The Sunday News
WE have now got to the stage where we are interrogating Stonehenge from a perspective of smaller items or artifacts.
Such items tell a story, the one of history, a community’s worldview and their culture in general. For our purposes, the investigation seeks to identify links with the overarching primary purpose of Stonehenge.
Ceramic typologies are thus critical to the understanding of a community that created, built and used a monument, which has since been abandoned. There are distinct characteristics of complete pots or parts thereof (sherds).
Archaeologists study these in terms of numerous identifying traits.
Included among these may be wall thickness, design of neck and body, embellishing icons or motifs, inter alia.
Durability of the pots was achieved through firing which altered the physical traits of clay molecules. Where excavations and other less intrusive research methodologies are applied, the clay pots are sometimes among the finds and may be used to in the interpretation of some given site.
It is a great pity that baskets, fashioned out of grass are perishable items because of the nature of material being used — ilala or palm leaves.
There would be typologies similar to those that are taken advantage of when it comes to ceramics. There are woven baskets among the Tonga, Shona, Nambya and the Venda in contrast to coiled ones such as those of the Ndebele, Tswana and South African groups such as the Zulu, Xhosa, inter alia.
The coiled basket seems to have a particular distribution pattern from southern Africa to Sudan and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.
Similar coiled baskets are found among the first nations in the two Americas. We were going to learn a lot from the baskets if they were not perishable. Stonehenge itself might have had baskets of sorts but there is no evidence of these perishable items.
Clay pots have been found alongside burials. As pointed out in some earlier article, clay pots were utility items that equally carried messages of spirituality. The messages were carried within the context of aesthetics. Art facilitates effortless learning. Deciphering the messages is made all the much easier.
Clay pots were storage vessels for various items such as processed grains, beverages and lipids derived from milk.
Once again, as was the case with ditch and bank at Stonehenge, we have to identify the more critical item between container and its contents. This certainly is the case at Stonehenge.
In addition to storage, clay pots were before the advent of the Iron Age, used as cooking vessels. What we need to appreciate here is the fact that that vessels, be they storage or cooking vessels, were fashioned out in accordance with the artistic traditions of the community.
This was the time when communities, both in Europe and in Africa, were in harmony with universal design.
Circularity was exhibited in all designs from megalithic structures to household items. Accordingly, the clay pots were designed to exhibit circularity that carried some message in line with the community’s worldview.
It was not a choice for the sake of choice. The choice was conscious and in line with a community’s worldview. There was attendant meaning in the design. Basing the meaning on African Thought, a circle has no beginning and no end.
It thus symbolizes eternity, perpetuity, endlessness and immortality. What we can thus surmise is the fact that the underlying cosmology for Stonehenge creators and builders was the same as African worldview.
Community designers, crafters, builders, and constructors do so in a manner that brings out their belief systems, their cosmologies and attendant worldviews.
That, in essence, means a culturally created and built environment is a byproduct of the thought processes of the community.
We thus can move backwards from observed designs, crafts, buildings, and arrangement of structures in space to figure out the organizing mind that takes into account the defining worldview.
We argue that the ceramic pots were not in themselves and by themselves the more important items in comparison to what they contained. Association with burials bears witness to that. There were communities that posited the
Duality of Being. These perceived a person as comprising body and spirit. The material body and the spirit were separated through death with the former being interred while the spirit continued to live in another plane, the spiritual plane. The two components represent ephemerality or transience and immortality and durability.
During the spirit’s journey, provisions were availed. This explains the presence of clay pots in burials as these served as containers for the journey’s provisions. The provisions required vessels and this was the purpose of the clay pots, which, because of firing, were safeguarded against leakages of liquid contents such as wine and lipids. In this sense, the clay pots were of some functional value.
Equally important was the fact that the function they performed was spiritual. Utility is utility be it spiritual or otherwise.
Where spirituality is involved, the aesthetic traits of the container are important to consider. This time functionality is taken to a higher level. Those (ancestral beings) being presented with the contents look favourably at the givers. It is not just the contents being presented that matter, but also the beauty of the container, how well embellished it is.
Art is persuasive and favourably disposes the propitiating giver to spiritual beings. It is for this reason that spiritual items were aesthetically embellished through various artistic renditions such as making them bear circularity and other motifs that are expressions of beauty.
Commonalities at practice level emerge where there already exist commonalities at thought level. There is no way Stonehenge would exhibit certain aspects within its built environment if that were not shared in common with African ideas. At Stonehenge, I detected the African Mind, which is to say there are common perceptions and ideas relating to the wider physical and spiritual environments.
It is because of these perceived and shared linkages and commonalities that Africa holds hope for some sustainable and objective interpretation of Stonehenge. In terms of worldview and cultural practices, Africa is still closer to the original ideology (the Ur-Ideology) that, because of science, Europe has abandoned. That makes the interpretation of
Stonehenge and indeed, other contemporaneous monuments quite a challenge to interpret. Some Afro-centric approach holds hope where there is limited hope among European communities of researchers.
My very strong view and suggestion is that European archaeologists, scientists and scholars, applying the exact science, should carry out excavations, and then pass on their findings to African interpreters of those findings.
What to Europe looks very ancient and inexplicable is still current in Africa and readily and easily explainable. I saw all this at the time when research work was being undertaken at Old Bulawayo. I have promised that, after the “Journey to Stonehenge” the next journey shall be “Journey to KoBulawayo.”
Enlightening research results were derived from the research. The project, currently being resuscitated, serves as an important window into the 19th century Ndebele way of life including their cosmology and worldview.
This will be the case provided there is objective and empathetic interpretation of research findings. What is going on now is mere material reconstruction of the burnt down structures. Interpretations were done at the time of excavations and application of less intrusive research methodologies such as geophysical surveys.