Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died is an expanded version of Stonehenge. Or, to be more accurate, it is the original version of Stonehenge...
In his review of the book for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (January 1974), Harlan Ellison writes:
"I'm privy to 'inner circle' information which, because this is the season of
Watergate I'll pass on to you.
Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died - what a title! As co-author Leon Stover points out in the interview elsewhere on this site, that four-word title encompasses two of Western civilisation's greatest mysteries. And the story itself provides possible solutions for both of them. If you have ever wondered where Atlantis really was, and where its underwater remains now lie, this is the book for you. Similarly, if you have ever wondered who built Stonehenge and what its function could be, an explanation is here.
At Last, the True Story of Atlantis
The mystery of Atlantis was actually solved by archaeologists some years ago, though their explanation has not made the same impression on the public consciousness as the idea of a mythical underwater kingdom. The archaeologists believe that the Atlanteans were in fact Minoans. Leon Stover reveals the archaeological explanation of the whereabouts and fate of Atlantis in the interview.
The Secret of Stonehenge
The mystery of Stonehenge has not been so convincingly laid to rest. The most popular 'explanation' of the purpose of the monumental stone circle - and the one still trotted out to tourists visiting Salisbury Plain - is that Stonehenge is a kind of computer, used by the ancients to monitor and predict solar and lunar eclipses. This theory was documented by Gerald Hawkins and John B. White in their book Stonehenge Decoded in 1965.
Hawkins' theory has been effectively disproved on two counts. Mathematician and theoretical astronomer Douglass Hettie of Edinburgh University proved that by chance 48 of the 240 alignments investigated by Hawkins could be expected to appear have astronomical significance. In fact, less than 32 of them do. But, more importantly, Hawkins' theory argues that Stonehenge is a single entity, built by a single people, for a single purpose. In fact, the stone circle as we see it today was built by three separate groups of people over a period of around 1,000 years, and it is not a single entity: later additions are actually built on top of earlier ones. It is difficult to believe then that these separate versions are part of a single functioning whole.
So in both statistical and practical terms, the 'astronomical computer' theory of Stonehenge is highly improbable. But if it wasn't used to predict eclipses, what was it for?
Leon E. Stover, Professor of Anthropology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, developed his own theory, which he published, along with convincing argument and documentary evidence, in an academic text: Stonehenge and the Origins of Western Culture (1979). But almost a decade earlier he explored the idea in a novel co-written with Harry Harrison. An explanation of Stover's theory, in his own words, can be found in the interview.
Harry Harrison and Leon Stover wrote the novel in the early 1970s, and it was first published in 1972 in England by Peter Davies Ltd. But the version published then was heavily cut to bring it down to what the publisher considered to be a manageable size. It was published under the title Stonehenge.
When it decided to republish the book ten years later, the authors decided to reinstate the cut material, and had to recreate the complete manuscript based on their original notes from the 1970s.
Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died was first published in 1983 in the United States by Tor. This later version significantly improves on the earlier.
Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died is set in the year 1480 BC, during the historical period known as the Bronze Age. One of the most important commodities during this period was the metal tin, which was mixed with copper to form a strong alloy - bronze - which was ideal, among other things, the forging of blades for weapons.
At the time when the novel is set, two groups are vying for dominance: the Atlanteans (or Minoans) and the Mycenaens. The Atlanteans control the tin mines along the River Danube, and so the Mycenaens are forced further afield to seek deposits of the metal. Their search leads them to the Cornish tin mines in Britain, home of the Yerni.
When the Atlanteans invade Britain, the hero of the story, Ason - a Mycenaen prince - thousands of miles from home, must rely on the local Yerni tribesmen to join him to fight off the invaders. But the local tribes are a warlike people, forever fighting among themselves, and so Ason must first unite the tribes before he can get them to face the Atlanteans in battle.
Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died tells of Ason's struggle to save the Mycenaens and the Yerni from the Atlanteans, and reveals how he was instrumental in the creation of Stonehenge as a sort of 'round table' around which the Yerni kings were united, and how it was built with the help of an Egyptian architect using the same techniques that were used to shape and transport stone to build the pyramids. During his epic struggle, Ason is also on hand to witness the destruction of the island kingdom of Atlantis in a world-shattering event which is recorded in the Bible.
In an Authors' Note in the original edition of the novel, Stover and Harrison say:
"Above all we want to entertain with a rousing adventure story. But entertaining is the means by which we aim to accomplish a serious pedagogical end: to dramatise the case for a non-astronomical interpretation of Stonehenge Of course, its characters and events are imaginary - but the anthropological thinking behind the storyline is meant to be taken as a deliberate contribution to the continuing debate over Stonehenge."
They also point out the difference between their approach and that of other historical novelists:
"In most other historical novels the setting is nothing but a setting, a painted backdrop of exquisitely researched detail. This is just so much wallowing in historical content, with modern personalities in ancient dress cast up in the foreground. What we are after is pattern, the cultural pattern of a vanished society - Britain in the middle of the second millennium BC: The tribal politics of the Yerni and the technology of stone-working that Inteb brings to bear in their name have been used not as ornamentation but as key concepts in the reconstruction of a prehistoric culture."
In his own book Harry Harrison, Leon Stover says: "We determined that we were not writing a historical novel but a novel about history, whose purpose was to authenticate the past. Historical novelists do not as a rule aim at this."
Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died is not a theory dressed up as a novel, it is - as the authors hoped - a rousing adventure story, and a violent and bloody one too, as the they admit in their Afterword to the later editions - "as it should be, given the history of the European Bronze Age. The world of 1500 BC was like this, or so we are told in the epics of Homer." In Stover's words - in Harry Harrison - his theory had "Harrison's wonderful adventure story to give it life."
There is a - mostly irrelevant - question as to whether Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died is actually science fiction. Stover believes it is: "One feature, perhaps the most important one, marks this novel as science fiction: its backplotting. The last lines, concerning how the dagger carving got on stone no. 53, were written first. Everything else was plotted towards that revelation, by way of accommodating both background as foreground and theory as hero. It is not a novel of character, as regular historical novels are; it is, and can be, nothing else but science fiction."
Unfortunately, as Stover himself points out in Harry Harrison, since the novel was first published, radiocarbon dating has proved that, though the dagger carving itself dates from the time of the Mycenaens, the stone it is carved upon was erected more than 500 years before, back in 2000 BC, which means that the Mycenaens couldn't have had a hand in the construction of Stonehenge. Perhaps this spoils the story somewhat - the construction of Stonehenge and the destruction of Atlantis did not occur in the same period - but that does not disprove Stover's theory: "My political interpretation of the monument is not shaken. I still hold to its function as a royal election court for the elevation of Bronze Age kings or chieftains, long before royalty passed from elective to dynastic status."
So the theory which the novel dramatises is still sound, and the adventure story is still wonderful.
© Paul Tomlinson, July 1999