Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England about 2 miles west of Amesbury and 8 miles north of Salisbury. It is believed to be the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks. The structure we know as Stonehenge was built between roughly 3000BC and 2000BC. What you can see is only a small part of what used to be a very large and complex sacred landscape mostly made up of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments including several hundred burial grounds.
The biggest of Stonehenge’s stones, known as sarcens, are up to 30 feet tall and weigh 25 tons on average. It is widely believed they were brought from Marlborough Downs about 30 miles away. The smaller stones, referred to as ‘bluestones’ weigh up to 4 tons and originate from several sites in western Wales almost 140 miles away. One may ask how these stones were transported to their current location.
The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitutes the earliest phase of the monument has been dated to about 3100BC. Archaeological evidence in the 21st century indicates that Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings and human bones have been found in the ditch and bank dating back to about this time.
From what scientists can tell from the growing evidence available through new technology, Salisbury Plain was considered to be a sacred site long before Stonehenge itself was constructed. As early as 10500 years ago, three large pine posts, which were totem poles of sorts, were erected at the site. Hunting played an important role in the area. Researchers have recently uncovered 350 animal bones and 12500 flint tools just a mile away from Stonehenge dating from 7500BC to 4700BC, suggesting that abundant game may have led the people to consider the area sacred.
Why was Stonehenge built? It was built by a culture that apparently left no written records leaving itself open to countless theories about its origins. One aspect is now becoming clear; recent discoveries seem to confirm that the Stonehenge landscape was a sacred site and one undergoing constant change. It appears to be part of a much more complex landscape with processional and ritual activities going on around it. People may have travelled considerable distances to get there, which confirms its importance as a sacred location. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the work of thousands to move stones long distances, as well as shaping and erecting them. Some even say that to do such a task would involve supernatural or anachronistic methods.
Two researchers, Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill, suggest that Stonehenge was a place of healing, a kind of Lourdes. They argue that this accounts for the high number of burials and existence of human remains. On the other hand, Professor Michael Pearson says it was part of a ritual site and was joined to Durrington Walls Henge by avenues and the River Avon. The area around Dunnington was a place for the living whilst Stonehenge was a domain of the dead. A journey along the Avon to reach Stonehenge was part of a ritual passage from life to death, to celebrate past ancestors and the recently deceased. He goes on to say that it may also have been a symbol of ‘peace and unity’ indicated in part by the fact that at the time of its construction, Britain’s Neolithic people were experiencing a period of cultural unification.
Work continues at the Stonehenge site and will do so for years to come as it is providing answers to questions that have been asked for many years and, there is no doubt that new technology will continue to reveal more mysteries of what is arguably one of the most famous and visited megalithic sites in the world.