Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument constructed from large, vertically oriented rocks. The megaliths are positioned in a pair of concentric circles, two horseshoes within, and an altar stone at the center. Construction began in around 3000 BCE and a second round began around 500 years later (Pearson 2022). For years scientists, archaeologists, and artists have debated how and why it was constructed, their theories ever changing (Pitts 2022). To this day, many people travel to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England to visit the site and ask their own questions about its long and often debated history (History Staff 2013).
The reason for Stonehenge’s construction is widely debated. In the 17th and 18th century, archaeologists suspected that the site had been constructed by the ancient Celtics, the Druids (History Staff 2013). However later technology proved it impossible due to the fact that the Druids arose around 2,000 years after the initial construction (History Staff 2013). An 18th century scholar hypothesized that it could be a sort of calendar, as the sun on the summer solstice directly hits the entrance to the monument (History Staff 2013). Other hypotheses have included that it was an ancient place of healing, while others believed it was the center of bronze-age chiefdoms (Pearson 2022). In recent digs, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of human remains that span nearly 1000 years (History Staff 2013). From this, intellectuals have identified Stonehenge as likely both a site for ceremonial customs and burials (History Staff 2013). In 2010, a second stone circle was discovered in a similar orientation which led scholars to suspect that Stonehenge might have represented a larger-spread ritual (History Staff 2013).
There were 2 main type of stones located at Stonehenge: Bluestones and sarsens (Pitts 2022).
The so-called bluestones form the inner horseshow and inner circle at Stonehenge (Pitts 2022). It’s estimated that those stones formed the entirety of the monument for about 500 years before the larger stones arrived (Pitts 2022). Although it’s name suggests an obvious blue color, the stones really only had a blue tint that was more prominent when wet or freshly cut (English Heritage). Unlike the later stones, these stones likely had a long journey to the site; some traveled almost 250 miles (English Heritage). These stones ranged from 2-5 tons each, so were no small feat to transport (Pitts 2022). A few of these bluestones also likely stood in other henges across England prior to their placement at Stonehenge (English Heritage). At Stonehenge itself, archaeologists have found evidence that the current position is at least the second configuration the bluestones have had since their arrival (English Heritage).
The larger stones in the outer ring and second horseshoe of the monument are the sarsens (Pitts 2022). Based on core research done by scientists, the majority of these stones seem to have come from about 20 miles from the site (Pitts 2022). These stones are much larger than the bluestones and weigh 20 or more tons each. The transportation of these stones would have been a massive undertaking (Pitts 2022). Unlike the bluestones, the sarsens are not in their natural states (Pitts 2022). Instead, they have been carefully carved nearby and fit together on site (Pitts 2022). Because of the tremendous size of the sarsens, there has been much speculation about how they were placed. Many theorized that they did so with ropes, however Pitts points out that because of the close proximity of the stones there would likely not have had room to do this (Pitts 2022). Instead, they likely rocked to stone back and forth while building a wood pile underneath to raise it.
Although Stonehenge is still an impressive monument to visit, it is by no means untouched (Pitts 2022). Over the years many of the stones have been carved up and taken elsewhere (Pearson 2022). Also, by the beginning of the 20th century, 5 stones had fallen and more teetered. In recognition of the importance of this monument there was restoration work done to keep the megaliths erect (Pitts 2022). However, the digging required destroyed large portions of the archaeological evidence that lay beneath the stones (Pitts 2022).
Although built thousands of years before the present, the secrets of Stonehenge continue to be studied and likely will be for many decades to come.
English Heritage. “Building Stonehenge.” English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/history-and-stories/building-stonehenge/#:~:text=Bluestone%20is%20the%20term%20used,2%20and%205%20tons%20each.
History Staff. “Why Was Stonehenge Built?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 10 Apr. 2013. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-stonehenge-built.
Pearson, Mike. “Stonehenge.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 Aug. 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Stonehenge#ref285591.
Pitts, Mike. “How Was Stonehenge Built?” The British Museum, The British Museum, 16 Feb. 2022. https://www.britishmuseum.org/blog/how-was-stonehenge-built.
Similar stone circles are found throughout the British Isles. How do we understand this as a cultural practice that extends beyond Stonehenge? How does Stonehenge help us understand other stone circles?