Dafato Team | Feb 16, 2023

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51.1788888889-1.82638888889Coordinates: 51° 10′ 44″ N, 1° 49′ 35″ W

Stonehenge is a structure near Amesbury, England, built over 4000 years ago in the Neolithic period and used at least until the Bronze Age.

It consists of a ring-shaped earthen wall, inside which there are various formations of worked stones grouped around the center. Because of their gigantic size they are called megaliths. The most conspicuous among them are the large circle of formerly 30 standing blocks, which originally carried a closed ring of 30 capstones on their upper side, and the large horseshoe of originally ten such columns, which were connected with each other by a capstone placed on top to form five pairs, the so-called triliths. Within each of these horseshoes and circles stood two figures similar in form: both made of much smaller, but formerly twice as many stones.

These four formations are completed by the "Altar" near the center of the complex, the so-called "Sacrificial Stone" inside - and the Heelstone a good distance outside the northeastern exit. In addition, three concentric circles of holes were made in the ring wall, and in the largest of them four menhirs were arranged to form a rectangle, the short sides of which are parallel to the long axis of the monument. Other structures from the megalithic period - mainly tumuli and two structures called racetracks - can be found in the surrounding area. In addition, there are the remains of the so-called processional way, which extends from the aforementioned exit to the right to the Avon bank. The radius leading downward into the entrance of the monument, in its extension, then points to the south coast of England, about 50 km away; interestingly, exactly to the common mouth of the rivers Avon and Stour into the English Channel (see Christchurch Harbour). Accordingly, there could have been processions that, on certain days, started in the morning towards the northeast, descended towards the coast in a movement following the apparent path of the sun, and ended in the evening, returning via the entrance to the monument.

Recent research suggests that Stonehenge - and with it the culture that built it - should not be considered in isolation from similar structures. At the point where the Processional Way meets the Avon River lies the smaller Bluehenge. There may also be a connection with the nearby Durrington Walls site, or indeed a motif common to the various peoples that led to the development of the megalithic cultures.

There are various hypotheses about the occasion and ultimate purpose of this highly elaborate structure, some complementary, others contradictory. They range from the self-portrait of a primeval political alliance of two formerly hostile tribal organizations (see double execution of the formations and the size hierarchy of the menhirs) to a religious burial or cult site to an astronomical observatory including a calendar for the sowing and harvesting times.

All these hypotheses, even the more purely speculative ones, agree on one point: The architects of the monument managed to align the horseshoes and the stones perpendicularly in front of their openings exactly with the sunrise of that time on the day of the summer solstice.

The path from the simplest to the most complex, ultimately remaining embodiment of this plant can be divided into at least three sections:

According to first vague indications, the beginnings of the site as an actual megalithic monument go back much further than assumed so far; thus, there seems to have been a first version of stone structures already around 3000 BC. The further explanations in this article, however, refer to the dating that has been assumed as certain so far.

Recent research suggests that the place where the remains of the monument can be seen today already had a special ritual significance for people 11,000 years ago.

Since 1918, the monument has been owned by the English state; it is managed and developed for tourism by English Heritage, and its surroundings by the National Trust. UNESCO declared Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites a World Heritage Site in 1986.

In 2019, Stonehenge was visited by 1.6 million people.

The name Stonehenge is already documented in Old English as Stanenges or Stanheng. While the first element of the name is the Old English word stān "stone", there is uncertainty about the second element. It could be hencg "hinge, hinge" or a nounic derivation from the verb hen(c)en "to hang," which would then mean "gallows." In fact, medieval gallows possessed two feet and thus resembled the triliths in the center of the monument. The also attempted interpretation as "(in the air) hanging stones", on the other hand, lacks semantic consistency.

The second component of the name, henge, is used today as a technical archaeological term for that class of Neolithic structures consisting of a ring-shaped raised enclosure with a ditch running along the inside. Stonehenge itself, according to current terminology, is a so-called atypical henge, since the ditch lies outside the ring wall.

