Stonehenge is one of the most recognizable Neolithic world monuments in the world. Located in Wiltshire, England and 13km north of Salisbury, Stonehenge is visited by over a million visitors every year just to see the massive stones and appreciate the workings of a huge astrological observatory. The work on the Stonehenge is believed to predate even the Egyptian pyramids and their existence up to date is what intrigues these visitors. The site has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1986 (German).
History of the Stonehenge
Stonehenge is said to have been built in several stages, with the earliest henge being built about 5,000BC, the stone circle being erected later about 2,500BC. In the early Bronze age, several burial mounds were built near the monument (Greaney).
The site before the Stonehenge
The earliest known structures to have existed on the site are four or five pits. Three of these holes appear to have hosted large pine posts which were erected during the Mesolithic period which was between 8,500BC and 7000BC. It is, however, unknown whether these posts have anything to do with the later to be erected Stonehenge. The site was an usually open place considering that most of England during this period was largely covered by woodland which may be a possibility for the people erecting the Stonehenge, choosing the site for the Neolithic monument complex. The complex included the two cursus monument which were the Stonehenge and the lesser cursus, causewayed enclosure which is at the Robin Hood’s Ball and several other long barrows. All of these structures date back to around 3,500BC. The existence of these monuments would be the likely influence that lead to the location of the Stonehenge in later years. It is believed that the monument was built in different phases at different times (Greaney).
It is generally believed that this phase occurred around 3100BCE. The period is when the first great circular ditch of about six feet deep was dug and a bank of dirt in it about 360 feet in diameter with its large entrance at the northeast and the smaller on the south. The whole combination of the ditch and the bank are called the henge. In the henge, they were dug 56 pits known as Aubrey holes after their English discoverer John Aubrey. He discovered them in the 17th century. The holes are slightly more than three feet diameter. They are believed to have been filled with upright wooden beams or upright bluestones (German).
The second phase
The second phase is approximated to have occurred between 100 and 200 years later. It involved setting up of wooden posts upright in the center of the henge, a roofed structure and vertical posts close to the southern and northeast entrances. During this period, the site was used as a burial site for the community inhabiting the site. There were additional 30 pit holes dug within the henge enclosure at this period, and twenty-five of the original ones were emptied to hold cremation burial (German).
The third phase
The third phase of Stonehenge construction is approximated to have happened around 400 to 500 years later after the second phase. This is the phase that took the longest time since it involved pulling the wooden beams or the blue stones and forming a circle. The circle was made up of 30 massive stones which were erected within the henge. The stones were quarried from Marlborough Downs which was nearby. The 30 erect stones were capped with 30 other overslay stones. Each of the stones weighed approximately 25tons, 13 feet high and about seven feet wide. The stones set up of ten upright and five overslays weighed about 50tons each pair forming a structure that is in the shape of a horseshoe. The bluestones freshly installed or reinstalled were erected in the form of a circle half in the inner part of the sarsen and half on the outer horseshoe structure. Concluding the phase was the construction of a long processional with parallel banks which had exterior ditches of about 34 meters across from the northeast entrance leading to the Stonehenge and to the south up to the banks of Avon river. The last of the many prehistoric activities to take place at the Stonehenge was digging two rings of the concentric pits known us the Y and Z holes. There may have been intentions of rearranging the stones, but the mission was not completed (German).
The builders and the purpose of the Stonehenge
The builders of the Stonehenge monuments are not known since the society did not leave any documentation or reference to the monument. There have been numerous theories, as a result, trying to explain the purpose of the monument. The most interesting theory is that attributing to the Stonehenge having been built by the Druids. The disputed theory was proposed three centuries ago by the famous antiquary, John Aubrey. This is because Druids worshiped in forest temples and did not need stone structures. Another theory was by Julius Caesar and other Roman writers who suggested that there was a Celtic priesthood that flourished during this time. However, it was told off since the evidence shows that the stones had been in existence before these group of people. The theory that comes close to making more sense is that of a late Neolithic society known as the Beaker Folk. The Beaker Folk society used pottery drinking vessels but due to the rise of a new economy they began using metal tools and started living in a communal way. Some theorists suggest that the people migrated from other continents, but there is no archeological evidence. Therefore, it is thought that they are the same people who lived there since time memorial only doing things differently, in other words evolving (Alchin).
