The Founder’s Tale, or, What Is This Clonehenge You Speak of?

Interactive Stonehenge Sculpture, Taipei Public Arts
Interactive Stonehenge Sculpture, Taipei Public Arts

We have a lot of new people visiting Clonehenge, so maybe it’s a good time to repost this story about us, originally posted by The Heritage Journal in two parts.  (Usually our posts are much shorter than this. If you’re looking for the one about Felder Rushing, just scroll down.) The following article was published in February, 2012. Our thanks to Nigel Swift and The Heritage Journal.

THE FOUNDER’S TALE

It’s three years since we featured Clonehenge, the website about replica Stonehenges – see our article here. Since then the site has gone from strength to strength so we asked them to fill us in with a few details. They did better than that. Here is Part 1 of their fascinating account:

Clonehenge all started because of a running joke on The Megalithic Portal. Andy Burnham and some others were always metaphorically–and probably actually–rolling their eyes whenever a site somewhere was called the Stonehenge of the North or the Russian Stonehenge, Brazilian Stonehenge, etc., as if there were no standing stones in the world but Stonehenge and as if, let’s face it, any other site truly resembles Stonehenge.

Somewhere along the line, just for laughs we started posting links to Stonehenge replicas in a chat dialogue box the Portal used to have on the left hand side of its main page. I think Andy took that down now. We were finding the silliest ones we could, made of the most ridiculous materials, but I began to see how many there were, not only the silly ones (well, the more silly ones–to me at some level every Stonehenge replica is a bit silly), but those built by people taking great pains.

It amused me that although they were all imitations of the same thing, they were all so different, depending on who built them and why. Scientists built them as astronomical observatories. Artists built them as sculptures. Curiously, few were made by pagans. Some people tried to make replicas of Stonehenge as it was thought to have been at its height and some tried to capture the modern state of disarray. There were large ones, small ones, in different proportions and with different ideas of how the stones should be shaped. I was dazzled by the sheer numbers of them and the diversity, plus amused by how each person that made one thought his or hers was the only one or one of the few.

I started saying, “There must be a blog about this!” When I couldn’t find one, I started saying, “Someone should do a blog about this!” Finally I realised it was going to have to be me. At the time, I believe it was November 2008, I thought it would not last past New Year’s day, posting one or two a day. I just didn’t think there were that many.

But of course I just kept finding them, and as I did, I posted them. I couldn’t stand the thought of a major Stonehenge replica being out there and not being listed on the blog. For some reason I kept thinking of a theoretical child who decided to do a report on Stonehenge replicas and who would count on me to have them all. I did find that when it came to small ones, I could not, for example, post all of the Stonehenge replicas made of beach stones or of cheese. There were just too many. I tried to choose the nicest ones or the ones with the nicest pictures. It was always amusing, though, to see how each builder thought he or she was original and alone in the world.

You can imagine, I soon grew tired of Spinal Tap jokes. People always think that they are the first to think of them.

And, I don’t know–it went on and on. I favoured the stranger and sillier ones, but I tried to post them all. My personal favourite and the funniest may be the one at Taipei in Taiwan, the interactive Stonehenge street sculpture that detects and speaks to visitors, see below. It is small and white and curvy, sort of like Stonehenge in a larval state. I think it is very funny–so far from the original in every way and yet it has one thing in common with it–it was placed by the authorities to impress and get the attention of the common people. Many of the large ones don’t have that quality–they are not for the public.

Of course one that gets a lot of visits on the blog is the one at the German spa, Therme Erding.  That is because it has the words “mandatory nudity” in it. Amazing what that can do for your numbers. You should try it! Wally Wallington gets a lot of attention, as if he solved all of the mysteries of Stonehenge! I don’t think he ever built more than one trilithon. Carhenge is very popular, and for sale right now. Wiltshire Heritage should consider bringing it over. One thing I love at the large replicas is when people say they are better than the original.  I think that is missing the point a bit!

In my opinion, the most under-noticed replica is the one in Odessa, Texas. The other big Texas one, often called Stonehenge II, is very inferior but gets a lot of notice. The Odessa replica is very nicely done, beautiful and impressive. I like to think that I am the only person in the world who can identify every large permanent Stonehenge replica standing today from any tiny thumbnail photograph of it, but from the right angles and in the right light, I can still be tricked by the Odessa henge. I would love to actually see it, but I probably never will, because it is the only reason I would want to visit Texas. I don’t like the heat.

