On a fine midsummer morning, dawn breaks slowly over Salisbury Plain. For a full hour before sunrise, Stonehenge, that prehistoric circle of standing stones, stands out in eerie silence against the first yellow-green light of day. In the shadow of the great stones, the modern-day ‘druids’, people clothed in the religious robes and hoods of the ancient Celtic priests, have begun their annual ceremony of fire and water, celebrating the dawning of the year’s longest day.
Only a few lucky people are allowed to watch the ritual inside the stone circle itself. These are people with official passes: journalists, photographers, television cameramen and the villagers of nearby Amesbury. Outside, a small crowd has gathered beyond the protective barbed-wire fence constructed to save the stones from the inquisitive touch of countless tourists whose busy fingers have gradually worn away the surface of many stones.
The sight they have all come to see begins a few seconds after 5 am, when the first rays of the sun appear over the edge of the horizon. It is the start of an event precisely planned by the people who built Stonehenge, a temple to the Sun, almost 4,000 years ago. And yet no one knows for certain who erected the stone-circles or why they did so. The reason for this is simple: the builders had no writing.
The architects of Stonehenge could therefore not leave behind them any documents or inscriptions to explain why they chose to build this extraordinary construction on Salisbury Plain; why they mixed local stones with others cut more than 200 miles away; why they demolished and rebuilt it several times in the course of a thousand years; or why they balanced huge stones on top of each other in a style more suited to building in wood.
But Stonehenge is no isolated mystery, for it is just one of a thousand prehistoric stone circles scattered throughout the British Isles and northern France. They have survived because they were built in what are now remote and sparsely inhabited regions: perhaps thousands of others have not stood the test of time and have been deliberately destroyed or absorbed into the landscape.
Mark the best choice.
1. The dawn celebrations at Stonehenge could be described as
a) a demonstration of Celtic priests b) religious in style c) a modern ritual d) dangerously primitive
2. What do local people have in common with the media people? a) Official connections with Amesbury and Salisbury Plain. b) An interest in photography. c) Special viewing opportunities. d) A belief that the annual ritual brings good luck.
3. The purpose of the barbed-wire fence is to .
a) prevent people digging up the surface of the ground b) protect the druids from the attentions of numerous tourists c) make it impossible to steal the stones d) prevent visitors from damaging the stones
4. Certain features of Stonehenge are .
a) almost impossible to understand b) the result of bad workmanship and poor architectural taste c) examples of mixed religious faiths d) unexplained despite the inscriptions that they bear
5. Stonehenge and other similar sites have survived because they were
a) carefully tested by their builders b) built far away in northern France c) built on private land d) situated in quiet and isolated areas