There are many ancient monuments in the world that are shrouded in mystery. One such place is Stonehenge (UK). To this day, it is unknown exactly how and by whom the ancient megalith was built, what it was used for, but there are a large number of theories.
Stonehenge – what is it
It is a cromlech created by the Britons before the Iron Age and the advent of the wheel. Cromlech is a complex of large stones forming one or more concentric circles. Sometimes structures of this type are referred to megaliths (if there is another object in the center, such as a rock, a pile of cone-shaped stones, etc.).
Where is Stonehenge located
The historic monument is located in the UK, in Wiltshire (England), 130 km from London. The nearest cities are Amesbury (3.2 km) and Salisbury (13 km).
|Address: Amesbury, Salisbury SP4 7DE, UK
Phone: +44 370 333 1181Opening hours: daily, 9.30-19.00 hours
The appearance of the landmark
Stonehenge is an area about 100 m. in diameter, surrounded by a ditch and rampart (not preserved). In the center are concentrated several vertically mounted oblong stones. These blocks were brought to Salisbury Plain from the West Woods Quarry, 25 km from the monument. The smaller stones were probably transported to the Stonehenge site from east Wales (380 km from the cromlech).
A diagram of Stonehenge
The location of the stones was reconstructed by William Stukeley in the mid-18th century. He proposed a sketch of the general view and a diagram of the ancient monument from above and from different sides.
Further research made only minor adjustments to it.
Particularly interesting stones of Stonehenge
The monument consists of stone blocks and hewn boulders. Rocks of different composition are found here: large sarsen rocks (fossilized sandstone), and the inner circle is formed by fragments of volcanic rock with a blue or green-gray cast.
In the center of the structure is a sandstone monolith – the Altar Stone. It is not known if the multi-ton stone was on the ground or if it was set upright like the rest of Stonehenge.
The boulder first stood upright at the entrance and was surrounded by several other smaller stones. Later it fell, and moisture began to collect in depressions on its surface. The water, which reacted with the iron, turned a rusty red color and began to look like blood. This was the reason for such an ominous name.
This is a boulder of reddish sandstone. In 1979, a hole for the same stone was discovered nearby. Perhaps there were two boulders.
An ancient road, surrounded by a pair of earth ramparts and ditches, connects Stonehenge to the Avon River. The road turns sideways several times: the first section heads toward the summer solstice sunrise, and another leads to Bluehenge, an archaeological site that is an inaccurate copy of Stonehenge.
Aubrey Pits at Stonehenge
The Aubrey Holes are a ring of 56 holes with crushed chalk, named after the English writer and antiquities connoisseur John Aubrey (he discovered them in the mid-17th century). The pits had been backfilled with earth several millennia before Aubrey visited the cromlech.
Modern scholars suggest that the Aubrey Wells are places where other megaliths stood (destroyed or lost). According to another theory, they were used for moving logs, burial or temporary marking for astronomical observation purposes.
How Stonehenge was built
Megalith was erected by ancient people who left no written monuments. So we can only guess about the purpose of this structure and construction technology (transporting 50-ton boulders for hundreds of kilometers before the invention of the wheel and their lifting to a height of several meters – too time-consuming).
Who built Stonehenge, and exactly how it was built
Traces of DNA and animal remains found near the stone blocks made it clear that the area was used by ancient hunter-gatherers before the monument was erected. It is known for certain that the builders of Stonehenge came to the already developed area. The rest is shrouded in mystery.
At various times the builders of Stonehenge were thought to be the Vikings, Saxons, Romans and an extinct civilization of which we know nothing. There were rumors that it could have been erected by the semi-legendary King Arthur, the wizard Merlin, and even aliens. The latter version was put forward by the writer Erich von Daniken, one of the most famous proponents of the pseudoscientific theory, according to which alien beings have repeatedly visited Earth and made contact with humanity.
According to the most widespread hypothesis of scientific origin, the cromlech was built by the Druids, ancient Celtic priests. However, this version does not agree with the age of the megaliths, established by the researchers – 3-5 thousand BC. Information about the Druids appears in Greco-Roman works in the 4th-2nd centuries BC, but there is no mention of the construction of structures made of stone boulders.
Who built the ancient monument, is still unknown, but scientists have been able to figure out how the construction took place. First, a trench and pits were dug to transport the beams. Later the wooden beams were replaced by stone blocks.
Neolithic people used rolling logs and draught animals to move stones. Some of the blocks were floated down rivers. To lift the stone, most likely, used the simplest mechanisms: a lever, an inclined plane. Exactly this is unknown, because. the ancient secrets of construction are lost.
The purposes of building Stonehenge
The purpose of Stonehenge is still unknown. The origin of the name of the monument is also shrouded in mystery.
According to one version, hencg (modern henge) means “gallows. Other researchers argue that it is the word hinge, which is translated as “hanging.” The first part of the name (stone) is translated the same way in different sources – “stone”. It turns out that Stonehenge is either a “gallows stone” or a “hanging stone.
