There are thousands upon thousands of megalithic monuments in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but to a large extent, the public really only knows one—Stonehenge. Yet much of the rural areas of the British Isles are crammed with these monuments that few know of and fewer still visit. The 2009 video Standing With Stones is an attempt to correct that lack of knowledge.
Standing With Stones: A Journey through Megalithic Europe
Standing With Stones is 2.5-hour-long video, written and presented by Rupert Soskin, and photographed and directed by Michael Bott. The two-man production team spent the greater part of eight years developing the project, which took them all over the British Isles, visiting dozens of monuments from Ballowall Barrow in Lands End, Cornwall to the Tomb of the Eagles in the Orkney Islands off Scotland's northern shore.
Standing With Stones takes the viewer on a geographic tour of these amazing monuments. Seven chapters include the West Country, Southern England, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Northern England, Scotland and the Scottish Isles. Also included is an interview with Soskin and Bott, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, a slide show of the two-year process making the final film, and the TV pilot.
The video shows the incredible variation in form and meaning and date for the monuments, using primarily archaeological research as a basis for discussion. Soskin also brings in elements of folklore and history to discuss the complexity of the monuments and their meanings to people today and in the past.
Meaning and the Stones
What isn't addressed are the various New Age theories which have evolved around many of the monuments. In an included interview featured on the DVD, Soskin explains that they avoided the "energetic, spiritual, and psychic" aspects of megalithic monuments because, however real such aspects may seem to someone who experiences them, they are highly individual experiences, and difficult to pin down. One person may say that they "know" a particular group of stones is a temple, another that the same group was the source of an important fertility ritual. Such experiences, reports Soskin, are simply too idiosyncratic to use. I don't mind the omission.
What Standing With Stones does do is allow people to see and experience the great variety of constellations of stones, boulders, marked pathways, lines of sight, wooden poles, underground passageways, inscriptions, and astronomical alignments within their environments. Monuments are found in sheep pastures, on bleak moors, within small villages, divided by highways, on the tops of high tors and even in an athletic goods store in the center of London.
Elements of Standing With Stones
The photography is fabulous, and given that it was accomplished in all kinds of weather by a guy with a video camera (Sony HVR-Z1E), that is a bit of a miracle. In a spate of honesty, Soskin reports that he frequently found himself writing the text onsite, that he started out with a prepared text based on research, but discovered when they arrived at a site, the text wasn't appropriate.
Maps are provided—but I would have liked to have the names of the sites spelled out during the video more consistently. Fortunately, Bott and Soskin have supplied a locations gallery on the Standing With Stones website which allows the interested user to find the right spelling to go seeking more information on sites like Callanish and Bryn Celli Du.
A musical track written by Michael Bott provides a range of textures to the images, a bit mystical and flute-y, with an underlying percussion.
In the end, Standing With Stones is a personal journey to these monuments. Soskin and Bott are connected to the sites, determined to illustrate the immense variety of the different patterns and elements of the stone works. But, even though the video is far, far better than looking at still photos (I know, I looked up Callanish after viewing the program twice), it is clear that the real experience of visiting the sites is irreplaceable, and as good as it is, the video is only a patch on what it must be like to visit the monuments personally. The point of the video, I believe, is that we should try "standing with the stones".
Suitable for just about anybody with an interest in prehistoric Europe, and particularly for those planning to spend time wandering around the British Isles, Standing With Stones might even be useful for academics. Don't get me wrong—there are a couple of excellent websites that store extensive catalogs of images including panoramas of megalithic monuments—Stone Pages and Megalithics.com leap to mind. But what Standing With Stones does is provide a generalist overview of the variation of different sites spread across the whole of Britain and Ireland. Oddly, because the sites are viewed in fairly rapid succession, the viewer ultimately begins to recognize not just the differences in the monuments, but their similarities. The experience includes resonance, in that inscriptions on stones in Ireland are reminiscent of those in England; patterns of concentric circles in the Orkneys are similar to those at Avebury. One might say the viewers come full circle.