Well, we haven’t really found a Swedish Stonehenge that no-one else knew about before. It’s just that when something like this is drawn to our attention and we at Worldly Scandifriend didn’t know about it, we feel in the thrill of the moment as if we have been intrepid charters and locaters of ancient monuments in our own right (even if a few million other people got there first).
This in question is the Ales Stenar structure in Skåne, and we are once more grateful to Peter Goodhugh, who previously fielded via us an enquiry about locating a groundplan for the abbey at Vadstena, for alerting us not just to the presence of this stone ship (and indeed to the concept of stone ships as a whole), but to some new research regarding the age of the monument – and the purpose it served.
On the basis of nothing other than our own instincts, we’re more inclined to believe those academics who believe that the structure served as a marker of graves – making it not as much a Swedish Stonehenge as a hybrid that evokes both the world-famous monument in Wiltshire, UK and the nearby Wayland’s Smithy long barrow in the bordering county of Oxfordshire – although probably much younger than either of these.
We’d certainly go along with the theory that ships were a centrepiece – if not the centrepiece – of day-to-day life in coastal Scandinavia at the time Ales Stenar was erected or assembled. It really doesn’t seem surprising that tributes to the dead might be assembled in the shape of a ship – just as the Christian cross performs such a function now. Just as the cross is a symbol of worship, we’re drawn to the fascinating notion that ships – or their outlines – would have been both symbol of worship and object of veneration.
What seems equally remarkable to Worldly Scandifriend is that Ales Stenar may be no more than 1400 years old – and as such built well into the first Christian millennium. This makes it anything up to 3600 years younger than the original Stonehenge. We’re not especially convinced that the younger standing stone assembly has exactly the same underlying geometry as the one (probably) far older and more than 600 miles away (aerial views indicate simply how different the respective Swedish and English structures look).
Even so, one wonders at how, broadly speaking, the same kind of thinking in terms of very pure shape and outline re-asserts itself over the millennia – and at a time when the very concept of global communications of any sort was more or less non-existent.
Having just read an excellent post by Katherine Langrish regarding the Uffington White Horse chalk hill figure in Oxfordshire, England (Kath has kindly linked to a song I wrote on the same subject, equally kindly recorded by her brother, our good friend John Langrish), Worldly Scandifriend is all the more intrigued that in this sense the separate motif of hill figures – and certainly those dating from before the Christian era – seems to be a very English phenomenon, or indeed Southern English phenomenon.
As academics will attest, there’s plenty of chalk in the region of Skåne, where Ales Stenar can be found – though not much in the way of hills. There are plenty of hills elsewhere in Scandinavia – but not necessarily a lot of chalk. Even so, in terms of historically resonant iconography, what might be the Nordic equivalents of English hill figures? We’d love some suggestions and you know where we are.