Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, a ring of standing stones set within earthworks, in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. Stonehenge is probably the most important prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain and has attracted visitors from earliest times. It stands as a timeless monument to the people who built it.
It cost me 27 pounds for the round trip tour bus from the train station and for admission to the site, plus the round trip cost of the train from Bristol to Salisbury, another 13 pounds. The present exchange rate is 1.42 U.S. dollar to the British pound.
There was a bone chilling wind when I arrived on the Plain of Salisbury. I was very disappointed that I had forgotten to charge the battery on my borrowed camera and expected to have no photos to show you. However when I turned the camera on and asked a fellow tourist to try to take one of me in front of the stones, it worked!
Age estimated at 3100 BCE
Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BCE.
One of the most important survivals of prehistoric England, Stonehenge consists of a group of huge, rough-cut stones, some more than 20 feet high, arranged in two concentric circles. The Types of Stone are Bluestone, Sarsen, and Welsh Sandstone
The Stonehenge that we see today is the final stage that was completed about 3500 years ago. Stonehenge was constructed in three phases, and it has been estimated that the three phases of the construction required more than thirty million hours of labour.
The first phase of building started around 3000 BC, when the outer circular bank and ditch were erected. A thousand years later, an inner circle of granite stones, known as bluestones, was added. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC,although they may have been at the site as early as 3000 BC. It’s thought that these mammoth 4-ton blocks were hauled from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales, some 250 miles away – an almost inexplicable feat for Stone Age builders equipped with only the simplest of tools.
Around 1500 BC, Stonehenge’s main stones were dragged to the site, erected in a circle and crowned by massive lintels to make the trilithons (two vertical stones topped by a horizontal one). The sarsen (sandstone) stones were cut from an extremely hard rock found on the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles from the site. Also around this time, the bluestones from 500 years earlier were rearranged as an inner bluestone horseshoe with an altar stone at the centre. Outside this the trilithon horseshoe of five massive sets of stones was erected. Three of these are intact; the other two have just a single upright. Then came the major sarsen circle of 30 massive vertical stones, of which 17 uprights and six lintels remain.
There is little, or no direct evidence revealing the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders. Conventional techniques, using Neolithic technology, have been demonstrably effective at moving and placing stones of this size. It’s estimated dragging one of the 50-ton stones across the countryside would require about 600 people. The most common theory of how prehistoric people moved megaliths has them creating a track of logs on which the large stones were rolled along. Another megalith transport theory involves the use of a type of sleigh running on a track greased with animal fat. Such an experiment with a sleigh carrying a 40-ton slab of stone was successful near Stonehenge in 1995. A dedicated team of more than 100 workers managed to push and pull the slab along the 18-mile journey from Marlborough Downs.
WHY WAS STONEHENGE CONSTRUCTED ?
Stonehenge was produced by a culture that left no written records. Many aspects of Stonehenge remain subject to debate. Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. Deposits containing human bone date from as early as 3000 BC, when the ditch and bank were first dug, and continued for at least another five hundred years. A number of myths surround the stones.
Like many stone circles in Britain (including Avebury, 22 miles away) the inner horseshoes are aligned to coincide with sunrise at the midsummer solstice, which some claim supports the theory that the site was some kind of astronomical calendar, a celestial timepiece.
The site, specifically the great trilithon, the encompassing horseshoe arrangement of the five central trilithons, the heel stone, and the embanked avenue, are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice. A natural landform at the monument’s location followed this line, and may have inspired its construction.The excavated remains of culled animal bones suggest that people may have gathered at the site for the winter rather than the summer. Further astronomical associations, and the precise astronomical significance of the site for its people, are a matter of speculation and debate.
Two theories of use have suggested that Stonehenge was a place of healing—the primeval equivalent of Lourdes.They argue that this accounts for the high number of burials in the area and for the evidence of trauma deformity in some of the graves. However, they do concede that the site was probably multifunctional and used for ancestor worship as well.
There are other hypotheses and theories. Stonehenge may have been built as a symbol of “peace and unity”, indicated in part by the fact that at the time of its construction, Britain’s Neolithic people were experiencing a period of cultural unification.
Another idea has to do with a quality of the stones themselves: Researchers from the Royal College of Art in London have discovered that some of the monument’s stones possess “unusual acoustic properties” —when they are struck they respond with a “loud clanging noise”. This idea could explain why certain bluestones were hauled nearly 200 miles—a major technical accomplishment at the time. In certain ancient cultures rocks that ring out, known as lithophones, were believed to contain mystic or healing powers, and Stonehenge has a history of association with rituals. The presence of these “ringing rocks” seems to support the hypothesis that Stonehenge was a “place for healing”. Some of the stones of Stonehenge were brought from near a town in Wales called Maenclochog, a name which means “ringing rock”.
During the twentieth century, Stonehenge began to revive as a place of religious significance by adherents of Paganism and New Age beliefs, particularly the Druids. Between 1972 and 1984, Stonehenge was the site of the Stonehenge Free Festival. This use of the site was stopped for several years because of potential damage, and ritual use of Stonehenge is now heavily restricted. Some Druids have arranged an assembling of monuments styled on Stonehenge in other parts of the world as a form of Druidist worship.
ACCESS AND PROTECTION
In the late 1920s a nationwide appeal was launched to save Stonehenge from the encroachment of the modern buildings that had begun to rise around it. By 1928 the land around the monument had been purchased with the appeal donations, and given to the National Trust to preserve. The buildings were removed (although the roads were not), and the land returned to agriculture. There were many sheep grazing on the Salisbury Plain.
When Stonehenge was first opened to the public it was possible to walk among and even climb on the stones, but the stones were roped off in 1977 as a result of serious erosion. Visitors are no longer permitted to touch the stones, but are able to walk around the monument from a short distance away. English Heritage does, however, permit access during the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and autumn equinox.
The site and its surroundings were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986, and it is a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Ancient Stonehenge has had an ultramodern, £27-million makeover. It’s brought an new visitor centre and safe guarding of this treasure.