World History Chronology

Evolution of Hominids

Foraging Societies

Settled Agriculture

Primary Urbanization

Classical Empires

Unification of Eurasia

Unification of the Hemispheres

Formation of World Culture

2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

Stonehenge

2000 BC

Stonehenge, is one of the few surviving monuments that still keeps its true meaning and purpose hidden from modern science. Stonehenge is a large structure of rock circles and platforms with each rock ranging in size from a few feet to one hundred feet. Despite the large number of both plausible and far fetched theories as to why it was built, the mystery of Stonehenge still remains. What grand purpose were the builders trying to achieve by arranging the stones in such meticulous and mathematically accurate order? In the age before significant labor tools were used, who felt the need to take on such a monumental task? And perhaps the most intriguing question of all; ultimately, what gave these people the drive to see the project to completion over a period of over 1500 years, without any deviation from the original plans? Though much remains unsolved, the information we do know may allow us to formulate our own educated theories.

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Stonehenge has been described as "A circular arrangement of prehistoric megaliths on Salisbury Plain England, probably set up in the Neolithic period." [1] It literally means "hanging stone." The combination of the towering granite blocks, the huge ditches surrounding it, and the shear size and magnitude of the site are awe inspiring. The stones vary in size, shape, and age due to the different types of rock involved, and the irregular weathering patterns. Most of the stones have a roughhewn and weathered look. They vary in size and weight ranging from over 100 feet and 50 tons, to the size of a human. The surrounding area of Stonehenge is very open and seemingly void of woods, possibly suggesting that the architecture called for a place with a completely unobstructed view of the heavens. The outermost portion of the structure, the ditch is 330 feet long. Today, the conglomeration of weathered  rocks still look very similar to the way they looked thousands of years ago. Located eight miles north of Salisbury, England, we still do not know the specific reasons for this particular location.[2]

Once all the plans were drawn out, the construction of Stonehenge began right around the time that the bronze age was overtaking the stone age. According to excavation results, the megalith was built over a series of periods between 3100 BC - 1550 BC, and the fact that the original intent was successfully passed on to each of four different groups is yet another astounding aspect of the megalith.[3] The earliest known phase of building took place from groundbreaking in 3100 BC and lasted until 2300 BC. [4] At this stage, the slaughter stone and the heel stone were put in place. The slaughter stone is a 21 foot long piece of granite originally placed upright. However, due to over 5000 years of weathering the stone is now all but completely underground with only the top portion exposed.[5] The heal stone, named by John Aubrey for the supposed heal shape indent on it, is located outside the main circle. This 35 ton stone is the only concrete example we have that astronomy was actually used during this era.[6] On midsummer day (June 24 then, now June 21), a person in the center of the circle can view the sunrise directly above the heel stone. Legend has it that the heal shaped indentation was caused when the devil picked up the stone and threw it at a friar. Despite the charming tale, no such indentation has ever been found on the stone.[7]

The second phase took place between 2100 BC - 2000 BC. During this period the Beaker culture, named after their renowned pottery, arrived to oversee production. They were responsible for the importation of blue stone, and also the construction of an approach road, now called the avenue. [8] The Beakers sought the blue stone of the Preseli mountains to continue the construction, some 219 miles away in southwestern Wales. [9] With these stones, they set up the double concentric circle of Menhirs within the existing ring built earlier. The avenue built serves as an entrance to the bank and the ditch mentioned in the first segment. The avenue and the double circle of blocks make up what is called the "solstice sunrise". [10] The structure was built entirely around the summer solstice and is yet another example of the incredible astronomical knowledge these people had. Unfortunately, the double circle was never fully completed and was dismantled during the following period. [11]

The third phase took from 2000 BC - 1550 BC to complete.  In this phase a circle of sarsen stones, weighing up to 50 tons each and towering over 100 feet, were displayed in the center of the site. These stones were brought to Stonehenge from Marlborough Downs, some 20 miles away, once again exhibiting incredible (and some may argue supernatural) will power and tenacity. After some rearrangement and restructuring of the stones, Stonehenge became unique in that no other megalithic structure in Europe displayed such architectural refinement and precision. [12]

The fourth and final period took place four hundred years later in 1100 BC when the avenue was extended to the River Avon, a staggering 1.25 mile stretch. [13]