In modern English henge is translated as “ditch and beyond it a rampart. This archaeological term was created in modern times. Scientists speculate that Stonehenge was originally a henge (hence the name). Later, stones were placed in the same place, turning it into a cromlech.
Ditches and earth ramparts were built as part of the defense system. But the henge on Salisbury Plain is most likely not a defensive but a ritual structure – this is the most plausible version. From a defensive point of view, such a piling up of stones is impractical.
This is not the only assumption about the purpose of the megalith.
- The burial mound. Cremated remains of ancient people have been discovered in the pits, which are part of Stonehenge. The date of some burials is more than 5100 years ago. Scientists have found that some of the bones belonged to people who lived in another part of Great Britain, i.e. They were specially brought to the cromlech for burial.
- An ancient pagan temple. Neolithic people held rituals and sacrifices in this place. Stonehenge may also have been the burial place of the pagan queen Boadicea (died A.D. 61), a Celtic ruler who rebelled against Roman rule.
- Astronomical Observatory. With the help of stone blocks people of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age calculated when there would be an eclipse. At the time of the construction of the cromlech, they occurred when the moonrise in the fall coincided with one of the blocks of the outer side of the circle, and in winter when it was above the central stone. And it is possible that the megalith served as an observatory, from where ancient people watched the movement of celestial bodies. In support of this hypothesis is the fact that Stonehenge is oriented by different stages of the movement of the Sun and the Moon.
In the 19th century it was also suggested that the cromlech stood at the intersection of certain energy lines.
The English writer and historian Tom Brooks argued that Stonehenge was part of a navigation system that also included the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids, the giants of Easter Island, and the Bermuda Triangle.
In the late 19th century, Stonehenge was studied by the British archaeologist William Flinders Petrie. He established a stone numbering system that is still in use today. It was then that Simon Benton took the first measures to prevent the collapse of the ancient structure. He determined that several blocks could fall at once (his assumption was confirmed when a local collapse occurred on December 31, 1990).
The first major restoration of the monument was led by mining engineer William Gowland. He used this opportunity to continue his archaeological excavations and found out more than he had in the previous century of megalithic study. The extent of the restoration has been the subject of criticism because. Gowland allowed himself to move individual stones about 0.5 m from the original position.
Repeated works were carried out throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The blocks were lifted after collapses, concreted, grooves and lintels were cleaned, small cracks were sealed. The reconstruction was so extensive that to this day the scientific community is still arguing about how close to reality the current monument is.
Legends of Stonehenge
Celtic legends mention that Stonehenge is a sanctuary of Merlin, created magically. The stones, set vertically, are associated with the Knights of the Round Table, who were equals, the horizontal lintels symbolize friendship and loyalty, and the altar in the center is the holy Grail. This is not the only legend associated with the stone circle on Salisbury Plain.
Jeffrey of Monmouth
British priest and historian Geoffrey of Monmouth is the author of The History of the Kings of Britain and popular tales. His books were recognized during the Middle Ages, but are now considered historically unreliable.
Geoffrey of Monmouth popularized the legend that Stonehenge was built by Merlin using magic or moved by him from Ireland (either magically or by hand dismantling and transporting a group of 15,000 people – there are different versions).
Geoffrey of Monmouth argues that the cromlech was built to commemorate the mass murder of Britons by Saxons (but there were no prehistoric Saxons, the history of Britain began with the invasion of Germanic tribes: Angles, Saxons, Jutes).
Although the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth are not considered historically reliable, they contain a kernel of truth: the stones may indeed have been moved to Salisbury Plain from elsewhere. Already in our time, this has been suggested by scientists.
The Devil’s Work
According to legend, the Heel Stone (in English it is called the Heel Stone, or Friar’s Heel) was sunk into the ground by the devil himself. However, some scholars argue that the original name is related to the goddess Freyja. The Heel Stone can also be translated as “stone of healing” (from English heal). Perhaps ancient people thought the stone block was healing.
Attractions near Stonehenge
The ancient cromlech is part of the Stonehenge and Avebury complex, which is protected by UNESCO (the sites have been on the World Heritage List since 1986). Together they constitute a megalithic complex, more than 4 thousand years old.
There are several other monuments not far from this place. You can see Stonehenge, Bluehenge and neolithic buildings in a couple of hours, and then go to Bath, famous for its healing springs, the ancient village of Lacock, where the films of Harry Potter were shot, and Stratford – the birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare.
Bluhenge, or Bluestonehenge, is the ruins of an ancient cromlech discovered during a survey of the surrounding area east of Stonehenge. According to scholars, the structure was erected from 2469 to 2286 BC. From the ancient copy of Stonehenge, which is only 2 km from the cromlech, there are fragments of a ditch and several stone compositions.
Perhaps Bluehenge was used to enlarge Stonehenge (it was a transit point, a temporary location for building material). According to another version, it had a ceremonial meaning. It was a stop along the way from the large Neolithic settlement of Darrington Walls to Stonehenge. Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson suggests that Darrington Wells may have been the “place of the living” while Stonehenge was the “place of the dead.”
