Stonehenge is a large and impressive monument built by ancient people for what is thought to be for the purpose rituals associated with death and burial. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site consists of several stones standing erect in a circular fashion and built on elevated mound, thus dominating the surrounding flat countryside.
There are also several giant capping stones or lintels. It has been learned in recent times that Stonehenge is at the center of many other similar monuments in the vicinity, where several hundred burial mounds have also been found. In common with many other Neolithic monuments, the monument has been astronomically aligned to precisely target the sun’s rays at the winter and summer solstices.
When was it built?
Stonehenge’s history is shrouded in mystery. The actual construction of the circles as they appear is said to have taken place several phases over thousands of years. Nobody can say for certain when construction began or when the site was first used as a sacred place. Every few years, new discoveries seem to occur that pushes the earliest date associated with Stonehenge back even further.
Archeologists working near the monument have unearthed wooden posts that have been dated to around 8000 BC.
The first evidence of a monument when Stonehenge’s history began has been dated to about 3100 BC when a circular ditch lined with animal bones and small rocks was dug.
The first evidence in Stonehenge’s history of human burial and cremation at the site has been dated to approximately 3000BC. There are also excavations of numerous post holes which experts think held the supports of a wooden structure within the circle, but no wood remnants have been found as yet.
Wood to Stone
It seems that around 2600 BC the wooden structures were replaced by circles of standing stones, each of which weighs about 4 tons. At some point, these stones were removed and their support holes filled in. They were later re-introduced at some point after the building of the outer circle, but seem at various times to have been rearranged and removed yet again. 43 stones remain today, but it is thought there were up to 80 in the original build.
The next stage of development was the construction of the outer ring of 30 massive monoliths with a further 30 lintels on top. It is this outer ring which most people visualize when thinking of Stonehenge and it is believed this was erected between 2400 and 2600 BC.
Each of these stones is are enormous, weighing about 25 tons and measuring 13 feet high, 3.5 feet thick and nearly 7 feet wide. There is clearly visible evidence that all these stones were worked on by skilled stonemasons. The lintels are curved to preserve the circular impression, and the uprights are broader at the top to help keep a standard perspective from the ground. Likewise, the stones were prepared for fitting together using joint types normally associated with carpentry, making the joins secure without the need for mortar.
Various modifications of less significance were made for another 1000 years, with the last known construction works taking place on the site around 1600 BC.
Where the rocks came from
The type of rock from which the original stones were made does not occur naturally in the Stonehenge region. The nearest source of similar rock is found in Wales in the Preseli Hills about 150 miles away and many experts believe that the stones were transported from there, although nobody has come up with a good suggestion as to how the logistics of transporting such massive stones would work.
Other experts believe that the stones were deposited much closer to Stonehenge as a result of glacial movement, but cannot really explain why other stones from the same source are not in evidence in the area.
There are many theories as to why Stonehenge was built, but nobody can say for certain as there is no Stonehenge history or record from those who built it as to what it was for. It is generally accepted that it had some mystical or spiritual purpose, but it is unclear as to whether its primary purpose was as a place of celebration and hope or as a reminder of doom and death.
There are many unexplained mysteries associated with the site. Analysis of exhumed human remains shows that there were many burials there of people who had lived in other parts of Europe. This has led some to suggest that the site was a place of pilgrimage to which people with serious illnesses came in search of a miracle cure. Other evidence shows that bones buried there predated the tools used to bury them, indicating that people held on to these bones for some time before finally burying them at Stonehenge, maybe because they had to travel long distances to get there. It is unlikely we will ever know for certain what its purpose was.
The monument itself is in an isolated rural area in Wiltshire in England, about 2 hours driving time west of London. It is not far from the village of Amesbury, which is about 2 miles away. The town of Salisbury is approximately 9 miles away.
The nearest principle road is the A303 which runs from Basingstoke to Exeter. Driving from London, take the M3 to Basingstoke and then the A303 sign-posted to Andover. Stay on this road and you will eventually see signs for Amesbury and Stonehenge. There is a large car park adjacent to the monument.
A bus service from London to Amesbury is available from Victoria Coach Station and Heathrow Airport. The nearest rail station is in Salisbury, to which trains depart from Waterloo Station in London.
The general public are not normally permitted to enter within the actual circles themselves. Access has been restricted to reduce the effects of erosion from millions of footsteps and mindless graffiti and souvenir taking, which became a problem when there were no restrictions. Instead, the public are permitted to walk around the outside of the stone circles. Audio guides are available in several languages explaining the monuments and facts about Stonehenge history.
The public are admitted to the circles on both the solstices, but numbers are restricted and visitors are allotted tickets by open lottery. Other exceptions are made for serious archeological, scientific or educational research. Such visits are by prior arrangement only.