A popular question surrounding the topic is: "Who was responsible for overseeing the design and building process, and was it constructed with some supernatural intention?" Everything from the likely groups of citizens of that era, to the far fetched proposal of alien intervention, has been suggested over the years as an answer to this. Many of these theories have come from scientists, researchers and common people. Though there is no certain answer, there are a few theories that suggest some various groups of people. It is believed to be built by druids (a caste of Celtic Priests), Greeks, and the Phoenicians. [14] Only these peoples would have had such an interest in astronomy and science as well as the mathematical knowledge and education required for the construction. [15] As for the aliens, though no credible source would support such a notion, one must admit that due to the mystical nature of Stonehenge and all the means involved in it's construction, it's easy to understand why the idea has surfaced.

There are also a large variety of beliefs as to the purpose of Stonehenge. We do know a few specifics that help us in deciding the ultimate goals of the monolith, whether spiritual or otherwise. We know that it predicted the seasons and other astronomical events with seemingly impeccable accuracy. It may have served as a reliable predictor of when an eclipse of the sun or moon was coming by observation of the stones in relation to the sun/moon. It has been proven that it was a site of extensive religious ceremonies and rituals.[16] It is also believed that it may have been used as a clock or astronomical observatory.[17] One of the most questionable theories, due to lack of enough credible evidence, is that it was built as a temple for sky worship. The belief that it was used as a druid temple has recently been refuted and no longer holds any weight with science. This is due to the fact that druids did not appear in Britain until a few hundred years before the Christian era.

Stonehenge obviously has a value as a calendar, a seasonal predictor, an astronomical observatory, or as a religious site, this is obvious. However, there are far too many questions that still remain unanswered: If all they wanted was to predict seasons, why not develop a calendar? If a religious ceremony was their goal, why not make a temple, or a church? And if astronomy was their sole motive, why pick such a low lying, inopportune place such as Salisbury Plain?  It just doesn't make logical sense for these people of obvious superior intelligence to devote 1500 years of planning and effort, countless resources, incredible organization, and unfathomable excruciating labor, just to build a calendar. It does, however, give us a great window into the minds of the people who built it, and the society from which they originated. Greater understanding of the culture may also help us to understand why they built it. These were people who were obviously advanced in mathematics and astronomy, as well as managing and motivating a large work force. They knew all about commitment and hard work, and even 1500 years and countless tons of rock couldn't subside their efforts. They were driven towards a common goal, and overcame all odds in order to build one of the greatest wonders the world would ever know.


Notes:

[1] "Stonehenge". New World Dictionary; Cleveland & New York, 1988 p.1321

[2] Stonehenge. 1998. http://home.earthlink.net/~shadowfax/sfstone.htm

[3] Honour, p.18

[4] Stonehenge. 1998. http://home.earthlink.net/-shadow/sfstone.htm

[5] Slaughter Stone. 1998. http://pages.prodigy.com/Stonehenge/info.html

[6] ibid.

[7] Stonehenge. 1998. Wysiwyg://8/http://pages.prodigy.com/Stonehenge/stone.html

[8] Sugden, p.4-6

[9] Honour, p.18

[10] Sugden, p.4-6

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] Stover.

[15] Stonehenge. 1998. http://activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/Stonehenge/index.html

[16] Stover.

[17] ibid.


Sources:

"Stonehenge", New World Dictionary; Cleveland & New York, 1988 p.1321

Sugden, Keith. The Prehistoric Temples of Stonehenge & Avebury. Great Britain: Pitkin Guides LTD, 1997 p.4-6

Stover, Leon E., Kraig, Bruce. Stonehenge the indo-European heritage. Chicago:
Nelson Hall, 1979 p.9-10
Stonehenge. 1998. http://witcombe.bcpw.sbc.edu/EMStonehenge.html
 
Slaughter Stone. 1998. http://pages.prodigy.com/Stonehenge/info.html
 
Stonehenge. 1998 http://home.earthlink.net/~shadowfax/sfstone.html
 
Honour, Hugh, Fleming, John. The Visual Arts: A History. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1995
 
Stonehenge. 1998. Wysiwyg://8/http://pages.prodigy.com/Stonehenge/stone.html
 
Stonehenge. 1998 http://activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/Stonehenge/index.html


Edited by: Elliot John Wachter
Researched by: Sarah E. Costa
Written by: Karl W. Erickson
20 September 1998

Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller.All rights reserved.

 

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