Stonehenge in Southern England
Stonehenge—a UNESCO World Heritage Site managed by English Heritage—on the Salisbury Plane, 8 miles north of Salisbury in the English county of Wiltshire is the best known of the more than nine hundred stone rings which still exist in the British Isles.
The prehistoric megalithic monument consists of a henge, 56 pits known as Aubrey Holes positioned in such a way as to have possible use as an astronomical calendar, and a number of presumably fallen stones, standing stones and stone structures. Stonehenge is surrounded by more than 400 burial mounds. View a full screen 360° panorama I shot on the summer solstice for the World Wide Panorama community event.
Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed over a period of 3,000 years beginning over 50 centuries ago around 3,100 BC. While no one knows for certain who built Stonehenge, why they built it or even how the heavy stones were transported such long distances there are many theories which are being constantly updated. A BBC report in 2015 revealed new information “Using 21st-century techniques… revealed a clutch of previously unsuspected sites and monuments…” along with speculation as to how these structures were used. Stonehenge secrets revealed by underground map – BBC News
One of the most popular theories—that Stonehenge was constructed by Druids—has been largely discredited because the Celtic religion that Druids came from probably didn’t exist until 1 – 2,000 years after Stonehenge was complete. There is evidence of a Druiditic connection with Stonehenge though going back to the early 1900’s when large gatherings were held at the site. Modern-day Druids make pilgrimages to Stonehenge to celebrate changing seasons, the equinox and the solstice.
Begun in the Neolithic period as a simple bank and ditch—known as a henge—Stonehenge evolved into a sophisticated stone circle with mortise and tendon joined/post and lintel construction and arranged on the axis of the midsummer sunrise during the Bronze Age.
Two distinct types of rock are used in Stonehenge. 3 – 4 ton Bluestones were somehow transported 240 miles (385km) from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales. Larger 15 – 25 ton sandstone blocks (sarsen stones) came from the relatively close (19 miles – 30km) Wiltshire Downs.
In addition to the henge, bluestones and linteled sarsen stones an earthwork monument known as The Avenue extends from the henge to the River Avon. Currently a modern road crosses The Avenue at the edge of the henge just past a stone known as the ‘Heel Stone’ but there are restoration plans.
Approximately half the original monument remains today. Stones have fallen, been used as local building materials and have been chipped away for souvenirs.
Whether Stonehenge was built for spiritual purposes, as an ancient calendar, or even as supports for a large building will probably remain an enduring mystery to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year although continuing research frequently reveals additional clues. And modern technology can reveal hidden clues.
Research reported in May 2014 found that Amesbury—including Stonehenge—in Wiltshire has been confirmed as the oldest UK settlement and may explain why the monument was built there. Remains of big game animals, feasting fires, the River Avon through the area, all provide evidence of people staying put, clearing land and building monuments.
Another recent theory—advanced by Dr. Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University, West Yorks—is that Stonehenge has unique acoustics that were used to amplify a repetitive trance rythm. Dr. Till and a colleague, Dr. Bruno Fazenda, were able to develop and test their theory at a full size replica at the Maryhill Museum in the U.S.
One easy way to visit Stonehenge yourself would be to do what I did and take a day trip/coach tour from London that includes Stonehenge and the city of Bath—where you visit Roman Baths—and either nearby Salisbury and the Salisbury Cathedral or Windsor Castle.
A nearby henge and stone circle at Avebury is in many ways even more impressive than Stonehenge, though not as well preserved.