The so-called sarsen horseshoe could have been used to auction cattle. It does not only contain the great trilithon (which could have served observers, even from afar, for orientation purposes and for estimating the time of day). It contains 4 other trilithons as well.

Why did they construct the other trilithons? What was their function? Their orthostats were not only high but also wide. They could, e.g., have been used in a recumbent position to form a solid pen. Why that extra effort?

The following arguments can be adanced for the sarsen horseshoe the way they realized it (the list is maybe not complete yet):

– More trilithons in the inside of the sarsen circle allowed them to position specialized archers on the lintels in an appropriate way. These archers could intervene in case of trouble from an efficient position. The problem with shooting an individual person or piece of cattle within a more or less dispersed group, is that you have to avoid at all price to wound somebody else or another piece of cattle. A higher position helps a lot in this case. One such higher position may not suffice. Even nowadays, during official visits of very important persons, police forces frequently place sharpshooters on roofs or several other high positions. Single uprights even of the width and depth of the orthostats of the sarsen horseshoe would not have provided enough really flat space for an archer. A lintel with an almost perfect flat upper surface of at least 4 meters by 1 meter is much more comfortable. Two archers can easily stand on it. If necessary, such a lintel even allowed two individuals to lie completely down on it and be almost entirely out of danger from arrows possibly coming from the ground. A relatively great distance between adjacent trilithons allowed light to enter sufficiently into the sarsen horseshoe and also gave enough freedom to adapt the inner space of the sarsen circle to their needs. Indeed, constructs in wood and, if necessary, other materials, could be used to further partition that space, create inner entrances and/or exits and even some spaces with a roof but without (one or more) walls for clients, personnel or even livestock in case of bad weather.

– Making several large triliths allowed them to test trilithon construction with sarsens on that particular soil at that particular spot. There was probably not much experience around with such large sarsen triliths. If these free-standing higher trilithons worked, they were almost 100% sure the outer sarsen circle, more connected and less high, would work as well.

– The different heights of the triliths allows observers to imagine a bundle of lines parallel to the longest upper edges of the great trilith. This bundle facilitated estimation of the basic orientation of the monument and starting from that, of the time of day. One line of such a bundle is less comfortable than several lines.

– These large triliths could impress foreigners. They could frighten people having bad intentions. They testified from afar that the Stonehenge people were rich and capable of difficult things, that they were probably more capable than at several places elsewhere, probably also in matters of defense.

– The inner sarsen horseshoe reminded from afar in an impressive way of the basic economy of the region: production of livestock.

– The inner sarsen horseshoe may have had an aesthetic appeal. It may have been partly a product of “Spieltrieb”.

– There may have been an element of religion and/or superstition involved. Indeed, livestock plays an important role in the religions of that time of which there are clear traces. Till quite recent times the (form of a) horseshoe occurred in several contexts as an element of superstition. Even if the sarsen “horseshoe” referred to an oxenshoe, e.g., it may have fulfilled a similar role at that time as the form of a horseshoe did later on.

The first argument seems to me at this moment the decisive one. Indeed, livestock was one of the most precious things back then. Richness attracts thieves, raiders and all kinds of troublemakers. This necessitates police (the function of which was at that time probably fulfilled by a group of warriors/hunters specialized in the use of weapons). Above that, even a domestic animal can suddenly, for a reason that may not be immediately apparent, become agressive and dangerous.

Best regards,

Jan Vandenheede
Docteur en Arts et Sciences de l'Art