History of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of Britain's most famous and ancient national monuments. A world heritage site, it is also a popular tourist destination. Popular opinions about this site include that it was a place for sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial site and it is also believed to have been built by aliens!
A monument that took over 400 years to build, the remains of Stonehenge that exist today leave us intrigued and awestruck. Much of its allure lies in the fact that the purpose for which Stonehenge was built has not been identified, though the scientific and archaeological community is rife with theories.

The construction of the first phase of Stonehenge began around 3000 BC and comprised a simple circular bank and ditch enclosure. It is believed that tools used to dig these ditches included wooden instruments and deer antlers. It measured around 110 meters in diameter with a large entrance to the north east and a smaller one to the south. It is likely that in around 2800 BC, timber posts were erected within the enclosure, marking the second phase of the building. Although there is no visible evidence any longer, this assessment is made on the basis of a number of postholes that date back to this period. Two centuries after the monument's inception, burials and cremations took place in about 25 of the Aubery holes. Proof of several other cremations, such as fragments of unburnt human bone are also found at different location in Stonehenge.

The next stage encompassed two concentric circles of 80 or so standing bluestones (because they take on a bluish hue when wet or cut), with an entrance facing northeast, only 43 of which can be traced today. A prominent theory regarding the origin of these stones is that they were transported by humans from the Preseli Hills, which was around 150 miles away, from a site known as Carn Menyn. However, new results from studies on this subject are constantly emerging, some refuting this theory. If it were true, a large amount of effort and investment would have gone into shifting these gigantic stones, some of which were as long as ten feet and weighed up to four tons. The herculean task of moving the stones was carried out by humans, but the question as to 'how' still remains. While scientists are still searching for answers, the fact remains that several ancient societies had ways and means to move large rocks. Other standing stones included about 20 different rock types. Some of the stones measured around 2 meters (6.6 ft) in height, between 1 m and 1.5 m (3.3-4.9 ft) wide and around 0.8 meters (2.6 ft) thick.

A belief held by most archaeologists is that the final stage of its construction began two centuries later, when 30 enormous Oligocene-Miocene sarsen stones were used to create the outer circle. This was the time that Stonehenge acquired its remarkable appearance. It is believed that the juggernaut blocks of sandstone were quarried and collected from the Marlborough Downs, which was at the short distance of 20 miles to the north. The standing stones were erected in a circle with a ring of 30 lintel stones resting on top. These mammoth stones were about 4.1 meters (13 ft) high, 2.1 meters (6 ft 11 in) wide and weighed around 25 tons.

Studies and research regarding the reasons behind the construction of Stonehenge continue. With every new study, previously unknown facts regarding the history of Stonehenge emerge. A team that led an excavation within the inner circle of Stonehenge that commenced in March 2008, concluded that the ancients believed that the Stonehenge's stones possess medicinal powers which they harnessed by pouring water over them for the sick to bathe in.

In modern times, the preservation of Stonehenge has become a cause for concern. Presently, a major highway runs no more than 100 yards away from the stones, and the area has seen a lot of commercialization, such as parking lots, gift shops and ice cream stands. Even though concrete information regarding Stonehenge is scarce, it remains a storehouse of secrets of the past. This portal into the ancient world must be preserved if we desire to hold a better understanding of the late Stone and Bronze Ages.
By Marian K
Last Updated: 10/4/2011
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