The complex was continuously modified or built in several phases. These activities extend over a period of about 2000 years. However, the site was demonstrably used even before the first stone construction. Three large presumed postholes located outside the ringwall near the present parking area date to the Mesolithic period, around 8000 B.C. The remains of cremations dated to between 3030 and 2340 B.C. were found in soil samples around the cult site. Accordingly, the site was already in use as a burial ground before the stones were erected. The most recent cultic activities (Druids, origin of the Avalon saga?) date back to about the 7th century AD, the artifact to be mentioned here is the grave of a beheaded Anglo-Saxon.

Dating the various phases of the monument's design and understanding their meaning is difficult, since earlier excavation methods did not meet today's standards and there are still hardly any theories that would make it possible to gain a comprehensively informed insight into the thoughts and actions of the people of that time.

Thus, among other things, it remains uncertain what was the function of the holes found in the ground. Some scholars consider that their original function was to receive supporting pillars for the purpose of a no less speculative roofing of the site. Others, on the other hand, believe that such hypothetical trunks were phallic symbols or totem poles, which were later replaced by towering rocks in the course of technological advances and cultural-demographic changes such as population growth and the resulting increase in manpower.

The cognitive archaeologist Colin Renfrew argues that the purpose of such constructions was to impress the observer from a distance, i.e., to make enemies think twice before they dared to attack. The successive extension of the constructions is thus interpreted as a symbolic 'arms race' between neighboring tribes - possibly as an expression of the "phallic threat", as it might have been preserved as a genetic disposition until today. This thesis is supplemented by the assumption that the structures of Stonehenge, which ultimately changed again and again in the direction of increasing complexity, reflect memories of the course of military conflicts, such as, among other things, the displacement in the meantime of an indigenous population that had been stronger in number. Such a process could be reflected in the bluestones which were temporarily completely (?) removed from the ring wall. The fact that this culture was finally taken up in spite of inferiority nevertheless into the dominion of the victors - possibly the latter expressed their being so by the two Sarsen formations built from basically much larger stones - would then correspond to the result of a territorial dispute, which was terminated peacefully, with the foundation of a new (mixed) culture. (See also below, in the chapter Urpolitik in the context of the bluestones and the commentary in the section Phase 3 III).

The fact that so far only little material has been discovered from which 14C data could be obtained further complicates the tracing of the temporal development of these cultures, and thus also of the changes to the shape of the monument that were gradually made and only discovered archaeologically in the first place. The sequence of these interventions, which is mostly accepted today, is explained in the further text with reference to the illustrated sketch plan. The megaliths that have been preserved up to the present are indicated by coloring of their outlines (the capstones of the two Sarsen formations were left out for reasons of clarity, and speculations are made about the disappeared rest of the thus heavily damaged complex. Partly the monument was used during the feudal phase of England probably as a quarry for the construction of churches, fortresses and palaces of the powerful, but there are also clear traces of deliberate destruction. Modern archaeology usually interprets carefully dismembered columns, smashed effigies, etc. in the sense of the destruction of a culture by the subsequent victors; in parallel, there seems to have been a change in burial customs from about 1400 cal BC (from megalithic communal graves to graves for individual rulers), which can also be interpreted in this sense.

The Heelstone and the Sacrificial Stone, and with them the openings of the two central horseshoes, were aligned with the position of the sunrise at midsummer; also, among others, the four stones of the rectangular structure on the ring wall seem to have had to do with various periodicities of celestial mechanics. For these reasons, Stonehenge is often thought to have been a prehistoric observatory, although the exact nature of its use and its significance, such as for sowing and harvesting at the best possible times (see below), are still debated.

Description of the stones (from the inside out)

Other special features:

On behalf of English Heritage, laser scans were made of the surfaces of all of Stonehenge's 83 surviving monumental stones. A total of 72 previously unknown engravings were discovered. 71 of them show axes (up to 46 cm tall), one a dagger. The site resembles the stone circles in northern Scotland known as the Ring of Brodgar.