The Avebury archaeological complex consists of several tombs and sanctuaries from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. This object surpasses the famous Stonehenge, both in size (inside a stone ring with a diameter of 350 m is a small village) and age (Avebury more than 5 thousand years).
Not far from Avebury runs the ancient Ridgeway Road, connecting Overton Hill to the west and Ivingo Beacon to the east.
Along it are several monuments of the Neolithic, Iron and Bronze Ages, including:
- The Uffington White Horse is an image hollowed out in a hill and filled with chalk rock;
- Grim’s Ditch, which served to delimit the territory;
- Liddington Castle, Barbery Castle, Affington Castle.
Avebury’s Cromlech is visited by fewer tourists than Stonehenge, but it is no less interesting monument. Not far from this site is the largest burial ground in Europe, the 40-meter Silbury Hill.
In the village itself, you can check out Avebury Manor Castle, surrounded by a large landscaped garden, and visit the Alexander Keller Museum, which contains objects found in Avebury during excavations.
When is the best time to visit the attraction
You can view the ancient structure at any time of the year. In summer tourists are allowed to visit Stonehenge from 9 to 19 hours, in winter – from 9:30 to 17. The Cromlech is closed to visitors on Catholic Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (December 24 and 25).
You can’t go closer than 20-30 meters to the rocks (and you certainly can’t touch them). Tourists can walk only on special asphalt paths around the stone circle.
Although you can visit Stonehenge at any time of year, it is most crowded on the summer solstice. Thousands of people gather at the historic monument to see the sun rise just above the entrance to the henge, its rays shining into the center of the circle.
Interesting facts about Stonehenge
Stonehenge is called the eighth wonder of the world. Until now, scientists know little about the origin, purpose and history of this monument of antiquity.
Some secrets and interesting facts about the most famous megalithic complex in Europe:
- The construction of the cromlech lasted about 1,500 years. The henge dates back to 3000 BC. The stones began to be placed around 2500 BC and the monument took its final form in 1500 BC.
- The stone circle was originally a closed circle. According to researchers, the individual stone blocks gradually went underground. Charles Darwin believed that earthworms were to blame.
- The builders of Stonehenge secured the stones with a tongue-and-groove system, not just stacked on top of each other. It’s an amazing piece of engineering for a time before the invention of the wheel.
- The first mention of Stonehenge dates back to the 12th century. Historian Henry Huntington, like modern scholars, was perplexed as to how the monument was created and what purpose it was used for.
- By 1900. Engineers, archaeologists, and simply interested people have put forward 947 theories of the megalith’s purpose (counted by the Austrian cultural scientist Walter Müss).
- Acoustics expert Paul Dever of the Royal College of Art in London has suggested that ancient people may have used the stone circle to create melodies. In support of this theory is the fact that on the boulders found physical effects. Some of them produce a sound ranging from the ringing of a bell to the sound of a gong.
- The monument now belongs to the British Crown, but back in 1915 its owner was the millionaire Cecil Chubb. He purchased the site at an auction as a gift to his wife, and three years later turned it over to the state on the obligatory condition that the stone structure not be rebuilt and that pilgrims be allowed there without hindrance. In return, Cecil Chubb received a knighthood.
- In the 20th century there was a popular version that the cromlech was just a hoax. As evidence, photos were published that depicted the installation of stone blocks by modern technology. As it turned out later, these photos were taken during the restoration, when some of the stones were concreted to avoid destruction.
- Until 1977, visitors were allowed to go inside the circle, climb the blocks and chisel away pieces as a keepsake (they were even given chisels for this).
- Modern English Druids (neo-pagans) regularly visit Stonehenge, believing it to be a place of power.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Stonehenge is with an organized tour group. Excursions leave from major cities.
If you want to visit the cromlech on your own, take the commuter express from Waterloo Station in London. Its final stop is Salisbury, where you can visit the beautiful cathedral. Next, take a cab, rent a car or take the special bus “Stonehenge Tour Bus” (the official shuttle to Stonehenge).
The Stonehenge Tour Bus runs from Salisbury Station to Amesbury. You can walk from Amesbury (3.2 km) on a dirt road on foot, rent a car or other transportation, such as a bicycle. There will be a large parking lot and the Stonehenge ticket booth on the right side of the road.
Where to buy a ticket and how much it costs
To visit the ancient cromlech ticket must be booked in advance. The cost depends on the season and the day of the week you plan to visit.
The approximate price for adults in low season is £19.5, for children (ages 5-17) £11.7. There is a discount for students and seniors. They can buy a ticket for £17.6 if they show a supporting document.
Families consisting of 2 adults and up to 3 children are offered a special rate. A family ticket can be purchased for £50.7. For families with 1 adult and up to 3 children, it costs £31.2.
When you buy a ticket, you can make a voluntary donation. The amount determined by the tourist himself will be his personal contribution to the preservation of historical heritage or will go to support educational projects.
You can buy a self-guided ticket to visit Stonehenge on the website of the State Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (English Heritage).
If you are going to see the ancient monuments of Salisbury Plain with a guide in the group, you can not worry about buying tickets. All organizational issues will take care of the travel company.