INTERVIEWS & ARTICLES

Ex gallery chief derides ‘crass’ modern art

The Observer / 30/11/2014

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Hot new theory about Skara Brae worthy of debate

Saturday 25 April 2015


When Julian Spalding was head of museums in Glasgow, he certainly left his mark, as he helped found both the Gallery of Modern Art or Goma, as well as the St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life.


His choice of art for Goma was controversial in its time, and so, perhaps will be his latest theory. Since he left running museums in 1999, Mr Spalding has been an art critic, writer and theorist, and in his latest tome, Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding, he posits a new theory about one of Scotland - and the world's - most important archaeological sites. Skara Brae, in the Orkney Islands, has, since its discovery in 1850, been regarded as a key Neolithic site. It has given generations of scholars invaluable insights into how our distant ancestors lived. It has long been regarded as a series of dwellings.


Not so, Mr Spalding says. He believes that the stone rooms are a cluster of "sacred saunas" where the inhabitants of Mainland would gather to be heated by steam baths and commune with the spirits of the dead. It's a novel idea albeit one, perhaps, that will take some time - although perhaps not 5000 years - to seriously challenge the orthodox view of these extraordinary remains.

Skara Brae a 'sacred sauna' not a village, former head of Glasgow Museums claims

By Phil Miller - Arts Correspondent


Saturday 25 April 2015


IT IS one of the world's most famous Neolithic sites, one of the best preserved signs of how our ancestors lived thousands of years ago.


But a new book, written by the former head of Glasgow's museums and galleries, claims that the prevailing view of Skara Brae, that it is the remains of a neolithic village, is wide of the mark - he believes it was a "sacred sauna".

Julian Spalding, in his new book Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding, said that the Orcadian site was not a place of accommodation for ancient peoples.


He believes that the houses, made from closely fitting flat stone slabs, set in large mounds of midden, were in fact rooms where families went to honour the spirits of their ancestors whilst experiencing the severe heat created by hot stones laid in water troughs.


The art critic, writer and curator compares the site to other stone sties in Turkey - Gobkeli Tepe - and the island of Gozo - Ggantija.


He said the buildings would have been for the culture, which is believed to have had no writing, a "temple of storytelling."


Spalding writes: "Skara Brae makes much more sense as a community sauna - a place for telling stories about spirit ancestors through the long winters - than it does as a village, providing everyday accommodation.


"In those early instances stone appears to have been cut for eternal uses, not for the fleeting present."


Spalding said that the hearths in the rooms of Skara Brae, and the small tanks set in the floors were equipment for the sauna, and he said he thought the local population lived in more temporary accommodation.


He added: "I think it was a sauna, because it is stone built, and because it just doesn't look like a village to me - the people were not midgets.


"People in the so called 'stone age' really did not cut into stone, they only cut into it if it was for eternity.


"They would have lived in mud or turf and hide huts and places like Skara Brae would have been for the spirits of the dead to return to.


"I am not an expert on Skara Brae but this [theory] comes out of travelling the world and thinking about things.


"I think it was a cluster of sacred sauna for different families - and that is why they are all huddled together."


Skara Bare, near the Bay of Skaill, was uncovered by a storm in 1850 and has presented a wealth of information about life around 5000 years ago.


Each house comprised a single room with a floor space of roughly 40sq m.


The 'fitted' stone furniture within each room comprised a 'dresser', where prized objects may have been stored and displayed, two box-beds, a hearth centrally placed and small tanks set into the floor.


An rich array of artefacts and natural remains has been discovered during various archaeological excavations. They include gaming dice, tools, pottery and jewellery (necklaces, beads, pendants and pins).


Richly carved stone objects, perhaps used in religious rituals, were also found.


Mr Spalding will talk about his new book at Glasgow's book festival, Aye Write, at 1.30pm today at the city's Mitchell Library.

Tom Muir, the Exhibitions Officer for Orkney Islands Council, and a noted expert on the islands, said Mr Spalding's ideas were interesting but that it was more likely the buildings were homes.


Mr Muir said: "It is always good to discuss these things because it is through ideas that archaeology moves forward.


"It is not a ridiculous notion, but from the similarities to other sites, that does support the idea that this was a village.


"I also wonder if the rooms are too large to be saunas, and the tanks in the floor too small to generate steam.


"Skara Brae does not exist in isolation, there are other sites such as Barnhouse Settlement although Skara Brae is different in that it is recessed into deposits." The site was abandoned in 2500 BC.

Circular thinking: Stonehenge's origin is subject of new theory

15th March 2015


by Dalya Alberge


Wiltshire monument may have been equivalent of ‘an ancient Mecca on stilts’ according to an idea put forward by former museum director Julian Spalding


‘We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way,: from the earth,’ says Julian Spalding, who believes it served as a raised altar on which masses of worshippers would gather. Photograph: Peter Adams/Getty Images


Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has long been a source of speculation and debate. Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric monument was in fact “an ancient Mecca on stilts”.