In 1995, the excavation findings of the 20th century were evaluated and differentiated into three phases on the basis of 14C dating. A minor modification made in 2000 to an older dating is based on the meanwhile improved method (Bayesian statistics) to evaluate the 14C data. Further minor modifications were added until 2009.

Based on their own evaluations, employees of the most recent data collections presented a new study at the end of 2012 in which they proposed - also using a Bayes classifier - five phases instead of the previous three. A similar interpretation had already been undertaken in 1979, but received little attention.

Stonehenge 1

The first structure measured about 115 m in diameter and consisted of a circular rampart with a ditch surrounding it (7 and 8), thus according to the classification an atypical henge complex. The large, northeast opening of this circular rampart faced a smaller one to the south (deer and ox bones were placed at the bottom of the ditch. These bones were much older than the antler picks used to dig the ditch and were well preserved when they were buried. The beginning of the first phase is dated to about 3100-2900 cal BC, depending on the approach. At the outer inland edge of the area thus enclosed was a circle of 56 holes (13), named the Aubrey Holes after their discoverer, John Aubrey.

A second rampart (9) now lining the outer ditch could also date from this phase, which can be defined as pre-megalithic (Stonehenge 1).

Stonehenge 2

Visible remains that could reliably indicate the appearance of building structures during the second phase no longer exist. Therefore, dating was done rather indirectly, among other things via finds of "Grooved Ware", which belong to this period (late Neolithic). Forms of holes detectable in the ground could have been made in the early third millennium B.C. and could have supported posts. Additional posts could thus have stood in holes discovered at the north entrance; two parallel rows of posts would have extended into the interior from the south entrance. At least 25 of the Aubrey holes, however, contained cremated burial remains dating from about two centuries after the holes were constructed. Thus, the holes were in use as burial sites-perhaps they were converted for that purpose, or the hypothetical posts were removed at each burial. The remains of thirty other cremations were discovered in the ditch and at other points around the site, mostly in the eastern half. Unburned pieces of human bone from this period were also found in the trench.

Stonehenge 3 I

In the center of the sanctuary, two concentric semicircles of 80 stones, called bluestones, were laid out around 2600-2400 BC. They were later moved, but the holes in which the stones were originally anchored (the so-called Q- and R-holes) remain verifiable. Again, there is little dating evidence for this phase. The bluestones, as mentioned, come from the area of the Preseli Mountains, which are located about 240 km from Stonehenge, in what is now Pembrokeshire in Wales. The stones are mostly dolerite, interspersed with some inclusions of rhyolite, tuff and volcanic ash. They weigh about four tons. The stone known as the Altar Stone (1), weighing six tons, is the only one made of green sandstone. It is twice the size of the largest of the stones from the bluestone horseshoe (which does not exist at this stage) and also comes from Wales. Possibly standing upright in the center as a large monolith, it may have been intended to lie. Many of the early megalithic sites represent burial sites: the barrows, also called devil's beds.

At that time, the entrance was widened so that its two side parts now pointed exactly to the positions of the sunrises at the summer and winter solstices at that time. The bluestones, as mentioned, were removed after some time and the remaining holes (R) were filled.

Possibly also the Heelstone (5) was placed outside the northeastern entrance during this period. However, the dating is uncertain, in principle, any subsection of the third phase is possible. Furthermore, pressure compressions in the immediate area of the entrance are partly interpreted in such a way that up to three menhirs could have stood next to each other here, however, such traces would also result from the repeated change of the position of a single menhir. In any case, the fact is that only one is found in the entrance area today. It is 4.9 m long, probably fell down a long time ago and is called a sacrificial stone (4).

Also attributed to Phase 3 is the construction of the four station stones (6) and the making of the Avenue (10), a trackway enclosed by ditch and earthwork on both sides, also known as the Processional Way, which runs for a distance of 3km to the River Avon. Investigations of this track revealed that it ran through a meltwater channel of the last glacial period, which was only slightly reworked.

