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Stonehenge


Stonehenge is probably the most recognisable and enigmatic stone circle in Britain. The structure has fascinated people for centuries, and there are many theories as to what purpose it was put to by ancient man. Stonehenge has suffered over the years from trophy hunters, and the wear and tear of many visitors. The structure is now surrounded by a fence, which although not aesthetically pleasing is helping to preserve the monument from erosion.

Archaeologists have agreed that Stonehenge was built in four distinct phases: The first phase began around 3200BC, and consisted of the henge earthwork enclosing a wooden building, which according to Aubrey Burl may have been a charnel house. An outlying stone, the heel stone was also set in place. Around 2400BC 56 pits known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, were dug around the inside of the ditch. Their purpose is unclear but finds of human bones and stone mace heads suggest ritual offerings.

The second phase began around 2200BC, blue dolerite stones with their origin in the Prescilly mountains in Wales, were erected in two concentric circles. An earthen avenue was also created. It is not clear whether the Welsh stones were transported from Wales, or were already in the local area due to the movements of glaciation.

The third phase began around 2000BC, first the blue stones were removed, and the large sarcen blocks erected in the pattern still visible today. The sarcen stones vary in weight from twenty to fifty tonnes, and were quarried and transported from the Marlborough downs eighteen miles away. They were smoothed and finished to precision with stone hand tools, and locked together with mortis and tennon joints. The upper hanging stones in the trilithons are a ball and joint affair. The balls are clearly visible on the taller stones, in the places where the lintels have fallen over the centuries.

The fourth phase began around 1600BC, when the blue stones were re-erected from an unknown storage place to the centre of the great horseshoe.

Stones in the four directions were carved with axe heads and depictions of other weapons, and the stone known as the altar stone was also erected in the centre of the circle, it may have once stood upright.

Folklore
The stones have inspired many legends and folklore over the centuries. Much of the folklore seems to try and explain the origin of the circle structure as the work of giants, gods or wizards. It was probably easier to accept this than to believe that a past culture could have better technology.

During the Middle Ages Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose colourful writing have had great influence on British mythology, wrote that the stones were originally brought from Africa to Ireland by a race of giants. They were then transported across the sea by the magic of Merlin during the beginning of the Dark Ages on the request of Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was king of the Britons at the time. They were needed as a monument to the treachery of Hengist, a Saxon leader who killed Prince Vortigern.

The heel stone is said to have been thrown by the Devil at a monk who was spying on him between the stones. The stone pinned the unfortunate clergyman to the ground by his heel.

Other folklore suggests that the stones are uncountable, a baker tried to count them by placing a loaf of bread on each stone. He came up with a number but then made the mistake of going through the whole process again, and could never get the sets of numbers to tally.

Ancient Astronomy
Stonehenge has stimulated a great deal of debate over the years, from experts and laymen alike. The first account that the stones may have been aligned to key dates was by William Stukeley, who noted that the axis of the earthen avenue aligns to where the sun rises on the longest day.

In the 1960s an astrophysicist called Gerald Hawkins studied Stonehenge alignments by computer, and concluded that the Trilithons framed key dates in the megalithic calendar. Although the alignments are not razor sharp in accuracy, they are accurate enough to have been used by megalithic man for ceremonial and astronomical purposes.

The cycle of the moon is over a 18.61 year cycle, and the observation of the sky must have been over a prolonged period of time to incorporate the correct alignments.

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Authorship
Image Copyright: 
Lee Waterhouse & Daniel Parkinson
Author: 
Daniel Parkinson

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K Corkery's picture
K Corkery
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Silbury Hill

Can anyone tell me how Silbury Hill connects to Avebury/Stone Henge.

I feel it is Mother natures womb - but I have been told it was placed there for ceremonial purposes.

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Ian Topham
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Silbury/Avebury

As far as I am aware no-one can really state what was planned by ancient man when they created these monuments.  They were also made in phases, so it was probably a developing scheme over many centuries.  If you check out the Wiltshire map it will show their relative position to each other.

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K Corkery
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Thanks - I visit a lot, one

Thanks - I visit a lot, one of the many wonders we will never quite understand.

If I am honest, that is what I love about it.

Kerry

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Ian Topham
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Record Visitor Figures

On the morning of 21st June 2009 a record number of 36,000 visitors amassed at Stonehenge to witness the sunrise at Summer Solstice. 

Seannachaidh (not verified)
I'm a Druid, but never felt

I'm a Druid, but never felt the need to go to Stonehenge for midsummer.  As far as I am concerned, going there to do honour to the ancestors was better on a quiet day, and I in no way acted as if the circles were a Druidic artefact.  Many insist they are though, and a large proportion of the crowds would have been Druids.  I am assuming it's because some Druid orders were founded in the Celtic Rennaissance period when people thought anything ancient was either Roman or Druid.  So there is a custom for doing so going back a couple of hundred years, I suppose.

I am not sure why Druids are so keen to have their rituals there; the coming of the Celts and Druids brought improvements which made circle building obsolete, as well as changes in burial/ancestor worship customs.  Even so, I read of many Druids that use circles at festival times, and even build new ones in their gardens.  I suppose it is a way to connect with the past, but it isn't a Druid past, as most insist, it's a more ancient past. 

Anyway.  I go to the woods for religious festivals.

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Re: Stonehenge

One from our Facebook Group:

"I just picked up yet another book on the unexplained and read a tale ... one i hadn't heard before.

In August 1971 a group of (book calls them hippies) people were camping in the center of the circle, at 2pm there was a violent storm and the rain lashed down on the camp .
Big bolts of lightening struck the ground some of them reportedly struck the stones, and the henge was said to have an Erie blue glow.

Two onlookers, a farmer and a policeman had to look away as the glow got to intense, They heard terrible screams and when they looked back the campers they had vanished ! All that remained was the smoking pegs of the tent and the campfire.

A more detailed account can be found here."

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Daniel Parkinson
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Re: Stonehenge

It's quite detailed and would suggest that the witnesses were there to see the people set up camp, build a campfire and smoke joints then eventually disappear at 2am. So whoever wrote the account was either there, made up some details from the witness accounts, or it is a tall tale - probably worthy of a bit more research though - just to find out where it came from.

scottishrowan
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Re: Stonehenge

I pleased to see the comment from a Druid.......it is something that has always puzzled me, the modern druids claiming Stonehenge as their own.....also the demanding of special rights and priveledges because it's their "ancestral" place of worship!!!!!

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Ian Topham
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Re: Stonehenge

According to figures quoted in the Western Daily Press on 28 April 2011, over the past five years Stonehenge has taken more than £30 million in tourism income, about £6 million per annum, whilst costing the taxpayers just £2.4 million.



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