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Stonehenge - some notes on the development and archaeology


“So the physical existence of humans, the way they made tools and their subsistence activities, is within the realms of explanation... It’s the mental life of humans, their belief systems and the way they see the world that provide the difficulty.” (Jeffares, 2002: p38)


“The Druid's groves are gone - so much the better. Stonehenge is not, but what the devil is it?” (Lord Byron: Don Juan)

The Saxons called the group of stones 'Stonehenge' or the 'Hanging Stones', while medieval writers refer to it as the 'Giant's Dance'. Inigo Jones the renowned 17th-century architect and the first to make a serious study of it, considered Stonehenge to be a Roman temple. Then William Stukeley an 18th-century antiquary and freemason convinced many that Stonehenge was once a ‘Temple of the British Druids’. Only in the 20th century have archaeologists established the true age of the monument and arrived at a more realistic conclusion as to its purpose.

Stonehenge was begun in the early Neolithic (c. 3100 BC) and continued to be developed in phases until the middle bronze age (c. 1100 BC) – (dates by recalibrated radiocarbon). Pre-dating the first phase of activity at the site are three pits containing traces of pine wood dated to the 8th or 9th millennium BC. From the 4th millennium human activity produced a dozen major monuments in place before Stonehenge was begun. Ten long barrows, the mortuary enclosure on Normanton Down and a causewayed camp at Robin Hood’s Ball. The Cursus and the Lesser Cursus probably belong to the same date as Stonehenge I.




“The first Stonehenge, then, was constructed among other, broadly contemporary monuments, in a landscape already partly grassland. It was part of a complex of ceremonial structures, already several hundred years old when its site was chosen, with a causewayed camp as its central territorial focus.” (Chippindale, 1994: p265)

Stonehenge I (c. 3100 BC) or Old Stonehenge consisted of the ditch dug with deer-antler picks and incorporating a bank about 6 feet high. Within this the 56 Aubrey holes were dug and then almost immediately filled in. Some of these have been excavated and shown to contain cremations. Two stones were set up opposite the north-east entrance-way; one survives as the Heel Stone today. It is also thought that two sarsons were in place in the entrance-way. There are also many small post-holes in the entrance which belong to this period, which point to a timber gate. The people who built this phase of the monument have been named the Windmill Hill people after the nearby Windmill Hill Causewayed enclosure. This group was thought to be semi-nomadic hunter gatherers with an agricultural economy.



Stonehenge II (c. 2150 BC) began with a shift of the entrance around towards the east. This orientation is on the rising sun at midsummer solstice. The Avenue was built, a pair of parallel banks and ditches.

Also bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in southwestern Wales were brought to set up the double concentric circle of Stones within the earlier ring. These large stones are thought to have been carried by raft around the coast of Wales to Bristol, then transported up local rivers and hauled overland until finally being dragged on rollers up the avenue to Stonehenge, there they were erected forming the two circles. The double circle was never completed and was dismantled during the following period in around 2000 BC. The Beaker people are thought to be responsible for this phase of the monument. This society was centred around a chieftain system. The dead were buried in tumuli with goods such as daggers and axes, perhaps pointing to them being warlike in nature. They were certainly capable of sophisticated mathematical concepts and had knowledge of astronomy.



Stonehenge III (c.2100 BC) A circle of 30 sarsen-stone (weighing up to 50 tons each) uprights 30.5 m (100 ft) in diameter and capped by a continuous ring of sarsen lintels was erected in the center of the site. This circle surrounds a horseshoe-shaped setting of five sarsen trilithons (formations in which two uprights support a lintel). After transporting the sarsen stones from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles, the stones were shaped and jointed together with stone hammers. Other changes involved adding, moving, and rearranging bluestones that had been used during the second period. No other megalithic structure in northwestern Europe displays the precision and architectural refinement that Stonehenge does. Some of the bluestones were later re-erected in the center in an oval structure that contained at least two miniature trilithons, and holes were dug for the rest to be set in two concentric circles (the Y and Z holes) outside the sarsen circle. This plan was abandoned unfinished, however, and the bluestones were finally rearranged (c.1550 BC) in the circle and horseshoe whose remains survive today. At the same time, the stone now known as the Altar Stone, a large block of green sandstone from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, was set up in front of one of the trilithons. This phase of the monument was overseen by the Wessex Peoples who were wealthy, and well-organised traders, using the ancient ridgeways to travel.