At some point in the third phase of construction, trenches were drawn both around the two station stones of the north-south diagonal and around the Heelstone, which must have stood as a single monolith at the latest since then. This phase of Stonehenge's construction is the one that the Archer of Amesbury may have glimpsed; toward the end of the phase, Stonehenge seems to have replaced the henge of Avebury as the central cult site of the region.

Stonehenge 3 II

At the end of the third millennium B.C., according to radiocarbon dates approximately between 2550 and 2100 B.C., the main building activity took place. Now the two sarsen constructions (gray in the plan) were built, which determine the today's general impression of Stonehenge. Many of these altogether 74 megaliths, the smaller ones around 25, the large ones around 50 tons heavy, originate from a quarry 30 km to the north near Marlborough, as geochemical tests have shown in 2020.

Thirty of these blocks formed a circle thirty meters in diameter. That there were once 30, grouped into a complete circle, could not be proven until 2013, when a prolonged drought revealed, through differences in plant growth, compaction in the subsoil even where the stones themselves are no longer present. The horseshoe of the 5 triliths was then set up within this circle.

The surfaces of all sarses are hewn and were smoothed. The capstones of the sarsen formations (circle + horseshoe) received two holes carved on their underside, which complement the tenons on the top of the supporting stones to form a version of the tongue-and-groove joint. A symbolic purpose of this measure perhaps cannot be excluded, but certainly it served to wedge the elements together. On the terminating surfaces to the left and right of each of the 30 capstones of the circle, a similar thing is found; moreover, they were given the shape of carefully crafted segments of a circle in order to join them together to form a perfect ring.

Furthermore, there are carved or incised images on some of the sarses. Perhaps the oldest, a flat rectangular figure on top of the inner side of the fourth trilith, could represent a mother deity. Closer than this interpretation would be perhaps to think of an abstract representation of the 4 station stones opposite to this symbol - but also here it is still open what their meaning is. Concerning the other symbols less questions remain. Especially on stone 53 the depiction of a bronze dagger as well as of fourteen axe heads are to be mentioned, further depictions of axe heads are found on stones 3, 4 and 5. The dating of the depictions is difficult, but there are similarities to Late Bronze Age weapons. Again, it is not easy to decide whether these representations were applied to the megaliths still in the process of manufacture, or subsequently, possibly on working platforms erected for this purpose.

Stonehenge 3 III

At a later point in the Bronze Age, the bluestones appear to have been re-erected for the first time. However, the exact appearance of the site in this period is not yet clear.

Stonehenge 3 IV

In this phase, approximately between 2280 and 1930 BC, the bluestones were rearranged again. One part of them was incorporated as a circle between the Sarsen circle and the Sarsen horseshoe, and the other was placed in the form of an oval around the center of the monument. Some archaeologists assume that an additional tranche of bluestones had to be brought from Wales to realize this new construction project. The altar stone may have been slightly relocated in parallel with the construction of the oval, possibly away from the center point to its present position (closer to the base of the Sarsen horseshoe, among others). The work on the bluestones of this phase (3 IV) was carried out rather carelessly compared to the work on the sarsen in the previous phases. The bluestones that were initially removed and now reerected were poorly embedded in the ground, and some of them soon toppled again.

Stonehenge 3 V

Soon thereafter, the northeastern half of the bluestone oval constructed in Phase 3 IV was removed, creating the arch-shaped formation we know today as the bluestone horseshoe. This structure mirrored that of the Sarsen Horseshoe, except that it was constructed of single standing and considerably smaller, but nearly twice as many stones: 19 compared to the 10 supporting stones of the Sarsen Horseshoe. This restructuring of the monument is dated to 2270 to 1930 BC. This phase (Stonehenge 3 V) thus parallels that of Seahenge in Norfolk.

