|Stonehenge, photo: wikipedia|
William Stukeley was born in Holbeach in Lincolnshire, as the son of a lawyer. After taking his M.B. degree at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Stukeley went to London and studied medicine at St Thomas' Hospital. While still a student he began making topographical and architectural drawings as well as sketches of historical artefacts. In 1710, he started in practice in Boston, Lincolnshire, becoming a member of Spalding Gentlemen's Society, before returning in 1717 to London. In the same year, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1718, joined in the establishment of the Society of Antiquaries, acting for nine years as its secretary. In 1719 Stukeley took his M.D. degree, and in 1720 became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, publishing in the same year his first contribution to antiquarian literature.
"Our predecessors, the Druids of Britain, tho' left in the extremest west to the improvement of their own thoughts, yet advanc'd their inquiries, under all disadvantages, to such heights, as should make our moderns asham'd, to wink in the sunshine of learning and religion." from William Stukeley: Stonehenge: A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids, Preface. (1740).
|An inward view of Stonehenge from August 1722 |
Stukeley perceived the entire prehistoric landscape as laid out in a sacred pattern with centres at Stonehenge and Avebury. The stone circles and earthworks at Avebury he recognised as part of a larger figure inscribed in the landscape in the form of a serpent. Stukeley saw serpents, and dragons (a variant form of the same creature, as are also "worms"), all over countryside and linked the image with the many local legends of dragons and dragon-killers found throughout the Britain. The places associated with the dragon legend appear always to coincide with sites of ancient sanctity.
Stukeley's work on Stonehenge was one of the first to attempt to date the monument. Working with the renowned astronomer Edmund Halley, he proposed that the builders of Stonehenge knew about magnetism, and had aligned the monument with magnetic north. Stukeley used some incomplete data about the variation of the North Magnetic Pole; he extrapolated that it oscillated in a regular pattern. Today it is known that the North Magnetic Pole wanders in an irregular fashion. However, Stukeley inferred that Stonehenge was completed in 460 BC, which as we now know is several thousand years too late.
Despite his romantic theorizing, he was an excellent field archaeologist, and his surveys of the monuments in the 1720s remain of interest. His extensive antiquarian travels are recorded in Itinerarium Curiosum (1724; “Observant Itinerary”). Besides his work on archeology, Stukeley was one of the first learned gentlemen to be attracted to speculative freemasonry as well as a friend of Isaac Newton, about whom he wrote a memoir of his life in 1752. Actually, this is one of the earliest sources for the story of the falling apple that inspired Newton's formulation of the theory of gravitation. Artist, prolific writer and poet, architect, archaeologist, antiquarian, scientist, physician, clergyman, druid, musician, numismatist, traveller, genealogist, gardener and animal lover, William Stukeley was all of these. After Stukeleys death in 1765 it was not until the 19th century that archaeologists took up from where he had finished his work.
At yovisto you can learn more about Stonehenge in the lecture of Prof. Jeanne Willette from Otis College of Art and Design on "Stonehenge"
References and Further Reading:
-  William Stukeley at BBC Historical Figures
-  William Stukeley: Stonehenge, A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids, 1740.
-  Dr. William Stukeley at Britannia.com
-  The text of William Stukeley's Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life (1752) at the Newton Project, University of Sussex, UK
- Gerald Hawkins and the Secret of Stonehenge
- Edmund Halley and his Famous Comet
- Sir Isaac Newton and the famous Principia
- Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - Sir Isaac Newton
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