I’ve been working on the Stuart Piggott archive, in particular with his drafts and correspondence about his book The Druids. His attempt in trying to discover what Druids were really like rather than continuing some of the myths that existed makes interesting reading. According to a letter from archaeologist Anne Ross, these myths originated from comments in Irish texts and by classical writers in which the Druids were deliberately portrayed as buffoons and magic-men, not only by the Romans but also by the church. She challenged Piggott to dispel this.
There are many discussions on the Druids, but none are as funny and strange as those in the file that Piggott labeled “Lunatics”. You would not believe some of the theories; for instance, a copy of an advertisement to be published in the personal column in the Times (addressed to publishers, producers, and journalists) reads:
SILBURY HILL. Is it the tomb of Belgius, Keltic Commander in Macedonia, 280 BC?
STONEHENGE/WOODHENGE. Are they Macedonian Peg Calendars?
2s. 6d. [Name and address withheld]
The note continues: The BBC is to spend £20,000 and take three years to excavate SILBURY HILL. The Professor in charge thinks it to be of “Bronze Age” date.
Millions will watch the programmes: thousands will already have seen my announcement: some bought my synopsis. Are you interested? OF GREAT HISTORICAL INTEREST. What a way to promote your very own publication on a new theory!
The mystery of stone circles was (and continues to be) a popular topic amongst amateur archaeologists and historians. One correspondent of Piggott’s stated:
…[T]he stone configurations are neither corrals nor temples originally. They were constructed as “Launching Pads” for space-craft. I need not go into a technical dissolution on the why’s etc.; however, any engineer worthy of the title could reproduce a likeness of the type space-craft that actually used the Launching cites [sic].
The best, in my opinion, is the leaflet Stonehenge – the Sex Machine. Published in 1965, it addresses two themes: Man’s Understanding of the Universe (emphasizing the astronomical observatory) and Man’s Understanding of His Woman (complete with a menstrual time table). The author asserts that “…once aligned with Stonehenge, a woman’s sex cycle was fixed. Any deviation could be corrected by consulting Stonehenge.” There is actually very little information on the astronomical observatory but lots on women and their menstrual cycles!
Piggott seemed genuinely interested in what he called “the lunatic fringe” and how they approached scientific and historical questions. He concluded that some people have “an emotional approach to intellectual problems” and that they use this approach when scientists do not give them the answers that they want to hear. The biggest factor is, as Piggott wrote, “ignorance of any world but that of urban today” and that such people have “no concept of values and times in prehistory or history”. Nevertheless, their letters make very, very entertaining reading.