Mithraism. The aligned fires create a connection between the sun, the people and the land, and can be viewed as a means of communicating with the sun.

 

Dragon hill - Part of the Uffington ley. (O/S 3070 8686). An excellent example of a natural hill with an artificially flattened top combined with a clear tradition with dragon-slaying.

Dragon Hill, England.

Dragon hill from the Uffington horse.

The overlooking Uffington 'Horse' (of which a small section can be seen in the foreground of the picture above), is the oldest of England's 'White-horses'. It is considered by some to have originally been a dragon, an idea supported by legend as 'Dragon' Hill is said to have been the site where St. George slew the dragon, whose blood fell on to the top, preventing grass from ever growing there.

(More about Dragon Hill)

 

The selection of prominent natural landscape features and subsequent construction of megalithic structures reinforced the connections between the cosmos, the landscape and the builders.

 

Ley-Lines.

Probably the best known Ley-line is the St. Michael's Ley, which runs across England and crosses several places associated with dragon slaying. The same myth exists in France at Mont. Dol, which is also a part of a solar alignment including Mont. St. Michel.

(More about St. Michael)

While it is true that most Ley-lines are essentially invisible connections, they are nonetheless present on the landscape to those with the right eyes, and played an important part of it too. There are various theories concerning the origin and purpose of Ley-lines, and it is reasonably likely that they served different functions to different people at different times.

The presence of Ley-lines at some of the most prominent megalithic sites in England offers a possible clue to the specific placement of certain megaliths. It can be seen that the deliberate orientation and alignment of sacred sites was a means of connecting the cosmos with the landscape, at the same time as uniting the very landscape itself. There are certain sites (such as the Orkney complex in Scotland or the Boyne Valley complex in Ireland) where it can be seen that the megaliths themselves become a part of the landscape displaying an attempt to  create a symbiotic relationship between the cosmos and the living earth.

(More about Ley-lines)

 

 
 
 
 
 
   Landscape Drawings:

The moment the natural landscape becomes altered by people, those alterations, in turn became a presence. The constant focus of attention on such sites imbues them with a sense of tradition, giving them an identity, which in itself gives a structure a sense of special purpose. The opposite can be said today where in a modern city, it is the natural presence of birds and trees that stand out against the artificial backdrop of humanity.

The idea that the landscape was a 'canvas' is supported by the ideas and concepts were often illustrated upon it. The chalk hills of southern England for example, were used for the design of several 'White Horses', which are suggested to have originally served as tribal boundary markers for the Wessex people.

Westbury horse, England

Uffington Horse, Dragon Hill (left). Westbury Horse (Right).

England has several other chalk drawings on the southern downs, not least the long man of Wilmington (left), and the Cerne Abbas Giant (right).

 

 

The Nazca Drawings, Peru.

These are probably the most famous landscape designs in the world. They were made by using small stones on the contrasting colour of the Peruvian desert sands. They are currently believed to have been made by the 'Nazca culture' between 200 and 700 AD.

The desert stretches over 500 kmē, and contains several hundred of zoomorphic characters, symbols, and large geometric lines.

There are various theories over their origin and purpose, but the most likely contenders are astronomy, religion and crop fertility or perhaps a  mixture of them all.

It has been pointed out that the amount of effort required for each of the larger figures points to civil works, which again suggests a purpose, but whatever the exact nature of the impetus for these designs was, they are also created artistically and precisely and one feels they were made with care and pride.

 

Some Images from the Nazca Plains.

Satellite photos of the Nazca plains.

These satellite photos demonstrate that the scale of some of the shapes dwarfs the zoomorphic shapes themselves. Whole mountains were levelled in this procedure and it is noticeable in the photo (right), that these large-scale geometric shapes were continued accurately over wide chasms.

(Click here for more about Nazca)

 

Negative space Architecture.

Certain megalithic sites display the utilisation of 'negative-space' architecture, in which the space itself was used in the architecture of prehistoric structures. We can see in the Hypogeum on Malta for example, how the underground cavities were carved so as to reproduce the temples above ground, including specific features such as trilithon's, stairwells and rock-cut doorways. In the case of the 'Treasury of Atreus' from Mycenae, Greece, the use of negative-space resulted in the creation of an invisible 'Omphalos' or Earth navel within the space of the structure, imitating the previous traditional function of the site, which already had a significance before the 'Treasury of Atreus' was built.

 

 

 

   Large-Scale Earthworks:

The physical moulding of the landscape was a feature common in prehistoric times with thousands of labour-hours having been calculated at numerous megalithic sites around the prehistoric world. Each of these prehistoric earthworks represent a communication of ideas expressed upon the canvas of the Earth itself.

 

Cursus (Cursii).

Cursus' are one of the earliest forms of major earthworks identified in the British Isles.

