About Stonehenge

Despite a number of significant discoveries since the 1950s, the purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. The Stonehenge monument on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, has been a source of controversy since serious scientific study of its purpose and construction began in the mid-20th century.

The Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The stone circle itself forms the highlight of any visit to the World Heritage Site and is not to be missed. However, the Stonehenge Visitor Centre completes a day out at this world-famous monument. With museum-quality exhibitions showcasing many items on loan from nearby museums – the Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum as well as a changing special exhibition the interpretation and significance of Stonehenge is more detailed than ever before. You can even stand inside the incredible audio-visual 360 degree stone circle experience allowing you to get a sense of standing inside Stonehenge.

The visitor centre is complete with a spacious gift shop housing a variety of souvenirs and locally produced crafts and collectables alongside a café catering to all dietary requirements and serving up delicious rock cakes and luxury hot chocolates. End your visit with a walk around the Neolithic Houses and speak to the knowledgeable volunteers to understand how the people of Stonehenge may have lived, and if you are feeling strong enough try pulling a replica Sarsen stone to see how you would have fared in the building of Stonehenge. Please note that online pre-booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice and therefore highly recommended. Limited tickets are available on the day.

Early Theories

Three phases of Stonehenge construction were originally proposed in the 1940s and 1950s. They were referred to as Stonehenge I, II, and III, and were dated from approximately 1900 to 1600 BC. However, since the 1950s, there have been significant advances in the dating of the monument. The most recent scientifically-verified dates for the monument are approximately 3100 to 3000 BC for Stonehenge I, 3000 to 2600 BC for Stonehenge II, and 2600 to 1930 BC for Stonehenge III.

One effect of the corrected dates for the various phases of Stonehenge was to force a re-evaluation of the theories associated with the construction of the monument. The new dates show that the construction of Stonehenge preceded the Mycenaean civilization of the central Mediterranean. Thus, the traditional explanation that ideas and people diffused from the Mediterranean region to Western Europe and influenced local cultures is no longer tenable. In other words, it is now generally accepted that Stonehenge was an indigenous development.

 Neolithic and Bronze Age Cultures

Stonehenge I and II, the first stages of construction of the monument, and part of Stonehenge III were built during the late Neolithic period of Britain, which dates from approximately 3200 to 2000 BC. The lifestyle of the Neolithic or New Stone Age period as a whole, in Britain and elsewhere, was characterized by farming, pottery and the building of elaborate ceremonial monuments, such as earth and stone circles.

Henges, which refer to circular formations of earth, timber, or stone, were an important ceremonial structure during the Neolithic period. Stonehenge I is not a typical henge, but rather resembles a causewayed enclosure, a feature found earlier in the Neolithic period and characterized by a roughly circular bank inside a discontinuous chain of quarry ditches. In general, henges may have served a multifunctional purpose as both social meeting places (for livestock fairs, trade, political meetings, religious ceremonies and so forth) and sites for the celebration of major astronomical events.

Stonehenge III construction took place in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age and is primarily associated with the Wessex culture. This culture may have been a chiefdom society and may have been characterized by well-developed religious and ceremonial activities. The archaeological evidence that might support these suggestions include the marked increase in the number of burial mounds (barrows) during the period of Stonehenge III, the fact that there were now mounds for single rather than communal burial, and that these graves were often richly decorated.

 What is Stonehenge?

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the purpose of Stonehenge. Some scholars have focused on the sunrise alignment of the monument, which can be viewed by an observer on midsummer morning standing in the centre of the site and looking northeast toward the heel stone, as evidence for the early astronomical significance of Stonehenge. Others have suggested that the 56 Aubrey Holes found on the site coincide with the 56-year cycle for tracking the motions of the moon and thus served as an early computer for tracking eclipses of the moon and sun.

In the 1960s, it was discovered that about 240 Stonehenge alignments translated into celestial declinations. These declinations, which correspond to latitude circles on Earth, seemed to fit the extreme positions of the sun and the moon. So in phases I and III of the monument, the midwinter moonset and sunrise and midsummer sunset and moonrise could be viewed when standing within the monument and looking out in the direction of the corresponding declinations. Various theories have been proposed to explain the Stonehenge sun-moon alignments, including the possibility that the alignments form a calendar, particularly useful to tell the time for planting crops, and that they were used as part of religious ceremonies. However, some scholars have questioned the alignments and have suggested that they may be coincidental or not purposeful.

Other archaeologists prefer an evolutionary approach to explain the origin of Stonehenge. According to this explanation, Stonehenge began as a wooden structure, with posts set in a ring, and was eventually transformed into a stone ring. This wooden circle, and the stone circle to follow, may have been manifestations of some powerful religious belief. The religious importance of Stonehenge is suggested by the Aubrey holes, which contained deposits of cremated human bones, and thirty other cremations placed in the enclosure’s ditch and at other points within the monument, as if the site was later transformed into a cremation cemetery.

Two recent theories about the function of Stonehenge have been proposed. One of these suggests that the monument was part of a ritual landscape and was joined to another site, Durrington Walls, by their corresponding avenues and the River Avon. According to this theory, the Durrington Walls timber henge was oriented towards the rising sun on the midwinter solstice and represented a place of the living, while Stonehenge was aligned with the setting sun on the summer solstice and represented a place of the dead. A journey between the two sites was then part of a ritual passage from life to death to celebrate ancestors and the recently deceased. Another theory proposes that Stonehenge was a place of healing, as evinced by the high number of burials in the area and the discovery of trauma deformity in some of the graves.

Please explore this blog further for all the latest theories, discoveries and news

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3 responses

30 11 2010
david gregg

given your comments on Johnson’s recent book on SH geometry you might enjoy my new monograph at the above site. He greatly understates the ability of the builders. Have a look at my appendices.
Professor D P Gregg (retired)

31 05 2011

Merlin, I agree with your intuition (onemysteryless.wordpress.com)

19 12 2011
Great Gandalf

I live not very far from the source of the Bluestone. The Preseli Mountains in West Wales. The whole Area was/is A place of healing ( much like lourds) & I Believe the Ancients used the naturally Harsh winters to Transport these Great Stones to Salisbury Plain, afterall the Eastern Cleddau is these days not very wide up in the Mountains, but the valley is A good half mile wide. Much like the River Avon Gorge that also is very wide yet the river itself is not, plus there was a heck of a lot more water back then. There just wasn’t enough people living here then so the sledge/roller theory is pointless. Thats what I think anyway. Great Gandalf Peace & Love

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