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- Historical Background
- Function and Importance
- Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about the Stonehenge!
Many historians and archaeologists have been bewildered by the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge in southern England, which is composed of 100 massive stones arranged in a circular pattern. The prehistoric monument was constructed around 1,500 years ago. It was assumed to have been built by Neolithic people.
Most modern scholars believe Stonehenge was used as a burial ground. Any other purpose is unknown, as was how it was constructed without the use of modern technology. Stonehenge has attracted nearly 1 million visitors a year since it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Builders of Stonehenge
- The story of Stonehenge’s construction began with Geoffrey of Monmouth claiming that Stonehenge was built by the wizard Merlin. Many people thought Monmouth’s version of Stonehenge’s creation was a story based on real-life figures. Some speculated that Stonehenge was built by Saxons, Danes, Romans, Greeks or Egyptians.
- According to a 17th-century archaeologist named John Aubrey, the Druids, Celtic high priests, built Stonehenge. Antiquarian William Stukeley popularised Aubrey’s theory after discovering primitive graves while digging the site. Every summer solstice, so-called modern Druids gather at Stonehenge.
- Radiocarbon dating proved in the mid-20th century that Stonehenge was built around 1,000 years before the Celts lived in the area, disproving Aubrey’s claim.
- Many modern historians and archaeologists agree that different tribes contributed to different stages of Stonehenge’s construction. The bones and tools discovered at the site seemed to support this theory.
- The first stage of Neolithic agrarian construction was completed.
- Groups with more advanced tools, thought to be either European immigrants or Briton natives descended from Neolithic agrarians, left their mark on the site.
Read more about Monmouth’s story!
Hundreds of British nobles killed by the Saxons were buried on Salisbury Plain, the location of Stonehenge, in the middle of the fifth century. King Aureoles Ambrosias dispatched an army to Ireland in search of the Giant’s Ring, a stone circle. The magical African bluestones were said to have created the Giant’s Ring. The king’s army defeated the Irish but did not move the stone circle. As a result, Merlin used his sorcery to transport them across the sea and above the mass grave.
Stages of Construction
- Stonehenge was thought to have been built in stages beginning 5,000 years ago or more.
- On Salisbury Plain, Neolithic Britons dug a massive circular ditch and bank, or henge, with primitive tools made of deer antlers. It is made up of a more than 300-foot-diameter circle that encloses 56 pits known as Aubrey holes.
- A steep bank surrounded the ditch on the inside, while a shallow bank surrounded it on the outside.
- Deposits were found in the bottom of the ditch, including the antler picks used to dig the ditch, as well as cattle and deer bones.
- The circular enclosure is split open by two entrances: the main access in the northeast and a narrower entrance in the south.
- Between the first and second stages of Stonehenge construction, the only evidence of activity was human burials.
- Sarsen stones from the Avebury area were transported about 20 miles north, towards Marlborough Downs, around 2500 BCE. They were placed outside Stonehenge’s main entrance and pounded with sarsen hammers.
- The five tall trilithons were then arranged inside the circle, forming a horseshoe-like shape surrounded by 30 uprights linked by curved lintels. The curved lintels’ ends are joined together with tongue-and-groove joints made with hammer stones.
- From Stonehenge to the River Avon, side ditches and banks of ceremonial avenues less than 2 miles long were dug. This was thought to be the path of the bluestones taken from the Aubrey holes and Bluestonehenge during the second stage of construction.
- The avenue ends at a small henge built along the riverbank after the bluestones were removed. The avenue’s first section was oriented toward the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.
- A similar avenue had been built between the southern circle and the River Avon at Durrington Walls, and it had been in use for several centuries. The avenue’s alignment with the summer solstice sunset and the southern circle’s alignment with the winter solstice sunrise suggested that Stonehenge and Durrington were built as matching halves of a single infrastructure, outlined by the River Avon.
- The bluestones were rearranged into a circle with an inner oval.
- This inner oval was originally thought to be formed in the shape of a horseshoe where there was a small opening, but historical records suggest that this may have been the result of stone-robbing or removal by Romans.
- Outside the sarsen circle, the Z holes, a ring of pits, were dug.
- The Y holes, the second ring of pits, were dug.
Parts of Stonehenge (numbers in the image)
- The altar stone - a six-ton monolith of green micaceous sandstone from Wales
- Barrow without a burial
- ‘Barrows’ (without burials)
- The fallen slaughter stone
- The heel stone
- Two of originally four station stones
- Inner bank
- Outer bank
- The avenue - a parallel pair of ditches and banks leading to the River Avon
- Y holes - ring of 30 pits
- Z holes - ring of 29 pits
- Aubrey holes - circle of 56 pits
- Small southern entrance
Function and Importance
- The purpose of Stonehenge was as cryptic as its builders and construction. Though the site had been highly regarded for over 1,000 years, the precise reason for Britons of Salisbury Plain to keep developing it was unknown.
- According to artefacts, Stonehenge was used as a burial site at some point in its history. Most scholars believe it also served other functions.
- Stonehenge is thought to have served as a ritual site, religious journey site, royal final destination, or monument to honour and spiritually link up with distant ancestors.
- Gerald Hawkins, an astronomer in the 1960s, proposed that the megalithic stone cluster be used as an astronomical calendar. Its various points were thought to correspond to astrological phenomena such as solstices, equinoxes and eclipses.
- However, some critics believed that its builders lacked the knowledge to predict such events.
- Human remains discovered at Stonehenge showed signs of illness and injury. These discoveries led a group of British archaeologists including Geoffrey Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University to speculate that Stonehenge was built as a healing site, based on the belief that bluestones have curative properties. Nevertheless, it was contradicted by the high number of burials in the area.
- “One of two brought down from the crest of Carnmenyn by an RAF Chinook helicopter on 6th April 1989. They were donated by the Lord of the Manor of Mynachlog-ddu to English Heritage, one to be displayed at Stonehenge, the other to be erected here to indicate their place of origin. In May and June 1989, the other one was carried from here to Stonehenge, with the cooperation of Preseli Pembrokeshire District Council, as part of the celebrations marking the Silver Jubilee of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Trust.”
Stonehenge as a World’s Heritage Site
- In 1986, Stonehenge was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was co-listed with Avebury, which is a Neolithic henge located 17 miles away. Since its recognition, it has attracted nearly 1 million tourists per year.
- Stonehenge has undergone several restorations, including the placement of some of its boulders in concrete to prevent collapse.
- The surrounding area had previously been used for archaeological excavations and development.