The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, the theory suggests.

Julian Spalding, an art critic and former director of some of the UK’s leading museums, argues that the stones were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost – “a great altar” raised up high towards the heavens and able to support the weight of hundreds of worshippers.


“It’s a totally different theory which has never been put forward before,” Spalding told the Guardian. “All the interpretations to date could be mistaken. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way: from the earth, which is very much a 20th-century viewpoint. We haven’t been thinking about what they were thinking about.”


Since Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in the 12th century that Merlin had flown the stones from Ireland, theories on Stonehenge, from plausible to absurd, have abounded. In the last decade alone, the monument has been interpreted as “the prehistoric Lourdes” where people brought the sick to be healed by the power of the magic bluestones from Wales and as a haunted place of the dead contrasting with seasonal feasts for the living at nearby Durrington Walls.


The site pored over by archaeologists for centuries still produces surprises, including the outline of stones now missing, which appeared in the parched ground in last summer’s drought and showed that the monument was not left unfinished as some had believed, but was once a perfect circle.


Spalding, who is not an archaeologist, believes that other Stonehenge theorists have fallen into error by looking down instead of up. His evidence, he believes, lies in ancient civilisations worldwide. As far afield as China, Peru and Turkey, such sacred monuments were built high up, whether on manmade or natural sites, and in circular patterns possibly linked to celestial movements.


He said: “In early times, no spiritual ceremonies would have been performed on the ground. The Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of China were always carried – as the Pope used to be. The feet of holy people were not allowed to touch the ground. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge from a modern, earth-bound perspective.”


“All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth,” he went on. “That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.”


Spalding’s theory has not met with universal approval. Prof Vincent Gaffney, principal investigator on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Bradford University, said he held “a fair degree of scepticism” and Sir Barry Cunliffe, a prehistorian and emeritus professor of European archaeology at Oxford University, said: “He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it”.


The archaeologist Aubrey Burl, an authority on prehistoric stone circles, said: “There could be something in it. There is a possibility, of course. Anything new and worthwhile about Stonehenge is well worth looking into, but with care and consideration.”


On Monday Spalding publishes his theories in a new book, titled Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding – The Origins of Art. It explores our ancestors’ understanding of the world, offering new explanations of iconic works of art and monuments.


Stonehenge, built between 3000 and 2000BC, is England’s most famous prehistoric monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire that draws more than 1 million annual visitors. It began as a timber circle, later made permanent with massive blocks of stone, many somehow dragged from dolerite rock in the Welsh mountains. Spalding believes that ancient worshippers would have reached the giant altar by climbing curved wooden ramps or staircases.

 

To understand the pyramids and Stonehenge, look up – not down

By Julian Spalding | 15th March 2015


'We still think the pyramids are mysterious, but actually they were products of common sense.' Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters


My suggestion that Stonehenge was probably neither a temple nor a calendar but most likely a raised, ceremonial altar used by hundreds of people has attracted considerable attention and some criticism from archaeologists. I’ve nothing against archaeology, but let me make clear that my idea didn’t come from digging into the ground. It came, instead, from looking up at the stars and wondering what our ancestors thought about them when they thought the earth was flat.


When Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuolo explored the Altamira cave in 1879 he dug in the floor. It never occurred to him to look up. It was his young daughter, Maria, who pointed to the ceiling and shouted: “Look Papa, oxen!” So the first cave paintings were discovered. It’s my contention that we’ve been looking in the wrong direction when we’ve interpreted many of the great monuments and works of art of the past.


Circular thinking: Stonehenge's origin is subject of new theory

Read more


We still think the pyramids are mysterious, but actually they were products of common sense. They are virtually identical in Mexico, Egypt and China – not because one civilisation learned how to build them from another but because they thought alike. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition was a product of the European enlightenment’s belief in progressive learning. Disparate peoples built identical pyramids because they didn’t know others existed. Each thought they were living in the centre of a flat world.


Piles of stones or earth naturally form cones but there are no massive cones in ancient history. The reason is simple: cones form circles and, therefore, couldn’t be on the ground. A circle was the shape of heaven. The flat earth had to be square because it had four directions – north, south, east and west. That’s why all pyramids are four-sided, and, incidentally, extremely difficult to build.


The reason for pyramid building was simple: they harnessed the mysterious forces that we believed held the world together – the sea’s flat horizon that ran through the earth, the invisible force of gravity that dragged us down to our graves and the spirit of life which, like flames that always rise, lifted us to our eternal, future home among the stars. The bigger and heavier we could build them, the more pyramids concentrated the powers of the universe against the ceaseless changes on earth that brought so many calamities. They weren’t symbols of celestial bodies but forces for permanence on earth. That’s why pyramids looked alike.


Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is another instance of us looking in the wrong direction. We see it as the extraordinary achievement of an isolated genius. It was, but it was also a product of its times. When it was painted, Columbus had just sailed over the edge of the world and come back. The world was a sphere. No one could doubt it any more.


But that caused tremendous problems for the pope. If the world was a sphere, albeit fixed in the centre of the universe, and the stars went round it, where, then, was heaven? It couldn’t be all round us too, because that would mean heaven was under our feet. In 1506, Pope Julius had the old, rectilinear St Peter’s pulled down and a new one built that would be all curves, with its famous colonnade embracing the round world. And he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling to show that heaven was still in place, above us.


The Vatican didn’t formally accept Galileo’s theory that the world was a sphere spinning around the sun until 1992. Old world views can linger in our minds long after science has shown them to be untrue. In my book Realisation I’ve shown how our world view morphed from a body into a tree into a pyramid, then an altar and lastly a veil until science tore them all asunder. But shadows of these old world pictures still linger in our minds, and prevent us seeing where we truly are.


This article was amended on 20 March 2015. It is the Altamira cave, not the Altimira cave as we had it.

 

Stonehenge Was An 'Ancient Mecca On Stilts' Claims Historian Julian Spalding


By Sara C Nelson |16 March 2015


An art historian has put forward an intriguing suggestion as to the purpose of the mysterious rocks of Stonehenge.

Julian Spalding believes rather than a sun worship temple or healing centre at ground level, the prehistoric remains were actually a series of structures designed to support an altar-like circular wooden platform.


Describing it in his new book Realisation as “an ancient Mecca on stilts”, Spalding writes the altar would have provided a platform for spiritual ceremonies elevated just that little bit closer to the heavens.


Speaking to the Guardian said: “All the interpretations to date could be mistaken. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way: from the earth, which is very much a 20th century viewpoint.”


Supporting his theory, he writes, were the Egyptian pharaohs, the Chinese emperors who were always carried and the Nasca lines in Peru, which must be viewed from above.


He wrote: “All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth.


“That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.”


Speaking to the Washington Post he admitted that as he is neither an archaeologist nor a scientist, it’s “a bit cheeky” for him to propose such a theory.


But he expressed hope archaeologists would: “Welcome the idea that there’s a very fresh way of looking at this remarkable place.”


Travel writer Hugh Thomson describes Spalding’s hypothesis as “enjoyably daft” but insists “it doesn’t bear much thinking about.”

In an online blog he wrote: “If you want to construct a high building, everyone from Egypt to Mesoamerica did by creating a wide and stable mass – like a pyramid – so that you could erect upper stories.


“Having a thin wide circle as the base for a higher walkway or superstructure seems deeply illogical.


“More consistent is the idea of a concealed place, like Bronze Age mortuary circles: That the outer ring delineated a private space within, which may have only been accessible to the privileged or theocratic.”


Meanwhile prehistorian and Oxford University archaeology professor Sir Barry Cunliffe also appeared skeptical, telling the Guardian: “He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it.”

Was Stonehenge a 'Mecca on stilts'? Structure supported a wooden platform to get 'closer to the heavens', claims expert


By Dalya Alberge |16 March 2015


  1. Historian Julian Spalding has provided a new theory on Stonehenge

  2. He says the stones were pillars used to support a raised platform

  3. This would have had people of importance upon it, with others below

  4. A ramp or stairs would have led to the top of the platform

  5. But the wood has long since rotted away, leaving only the stones behind 


Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has sparked endless debate over the centuries.

Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric stone circle monument was in fact 'an ancient Mecca on stilts'.

The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, according to new research.



Historian Julian Spalding has provided a new theory on Stonehenge. He says the stones were pillars used to support a raised platform during ceremonies. As shown in this illustration, steps or a ramp would have led to the top of the platform, where figures of importance would have stood, perhaps addressing a crowd below.


Julian Spalding, former director of some of the UK's leading museums, argues that the stones were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost - 'a great altar' raised up high towards the heavens and able to take the weight of hundreds of worshippers.


'It's a totally different theory which has never been put forward before,' he said.

'All the interpretations to date could be mistaken. We've been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way, from the earth, which is very much a 20th-century viewpoint. We haven't been thinking about what they were thinking about.'



Part of his evidence lies in ancient civilisations worldwide. As far afield as China, Peru and Turkey, such sacred monuments were built high up, whether on manmade or natural sites, and with circular patterns possibly linked to celestial movements.

'In early times, no spiritual ceremonies would have been performed on the ground,' said Mr Spalding.


THE ORIGINS OF STONEHENGE 

No-one is exactly sure why - and how - Stonehenge was built more than 4,000 years ago.

Experts have suggested it was a temple, parliament and a graveyard.


Some people think the stones have healing powers, while others think they have musical properties when struck with a stone.

