Merlin the Archer: Forward
Some years ago I went to an exhibition of stone-age art at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. The cave paintings of Lascaux were there in full-scale reproduction and there were artifacts from the early and late neolithic periods. One piece was plainly some sort of cribbage board. It was a foot-long section of deer antler with three side-by-side rows of peg holes. One end of the antler was carved into a perfectly representational face of a deer. The deer’s face could have been made carved in Classical Greece or Rome, the Renaissance, or in the twentieth century. It was without a doubt the work of a mind that was identical to our modern minds.
I was raised on the Greek myths. I have always been drawn to the Bronze Age, to the time of the emerging civilizations. Mary Renault’s Theseus was my favorite hero. I thought that the Homeric age must have started much earlier. Greece is simply not that far not that far from Sumer and Egypt. The Great Pyramids were built in 2,600 BCE. The mud-brick Ziggurats of Sumer around the same time.
Stonehenge was built in the same era, around 2,200 BCE, give or take a few years. All of these giant monuments of the Ancient World required planning and organization equal to anything we do today. Imhotep, the architect of the first of the pyramid, the stepped pyramid at Saqqara, was plainly an engineering genius.
A few years ago an important burial was unearthed at Amesbury, England, a short distance from Stonehenge. The forty-five year old man in the grave, who had suffered a bad knee injury late in life, was obviously important. He had gold hair ornaments, the first found in the British Isles. He was buried with an impressive cache of archery equipment. The archaeologists tested his DNA. He was from the region of the Alps in Europe, not from England. He was buried alongside a younger man, possibly his son. Archaeologists dubbed him the Amesbury Archer.
How did a man from the Alps end up in an important grave next to, and from the same time as, Stonehenge? He didn’t walk there. He came by ship. How were the stones of Stonehenge moved? Aliens? Mystic power of Druids? Sorry, though I wish we could find them, we haven’t found the spacecraft and the Druids belong to a period two thousand years after Stonehenge; they never used the ring of stones. Stonehenge was forgotten. The Egyptians moved giant stones like the Sarsens and Bluestones hundreds of miles with manpower, rollers, ropes, levers, wedge stones, pivot stones, and ships.
As soon as I read about the Amesbury Archer and his origins, I saw in my mind’s eye a young boy, stolen by raiders from his village in the Alps and sold into slavery down what is now the Adriatic Sea. From there, it was not far to ancient Crete, Sargon of Akkad’s Mesopotamia, and the Egypt of Pharaoh Pepi. I saw the boy grow into a man, a rational man in a world of dark superstition. His companions included people who were heroes of the later Greek Myths, prophets of the later Bible. He witnessed events that we know took place. He leaned to move giant stones. A stone fell on his leg, and he needed the help of a famous healer. He ended up in a far green land across the wild sea, the place where tin came from in this early Bronze Age. I have named this healer The Merlin- a name borrowed from a much later time. But maybe that name is much older than we give it credit for.
I did a lot of research on the Alps and Balkans, Greece, Sumer, Egypt, and the late neolithic in Britain to buff up my knowledge of the early Bronze Age, but I have purposefully taken vast liberties with the facts as we know them. My chronologies are all possible, but this is not a history, it’s an adventure. It’s a story of a rational man in an irrational, fear-plagued world. He left a monument that he thought might help his people. He left them Stonehenge. I hope you might be moved to study ancient cultures. What is actually there is as fascinating as any tale of aliens or mystic powers.
And now, my story…..