By Nate Odenkirk | Staff Writer
SALISBURY, U.K.— By 11 a.m., most of the morning fog has melted from the English countryside. Finally, the sun begins to speckle the verdant grasslands as it breaks through the seemingly impenetrable mist. It’s an idyllic, if chilly, early spring day in the south of Britain. On a particular field, off of the A303 Road, the crude and impressive ancient rocks of Stonehenge stand out amongst the otherwise flat expanse. A few dozen tourists amble about, snapping pictures with the world-famous monuments, meticulously reading each of the four plaques placed mysteriously around it. The scene surely makes for a good picture, but the questions of its murky origins remain, thwarting data-driven scientists and conspiracy nuts alike. Who put these plaques here? How did they know so much about Stonehenge? And why?
Stonehenge by itself is as uncomplicated and straightforward as it gets. “It’s just rocks,” Dr. Gavin Pole, professor of British history at the Bland Institute, studiously notes in his short forthcoming book, The Four (4) Plaques. “Science has determined that Stonehenge is a few thousand years old, at least, and that it was put there for some unknown reason. But it’s none of our business why,” he explains. “But the plaques… they’re the real X factor,” he writes on the inside flap, right above a highly inappropriate anecdote.
“It could be some calendar thing,” he mused. “I don’t know.”
Stonehenge aside, the plaques have raised lots of questions, but provide little in the way of answers. By which we mean, they don’t give a clue as to their origins, but they do have a lot to say about Stonehenge, for some yet unknown reason. Four have been discovered scattered around the less-important rock pillars, each with a paragraph or so of descriptive text. “We’re not sure if there’s any significance behind the placement of the plaques,” said Ralph Yardley, senior researcher at the Smarties™ Thinking Hard Organization. “If you see here, the plaques only make sense if you start reading the one at the parking lot, and then follow the trail to Stonehenge. It could be some calendar thing,” he mused. “I don’t know.”
Yardley’s famous “calendar thing” hypothesis has gained ground amongst the plaque community; especially as more outlandish theories have swamped the conversation. Recently, the media has hyped up a far-fetched “UFO” conspiracy. The idea came from a YouTube commenter, Brad90278, who posited that aliens came down to Earth and planted these plaques so the human race could be “educated.” “On its face, it’s preposterous,” said Dr. Pole, the guy from earlier. “They have no incentive to offer trivia to the human race, especially since they don’t play pub games. If there were any aliens involved, they would be doing it purely out of goodwill, with no ulterior motive,” he said as he bit into a sandwich. “That’s old ham,” he noted, presumably in regard to the sandwich. When reached for comment, Brad90278’s mom said he is no longer allowed to use the computer after 7 p.m.
Recently, a new theory has gained some traction that neatly justifies Stonehenge: it is entirely possible, though not at all likely, that the plaques were placed there first, and then the ancient civilization worked backwards from there. Lately, this philosophy has been growing after the surprise discovery of another Stonehenge-esque plaque, thousands of miles away. In Philadelphia, by the historic Liberty Bell, another plaque was found that bears striking resemblance to the ones at Stonehenge. “This is an incredible development,” said Tom S. Jeffers, a local Benjamin Franklin impersonator. “That means that there’s a civilization, or group of civilizations, that conspired together to place these planks, I mean plaques, around the world even maybe! We’d hit the freaking jackpot! A Stonehenge plaque by the pyramids? Who knows! It can only get better from here,” he yelped as he took off his fat suit.
By dusk, foot traffic at the Stonehenge plaques has mostly calmed (you can’t read in the dark). Some tourists waited all day to see the sunset as it appears through the plaques—some say it aligns perfectly on the equinox. It doesn’t, but some still say that anyway. A group of wealthy panhandlers pooled their money together to make plaques commemorating the plaques, though they won’t be ready for another 10 years, at least. Until then, the mystery of the ages persists. ♦
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