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29 December 2009
Madagascar's modern-day megaliths

One of Madagascar's first native-born archaeologists, Ramilisonina's ethnological research on modern Malagasy traditions informs his study of ancient sites on the island. Together with Mike Parker Pearson of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, he also developed a new interpretation of the ritual landscape around Stonehenge and the nearby timber-post site known as Woodhenge. He spoke with journalist Richard Covington about the recent discovery of 'Bluestonehenge', a site near Woodhenge and Stonehenge, and the similarities between Madagascar's living traditions and the burial rituals of Neolithic England.
     "Bluestonehenge was a stone circle on the Avon River, and burial ceremonies could have begun there. The bodies might have been cremated at the site and then taken to Stonehenge for burial. We see the same sort of practice today in Madagascar," Ramilisonina said. "In Madagascar, stone belongs to the world of the ancestors and is used to construct tombs and monuments. So stone in Madagascar is really for sacred purposes, for the dead. Wood is for the living. Houses here are made of wood or earth. Before the 18th century, no one in Madagascar built a house in stone. Stone was reserved for the dead or to commemorate an important event. Stonehenge also seems to have been a monument to the dead," he added.
     But how did the archaologist come to see a connection between the modern monuments in Madagascar and the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge? "Mike and I have worked together in Madagascar since 1991. We had many discussions about standing stones, and he invited me to come see Stonehenge. Even though the stones in Madagascar are smaller, I could see there was still a similar element of magic at Stonehenge. I can also see parallels with Woodhenge: in Madagascar, people also create shrines in wood circles. The wooden monuments are placed in the middle of villages or alongside fields. Memorial stones for the dead are placed beside paths or roads," Ramilisonina said. "There are standing stones all over Madagascar, not just in Bezanozano. The way they are erected varies, but they are always connected to the dead, our ancestors, and invisible spirits, just as at Stonehenge," he concluded.

Source: Archaeology (January 2010)

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