Saturday, June 11, 2011

History of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is the world's most famous megalithic monument, located 330 feet above sea level on the chalk downland of Salisbury Plain in Southern England. The monument that visitors see today is the remains of a prehistoric temple that was in use approximately 3,500 years ago. The origins of Stonehenge are even older.

Theories regarding the construction of Stonehenge have featured such builders as the Druids, Greeks, Atlanteans, Egyptians, Phoenecians, and even the legendary Merlin, along with modern culture's wont to connect Stonehenge with crop circles, UFO's and ley lines. Although Druids did use the structure for ceremonial purposes, and still do in modern times, Stonehenge's construction was apparently begun long before Druids arrived in England. Scientist believe that the Beakers, a neolithic people named after their pottery, played a major role in the formation of Stonehenge and other stone circles.
Stonehenge was likely built as a temple and place of religious ceremony. This famous monument seems also to have been designed to allow observation of astronomical and seasonal events such as the summer and winter solstice, and for predicting and observing lunar eclipses.

Perhaps as long as 5,000 years ago, the original builders of the site encircled a six-foot-high embankment by a ditch 380 feet in diameter. An entrance marked by a pair of stones was built on the northeast side. Fifty-six pits, three feet wide and three feet deep, were dug within the embankment. Scientists now believe that the holes were originally dug to hold wooden posts. Later in history, they may have been used to bury cremated remains. These pits are named Aubrey holes in honor of their 17th century discoverer, J ohn Aubrey. Today those holes are invisible on the surface, but their placement is marked by round concrete markers.

Outside the entrance, about 50 feet away from the ditch, the builders erected the upright Heelstone which weighs several tons. There is speculation that the Heelstone was actually part of an original pair standing a foot apart. At the same time a wooden gate was also built. Just inside the embankment were 4 small pits in 4 small mounds. Each mound once contained a stone, now named Station Stones, forming a rectangle. The toppled Slaughter Stone may also date from this period.
During the second building phase of Stonehenge, approximately 4,000 years ago, a dirt road now called the 'Avenue' was built leading up to the megalith. It is possible that this path, bounded by 2 parallel banks 70 feet apart, was used to bring the stones to the construction site. Another theory is that the avenue was used for ceremonial processions. It is likely the Avenue has had many uses over the centuries.

Eighty blue stones, weighing up to four tons each, were set inside the site in two circles. The stones are believed to have come from the Presscelly Mountains in Pembrokeshire, Wales, more than 100 miles from Stonehenge. Also during this period a larger blue stone, the Altar Stone, was set in the center of the circle of blue stones.

During the third phase of Stonehenge's construction, large blocks of sarsen, a sandstone harder than granite, were quarried at the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles northwest. These 25-ton blocks were pounded and shaped with stone hammers. Thirty upright stones and thirty lintels were assembled with mortise and tenon joints. One can only wonder how these incredibly heavy blocks were transported in an age without wheels, and only marvel at the elegance of the engineering that lifted and placed the stones. The Sarsen Circle is 100 feet in diameter. Within it, twenty blue stones were erected in a small oval. The Sarsen Trilithon Horseshoe, weighing over 45 tons, is also placed within the circle.

Approximately 1100 BC saw the extension of the northeast running avenue to the banks of River Avon. In the next 3,000 years the site history is one of destruction and stealing of stones. Successive generations have broken up and removed stone to build houses and roads, while earlier this century new roads were built that separated Stonehenge from its historic setting.

In order to protect Stonehenge for future generations, the monument was put into the care of the State in 1918. Ever increasing numbers of visitors had caused damage to the stones, especially the softer bluestones, and the prehistoric carvings on the sarsens were showing signs of wear. It became necessary to stop visitors from walking among the stones, and since 1978, visitors to Stonehenge have been asked to keep to the path around the stone circle.

Although about half the original stones are missing, it is not hard to imagine what Stonehenge once looked like. Stonehenge has captured the spirit and imagination of many across the
world, and there have been several stunning models built that attempt to recreate its original glory.

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