Stonehenge 3 VI

Around 1630

The alignment was made so that the sun rose directly above the Heelstone on the morning of Midsummer's Day, when it reaches the farthest northeast in its annual course, and sent its rays toward the structure. What significance could have had the long shadow at the moment of sunrise that the Heelstone cast on this occasion, among others, on the altar stone, the base of the Bluestones and the Sarsen horseshoe, is not known.

However, it is considered safe to assume that this architecture was, on the whole, deliberately conceived and realized. The rising point of the sun on the date of the summer solstice is directly related to the latitude. In order to implement the orientation of the monument according to a plan providing for this, it must have been calculated or practically determined according to its position in this respect (51° 11′). Accordingly, this procedure should have been fundamental for the placement of the stones in at least some of the phases of Stonehenge. The Heelstone and with it the symmetry axis of the horseshoes are therefore interpreted as components of a solar corridor encompassing the rising of our day's star.

Stonehenge may have served, among other things, to predict the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes, and thus the seasonal turning points important to a farming culture.

According to an earlier research finding the moon course would have a far larger role here than assumed so far. Thus Gerald Hawkins described 1963 in the magazine Nature in the article Stonehenge Decoded that the 19 megaliths of the Bluestone horseshoe can be used to calculate the so-called Meton cycle - an approximately 19-year period, after whose expiration summer solstice and lunar eclipse fall on the same day. Since the latter event always involves the full moon and this leads to particularly violent tidal currents, a correspondingly strong ebb tide can be expected for midday in the Avon.

The Neolithic circular enclosure of Stonehenge, whose beginning with the 1st phase around 3100

Primal politics in the context of bluestones?

Roger Mercer has claimed that the bluestones are exceptionally finely worked. He postulated that they were once brought to Stonehenge from an as yet unlocated older monument in Pembrokeshire. To be sure, most other archaeologists agree that the bluestones were worked no less carefully than the sarsestones. But if Mercer's considerations were correct, then the bluestones could have been transported from that place in order to confirm a newly founded alliance by their composition with the two sarsen formations. The interpretation approach, according to which in this alliance the bluestone structures symbolize an inferior, therefore 'made small' enemy, would also not speak against it: The Bluestones are, as said, relatively tiny, downright dwarfs compared to the giants of the Sarsen. Likewise, the change in the order suggested by Mercer in the sense of the dating outlined above (according to which the Bluestones were first in the area of Stonehenge, then apparently 'temporarily displaced by the Sarsen') would not fundamentally change the political character of his thesis.

Complementing this approach, some archaeologists have put forward for discussion an interpretation according to which the very hard igneous material of the bluestones and the relative softness of the sarsen blocks made of sedimentary sandstone could symbolically represent an alliance of two cultures or groupings of people, each of which came from different areas and consequently must have had different backgrounds.

New analysis of contemporary burial sites nearby, known as the Boscombe Bowmen, has shown that at least some of the people who lived at the time of Stonehenge 3 may have come from what is now Wales. Also, an analysis of the crystal polarization in the bluestones has shown that they could only have come from the Preseli Mountains.

Setups of bluestones resembling the small horseshoe of the Stonehenge 3 IV phase have also been found at sites known as Bedd Arthur in the Preseli Mountains and on Skomer Island off the southwest coast of Pembrokeshire.

Techniques of edification and design

Aubrey Burl claims that the bluestones were not transported here by man alone, but at least part of the way by Pleistocene glaciers from Wales. However, no geological evidence of such transport between the Preseli Mountains and the Salisbury Plain has yet been found. Moreover, no other specimens of this unusual dolerite stone have been found near Stonehenge.

There are many speculations about the methods of construction of the site. If the bluestones did not change places by glacial transport, as Aubrey Burl assumes, but were transported by human hands, there are many methods of moving huge stones with ropes and timbers.

