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Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument. It is situated in England’s Wiltshire County. Its location is approximately 3.2 kilometers to the west of Amesbury and 13 kilometers to the north of Salisbury. This site is one of the most renowned prehistoric sites in the world. It is made up of a circular placement of erected stones placed within fortification. Stonehenge is set at a central point among sophisticated Neolithic and Bronze age monuments in the UK, which include burial stacks (Wood 103).
Many archaeologists are of the view that this monument was erected between 3000 and 2000 BC. Specifically, radiocarbon dating indicates that it was established between 2400 and 2200 BC. Still, there are other theories which claim that the monument was erected in 3000 BC.
It has been said that the circular embankment and trench encircling the monument date back to 3100 BC. This monument is now part of the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites having been added to the list in 1986. The site was listed together with its surrounding areas as well as another site known as Avebury Hedge Monument, which is situated nearby (Stephen 55). Stonehenge is protected by the law of England under the Scheduled Ancient Monuments Act. According to English law, the monument is a property of the Crown while it is controlled by the English Heritage. The land encasing the monument is managed by the National Trust.
In year 2008, discoveries by archaeologists in the Stonehenge Riverside Project suggested that the site was a funeral ground since its inception. These claims were supported by findings from the dating of cremation ashes which were unearthed from the site. Some of the remains dated back to 3000 BC, the period, in which the ditch and embankments of the monument are thought to have been dug. The latest human remains dated 2500 BC (Richard 202). The name Stonehenge literally means ‘‘supported’’ or ‘‘hanging’’ and it aptly describes the spectacle of the monument.
According to Mike Parker, the president of the Stonehenge River Project, this ancient site was designed specifically for burial purposes. Development of the site traversed a substantial number of years not less than 1500. There is a lot of proof on the monument’s site and in the nearby areas that there was extensive construction that took place on the site. Dating the various stages of the sites development is complicated by various factors among them the periglacial nature of natural chalk, lack of good quality excavation records, and inability to obtain correct and scientifically verifiable dates (Pitts 63). The dating of this site has, however, been categorized into the following phases:
8000 BC Forward
There are about four or five Mesolithic postholes in the site which date back to 8000 BC. These postholes were used to hold pine posts. Some of the posts were aligned east-west which could have had a ritual importance.
This era covers the construction of the first ditch and bank surrounding the monument. The trench measured approximately 110 meters in diameter. There was a huge entry in the north-east and a smaller entrance in the southern side. The constructors put deer and oxen bones at the bed of the trench together with some flint tools.
A lot of proof for this phase does not exist. However, there is some evidence that a timber structure was erected on the site in this era. There was addition of about thirty cremation structures to the site during this period. Most of these structures were situated in the eastern end of the monument.
Archaeological evidence shows that in 2600 BC, the constructors of the monument stopped using timber and instead they started to use stone in its place. Just like in the preceding phase, there is no much dating evidence existing for this phase. The width of the north-eastern entry point was increased during this period. After this widening, the entrance became aligned with mid-summer sunrise as well as mid-winter sunset. This stage of the monument’s development was left incomplete (Johnson 17). Other features of the site that could have been put up during this phase are the Station Stones which stand on top of mounds.
2600 BC to 2400 BC
In this phase, thirty huge Oligocene-Miocene stones were added to the site. The stones had been dug from a quarry some 40 kilometers north of the site. These stones were shaped using mortise and tenon joints before being set up as standing pillars (Wood 87). During the phase, carvings of axe heads and daggers were made on the stones. There was also construction of an enormous timber ring and another 3.2 kilometers walk from Durrington Walls that overlooks Avon River. This timber ring was directed towards sunrise during the winter solstice. The road, on the other hand, was directed towards sunset during summer solstice. It proceeded from the river directly to the timber ring.
2280 BC to 1930 BC
During this phase, there was a change in the configuration of bluestones on the site. In the new arrangement, the blue stones were set in a circle between two rings of sarsen stones and in an oval shape at the middle of the innermost ring.
1930 BC to 1600 BC
In this period, the north-eastern part of the bluestone ring was removed to create a horse-shoe form of arrangement.
This is the era when the last construction in the monument is thought to have occurred. The last use of the monument is estimated to have taken place in times of the Iron Age. In addition, Roman coins and other middle-age articles have been discovered on the site and its surrounding areas. However, it is unknown whether the site was in use in the whole of prehistory and beyond.
Construction and Use of the Monument
The civilization that constructed Stonehenge did not leave any records behind regarding the monument. There are many dimensions of this site which lend themselves to debate up to this day. The presence of a large number of theories trying to explain the origin and functions of the monument have made the site to appear even more mysterious.
There exists almost no concrete proof with respect to the building techniques employed by the constructors of Stonehenge. Some theorists have claimed that either supernatural or antiquated techniques were used, contending that the stones utilized were immovable otherwise. However, it has been shown that modern techniques when employing Neolithic technology can effectively move and arrange stones of the same sizes as those used to build the site. Theorists also suggest that the site functioned as a religious place as well as an astronomical observatory (Johnson 34).
Some recent theories by Professors Geoffrey Wainright and Timothy Darvill claim that Stonehenge was a healing place. According to them, this is the reason behind the large number of burials at the site. However, the two are open-minded when it comes to the possibility that the site could have been serving more than one purpose including worshipping of the ancestors. Some isotope tests show that some of the individuals buried at the site originated from other regions. Professor Mike Parker of Sheffield University contends that the site was used for rituals and that the surrounding areas were a living place. Stonehenge, on the other hand, was the realm of the dead.
There are various myths connected with features that appear on Stonehenge. One of these myths relates to the ‘‘Heel Stone’’that is near the main entry to the monument. This stone is rough and it rises about five meters above the ground. It also heels in the direction of the stone ring. Its other names include ‘‘Friar’s Heel’’ and ‘‘Sun-stone’’. There is a folk legend dating back to the 17th century, which seeks to explain the origin of the ‘‘Heel Stone’’. According to this folk-tale, the Devil purchased some stones from one woman in Ireland (Richard 225). He then covered them, bringing the stones to Salisbury grassland. Accidentally, one stone fell into the Avon River while the other were moved to the plain. The Devil shouted that no one would ever find how the stones came there upon which a friar responded: ‘‘That’s what you think!’’ The Devil on hearing this retort became enraged and he threw one stone at the friar. It struck him on his heel and got stuck on the ground.
Another myth relates to Britons and Saxons. In 472 AD an aggressive king Hengist called Brythonic warriors to a feast. However, in an underhand way, he called out his men to descend on the enemies with weapons that had been hidden so far. They were able to kill four hundred and twenty of these warriors. Hengist then erected the monument Stonehenge as a sign of his regret for his action.
16 Century up to Today
Since the reign of King Henry VIII, the claim on Stonehenge has changed hands severally. It has also taken up as part of it Amesbury Abbey and the nearby land. During the 1920s, there was a national outcry in England that aimed at protecting Stonehenge from further invasion by modern constructions and human activity (Pitts 74). The appeal proved successful and by 1928, the land around the monument had been recovered and handed over to the National Trust for preservation. The recovery of the land was made possible by donations. All the modern buildings that had been constructed in the area were removed.
In the 20 century, Stonehenge was resurrected as religious site by the Neopagans and New Age religions. The two groups used the site to conduct initiation ceremonies for new members. Following the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, the use of this site was halted and its use in religious practices has been limited since then.