The Mysteries Of Stonehenge
What was Stonehenge used for and how and why was it built?
We described what you will actually see at Stonehenge on our What s Stonehenge? page. On this page we look at arguably the more interesting aspect of Stonehenge, what was it used for and why was it built.
The Neolithic age in which Stonehenge was built is so long ago that firm, factual information is sparse. As a result there is no shortage of conflicting dates and views about Stonehenge.
Nearly every year respected archaeologists will put forward papers suggesting dates need to be adjusted and our assumptions about Stonehenge changed. Just pick up a few books on Stonehenge in the gift shop and even fundamental dates will differ markedly from one book to another.
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When you visit Stonehenge the 'official line' taken by English Heritage, owner of Stonehenge follows closely the theories put forward by archaeologists. This is fine and logical but get a bit compromised when archaeologists themselves always seem to be revising their thoughts on Stonehenge.
There are fundamentally three strands of theories about Stonehenge of how and why it was built.
The Archaeologists viewpoint is based on observation, digs in and around Stonehenge, carbon dating and conclusions at other Neolithic sites all around the British Isles.
The Archaeoastronomers viewpoint stems from the fact that nearly all the stones at Stonehenge are precisely sited and correlate to significant events of the planets orbit like solstices. A suggestion that Stonehenge is perhaps a place where ancient astronomy took place, perhaps part driven by the need to predict agricultural seasons.
The New Age viewpoint is a loose term we have used to summarise a spiritual input. Religion for want of a better term in Neolithic times had similarities to pagan religions nowadays. The concept of Mother Earth and Father the Sun overlap to some extent with the Archaeoastronomers viewpoint, the concept of 'energies' and the siting of Stonehenge at the intersection of many Ley Lines also follow a back to nature theme.
Today the Druid religion uses Stonehenge as a key religious monument, though druidism itself wasn't around at the time of the Neolithic's.
One of the major mysteries of Stonehenge was how it was built.
The first stones, the bluestones were sourced from the only place in the UK where such stone exists. In Wales, nearly 200 hundred miles away.
The common theory is that these stones were transported largely by water to within a couple of miles of Stonehenge. However no body has even today successfully re-enacted this feat with the technologies available at the time. Nor found any evidence along the way to support this. Other theories include the stones being moved to Stonehenge by glaciers.
The larger stones the Sarsen Stones came from only about 20 miles away, but again with no modern machinery and before the wheel how did they transport these stones through the undulating countryside. The common theory is that they were rolled along on top of tree trunks.
Stand next to one of the big Sarsen Stones and you begin to understand what a task this would be even today. What is clear is that large amounts of manpower would have been required and organised and leaders over many generations must have been able to inspire the masses into the concepts and beliefs that drove them to attempt such a monument.
Stonehenge itself is put together like woodwork. Joints and sockets have been carved into the stone so each stone fits into each other precisely. Stonehenge is unique in that it has horizontal stones to form arches. These horizontal stones have been engineered so they were flat, on a sloping site. Stonehenge is also unique in that the stones have been shaped into flat sided blocks.
|Socket In Horizontal 'Arch' Stone
Into Which Upright Stone Fitted
Without metal, it would have been very labour intensive to shape these vast stones using stone on stone. A whole army of people would have been required on site to perform the shaping. We know this as the land around Stonehenge is full of the chipping's.
Erecting the stones also would have been problematic without modern aids. Ditches would have been dug into which the stones would be sited. The most common theory is that large earthen ramps would have been erected and the stones toppled over the top into their prepared holes and somehow pulled vertical, perhaps with primitive A frames for leverage.
What Was Stonehenge Used For?
There is no shortage of theories, but nobody knows for sure what Stonehenge was used for. For sure it has something to do with death, just look around the Stonehenge landscape and see the burial mounds. The evidence is that this is a sacred area, people lived away from the site.
The existence of a ceremonial route up to Stonehenge suggests an organised procession where some kind of ritual took place within the inner sanctum of Stonehenge by the Alter Stone. The fact that Stonehenge had banks 6 foot high surrounding it precluding viewing into it raises the spectre that perhaps only the highest echelon were part of the ceremony.
The current archaeologists viewpoint is that Stonehenge was used for something similar to a current day memorial service. They say that a celebration took place in Durrington Walls a couple of miles from Stonehenge where another henge, Woodhenge is located.
They theorise that a pre service took place at Woodhenge and then the people proceeded for a final service at Stonehenge.
Its also clear that astronomy had something to do with Stonehenge, its just too much of a coincidence the siting of the stones. The pure theory that Stonehenge was all to do with astronomy, the private fiefdom of a 'priest' like figure or group that studied astronomy to predict the seasons for agriculture is largely discredited. Similar peoples across the water in what is now Europe were perfectly able to successfully farm without the use of such structures and there is evidence there was trade/contacts between the two.
A common view is that the timings of the ceremonies was all important and this is the only astronomical significance.
And what is the significance of the ley lines that bisect Stonehenge and many other similar Neolithic monuments that statistically go well beyond it being just coincidence.
There is also evidence that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls was a place of pilgrimage. What is clear is that people traveled some way to Stonehenge. A skeleton found when studied was from a person originating from what is Switzerland today for example. The bluestones first brought to Stonehenge were thought by some ancient societies to have healing properties. Some human remains found show evidence of significant injuries to those attending. So one theory is that Stonehenge was thought to be a place of pilgrimage where miracles of healing may take place.
The religious aspect also has to be accounted for and logically is the key to understanding what went on at Stonehenge. Unfortunately we will never know for sure the detail of what they believed. Today, Stonehenge is used by pagan religions which have some similarities. Druids often use Stonehenge for formal ceremonies, normally long before the tourists arrive.
Nobody knows for sure whet Stonehenge was used for, that's part of the appeal and fun of visiting Stonehenge. Just come to your own personal conclusions.