A couple of our students are off on a trip to Stonehenge this weekend, where they will be shocked to discover that it was only built in 1958. It seems
the fraud is well-documented – online, in slightly dubious corners of the Web, you can find pictures of the great stones being lifted into place with
cranes, while men in flat caps stand around winking conspiratorially (see for example here,
where the story is that the KGB had photographic evidence that the British Government/Military 'built' Stonehenge in the 1950s).
It is sometimes hard to know what is authentic heritage, and what is not.
The Irish Coffee, for example, was invented in the 1940s for some American tourists, and was then imported into America after they started serving it at Shannon Airport. Americans are usually in Ireland tracing their roots; they want to find something that looks like The Quiet Man, redheads and ponies and traps, and that is largely what they are given.
When we travel, we often create the things we expect to see. Quantum physicists know all about this phenomenon. Thus certain students will travel to London and see only red buses and black taxis; and in truth, on my first walk up Fifth Avenue in New York it was all yellow cabs and steaming subway grates.
But it would be harder, you would think, to create Stonehenge. Stonehenge is in truth pretty old (the landscape was worked on for a long time, but the stones will have been erected between 3000 and 2000 BC), but it has been touched up and ‘restored’ again and again through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In part, this was to secure the stones, to stop them from collapsing (one particularly crooked sarsen stone was straightened in the early twentieth century); but every time you touch something up it starts to look a little more like what everyone thinks it should look like. Archaeologists are on record stating that not a stone of Stonehenge has not been tinkered with in some way at some point in the last hundred years, and that it is ‘largely a product of the English Heritage Industry’. Thus it conforms, now, to expectations.
And for all that, not a single student I know who has been to see it has not remarked that it is much smaller than they thought. Perhaps some sort of gradual enlargement is the next step, if the British politico-military-industrial establishment can get its act together.