– Bulu Imam
Last year I visited England twice and on each occasion had the opportunity of spending a few weeks in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside southwest of London famed for its megalithic and Neolithic archaeological sites. I of course visited Stonehenge in the Salisbury plain of southern Wiltshire and saw this massive archaeo-astronomical structure of local Larsen stones and blue stones brought by the Neolithic people by sea in the third millennium B.C. from Wales. It was an awesome sight to see these upright stones over fifteen feet in height supporting equally massive stone lintels set on a gently sloping circular grassy mound which reminded me of the Punkri Barwadih megalithic site in the Karanpura valley in Hazaribagh currently threatened by coal mining. The tourist facilities were excellent with a large parking lot for the cars of thousands of visitors which accommodates hundreds of cars and buses. There is an entry ticket stall and shop where one can get excellent informative brochures and souvenirs and from here an underground tunneled pathway brings one out in the centre of the Stonehenge mound a few hundred yards away. There is a stone pathway around the big megalithic circle with informative charts displayed alongside the path showing the various stages of the construction over thousands of years of the stone circles which are aligned to the rising and setting of the mid-summer and mid-winter sun. The site is maintained by English Heritage, which is a National institution that helps to maintain England’s 500,000 protected archaeological sites. It is amazing when you consider that in the whole of India there are only 5000 protected archaeological sites and that England is only a little larger in size than the state of Jharkhand !
I also visited the Avebury megalithic site where hundreds of colossal stones stand over an extent of several hundred acres and flocks of sheep are grazing within the boundary of the precincts to keep the grass trimmed and which extends as far as the eye can see on the rolling Downs. Avebury is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, and its grounds are also maintained by English Heritage. I also visited other important sites such as the Silbury Mound with its famous henge alongside the A-4 highway, with not far away on the other side of the road and the West Kennet stream rises a sloping hillock having on its crest the West Kennet Long Barrow a series of burial rooms a hundred feet in depth under the ground and covered by a heavy stone roof and earth with grass over it. Avebury, Silbury, West Kennet, and Stonehenge are on a North-South line and it made me wounder me wonder how those primitive people with hardly any tools could have made such an imposing structure . Then I also got to see the famed White Horse Hills which are a chain of low chalk hills on the sides of which the Neolithic people of stone-age England had removed the turf to expose the white chalk in the forms of massive white horse figures that can be seen in the clear English spring air from over thirty miles distant. In particular I visited twice the massive White Horse at Cherhill Hill not far from Calne where I was staying. I also visited other places of antiquarian interest such as the vast Roman ruins of Silchester in Hampshire, and to its south the very moving house of Jane Austen the English writer at Cawton. All these places were impeccably maintained by English Heritage and had good signs leading to them and charts displayed everywhere to make sense of the history of the sites for even the most casual visitor. We in India interested in preserving our even rarer archaeological remains must move away from merely documenting the sites to preserving them and making them accessible to visitors with adequate material. Above all we must protect these places from the destructive effects of rampant development.
to be continued…