Stonehenge IV (c.1100 BC) The Avenue was extended to the River Avon, 1.25 miles from Stonehenge.

The elaborate planning and workmanship as well as the many thousands of man-hours that went into its construction, demonstrates how important Stonehenge was to the peoples of its time. The fact that the architects needed the blue and green stones from Wales and the trouble they went to too get them, suggests that the stones themselves had special significance. It is evident then that Stonehenge was not designed to be a simple meeting place for the local people. The cremation burials discovered in the Aubrey Holes, show that funerary rites were once performed at Stonehenge, so could it be that during the mid-summer solstice as the sun rose between the Heel Stone and another stone no longer present, that the earliest Stonehenge was used to expose ancestral remains to the life-giving sun at this significant time of year, and that the Aubrey holes symbolized places of entry into the Underworld?

The 35-ton heel stone’s placement was one of the most sophisticated accomplishments of that age and provides the best evidence that early people used astronomy. On Midsummer Day (June 24 then, now June 21) a person standing in the centre of the circle can see the sun rise directly above the heel stone. Of course the reverse is also true. If you stand behind the heel stone and look towards the monument the shadow of the heel stone falls where the altar stone once stood, suggestive of a possible association with fertility rites.

In more recent times American astronomer Gerald Hawkins used a computer to decode many of the stone alignments and from this concluded that Stonehenge was a sophisticated means of observing the heavens. But it is doubtful if these early observations were precise or that the ancients were engaged in the same quest of discovery as scientists are today. Their most likely concerns would have been to establish a basic calendar and to chart the movements of the heavenly bodies for religious purposes.

Reference List

Brass, M. Can we achieve an adequate archaeology of religion? If so, what can we learn from it? 2004

Chippindale, C. Stonehenge Complete. Thames and Hudson. 1994

Pitts, M. Hengeworld, Century London, 2000




Copyright: Tana 7/2011




30 Comments

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Oakbuchanan
Jul 11 2011 11:08 AM
:thumbsup:
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CelticGypsy
Jul 11 2011 05:37 PM
:applause: :applause: Excellant Post Tana, I'll will come back to this time and time again !:applause: :applause:

Regards,
Gypsy
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Awesome post, Tana. Oddly enough, I was watching a PBS show about Stonehenge just a couple of weeks ago. The construction and precision of the whole site is unbelievable. When I first moved to England ages ago, my husband and I went there. I was awestruck. You can talk about and see videos and pictures of it, but it literally just takes your breath away when you are standing right in front of it. It is kind of embarrassing, because we think our current civilization is so advanced. I think it speaks for the wisdom and glory of the past, that people now, even with all their engineering and computers still are baffled by the place. Thanks for the wonderful article. :)
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Good article Tana :)

Awesome post, Tana. Oddly enough, I was watching a PBS show about Stonehenge just a couple of weeks ago. The construction and precision of the whole site is unbelievable. When I first moved to England ages ago, my husband and I went there. I was awestruck. You can talk about and see videos and pictures of it, but it literally just takes your breath away when you are standing right in front of it. It is kind of embarrassing, because we think our current civilization is so advanced. I think it speaks for the wisdom and glory of the past, that people now, even with all their engineering and computers still are baffled by the place. Thanks for the wonderful article. :)



Thank you Blyss. What I always find awesome is how it took 2000 years plus of development through all its building phases. That is very long term!

Here are a couple of pictures I took when I had a private access pass right into the stones.

Attached Files

Second Pic.

