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10 Groundbreaking Facts About Stonehenge

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Situated in England, on the Salisbury Plain, 80 miles southwest of London, Stonehenge continues to puzzle all generations. The awe-inspiring structure with mythical origins still holds many mysteries, and it never seizes to fascinate both tourists and archeologists alike. The true purpose of the site still remains a mystery. But, nevertheless, we have learned something about it. Here are a some of the confirmed facts and theories about the mythical monument. Spoiler: They include both Charles Darwin and Merlin the Wizard.

  1. Stonehenge was built in phases.

Archeological studies have shown that first of all a circular earthwork was constructed at the site. This first draft was made up of a ditch dug using antler tools. It also had an inner and outer bank. There were also 56 pits found in the primary construction, which later were discovered by an antiquarian by the name of John Aubrey, in 1666. Subsequently, the stones were placed at the center of the monument. The larger ones are called sarsens and the smaller ones are referred to as bluestones. It is estimated that these both arrived at the site at around 2500 BC. It was only several years later that they were carved and arranged in characteristic circular formations. The final stage of the construction was digging a ring of pits now known as the Y holes and Z holes, which was held approximately from 3000BC to 2300BC.

  1. How the stones arrived at the site is a mystery.

The scientists still are unable to give the answer as to how the sarsens and bluestones were transported to Stonehenge. All we know is that the sarsen stones had to be transported all the way from Marlborough Downs, which is a good 20 miles away from Stonehenge. The bluestones were picked up even further, in the Preseli Hills area in West Wales, more than 150 miles away from Stonehenge. Given that each of the stones weighs between 2 and 5 tons, simple primitive tools could not be used to haul them back to the site. Today there are various theories on how the stones were moved, from aliens to glaciers, everyone of them seems to have some plausibility, but we will never know for certain. Also, all attempts at recreating the transport of the stones failed miserably, which shows us that our ancestors were possibly more clever than us.

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  1. Stonehenge was privately owned.

Today it might seem quite strange, but historical landmarks were not always publicly owned. Stonehenge was owned privately from the Middle Ages onwards and belonged to Sir Edmund Antrobus. By the late 1800s however, thousands of visitors had taken a toll on the historic landmark. But it was only 10 years later, when Antrobus’s son put up a fence around the place to prevent further damage. He also announced that from then on visitors would be charged an admission fee. At one point, Stonehenge also became a military base with army training facilities surrounding the area. That also did not remain without impact on the site’s condition. In 1913 the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act was passed and this was the document that ultimately saved Stonehenge from destruction. Stonehenge became a publicly owned site in 1918.

  1. Many people have made hypotheses about its true purpose.

As Stonehenge builders left us no detailed instructions or descriptions, the purpose of Stonehenge became a topic for quite a heated debate. At the beginning of the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth was one of the first people to express their opinion. He claimed the stone circle to be a memorial site, devoted to the Britons, who died by the hand of the Saxons. According to this scholar, the stones were procured by Merlin, the Wizard of King’s Arthur Court, from the Giants’ Ring, a stone circle with special healing powers, situated somewhere in Ireland. His hypotheses was then disputed by John Aubrey along with William Stukeley, who both claimed that Stonehenge was a Druid temple. At present, we know that the construction of the site precedes the Druid culture, but many Druids today still view Stonehenge as a sacred place, where they celebrate various seasonal holidays, like the Summer and Winter Solstice.

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  1. Stonehenge banned Summer solstice gatherings.

The first festival celebrating the Summer Solstice, the Stonehenge Free Festival, held in 1974 was a small gathering. But, over time, it grew into a large event, which was quite popular also with people not directly associated with the Druid movement. The 1984 festival was already an over-ten-thousand-people event, and it got the authorities worried for public safety, due to such issues as rioting and public use of illegal substances. But, although the gathering was banned, the following year saw thousands of people heading to Stonehenge for the Solstice celebration. The convoys had a massive clash with the police, and the gatherings were on hold till 2000. However, in the era of festivals, also the Stonehenge Free Festival was once again revived and continues to attract quite a crowd.

  1. Charles Darwin conducted worm study at Stonehenge.

We do not know exactly what made him chose this venue, but Charles Darwin, the father of the Theory of Evolution, traveled in 1877 to Stonehenge to study earthworms. Darwin observed such phenomena as the impact of the worms on the location of the stones. It also fascinated him how the creatures chewed through all organic matter, like plants. This scientific affair resulted in Darwin publishing „The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms” in 1881, which was an extensive compilation of papers on all maters worm. Though, it did not have such an impact on the scientific milieu as the evolution, obviously.

vegetable mould

  1. Stonehenge is not one of its kind.

While Stonehenge is the most archaeologically complex stone circle, it certainly isn’t the only stone circle in Britain. Avebury, a larger stone circle, is just 25 miles north of Stonehenge and it is also quite impressive. Just as with Stonehenge, the scholars are unsure of its original purpose, but we know that it was built between 2850 and 2200 BC and that it is made up of two stone circles, the inner and the outer one. During Medieval times, the pious Christians attempted to get rid of the Pagan worship site and some of the stones got chipped up to be used as building blocks. But, in 1930, Alexander Keiller, a British archeologist purchased Avebury to rebuilt it and preserve it. He replaced the missing stones and cleared away the buildings erected on the site. Today, Avesbury is a public site, which we can also visit if we are ever near Wiltshire.

  1. Astronomers were always very keen on Stonehenge.

Ever since it has been established that the Stonehenge circle pinpointed the position of the sun during Solstice, astronomers have been totally nuts for it. At the beginning of the 18th century it was even mandatory to study the circle in order to establish one’s name in the scholarly world. This is why in 1720 Dr Halley (the Comet guy) attempted to estimate the exact age of the site, using magnetic deviation and the position of the rising sun. What he got as a result was the date 460 BC. And he was followed by John Smith, who in 1771 discovered that the number of the stones of the inner circle represented the lunar month, whereas the outer circle represented the 360 days of the year.

Avebury stone circle
Avebury stone circle

 

  1. The first records of Stonehenge come from 1130 AD.

The 12th-century archeologist, the son of a priest in the diocese of Lincoln, and author of „Historia Anglorum”, Henry of Huntingdon, wrote in his study about a stone structure by the name of Staneges. Next, Geoffrey of Monmouth mentioned it in his publications, and in 1200 it got the name Stanhenge, which evolved into Stonhenge only 50 years later. In 1297 the name morphed yet again, this time becoming Stoneheng. In 1470, the stone circle was referred to as stone hengles, only to become Stonehenge as we know it today, in the year 1610.

  1. It’s got quite an etymology to it.

The word „stone” is probably clear to us. It evolved from the 10th-century Anglo-Saxon „stan”. The „henge” part may pose somewhat of a linguistic challenge, though. „Henge” comes from the Anglo-Saxon „hencg”, meaning „to hinge, to hang”, which can be explained by the fact that, within the circle, stone lintels hinge on the upright stones. The archeologists define „henges” as a class of monuments, which are „circular earthworks, consisting of a banked enclosure with an internal ditch”. Stonehenge is not a regular „henge”, because its bank is found inside its ditch, but it is very resemblant of one and so it continues to be called one.

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