They could have acted as a giant musical instrument to call ancient people to the monument.

What is clear, is that the stones were aligned with phases of the sun.


People were buried there and skeletal evidence shows that people travelled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge - for whatever reason.


Experts think that the route was a busy one and that Stonehenge could be viewed differently from different positions.

It seems that instead of being a complete barrier, the Curcus acted as a gateway to guide visitors to the stone circle.


'The Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of China were always carried - as the Pope used to be… The feet of holy people were not allowed to touch the ground. We've been looking at Stonehenge from a modern, earth-bound perspective.


'All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth… That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.'


However, he says the wood that would have been used for the platform has long since rotted away, leaving only the stone pillars that support it behind. 


Mr Spalding's museum directorships include Glasgow, which boasts world-class archaeological collections within a complex of institutions that exceed the British Museum in size.


Today, he published his theories in a new book, titled Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding - The Origins of Art, published by Wilmington Square Books.


It explores our ancestors' understanding of the world, offering new explanations of iconic works of art and monuments.



Shown is an illustration of a Druid ceremony at Stonehenge more than 4,000 years ago. This depiction does not take the new wooden platform theory into account Stonehenge, built in stages between 3000 and 2000 BC, is England's most famous prehistoric monument, a Unesco World Heritage site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire that draws more than one million annual visitors.


It began as a timber circle, later made permanent with massive blocks of stone, many somehow dragged from dolerite rock in the Welsh mountains.


Dolerite has a bluish tinge and is dappled with white spots that look like stars, according to Mr Spalding.


'These megaliths, weighing between two and four tons each, were transported 250 miles [400km], an extraordinary achievement in those times, which indicates that building Stonehenge was a massive communal enterprise,' he said. 


Sacred circle: Julian Spalding, former director of some of the UK's leading museums, argues that the stones (aerial view shown) were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost - 'a great altar' raised up high towards the heavens and able to take the weight of hundreds of worshippers.



Mystery: Previously it had been thought the arrangement of the stones was solely to align with the sun (shown), but Mr Spalding's new theory suggests they had another purpose as well.


He believes that ancient worshippers would have reached the giant altar by climbing curved wooden ramps or staircases, moving in the direction of the slowly circulating stars for ceremonies dedicated to, for example, a dead king's soul or midsummer and solstice celebrations.


His theories have been shaped by visits to ancient sites like the stone circles of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, reminiscent of Stonehenge but predating it by around 6,000 years.


Only a fraction of the site has been excavated, and the purpose of its T-shaped pillars is a mystery, Spalding said: 'These must have supported some sort of raised platform.'


He also points to the Nazca Lines in Peru, vast drawings apparently etched into Earth's surface more than 2,000 years ago on to a high natural plateau above the villages where they lived: 'They went up to the sacred place. These lines were a processional way, which followed the movement and shape of the stars.


'The great mystery of early man was that we all thought the world was flat. Everyone did until very recent times. All the major religious ceremonies, as the Haj still does in Mecca, always ends in a circular motion, going round and round, which imitates the stars.'


Holy: 'All the major religious ceremonies, as the Haj still does in Mecca, always ends in a circular motion, going round and round, which imitates the stars,' said Mr Spalding. Shown is Mecca in Saudi Arabia during Laylat al-Qadr, on the 27th of Ramadan, one of the holiest nights of the Islamic calendar.



Professor Vincent Gaffney, principal investigator on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Bradford University, responded with 'a fair degree of scepticism.'


He said: 'At Stonehenge, there are other structures which are clearly designed to be viewed from the ground, along astronomic alignments, and you can see the sky from pretty much anywhere.'


Sir Barry Cunliffe, a prehistorian and Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology, Oxford University, said: 'He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it… There are a large number of stone circles around the country which clearly didn't have a platform on top. So why should Stonehenge?'


But Aubrey Burl, an authority on prehistoric stone circles, said: 'There could be something in it. There is a possibility, of course. Anything new and worthwhile about Stonehenge is well worth looking into, but with care and consideration.'


Mr Spalding also points to the Nazca Lines in Peru ('hands' design shown), vast drawings apparently etched into Earth's surface more than 2,000 years ago on to a high natural plateau above the villages where they lived, as being similar in purpose to Stonehenge.



Mr Spalding is fully expecting resistance from fellow academics. He draws parallels with the 1868 discovery of magnificent prehistoric ceiling paintings in the Altamira Cave in Spain, by a geologist and archaeologist.


'He went in there and looked on the ground - because he assumed all the evidence for early man would be on the ground,' he said.

'It never occurred to him to look up. It was his young daughter who said, papa look on the ceiling.'


Experts at the time denounced those paintings as forgeries. It was not until the end of the 19th century that they were accepted as genuine.


 

A short interview BBC Good Morning Scotland

16/03/15

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