Visible ancient monuments provide an obvious focus for those hankering after a long-lost golden age and/or a more up-to-date agenda. And an occasion like today, the Summer Solstice, provides another level of interest – both natural and supernatural. At Tara Hill the campaign group TaraWatch is involved while at Stonehenge modern-day self-styled druids have taken over the festivities. Today also sees the re-opening of the British Museum’s Galleries on Ancient Europe [4000-800BC] and Britain and Europe [800BC-43AD]. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones has been along to have a look, in particular, at The Folkton Drums [2600-2000BC – the time of Stonehenge] and at Lindow Man [mid-1st century AD].
As Jonathan Jones puts it
The truth is the druids had nothing to do with Stonehenge. They flourished more than 1,000 years after it was abandoned. It was in the Iron Age, on the eve of the Roman conquest, that they congregated in oak groves and cut their sacred mistletoe.
What’s that? Mistletoe? “The Druids hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe,” says Pliny the Elder. So here, it would seem, are the killers of Lindow Man, who was given mistletoe before he was sacrificed to the gods.
The Foxton drums could have been created by aliens; walk back to the bog man and you’re in our world. In the Iron Age section of the new galleries prehistoric art gets more “human”. There are three little bronze heads of moustached men. The sacrificial victim hurled in a bog has something in common with masterpieces of Celtic art thrown ritually into rivers – like the museum’s horned helmet found in the Thames.
Lindow Man may have been a willing sacrifice, and there’s a weakness, an acceptance in his foetal form. The druids didn’t create Stonehenge, but they probably created this figure of pity, with the help of peat and centuries. This treasure from our prehistory confronts us with the seduction of violence and death, the monstrosity we’re inches from, the belief that a person might make a good sacrifice.
The British Museum also has an online tour on Religion and ritual in the Iron Age
And, of course, we have our own treasures from our prehistory at the National Musem of Ireland – see image above – from the same period, and in the same style.