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The Column icon The Column: Issue 70

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Our Common Ancestors

Winter solstice in colder climates has been the focus of our attention for a very long time. Solitary stones that were set vertically in the ground and arranged in a circle over 5,000 years ago, are remnants of a culture that left its mark across much of Northern Europe. Neolithic henges spread from the Ring of Brodgar in the northern islands of Orkney, to Stonehenge in Southern England, and beyond.

Three quarters of a million people visit Stonehenge every year. They come to view the ancient monument out of curiosity, because of its reputation, for its historical significance, and as a spectacle or historical site. There is also another reason why we are drawn like flies to a lamp - we are a spiritual species, and the stones connect with a place far distant to the rush of our modern existence.


Standing stones, like those at Stonehenge pictured above, are a testament to our long held need of monuments, structures created to mark important events. Even though there is no definitive understanding of the purpose of this structure, we intuitively respond to the materials and their position in relation to one another. Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem captures the spirit of the place as much now as over a hundred years ago...

The Broken Circle

I stood on Sarum's treeless plain,
The waste that careless Nature owns;
Lone tenants of her bleak domain,
Loomed huge and gray the Druid stones.

Upheaved in many a billowy mound
The sea-like, naked turf arose,
Where wandering flocks went nibbling round
The mingled graves of friends and foes.

The Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane,
This windy desert roamed in turn;
Unmoved these mighty blocks remain
Whose story none that lives may learn.

Erect, half buried, slant or prone,
These awful listeners, blind and dumb,
Hear the strange tongues of tribes unknown,
As wave on wave they go and come.

" Who are you, giants, whence and why?"
I stand and ask in blank amaze;
My soul accepts their mute reply
" A mystery, as are you that gaze.

" A silent Orpheus wrought the charm
From riven rocks their spoils to bring;
A nameless Titan lent his arm
To range us in our magic ring.

" But Time with still and stealthy stride,
That climbs and treads and levels all,
That bids the loosening keystone slide,
And topples down the crumbling wall,--

" Time, that unbuilds the quarried past,
Leans on these wrecks that press the sod;
They slant, they stoop, they fall at last,
And strew the turf their priests have trod.

" No more our altar's wreath of smoke
Floats up with morning's fragrant dew;
The fires are dead, the ring is broke,
Where stood the many stand the few."

My thoughts had wandered far away,
Borne off on Memory's outspread wing,
To where in deepening twilight lay
The wrecks of friendship's broken ring.

Ah me! of all our goodly train
How few will find our banquet hall!
Yet why with coward lips complain
That this must lean, and that must fall?

Cold is the Druid's altar-stone,
Its vanished flame no more returns;
But ours no chilling damp has known,--
Unchanged, unchanging, still it burns.

So let our broken circle stand
A wreck, a remnant, yet the same,
While one last, loving, faithful hand
Still lives to feed its altar-flame!

Oliver Wendell Holmes


The word monument comes from the Latin "monere," which means 'to remind' or 'to warn.' Monuments are often large in relation to a human figure. Ancient monuments tend to either tower over humans, or spread over a wide area. When we approach them we feel an overwhelming feeling of wonder. Their purpose is to transform our psychological perspective.

The plan view below shows the layout and scale of Stonehenge as it is today. This ancient monument has evolved over many thousands of years but has always featured circles as the unifying underlying structure:

2008 Plan of Stonehenge

The Perfect Shape

Circles have been viewed of as an inspiration to philosophers, mathematicians, and creative people since the first cave paintings were made some 32,000 years ago. They are the shape of our sun, moon, and the wheel. When we see or find ourselves part of, or within a circle, our attention is heightened - we sense it is a place of significance.

The circle is like no other shape. Its seemingly simple form is both inclusive and excluding. It is easy to draw roughly, yet difficult to express exactly. It is said that the strict technical usage of "circle" refers to the perimeter, while the interior of the circle (the area within the perimeter) is called a disk. These two elements are inextricably aligned, and one cannot exist without the other. They are like darkness and light, mind and body. Perhaps it is this dualism that relates to our own nature, raises our awareness, and encourages our connection with our common ancestors...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also the Creative Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company.

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