Archeologists, druids and those who like a nice bit of stone were besides themselves on Monday morning with the news that over 100 monoliths found buried near Stonehenge in Wiltshire could be part of the largest Neolithic monument discovered in Britain.
Of course this structure – perhaps a site of religious worship, perhaps a scene of sacrifice – was immediately, and inevitably, dubbed ‘Superhenge’.
Now, at one level the reasons why this should, be so are obvious – the site is practically next door to its more famous forerunner, so borrowing from that was a no-brainer. And with the scientists who discovered it claiming it to be “an incredible discovery”, it’s not hard to see how the superlative got added as a prefix.
What’s interesting here is that it immediately sets a level of expectation for as and when the site becomes a visitor attraction (this could be a while off, it should be said, as there’s plenty more excavating to be done.) When you say to someone you’re going to ‘Stonehenge’, that immediately conjures up mystical images, a sense of hippy-ish wonder, a desire to commune with forces stronger than ourselves we don’t understand… and a willingness to brave the noise and fumes from the A303.
‘Superhenge’ though, well, that suggests something far more modern and user-friendly. There’s a knowingness about it, an almost Las Vegas-like wink there, which suggests, “Sure you might have seen some henges in your time, but you ain’t seen THIS henge!” Which might be true, but also just might be a little too try-hard for some stones. Big stones. But still – stones. Though of course, if the archeologists dig up some neon lights, who knows…?
(By the way, as I know you were wondering, ‘henge’ is a modern word to describe something old. It was coined in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick, who became keeper of antiquities at the British Museum, and it refers specifically to “an earthwork with a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area.” No mention of any stones or other monuments there, you’ll notice.
The superlative isn’t the only approach that could have been taken to naming the new find. A quick Google search throws up the fact that people have also taken to calling it ‘Stonehenge 2’, though through our training from watching movie sequels, that name does feel like it’s missing a colon and some sort of implicit promise; like ‘:Some Rocks Are Bigger Than Others!’.
And lest you think I am making megaliths out of molehillls, you should be aware that there is also a ‘Stonehenge II’, a replica of what I am now duty-bound to call ‘Stonehenge I’, which is to be found in Texas, that home of the more outlandish copy-cat tourist attraction.
I haven’t looked to see if there is a Stonehenge 3. Or Stonehenge III.
No doubt ‘Superhenge’ in time will become one of the marvels of our world, a direct link back to a time we will barely understand. But its name will also reflect something of our times; where we can’t let a thing be a wonder in of itself, without making sure that the fact that it is wonderful is obvious.
It also speaks to a lack of imagination, the desire to inflate the value of objects to a point where the names they carry have no distinction. It’s clearly not the case that everything bigger is by definition better – and yet you’d be forgiven for thinking so.
This is lazy too. Will the next find be an Ultrahenge? And where have Largehenge and Mediumhenge gone? Obviously a discovery of tiny, perfectly formed monoliths could never be called Smallhenge – it doesn’t sound ambitious enough at all.
Yes, ‘super’ is great as a prefix on a name – but something unique just might be worth considering as well. I’ll give you evens that ‘UltimateHenge’ will be found somewhere in Wiltshire in the next five years. At which point I’ll see you and the druids down by those stones.
Photo Credit: English Heritage