Stonehenge is said to have been a burial site this is due to the evidence found there of signs of a grave. This is like the well-furnished Beaker graves found nearby, an example being that of Amesbury Archer. There were also a huge number or barrows appearing to proximity with the Stonehenge in the early bronze age. Four of the sarsen which are part of Stonehenge were left with hundreds of markings and carvings showing ax heads and daggers. Some archeologists interpret this as a symbol of power within the age of Bronze society or related to some of the round barrow burials nearby. The Stonehenge appear to have frequently been visited in the period when Romans were ruling. Various artifacts from the Roman Empire have been found here and in addition, a recent excavation raised speculations that the site could have been of ritual importance to the Romano-British people (Alchin).
The Stonehenge is also believed to have been a holy ground where people during the prehistorical time use to converge in crowds. This is due to the evidence found on the ground being visited by a large number of people over the past years.
Other theories that have risen in the recent past explaining the purpose of the monument are;
· The UFO Stonehenge theory which says that the site was built by aliens who visited it from time to time
· The computer theory that explains that the Stonehenge was similar to a computer but for the ancient times which predicted solar system accurately by predicting when eclipses, moonset, moonrise and so many others will happen. The monument lies at the exact latitude where the Sun and the Moon have a maximum setting which is 90o to each other. In addition to this, the Aubrey holes were dug so as to calculate the 18.6-year lunar cycles and eclipses (Whitaker).
· The healing theory. According to Wainwright and Darville, the site was used as a healing spot. The two found evidence of bluestone chips scattered leading to them believing that people used the pieces as a talisman to heal themselves (Cummings).
· The human sacrifice Stonehenge theory which suggested that the site was where people use to be sacrificed to appease the gods (Alchin).
Importance of the Stonehenge
The Stonehenge is a one of a kind prehistorical site in the middle of a unique archaeological landscape. It is an impressive megalithic monument in the world which is a rich source of prehistory hence holds a central place in the development of archeology. The Stonehenge is seen as the most sophisticated architectural design to be seen it the world. With the landscape surrounding it, together they bring to light the Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary and ceremonial practices that took place between 3700BC and 1600 BC. The Stonehenge is a unique collection of heritage which makes it important to the society. The design of the stones is an evidence of a society that was wealthy and highly organized during the prehistorical period hence imposing its concepts to the surrounding. One of this designs was seen at the parallel processional avenue where they created it with exterior ditches making it a unique and sophisticated architectural design (Greaney).
The Stonehenge is one of the largest cremation and cemetery grounds known in the Neolithic Britain. The design of the monument sheds light to the complex and exceptional insight to the ceremony and funeral practices in Britain during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. There was evidence of astronomical character and ceremonies with the design of the site in such a way that the Stonehenge circle was on the axis of the midwinter and midsummer sunset. The site also provided a profound insight into the changing mortuary culture as there was evidence of cremation on the site. The evidence was proved by the biggest known Neolithic stone-chambered collective tomb in the regions of South England and other burial site showing evolving funeral rites (Greaney).
The Stonehenge is not of much importance when it is alone therefore the landscape comes in as well. With the preservation of the surrounding landscape to the Stonehenge, the landscape forms a remarkable ancient environment of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The ground offers archeologists a chance to study the ancient period with the over 350 burial mounds. The information is helpful to understand more of the society that lived in the locality during the prehistorical period. It is also a resource for understanding the organization of the societies and their regional and international connections from the 4th to the 2nd millennia BC (Greaney).
Stonehenge has been in the discussion regarding what it was used for by the people who build it. Various theories have emerged regarding this issue some of which say that it was a place where ancestors were being worshiped. Other theories explain that it was lace for the Danish king, an astronomical point for predicting solar and eclipses events and other say it was a Druid temple. Although there have been all these explanations of the purpose of this monument, it has generally been accepted that the site was a prehistorical temple. It is where the ancient societies used to perform their rituals (Greaney).
The Stonehenge is also important because it is an indicator of the past and powerful image of the ancient achievements. The site has continued to be the subject of many paintings. It is also featured in books, music and in film production like in one of the episodes of the T.V program The Librarians. Although many of these are depicted in various mythical aspect, the Stonehenge is an important part that its presence cannot be assumed (Greaney).
The site also continues to play the role of a sacred place in the society. Thousands of visitors are attracted to the site and continue to be humbled and awed by the presence of the magnificent man-made monument that has surpassed time and continues to stand for all these years (Greaney).
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