Critical Thinking

Stonehenge, Aliens, and Transvestites…It’s a Theory

Let’s start here.

In case you are too lazy to watch the linked video, or just don’t care, here is a sample of comedian Eddie Izzard’s commentary on Stonehenge:

And they built Stonehenge, one of the biggest henges in the world. No one’s built a henge like that ever since. No one knows what the fuck a henge is.

Stonehenge is a well known archaeological site, but few people know much of the actual research about its history, construction, or use. Which makes it an ideal topic for the skeptical classroom.

I like to play an edited version of Izzard’s clip (due to language, of course) for my students when we talk about Stonehenge. The humor lightens the mood of class, which makes learning about Neolithic architecture slightly more palatable. And, quite frankly, most of them have never seen a transvestite in a positive light.

Chalk that victory up for skeptical teachers; an art history lecture that merges fact based knowledge of Stonehenge with appreciation of transvestites as a social demographic of influential members of modern society. My Catholic school would be so proud.

Additionally, some of Eddie Izzard’s comments are fact based, although antiquated. Most notably is that for much of the 20th century the stones of Stonehenge were thought to have come from nearly 150 miles away. Izzard states, incorrectly:

And the stones…the stones are 50 foot high, 50 foot long, 20 foot deep, and other measurements as well. And the stones are not from around there [the Salisbury Plain], that’s the amazing thing…they’re from 200 miles away, in Wales.

That’s a long way to push stones weighing several tons.

More recently, however, academics have given support to the theory that the stones were moved a much shorter distance, having been brought near to the site by glacial erratics.

Yet, the idea of the stones being moved from far away is still a popular notion.

Every year, without fail, when I mention Stonehenge a student raises his hand and asks about the veracity of Stonehenge having been built by aliens. A part of me dies each time this happens. Another part daydreams of stabbing the student in the neck with a No. 2 pencil.

As this happened, yet again, just the other day, I had prepared a counter strike which included a discussion of Occam’s Razor, that, of competing theories, the one with the fewest assumptions is more likely to be correct. This should suffice to explain why aliens, coming from another planet, is a less likely scenario than either humans moving heavy stones across a large distance or the stones being placed near the site by natural circumstances. Stonehenge, tranvestites, and Ocham’s razor…same lecture. Just saying.

After making my case, I proudly looked at my students waiting for their nod of approval, cheers, and vociferous assertions of how great a teacher I was.

Their blank stares told a different story.

In many of their minds, the equation of aliens from other planets placing stones in a circle and leaving no evidence of warp drives or anal probes, and stones being moved by glaciers was connected by an equal sign.

Where have we gone wrong?

All theories are not equal. If students can understand this idea with respect to Stonehenge, maybe they will begin to see the inequality of theories when it comes to more hot button topics such as climate change, evolution, and same-sex marriage.

Although, to be fair, there is evidence of alien civilizations from a galaxy far, far away.


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Richard teaches art at a Catholic school, and spends most of his days coloring and pretending he is not an atheist. He likes vintage furniture and french bulldogs.

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