As part of an experiment in 2001, an attempt was made to transport a larger stone along the presumed land and sea route from Wales to Stonehenge. Numerous volunteers pulled it overland on a wooden sledge and then loaded it onto a replica of a historic boat. However, this soon sank with the stone in rough seas in the Bristol Channel. In contrast, a second experiment in August 2012 was successful, using Stone Age methods to bring a bluestone up the Bristol Channel and the Avon by sea. Archaeological experiments in 2016 revealed that land transport by sledge on a route of bisected logs was also possible with remarkably low effort.

It has been suggested that A-shaped wooden frames, similar to a roof structure, were used to raise the stones and move them to a vertical position with ropes. For example, the capstones could have been raised incrementally with wooden platforms and then pushed into place vertically. Alternatively, they could have been pushed or pulled up into position using a ramp. The mortise-and-tenon joints on the carpenter-style stones suggest that the builders already had woodworking skills. Appropriate knowledge may have been a great help in the design and construction of this monument.

It has been suggested by Alexander Thom that the builders of Stonehenge used the megalithic yard as the basis for the various lengths.

The depictions of weapons engraved on the sarsen stones are unique in megalithic art in the British Isles. Elsewhere, abstract images were preferred. Similarly unusual for this culture is the horseshoe arrangement of the stones, as elsewhere the stones were always arranged in circles. However, the axe motif found is comparable to symbols in Brittany during this period. It is thus probable that at least two construction phases of Stonehenge were built under significant continental influence. This would explain, among other things, the atypical structure of the monument.

There are estimates of the human labor required to build each phase of Stonehenge. The totals exceed several million man-hours. Stonehenge 1 probably required about 11,000 hours of labor, Stonehenge 2 about 360,000, and the various parts of Stonehenge 3 may have required up to 1.75 million man-hours. The working of the stones is thought to have taken about 20 million hours of labor, especially considering the moderately efficient tools used during this period. The general will to build and maintain this structure must therefore have been extremely strong, and it also required a highly developed social organization. In addition to the highly elaborate organization of the construction project (planning, transport, processing and precise placement of the stones), this also required a high overproduction of food for many years in order to feed the actual "workers" during their activity for the project.

First written mentions

The entire period from the archaeologically proven abandonment of Stonehenge at the end of the Bronze Age to the conquest of England by the Normans lies in historical obscurity. The first mention by name is provided by Henry of Huntingdon around the year 1130 in his History of England. Geoffrey of Monmouth devotes himself more extensively to the stone circle in his history of the kings of Britain, written around 1135. He attributes the construction of the monument to the magician Merlin.

The historian Polydor Vergil (1470-1555) takes up Monmouth's account and also explains Stonehenge as a monument erected by the wizard Merlin at the time of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England with the help of his magical powers.

Theory formation since the early modern period

Around 1580, the antiquities researcher William Lambarde for the first time ruled out a supernatural origin of the site by observing that carpenter's techniques were transferred to the stone construction of Stonehenge during the construction of the stone circle. In addition, he is the first to recognize that the stones were not brought from Ireland by Merlin with the help of magic, as previously described, but originate from the Marlborough region.

The first book about Stonehenge appeared in 1652. Its author, the master builder Inigo Jones, who examined the site in detail on behalf of the English King James I, explained the stone circle as a Roman temple in honor of the god Coelus. In the following years, various other authors tried to interpret the stone circle: In 1663, the physician Walter Charleton assumed that Stonehenge had been a coronation site of the Danish kings of England. In 1676, the historian Aylett Sammes attributes the construction of the site to the ancient Phoenicians.

