Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in southern England. It is thought to have taken 1500 years to build. About 100 huge stones stand upright in 2 circles. Scholars today believe it was a burial ground but still don't know of any other purpose it had. They cannot understand how giant stone pieces of bluestone which make up the inner ring could have been brought to the plain of Salisbury in England from their origin in Wales, over 200 miles away. The sandstone pieces of the outer ring were most likely brought from neighboring quarries about 25 miles away. They probably were moved by sledges and ropes.
Archaeologists think the monument was built in more than one stage. Possibly 5000 years ago, men used very primitive digging tools to create a large circular ditch and a henge or mound. During the second phase, a few hundred years later, about 80 pieces of bluestone were placed into either a horseshoe or circle. 43 of the bluestone pieces remain today. During phase three, about 2000 B. C., the outer ring of sandstone pieces was erected. About 50 of these remain today.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in England, wrote that the monument was built by Merlin who was famous during the reign of King Arthur. However, the setup of giant stones predates Merlin. In the 1600's, archaeologist John Aubrey stated that the monument was erected by the Druids, Celtic high priests. However, in the mid 1900's, carbon dating showed that the stone monument dates from 1000 years before the Celts.
Modern archaeologists now believe that Stonehenge was built in many different stages, by quite a few different people with many kinds of tools. The first were farmers who used very simple tools. Later, people with more advanced tools worked on the site. Some scientists suggest that they could have been settlers from Europe. Others believe they would have been descendants of the original inhabitants of England.
The purpose of Stonehenge is still not really known. Although it still is thought to have been a burial site, additional functions have been suggested. Perhaps it was a spot for special ceremonies, religious or otherwise. Maybe it was meant to be a place where pilgrims regularly came. Another theory is that the monument was built to honor ancient ancestors.
In the 1960's, an astronomer, Gerald Dawkins, indicated that he thought the whole arrangement of giant stones was built to be an astronomical calendar. With it, people could determine equinoxes, eclipses and solstices. It is arranged exactly for viewing the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset.
For many years, his ideas were investigated closely. However, for two reasons his theory has been discounted. First, England most always has a large cover of clouds preventing good observation of the sky. Second, the people of the time wouldn't have had the knowledge to predict such events. More recent excavations have shown evidence that perhaps Stonehenge was a place where people went for healing. They believed that bluestones had some healing power.
The large stones of the outer ring which are made from sandstone are called Sarsens. They are up to 30 feet tall and weigh 25 tons. The smaller stones are called bluestones because they have a blue tinge when wet or recently broken. These weigh up to 4 tons. Stonehenge is one of over 1000 of these circles of stone which are found in the United Kingdom. It is owned by the British government.
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