[Following on from Part 1 here is the second part of the article by the founders of Clonehenge.]

photo of the monument at A Coruña by Jacobo Fraga, aka Lewosky
photo of the monument at A Coruña by Jacobo Fraga, aka Lewosky

Another replica that is special to me is the Spanish monument at A Coruña in Galicia. It is a beautiful sculpture modeled after Stonehenge, with a poem carved into the lintels, commemorating those who died at the hands of the Franco regime. It is positioned on a hill above the sea and all in all seems very evocative of human sorrow and longing but with a tinge of hope. I would love to go there! Maybe someone on the History Channel or BBC would like to do a show in which once a week I visit and talk about one of the large permanent replicas. Haha.

Because the blog has been around so long, we were able to follow the long process that resulted in the building of the pink granite Stonehenge replica in Esperance, Western Australia. Now we (when I say we I mean me, but the Clonehenge persona is not actually my personality. I invented a voice for it and that voice uses the editorial we) are following developments on the Achill henge story. People post news on the Clonehenge Facebook group wall, usually, before I search and learn about them myself.

The Facebook group caught on much more than the Twitter feed or the Clonehenge Facebook Page. Although, I must point out, the Clonehenge Twitter is followed by no less illustrious a personage than Mr. Mike Pitts, along with other people who research, think, write and tweet about Stonehenge, including Arthur Pendragon and some bloke called Heritage Action. Who would name their poor child that, I ask you?

While blabbing on, I have been trying to think of the worst henge. Not easy because I love them all in different ways. There is one, claimed to be made of claybut that actually looks as if it is made of dog excrement allowed to dry until it is white. Also, of course, there are so many that are accompanied by Easter Island moai, those heads, you know. This has always grated on me a little, much as it has always bothered me that penguins and polar bears are often depicted together in wintry scenes on pajamas, for example, or in children’s toys, while the fact is, they live as far apart as you can get on this globe. Stonehenge and the heads, too, are on opposite sides of the earth, but in the popular mind they are almost the same thing.

And in the not-sure-if-it’s-terrible-or-good department, there is a Stonehenge in a huge cemetery in Japan that has a Buddhist shrine in the middle. I think it has moai nearby as well, so it is kind of special. Probably the actual worst is the one in Kennewick, Washington State.  Pathetic, really, just something a pensioner built in his front garden, but how can you judge it against these other ones? The beautiful white limestone replica in Montana was built by a millionaire. In a way, the smaller one required more dedication to the idea than that did.

I could go on. There are fountains, sculptures, planetarium replicas, and more, from Brazil to Malaysia. One I just recalled, a beautiful set of large sculptures called Caelum Moor,  is in Texas also. It is the most controversial, with some right wing Christians calling it demonic, wanting it removed and claiming it will be used for Satanic worship. I guess that’s what I didn’t expect when I started this: how many different topics I end up discussing as I post about these replicas, from religion to the environment, conspiracy theories in connection with the Georgia Guidestones,  war, politics, food, movies–it goes on and on. I never thought anyone would be arrested for building a replica, but recently Joe McNamara was. It is another door into the complexities of human nature. One small henge is made of wool sheared from seaweed-eating sheep. It’s all very curious.

That’s way more than you asked for, but usually no one asks me about this and it has been a journey of years now, shared with almost no one, so it is fun to reminisce a bit and talk about the experience. Thanks for asking. There are still many small and temporary replicas being made and I could be posting a lot more than I do these days, but I have moved on to other projects and rarely have the time or inclination. I wouldn’t be posting at all if people were not still submitting.

What is it about? What is it about Stonehenge that makes people want to reproduce it in every size and material possible? I think of the character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, building that mesa in his basement. The compulsion seems to strike people much like that. Does it have some subconscious meaning? Who knows? But it has kept me seeing the good side of human nature, the playful side, the curious side, the side that thinks of the ancients and looks at the stars. Just being reminded that mankind has a good side makes it worthwhile in the end!

Here ends the Heritage Journal’s article. We now return to our regular programming. Happy henging!

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