Old Sarum: Speaking to us from a time that earth forgot

img_4063Like Dover Castle, Old Sarum was fascinating because on top of previously built prehistoric mounds the Romans, the Normans, then several successions of English kings built magnificent castles providing many layers of study. While I was impressed with the amount of earth moved to make the mountain Dover Castle sits upon I was simply awestruck when I saw Old Sarum.  To think that human beings well before any mechanical earth moving machines made these tremendous mounds is literally jaw dropping.  In the case of Old Sarum, there is over 5000 years of history at the site which places it as part of the earthworks culture just 6 miles north at Stonehenge which I have previously written about.  CLICK HERE to review. That made the location a must see for me.  Additionally, just two more miles to the south from Old Sarum is the Salisbury Cathedral which holds one of the four original Magna Cartas under the spire which shoots up over 400 feet into the air declaring itself the highest point along the vast plain.  Of course the American Constitution was based on the Magna Carta so there is a lot going on in this very small region of the world, and I would argue that the preservation of all this history is due to the primary event by William the Conqueror when at Old Sarum he forced the land owners of England to come and commit themselves to his rule which was a dominating act in itself, but one that protected the region around Old Sarum for the next thousand years and preserved all these wonderful historical monuments.  Old Sarum was more than a fortress which would inspire thousands of fantasy films, Arthurian romances and provide the stereotypical backdrop for a medieval castle—it was literally a protector of a snapshot of human history saving the area much the way it would have appeared to William the Conqueror upon arriving for the first time.

There is no way photographs can capture the sheer scale of Old Sarum. It’s one of those places that only a human eye can rationalize upon being there.  When arriving from the north the fortress completely dominates the skyline and to fathom that it was being worked on at the same time as Stonehenge is something to behold.  I’ve been to the Cahokia mound site outside of St. Louis and this Old Sarum is much larger.  The ditches around the two-layered fortification are deep, and considering the amount of erosion that had occurred over the years, were still extremely steep.  To think human beings carried away all the dirt to make this complex is just inconceivable.  The castle and full cathedral which used to be on top of the earthworks are gone now, but just to think of the massive amount of human effort to build everything is astonishing.  I always felt that what Old Sarum suffered from is that archaeologically, it gets tossed into the medieval study group, so the people who work the digs put an emphasis on that period of time, from around 1070 AD until the time that the new cathedral was moved from Old Sarum down into Salisbury in 1227 AD.  The regional politics of the area were such that from the time that William the Conquer used the site to unite his kingdom and solidify his rule, to housing the Magna Carta in the new facilities, up to the present time, the entire region has been uniquely protected for modern study, which makes it extremely special around the world.

I would argue that it is because of the influence that the Romans had on the area, and the huge political effort excerpted by William the Conqueror then the personal care of Henry II all the way up the line that the 50-mile radius around Old Sarum has been spared from war, looting, and further religious defacements which protected sites like Stonehenge and Avebury to the far north. Farmers did move into the area, but other major cities never rose up around Old Sarum and no foreign attacker ever dared to come close to penetrating the English countryside from that angle of the island continent.  I think the evidence is quite conclusive that these mound building cultures were all over the world—these exact types were certainly in North America—but Russia, China and many other places have their share of these earthen reflections.  img_4108However, their borders have often changed many times over the centuries and hostile immigration often accompanied such movements and the thing to do was to deface the culture that was previously there.  For instance, the ISIS terrorists in the Middle East recently have been plundering the museums around Iraq and Syria and destroying great archaeological sites to preserve their Quran history of the region—so not to have any contradictory influences in their spreading of their religion into new borders—the way such things have been done for thousands of years to a greatly destructive effect.  The Quran text is a very new Muslim religion, written down for the first time in 632 AD so the cultures that built Stonehenge and Old Sarum are much older and would have been susceptible to a competing religion defacement if they had been located in a region of the world that was unstable.   But because of the might of England’s long reins of power extending into the modern world Old Sarum has been spared the spoils of war and its ominous influence protected it until the establishment of an imperial global presence.   This gives us the purest look in the world into our own history.img_4118

China has a number of unique earthworks, but study there is regulated to the communist government which censors everything. They are currently in the business of editing their own history so that their current communist regime won’t be challenged by their more than a billion residents. That kind of censorship has been going on in the United States for a long time as the political desire to show that the Indians were harmed during westward expansion has taken precedence of true archaeological study.  In North America, the mound builders have been associated as groups of Indians—in an effort to designate them as the oppressed people harmed by Christopher Columbus’s journey across the Atlantic and to blame Europe for discovering the New World in 1492 AD.  The problem for modern science is that the plot doesn’t fit the politics—obviously, the cultures that built Old Sarum, Stonehenge, and Avebury were able to bring gigantic 30 ton rocks down from Wales by sea and carry them up the shallow Avon River—but we are to believe that they weren’t sailing across the channel into France, Ireland, Greenland, and North America at a time many thousands of years before Christ was born.  This is because Christianity dominated Medieval thought all the way up through the Renaissance and now all the political boundaries of the world have been established based on those histories and nobody wants to change them now with all this new evidence—because of politics.img_4111

Old Sarum and the archaeology of the entire Salisbury plain say otherwise and reluctantly established science is beginning to change their minds off the assumptions of their grant funding from previous quickly deduced discoveries such as the characteristic that the Druids were the builders of Stonehenge which came from the Anglo-Saxons out of German shortly after the Romans left and the Normans invaded England. The people who worked and lived in the area of Stonehenge and Old Sarum were much older, and more organized than anybody has given them credit for previously—and how they came to know what they do about astronomy is just mind bending—for a supposed “primitive” people.  Those same people were in North America doing work like can be seen at Old Sarum and Stonehenge well before the Chinese began migrating into and settling the New World centuries before Columbus.  In fact, the North American “Indian” it is proving out was just a Hodge podge of global cultures abandoned by the Vico cycle only to begin again as hut dwellers who could barely thatch together a roof—let alone build massive structures that aligned with the stars, the sun and the moon on particular days of the year and had monuments on the ground visible from space to appease gods who were only passed down through oral tradition.img_4069

Old Sarum was to thank for the preservation of a culture that would otherwise be destroyed in other regions of the world and it is due to its massive political influence over a great period of time landing it in the present. Without Old Sarum I would say that Stonehenge never would have survived into modern times—it would have been looted over and over again and likely would have had someone’s church or mosque built upon it to hide what had been there before.  And so long as this is the way of the world, we can’t assume to know anything about our past or who did what when—because politics and religion have essentially erased most sites like Old Sarum from the maps of our understanding.  Even giant mounds like the one at Old Sarum have been built over and destroyed due to human migration that didn’t know the large hill they built their house upon, or a city was an ancient dwelling of any kind.  So it was quite a special to roll through the old English countryside to see the massive behemoth of Old Sarum perched high among the landscape defying convention.  The place was fascinating to me not for the Medieval archaeology it presented, but for the window into the past that it preserved, and for that I am very grateful.  What a fabulous site.  I am very happy to have seen it, in many ways it was more spectacular than Stonehenge, but more importantly, because of it, Stonehenge can still speak to us from a time that earth forgot.img_4112

Rich Hoffman


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