A Milky Way Trapped in Stone

August 17, 2013


In this article I explored the cosmological dimensions of something as mundane as the herding of animals, finding in the paths of migratory and driven animals on earth the course of the stars and planets in the night sky. This manifestation of the old idea of the macrocosm and the microcosm, expressed in the phrase, ‘As above, so below’, is crystallised in the bluestones used to construct the original circle at Stonehenge, a structure I identify as integral to a pastoral cosmology. Remarking on this stone, with its white feldspar inclusions, the archaeologist Timothy Darvill uses a wonderful metaphor here to describe the quality of this stone – spotted dolerite – which unifies the celestial and mundane planes in a poetic way: ‘a rockbound equivalent of the stars of the night sky, a Milky Way trapped in stone’. Its astral character is emphasised by its deeper shade when freshly quarried or made wet.


Nine polished pieces of spotted dolerite from Preseli, showing the starry quality of this material.
Three nines of hillocks
On each hillock three nines of stakes:
To each stake three nines of polled, dun cows tied.

The ‘inner space’ of this rock can be seen extended towards infinity in this, the deepest image of the far Universe ever taken in visible light, the Hubble Extreme Deep Field – serendipitously, an image I  drew from the website of Jodrell Bank, the workplace of Colin, a character from Alan Garner’s novel, Boneland, who searches among the Pleiades for his lost sister, Susan.


The Hubble Extreme Deep Field (NASA, ESA, UCSC, Leiden Obs and the XDF Team). Image from here.

As suggested in ‘Till the Cows Come Home’, the bluestones from Mynydd Preseli likely followed the same route to Salibury Plain as many of the cows which were driven there in the Neolithic, conceivably being regarded as animate beings, as cows. For such a long journey, there would doubtless have been a few stops for refreshment along the way… Unfortunately, not here any more:

The Spotted Cow, North End Avenue, Portsmouth.

The Spotted Cow, North End Avenue, Portsmouth.




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