The oldest recorded name associated with Britain is Albion. As can be seen, this is thought to refer to the chalk substrata particularly, though not exclusively, of the coast of Britain. The south of what is now England is made up of large areas of this substance with the world heritage site around Stonehenge being built upon this. So what role may the chalk have played in the understanding of the early Brythonic generations?
Well, using the framework of the Religion of the Soil, if we consider the reality of living in those times, I would suggest that the evidence of death would be common place in the environment. Carcases from wild and domesticated animals would have been present, no doubt in varying degrees of decomposition, along with human remains. Mike Pitts in his book Hengeworld proposes that there may have been a perceived two stage transformation involved with human death and the use of the henges was one that facilitated this transformation from first the living to dead and second from dead to ancestor.
The henges in Wessex use the chalk strata in their actual construction. Silbury hill was thought to have the chalk on the outside of it’s constructed banks and Mike Pitts again suggests that the banking in Durrington was similar although he also suggests it may have been present in the inside as well. The “new” henge at Marden is showing a chalk floor at one of it’s entrances. Therefore, apart from an entirely pragmatic approach that uses what is readily available in the environment for construction, could there be another understanding as to the properties of chalk?
Referring to the earlier assumption of the presence of decaying material in the environment and using the ideas associated with my proposed Brythonic religion of the soil, it occurs to me that bleached bones may have been thought of as examples of chalk. Or, more accurately, the chalk may have been thought of as being deposits of either a) processed ancestral bones or b) the bones of the land (Britain) containing the ancestors. This understanding, I would suggest, represents both a natural and easy position to hold and of course, we know now that chalk is actually the calcified remains of the skeletons of marine animals, so this idealogical viewpoint would actually have some basis in fact.
So the first stage of this transformation would have been the removal, either through natural or artificial means, of the flesh from the deceased. The timing of the rituals, predominately around solar or lunar events suggest that the individuals who were to be transported into the realms of the ancestors, would have had to have been dead for some time before hand so that the bones may have been viewed to be in a suitable physical state. This was not always the case though and there are examples of what appear to have been ritualistic killings in these sites though I suspect these actions would have been for specific causes, appeasement for example, as opposed to the honoured dead.
So, the first part of the journey of the dead may have been started in the henges with their chalk banking and their timber posts, possibly representing the land of the living being interacted with by the ancestors, using this medium of chalk present in the banks. Leaving these henges, the procession would have traveled up the ritualistic avenues, also constructed from chalk and thus representing transportation of the bones through the medium of the ancestors or the land, until entry into the henges of stone and into the realms of the dead and the final transformation of the bones. The subsequent discovery of bones under various examples of standing stones tends to suggest this to be the case, no doubt the positioning of the bones may have been understood to represent the individual leaving their earthly place and migrating into the medium of the ancestors.
Therefore, I would suggest that chalk may have been considered to be the facilitating substance that enabled the migration of the individual from human to ancestor.