Stonehenge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in Wiltshire, England, it consists of a ring of standing stones within a variety of earthworks. Stonehenge is found within one of the most dense collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, which includes the nearby site of Avebury.
Stonehenge is thought to have been constructed over several stages between 3,000 to 2,000 BCE, however the site has been found to contain much older archeological evidence. Initial Mesolithic post holes have been found and dated to around 8,000 BCE.
The first stage of construction at Stonehenge began around 3,100 BCE, consisting of banks, ditches and a circle of pits known as the Aubrey holes. Cremated remains were found with these pits and experts suggest they are associated with some sort of religious ceremony. Analysis of teeth found near the nearby Durrington Walls suggests that as many as 4,000 people had gathered at the site.
The second stage of construction at Stonehenge occurred around 3,000 BCE and consisted of earthworks and timber postholes. Additional cremated remains have been dated to this time, suggesting that Stonehenge was one of the earliest cremation cemeteries in the British Isles.
The next stage of construction began around 2,600 BCE, marking the transition from timber to stone. It is during this time that about 80 bluestones were erected to form a double circle. The origins of the dolerite bluestones is thought to be from southwest Wales, however a glacial origin of the stones has also been postulated. The northeastern entrance of Stonehenge was also widened and more precisely aligned with the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.
From about 2,600 to 2,400 BCE, several sarsen stones were erected to form an outer ring and hanging lintels. The final configuration was completed between 2,280 to 1,600 BCE, where the stones were rearranged to form the horseshoe and circle shape seen at Stonehenge today.
Major restoration began on the site in 1901, including straightening and moving several large standing stones. In 1928, Stonehenge was purchased and given to the National Trust in order to preserve the monument and its surrounding land. Archaeological excavations have also occurred over time, leading to new discoveries and further reconfiguration of the site.
Since Stonehenge was constructed during a time when little written records were kept, not much is known about its original purpose and usage. Early writers speculated that Stonehenge was built and used by the ancient Druids as part of their ritual practices, however it has since been found that the site is much older. Many theories have been suggested, such as Stonehenge being a place of healing, ancestor worship, or funerary monument. However the site is still associated with much myth and legend. Neopagans flock to the site in celebration, particularly at the solstices and equinoxes. It is a place of beauty, magic and mystery.
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© The Celtic Journey (2013)