The Cursus is a prehistoric landscape feature which appears to have been particular to Britain and while most are found in England, there are also a few suspected in Ireland. The scale of these monuments suggests an organised or even civil level of construction, requiring hundreds, if not thousands of man-hours for each site. At Stonehenge, there are two cursus, the larger of which has recently been dated by Manchester University at 3,500 BC which makes it older than the first construction phase of Stonehenge itself.

(More about Cursus)

 

Henges.

These earth-works are particular to the British Isles where they are found in large numbers. Essentially, they involve the construction of a circular bank of soil/stones, commonly surrounded by a ditch.  To an observer standing inside a true henge, the bank often creates an artificial horizon (although this is not always so), which has led some to consider the Henge as an  evolution of the Cursus.

The three Thornborough henges are believed to have an astronomical association with the constellation Orion but their size and design suggests that they served a ritual purpose.

At Stonehenge, another site associated with astronomy, the Henge itself was constructed long before the Stone circle, a feature which is repeated in Britain, leading many to see the Henge as a precursor to the stone-circle itself. As if to confound any clear definition of the purpose of a Henge, the largest in Britain is at Avebury, which originally had a ditch 15m deep and an external bank over 15m high, yet has no clear or specific astronomy associated to it whatsoever, although it is a part of the Silbury/Averbury complex, and was clearly an important part of the ceremonial landscape, having been connected by the Beckhampton and West-Kennet Avenues to other important sites in the area.

Tara Hill, Ireland.

It is noticeable that Henges create a similar design as the cup-and-ring marks found engraved on the megaliths themselves. Nowhere is this more clear than at Tara Hill in Ireland (above), where a stone inside the mound of the hostages has a set of markings on it which shows a close resemblance to the layout of the earth-works at Tara.

It can be seen how the same artistic circular components have been translated into both rock-art and landscape/temple design.

(More about Henges)

 

Passage-mounds and Stone Circles: The primal 'Mound of Creation'.

There were several types of prehistoric 'mound' to be seen on the prehistoric landscape. Many of them are simple 'cairn's' or 'barrow-mounds' and are solely associated with funerary rituals. However, there are also several other larger mounds which appear to have served other functions, including the observation of astronomical events.

The numerous 'Beacon' Hill's in Britain have been mentioned above, and tradition and observation shows that they  served the same function as passage-mounds but to a larger audience through the lighting of beacon fires in lines on hill tops across the open landscape. This too can be seen as a multi-functional act, both demonstrating a physical connection with the cycles of the cosmos through aligned landscape features, at the same time as connecting observers.

The Boyne-valley passage mounds were each orientated so that the sunlight reached along the passages and into the central chambers at very specific moments of the solar and lunar cycles. In addition, The same is true of Maes-Howe on the Orkneys, Gavr'inis in France, Bryn-Celli-Ddu in Wales and Zambujeiro in Portugal. All of these passage mounds were constructed according to a set of basic astronomical requirements, which at the same time as enabling the builders to measure the solar and lunar cycles accurately, physically connected them to the beating heart of their universe.

Maes Howe, Scotland.

It is proposed that these mounds were a symbolic representation of the primal 'Mound of Creation', rising from a watery mythological past. The Maes Howe mound above is connected to the ceremonial landscape of the Orkneys through the close proximity of the Stennes circle, and within sight of that, the larger Brodgar circle, a combination which appears to have a common thread at several other western European megalithic complexes: (Avebury/Silbury Hill, Gavr'inis-Er-Lannic, Zambujeiro-Almendres, Ggantija/Xaghra). Regional variation on this theme has resulted in several combinations: In Ireland, Tara Hill shows the same features combined in the same ceremonial setting, only with the mound in the centre of the circle, Newgrange mound was built over an existing Stone circle, and Avebury has two circles built within it. This association of a prominent mound and associated circle/s can be seen to be one of the basic features of several of the (contemporary Neolithic) western-European ceremonial arenas. There are several other more specific similarities which suggest a contact along the Atlantic coastline of Europe between these civil-scale ritual complexes. 

(Similarities between Neolithic Western-European Complexes)

(The Mound Builders of North America)

 

The Throne of the Inca, Cuzco, Peru.

There are numerous examples of rock-carved mountains in south America, many of which demonstrate the delicate balance between carving the natural features of the living rock and exaggerating the remaining ones.

(The Pre-Columbian Americas)

 

Simulacrum: Faces in the stones.

While it is now known that the tendency to see anthropomorphic images in inanimate objects is a natural phenomena associated with imprinting, our prehistoric ancestors viewed the Earth as a living being, and as such places which demonstrated such similarities were considered as special or 'sacred'.

 

(Landscape Zodiacs/Mandalas)

(More about Simulacrum)

(The Living Earth)

 

 

References:

1). Barclay, A & Bayliss, A., 1999. Cursus monuments and the Radiocarbon Problem
2). Barclay, A & Harding, J. Pathways & Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain & Neolithic. Studies Group Seminars Paper 4, Oxbow Books, Oxford.

 

 

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