The integrity of Stonehenge has been a topic of open debate in recent years. The idea that the monument is some kind of 18th century folly has somehow taken root in the peoples collective psyche. Mostly due to a series of photographs showing restoration to the monument in 1901 using cranes. Really the point of real consternation is in the fact that most people think the archeologists may have picked the stones up and placed them back haphazardly, re-positioning rather than merely re-setting them. This is perhaps naivety on behalf of those individuals that fail to realise the level of importance the monument has, and therefore the overall standard of archeology that is required to work the site. The above photo shows a view looking north-east from south-west. We can see that trilithon 4 in the Great Horseshoe, pillar 22 and lintel 122, in the west section are fallen here in the photo, today if you go to the site you will see they are reset. Pillar 19 is lying where it always has, the gap where pillar 20 (a missing pillar) is absent, is still absent. The pillar in which trilithon 4 sprawls on the ground reaching toward, is pillar 21, the 11th hour in the Stonehenge time-system, standing as it has for millenia. So too does pillar 23, and pillars 27-7 in the east section. Pillar 11 the half-width half height pillar is still sitting in the south leaving its overly sized gap ahead of itself. The idea that these pillars have been genuinely ‘moved’ is not evident here. What is obviously evident, is the resetting of pillars, re-erecting fallen pillars, straightening crooked pillars, but suggest this archeological work resulted in a re-interpretation of the monument probably means you don’t really understand the monument, as you will see later.
The above is a John Constable painting, this is often cited as an example of how drastically the monument has changed. This is a view looking north north-east. to the immediate right we have pillar 11 leaning as it does still today. We can see pillar 56 of the large trilithon leaning in the middle, to the immediate left we can see pillar 16 just behind it we can see pillar 21. The large standing trilithon in the centre on the right is trilithon 2, behind it is trilithon 1. Around to the right in the outer-circle we have the run of standing pillars in the east section and to the left, we again have trilithon 4 fallen and jutting out to the west side of the outer-circle. In this depiction pillar 22 and lintel 122 are still standing next to pillar 23, this is the main difference. Beyond that is pillar 60 still with its tilt at this stage. Hardly proof of radical re-positioning evidenced here, this is just dusk and visibilty is getting low.
The above painting by William Fowler gives a clearer, all the more ‘daytime’ view of the monument. Again this is a view looking north-east. Pillar 56 leaning, the men stood next to pillar 16, pillar 11 and 10 to the right. We can see a man sat on pillar 19 almost in the forefront view, pillar 21 to the left, with again pillar 22 standing and pillar 23 standing as ever it has. Apart from the resetting of pillars, there is nothing here to indicate that what we see now is a re-interpretation of what was there before, both of these paintings are from pre-1881, when the first restorations took place.
Really this is all we need to look at to know that the integrity of the monument, its original positioning is not compromised. In this picture we can see lighter patches of grass around the monument, this picture is showing parchmarks. We can see parchmarks that indicate where some of the missing pillars in the outer-circle would have stood. We can also see parchmarks lining the outside edge of the sarsen circle, a parchmark in fact several feet behind each pillar position, these are the z-holes. Upright poles once stood in these settings but they were removed from the site along time before any archeological analysis had ever taken place.
The z-holes sit IN LINE with the pillar positions of the outer-circle, and they can therefore be used to understand the overall design and layout of the monument, and to ensure that the positions we see today are true to the original plan of the monument.
We can be rest assured that due to ongoing record keeping the original positions are known and have been recorded multiple times. Continued maintenance of the site is necessary to ensure it remains safe to visit and free from any more ruin than is already evident. But we must consider that Stonehenge encodes 1.2degrees over 1ft, and so an error in resetting a pillar would have to be over 10inches to make a 1 degree noticeable difference. In terms of one of the worlds most important archeological sites, that’s a discrepancy those tasked with working it are not likely to make.