Stonehenge, By Rosemary Hill

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The Independent Culture

Clear, intelligent and often highly amusing, this study achieves something new in the voluminous literature on Stonehenge. Rather than adding to the interpretations, Hill explores what the stones have meant to observers over the centuries. Inigo Jones's Stong-Heng Restored (1655) ascribed it to the Romans. In 1675, Aylett Sammes insisted that it was a temple to Hercules, a god borrowed by Druids from visiting Phoenicians. Hill might be interested to know that this distant association continues in the West Country. It has suggested that clotted cream arrived with Phoenician tin traders.

Over the years, the stones inspired such disparate figures as Blake, Turner, Hardy and Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath. His demand for a life-size Stonehenge stage set (the band "edged awkwardly between monoliths") was "eerily prefigured" by the titchy Stonehenge mistakenly ordered by a feather-brained rock star in Spinal Tap.

Noisy gatherings at the monument are nothing new. In Easter 1899, the Automobile Association held a rally at Stonehenge. It may be, however, that the 36,000 drawn there last Sunday were six months out. Hill points out that "the sunset on the shortest day, which seems more securely linked to the builders of Stonehenge, remains almost unmarked."

This excellent study is original in a way that even its author may not have expected. The late John Michell pointed out that she was "the first female Stonehenge author" in 500 years.