Why did the builders of Stonehenge choose Salisbury Plain?

23 10 2016

One of the most frequently asked questions about Stonehenge is “Why is it where it is?” and there are several possible explanations for this. They’re described below but it’s important to understand that combinations of these are also possible – there may not be just one single reason.

The location isn’t at all the obvious choice because it’s not at the top of the slope, which rises further towards the west. However, if you analyse the terrain you realise that it’s ideally positioned to give medium to long distance views to the northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest over a horizon that is relatively flat in profile.

In fact, the horizon is less than 1° in elevation in all directions.

Salisbury Plain

Archaeologists believe that there were only isolated stands of trees in the Salisbury Plain landscape at the time Stonehenge was built, far fewer than are evident today, so the far-reaching views that are hidden today by modern plantations wouldn’t have been obscured.

viewshed-and-horizon

In the Google Earth image the areas coloured red are directly visible from Stonehenge while the purple line shows the extent of the visible horizon (without trees in the way).

So why not build it further up the westerly slope and achieve even further-reaching views? To do so would be to lose some of the flatness of the horizon in key directions. As it is, Stonehenge appears to be in the centre of a bowl of visibility where the directions to the important astronomical events of summer and winter solstice sunrise and sunset are clear and level.

The second theory relates to the Station Stone Rectangle. Originally there were four Station Stones situated just inside the henge bank. Only two remain in place, the positions of the others (whose stoneholes have been detected) are known.

The short sides of this rectangle are parallel to the main alignment at Stonehenge – winter solstice sunset to summer solstice sunrise. In 1966, C.A. “Peter” Newham pointed out in an article in

station-stone-rectangle

Nature that the long sides of the rectangle are aligned on the extreme moonrise and moonset positions, in a cycle that takes 18.6 years to complete.

It’s a feature of the astronomical geometry that only at the latitude of Stonehenge (give or take 30 miles) that these solar and lunar alignments occur at right angles to each other. Further north or south than that limit and the Station Stone Rectangle would become a parallelogram.

The third possibility concerns the Heel Stone and the Avenue. The Heel Stone is an unshaped sarsen boulder weighing in at over 35 tons that is positioned to the northeast of Stonehenge at the top of the ceremonial approach way called the Avenue. It is traditionally associated with marking the position of sunrise on the summer solstice as seen from the centre of the circle.

During excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in the mid-2000s, a series of features were discovered at the top of the Avenue which have been identified as “periglacial stripes”. These cracks and runnels in the underlying chalk where water has repeatedly frozen and thawed happen to run exactly along the main solstice alignment down the slope to the northeast beyond the Heel Stone.

periglacial

The SRP team suggest that these features would have been visible as parallel lines in the grass leading towards the Heel Stone. They go on to suggest that since the Heel Stone is unshaped, it may always have been lying in the landscape very close to where it has been set upright.

They conclude that a series of noticeable stripes in the grass leading up a slope towards a massive rock exactly in the direction of the winter solstice sunset may be the reason why this spot was regarded as a special place, worthy of memorialising.

Fourthly, there’s the theory that the combination of Bluestones from Wales with Sarsens from the more local area represents the symbolic political unification of two different groups of people at this spot on the borderland between their separate spheres of influence.

We do know that the area has been a focus of activity for more than 10,000 years going right back to the end of the last Ice Age in Britain, as shown by the recent discoveries at Blick Mead in Amesbury, and there are the massive Mesolithic post holes in the landscape only a couple of hundred metres northwest of Stonehenge.

Perhaps we’re looking at the continuation of a specialness that was handed down across the generations, with each successive group embellishing the stories and the monumentalisation a little for itself until finally we end up with a Visitor Centre that receives over a million people a year.

Ultimately though, the reasons for the choice of this location will remain one of the more puzzling Stonehenge mysteries.
Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Salisbury Plain links:
Salisbury Plain Safaris offers a unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Salisbury, Stonehenge and the surrounding villages.
Stonehenge Guided Tours offer unique guided tours of the Stonehenge landscape and Salisbury Plain
Stonehenge ATV. This is what you have been looking for – the ultimate two seater buggy Salisbury Plain experience.
Visit Wiltshire.  Looking for more information on the famous Salisbury plain?…If so, click here to get the latest information direct from the official Wiltshire tourism site!

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Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, UK

5 04 2010

Everybody needs to see Stonehenge. But  Avebury is the connoisseur’s circle: subtle and welcoming.

Avebury Stone Circle

The stone circle at Avebury is bigger (16 times the size), less touristy, and, for many, more interesting than Stonehenge. You’re free to wander among 100 stones, ditches, mounds, and curious patterns from the past, as well as the village of Avebury, which grew up in the middle of this fascinating, 1,400-foot-wide neolithic circle.

In the 14th century, in a kind of frenzy of religious paranoia, Avebury villagers buried many of these mysterious pagan stones. Their 18th-century descendants hosted social events in which they broke up the remaining pagan stones (topple, heat up, douse with cold water, and scavenge broken stones as building blocks). In modern times, the buried stones were dug up and re-erected. Concrete markers show where the missing broken-up stones once stood.