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Great pics Tana.
Awesome post. I really enjoyed reading that.
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Wonderful post and fantastic pictures Tana. Thanks for sharing..
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Never been to stone henge, one day I will. I know what Blyss means about taking your breath away as that's how I felt at Scara Brea considering how old and how fresh it is. It's like stepping back in time. I love places like this, thanks for sharing Tana.
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Celtic Wonderer
Jul 29 2011 03:55 PM
Great Post. Enjoyed Reading it :applause:
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Tana,
I am glad that you posted this, there is still a lot of misconceptions regarding Stonehenge, those that are under this state should be able to read your overview.
I was fortunate enough to have visited the 'henge a few times before access was denied most people. I can still feel the place to this day.
FFFF
Elf
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Ive read this a number of times and I really enjoy reading it. Wonderful post
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Very informative, Tana! Loved the pictures - like, really love them!
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copperhedge
Nov 14 2011 02:36 PM
Just thought i'd add that we now also know that Stonehenge was also aligned, perhaps even more significantly and dramatically to the Winter Solstice. Before collapse of one of the inner trilathons, the Winter solstice would have been exactly framed, revealing a blood red pathway from the winter sunset onto the altar stone at that time. Theories abound as to its usage.
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This is all very interesting. Have never studied stonehenge <except for some bits and pieces I have read here and there> or its history & am glad I stumbled upon it this morning :)


Good reading!!


Anara
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Here's an interesting programme...
Link
Sort of turns the country on its head and gives an insight on what Stonehenge was built for and by who.

Have to say I was up there last October for a fortnight (pretty sure it was Oct) and I was told Neil Oliver had been there in June/July time.
Unfortunately all excavations had stopped by the time we went due to weather. Must have driven by the place a hundred times.

Anyway, hope you find it as interesting as we did to watch. :)

Few more links..

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3
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One of these days... I'll get thee to merry England, and see Stonehenge for myself. That's definitely on the bucket list.
Great post, Tana.

In more recent times American astronomer Gerald Hawkins used a computer to decode many of the stone alignments and from this concluded that Stonehenge was a sophisticated means of observing the heavens. But it is doubtful if these early observations were precise or that the ancients were engaged in the same quest of discovery as scientists are today. Their most likely concerns would have been to establish a basic calendar and to chart the movements of the heavenly bodies for religious purposes.


I wondered about this.. might it have just have been for agricultural purposes? I suppose the better you can track the heavens, the more of an idea you know exactly what time of year it is, since they didn't have clocks and paper calendars to follow back then; and since there are usually some wild temperature fluctuations in the transitional seasons, that could lead to planning mistakes. I'm assuming it might have been difficult (otherwise) to know just when to start/stop planting, or reaping, and that knowledge was critical to survival.
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Deguwitchrose
Nov 15 2012 11:44 AM
Grrr, I was at Stonehenge only yesterday and I wish I had read this post before I went as the historical insight would have made a lovely day even more enjoyable. I have to say that the info they provide you with in the visitor's centre is a lot less comprehensive and interesting than this article. So my vote is Tana for Stonehenge curate! Who's with me???
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That would be my dream job!!
She has my vote .. :thumbsup:


Now, can I sneak into the inner circle? I hear they don't let anyone in there anymore.. or at least, not the general public.
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Stonehenge is an adaptation of many cultural societies putting their stamp onto this Cultural, Religious and Political Site. It is the sum total of many cultures adapting it for their own use. The original movement of the Stones such as the Bluestones, Trilithons and the Sarsens was a political One from a nameless person - now lost to us. Of getting hundreds, if not thousands of people to move these stones in the way that they did - for a political statement of power. - And yet, there is a sentience within the structure, that is above and beyond the political extremism that pervades the site - and shows a simple faith and knowledge - also now lost to us of a religious practice that was practised in Brittany through to Orkney and onwards to Sweden and across the Urals of Russia. foxman.

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Footnote: Last year I went to Malta, for a holiday with the whole family. I had been there before however, when Cooks was the major Holiday Rep. Then as now, 'Hagyar Qim' (pronounced: Har-eim), though not in its original place was erected with the precision of its original builders. Every stone has been moved onto a hill some ten miles distant under a huge tent to protect the stones from the acid rain that falls on these stones and makes them look like half-chewed Maltesers - well at least I got the name right! The stones were moved so that building work could begun on a new shopping Centre - well so much for progress! This site is said to pre-date Stonehenge and has a unique oratory where a priest would speak down a stone speaking tube into a room that increased the volume and timbre of the sound being projected - for what? Religious, Political or some other reason best known to its Temple Builders. It was a beautiful site - but not standing in the midst of its original position somewhat defeats the object of its creators. foxman

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