Near Amesbury and Salisbury, England
One of the most famous prehistoric monuments of England next to Avebury. The megalithic monument is located on the southern part of Salisbury Plain (about 8 miles – 13 kilometres – north of Salisbury). Scholars believe that the site was used as a ritual site or temple from 2800 – 1100 BCE (Neolithic Age through the Bronze Age). The monument was constructed with sarsen stones that are believed to have come from the Marlborough Downs (about 20 miles – 32 kilometres – to the north), and estimated to have been built in about 2000 BCE. The most accepted theory stated that there was needed more than 1,000 men to transport the stones. Many of the stones from the original temple are no longer there: they may have been broken up in the time of the Romans or in the Middle Ages.
Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones and is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. In 1986 the site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites along with Avebury. The monument is believed to have been built in several construction phases spanning 3,000 years. Archaeologists have found 4-5 large Mesolithic postholes that date to around 8,000 BCE nearby, under the modern tourist car-park that had held pine posts around .75 m in diameter that were erected and left to rot in situ. 3 of these were in an east-west alignment. The first monument consisted of the circular bank and ditch enclosure measuring 110 m in diameter with a large entrance to the northeast and a smaller one to the south. Archaeologists have uncovered deer and oxen bones as well as worked flint in the bottom of this ditch that are believed to have been used as tools to create the monument. The chalk dug from the ditch was piled up to form the bank around 3100 BCE. In the outer edge was dug a circle of 56 pits all about 1 meter in diameter known as the Aubrey holes that may have contained standing timbers creating a timber circle (though there is no archaeological evidence for that postulation that antiquarian John Aubrey made). At least 25 of the Aubrey holes were found to have contained later, intrusive, cremation burials dating to the two centuries after the monument’s creation making Stonehenge the earliest known cremation cemetery in the British Isles. Fragments of human bone have also been found in the ditch fill with Late Neolithic grooved ware pottery. The remains of the 2nd phase has deteriorated and is no longer visible and consisted of a number of postholes dating to ca. 3000 BCE that some form of timber structure was built within the enclosure. Standing timbers were also placed at the Northeast entrance and a parallel alignment of posts ran inwards from the southern entrance. Similar to the Aubrey Holes, though only .4 m in diameter and much less regulary spaced.
Around 2600 BCE it is believed that timber was abandoned in favor of stone and two concentric crescents of holes were dug in the center of the site holding up to 80 standing stones – 43 derived from the Preseli Hills 250 km away. Small sarsens believed to have been used later as lintels were believed to have been added at this time. Large 4 ton stones brought from long distances have been found to contain spotted dolerite, rhyolite, tuff and volcanic and calcareous ash – each measuring 2 m in ht, 1 m and 1.5 m wide, around .8 m thick. The Altar Stone – a 6 ton block of green micaceous sandstone, twice the height of the bluestones, is believed to have come from either South Pembrokeshire or the Brecon Beacons and may have stood originally as a single large monolith. The NE entrance was widened at this time to precisely match the direction of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. The Heelstone, four Station Stones, and barrow mounds (no burials within), and the Avenue leading to the River Avon might have been erected at this time as well.
From 2450-2100 BCE was the addition of 30 enormous sarsen stones brought in from a quarry about 24 miles north that were dressed and fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before 30 were erected as a 33 m diameter circle of standing stones with a lintel of 30 stones resting on top. These were joined together using a woodworking method called ‘tongue in groove joint’. A total of 74 stones were believed to have been used to complete the circle (many are missing today). Within this circle stood 5 trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape 13.7 m across with its open end facing Northeast and arranged symmetrically. Images of a dagger and 14 axe heads have been recorded carved on one of the sarsens that show style similarities to Bronze Age weapons. During the Bronze Age, bluestones appear to have been re-erected for the first time and placed within the outer sarsen circle.
From 2280-1930 BCE there was an rearrangement of the bluestones placing them in a circle between the two settings of sarsens and in an oval in the very center well spaced uprights without any of the linking lintels accomplished earlier. From 2280-1930 BCE the northeastern section of the bluestone circle was removed creating a horseshoe shaped setting known as the Bluestone Horseshoe. 1600 BCE was the last known usage of Stonehenge during the Iron Age where Roman coins, prehistoric pottery, and an unusual bone point and a skeleton of a young male (780-410 cal BC) were found as well as the burial of a decapitated Saxon man in the 7th century.
Stonehenge is riddled with myths and legends – even mentioned in Arthurian Legend. Today it is a place of pilgrimage for neo-Druids and those following Pagan or Neo-Pagan beliefs who started using the circle in the 1870’s, and the first modern Druidic rite dating to 1905 with the Ancient Order of Druids. After the Battle of Beanfield in 1985 – use of Stonehenge was stopped for several years, and Druids were given the right to worship at the stones again only in recent years under careful monitoring. Stonehenge is now surrounded by a fence to protect it as a World Heritage Site. Various Druid orders are still permitted to this day to be able to practice their ceremonial rites at the monument during the Winter and Summer Solstices. Current public outcry is currently dealing with the development of two highways that run along both sides of the monument, causing an eye and ear-sore, as well as potential vibrational damage to the monument.In 2003 the Department for Transport began planning for the Stonehenge road tunnel that will place the highways underground.
Read about the 2012 Summer Solstice at Stonehenge here: http://www.technogypsie.com/reviews/?p=3365 (expected publication press date of July 2012)