To make the roughly half-mile walk around the circle, you’ll hike along an impressive earthwork henge — a 30-foot-high outer bank surrounding a ditch 30 feet deep, making a 60-foot-high rampart. This earthen rampart once had stones standing around the perimeter, placed about every 30 feet, and four grand causeway entries. Originally, two smaller circles made of about 200 stones stood within the henge (free, always open).

Visit the Alexander Keiller Archaeology Museum, with an interactive exhibit in a 17th-century barn. Notice the pyramid-shapedSilbury Hill, a 130-foot-high, yet-to-be-explained mound of chalk just outside of Avebury. Over 4,000 years old, this mound is the largest man-made object in prehistoric Europe (with the surface area of London’s Trafalgar Square and the height of Nelson’s Column). It’s a reminder that you’ve just scratched the surface of England’s mysterious, ancient, and religious landscape.

Eating in Avebury: The pleasant Circle Restaurant serves healthy, hearty à la carte meals, including at least one vegetarian soup, and cream teas on most days. The Red Lion Pub (The only thatched haunted Pub in the middle of a Stone Circle in the World) has inexpensive, greasy pub grub; a creaky, well-worn, dart-throwing ambience; and a medieval well in its dining room.

Sleeping in Avebury: This makes lots of sense since the stones are lonely and wide open all night. Mrs. Dixon’s B&B, directly across from Silbury Hill on the main road just beyond the tourist parking lot, rents three cramped and homey rooms for a fine price.

Tours to Avebury: The most convenient and quickest way to see Avebury and Stonehenge if you don’t have a car is to take a scheduled tour from London – The Stonehenge Tour Company (http://www.StonehengeTours.com) opertate daily tours from London or a truly great way is to organise your own private tour from Salisbury or Bath:
Merlin highly recommends:
HisTOURies UK – They have the best local guides and best reputation and seem to be the most competitive.

Drivers can do a loop from Bath to Avebury (25 miles) to Glastonbury (56 miles) to Wells (6 miles) and back to Bath (20 miles).

Good luck and enjoy!
Merlin @ Stonehenge Stone Circle





Doctor Who filming at Stonehenge

5 02 2010


On Tuesday night, February 2, Wiltshire’s ancient stone monument was taken over by a film crew…..filming season five of BBC 1’s Doctor Who.

Exclusive leak….
Turns out that when the moon lies above the stone circle and the sun is on the opposite side of the earth, the stone circle acts as a gateway to a parallel time and place. Standing in the centre of the circle can allow one to be at one with the entire universe but unfortunately induces runaway ageing and exposure to other more evil personalities bent upon conquest. Dr Who finds himself imprisoned within the stone circle of an advanced extra-galactic civilisation and is held as a hostage until dastardly demands are met. The clock is running and the Doctor is rapidly ageing towards infancy. A twist in the tale is the entity that is allowed into the modern Human world when the stone circle is activated. Sadly, the choices are harsh…..either allow the proposed McDonalds drive-through planned for the Avenue, the bowling alley, the souvenir shop and the vast visitor facilities or, the Doctor will be wearing nappies for the remainder of this series and the evil personality (a hybrid mutation of David Icke and Schliemann) will win executive control of English Heritage.

Doctor Who at Stonehenge
Despite it being a closed set…
Local fans, braved the rain hoping to catch a glimpse of the action: “I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was five, that’s 35 years now, and this has been the first chance I’ve had to see it being filmed.”

…plus returning professor River Song (Alex Kingston) have all been spotted on set – along with a brazier or two – the rumour is that the latest episodes including The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks will all be set ‘some time in the past’.

With early filming reports claiming that the Doctor aka Matt Smith along with his sexy assistant Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan…





Avebury and Stonehenge go live on Google

28 01 2010

WOW 360-degree views of Stonehenge – click here

Avebury and Stonehenge can be explored with the click of a mouse from today as the National Trust’s most famous sites have been added to Google’s Street View mapping.

Over 20 historic locations across the UK – including castles, landscapes and country houses – have been scanned using a panoramic camera, bolted to the back of a tricycle, and added to Google’s online mapping service.

Users can now take a 360-degree, ground-level tour of sites such as Corfe Castle in Dorset, Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, and Plas Newydd in Wales.

Austen fans with a romantic sensibility can even take a virtual turn around Lyme Park in Cheshire – made famous by Colin Firth’s emergence from its lake as Mr Darcy in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride And Prejudice.

Google’s Street View cyclists pedalled over 125 miles on the 18-stone trike, following marked routes around the National Trust sites to capture them from every angle.

Ed Parsons, technologist at Google, said: “We were delighted to be able to open up some of the UK’s most famous landmarks to the rest of the world via the web.”

However, he does not believe the online experience will discourage tourists from visiting the sites in person.

“It’s a fun way to preview what to see and do on a day out,” he said.

“Or whet your appetite for where to go next.”

Google will continue to collect images from other National Trust sites throughout 2010, including UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant’s Causeway, in County Antrim.








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