At the end of the 17th century, the archaeologist John Aubrey (1626-1697) recognized the connection between Stonehenge and similar monuments in Scotland and Wales and was the first to correctly attribute the construction of all these sites to native builders. However, it proves fatal for future research and interpretation of the site up to our time that Aubrey attributes Stonehenge and all similar monuments in the British Isles to the Celts. His error becomes understandable from the scientific perspective at the end of the 17th century: there are no ways to date prehistoric ground monuments; one still dates the age of the world to a few thousand years after the biblical creation story, and the literature of ancient writers known to Aubrey contains no references to a pre-Celtic population of the British Isles. However, Aubrey can glean from the ancient Latin and Greek authors detailed accounts of the Druids as a Celtic priestly class, and so he cautiously surmises that the stone circles are the temple complexes of these same Druids. In fact, between the abandonment of the complex at the end of the Bronze Age and the first appearance of so-called Celtic cultural features in Europe are more than 1,000 years.

Researchers of the 18th century enthusiastically took up Aubrey's thesis: Historian John Toland attributed Stonehenge to the Druids in his Critical History of Celtic Religion and Learning, written in 1719. Between 1721 and 1724, the physician William Stukeley carried out the most detailed and precise measurements of the site up to that time and was the first to assume an axial alignment of the site with the point of the summer solstice. In 1740 he summarized his results in a book and interpreted Stonehenge, however, with questionable and unscientific methods also as a Druidic temple.

In his book The Geology of Scripture, Henry Browne, curator of Stonehenge since 1824, interprets the stone circle as an antediluvian temple from the time of Noah. He refers to the theories of the paleontologist William Buckland (1784-1856), who represents the catastrophe or cataclysm theory instead of the evolution theory.

First astronomical theories

At the beginning of the 20th century the astronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) was the first to open the view on a possible astronomical use of the site. Like Stuckeley a century before him, he assumed that the site was aligned with the point of the summer solstice, but speculated further about the use of the stone circle as an astronomical calendar for the determination of sacred Celtic festivals. Among the archaeologists of his time Lockyer's theory does not find any attention, because his calculation bases are inaccurate and partly arbitrarily selected by him, in order to arrive at the results desired by him. Stonehenge is therefore still considered by the archaeological world "only" as a prehistoric cult or votive site.

Astronomer Gerald Hawkins tried to change this picture when he published his book Stonehenge Decoded in 1965. With the help of detailed measurements of the monument and complicated calculations Hawkins wants to prove that Stonehenge served as a kind of Stone Age computer, with which it would have been possible for its builders, for example, to predict lunar eclipses quite reliably. Like John Aubrey's "Celtic thesis" at the time, Hawkins' theory is now being taken up enthusiastically by the general public. Experts, on the other hand, are tearing his research apart: archaeologist Richard J. C. Atkinson, for example, proves that Hawkins included in his evidence parts of the site that demonstrably existed or were built at different times and thus cannot be part of the same site.

Excavations, research, restoration

The modern exploration of Stonehenges begins with the explorer William Cunnington (1754-1810). Cunnington's excavations and observations confirm the dating of Stonehenges to pre-Roman times. His research was published between 1812 and 1819 in the local history work Ancient History of Wiltshire by historian Richard Colt Hoare. From 1880 William Flinders-Petrie supervised the first modern restoration. He is also responsible for the numbering of the stones, which is still in use today. Stone 22 fell to the ground during a heavy storm night on December 31, 1900.

Around 1900, John Lubbock shows, on the basis of bronze objects found in neighboring burial mounds, that Stonehenge was already in use in the Bronze Age. William Gowland (1842-1922) restores parts of the site and undertakes the most careful excavations to date, which are completed in 1901. From his findings, he concludes that at least parts of the monument were built at the time of the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Archaeologist William Hawley excavated about half of the site between 1919 and 1926. His methods and reports, however, are so inadequate that no new discoveries are made. However, the geologist H. Thomas succeeds in proving during this time that the bluestones were brought from South Wales by the builders of the site.

In 1950, the Society of Antiquaries commissioned the archaeologists Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott and John Stone with further excavations. They find many hearths and further develop the classification of the individual building phases, as it is still most commonly represented today.

In the second half of the 20th century, the archaeologists Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggott continually undertook further excavations. With the development and perfection of radiocarbon dating from the middle of the 20th century onwards, the site can now be dated with certainty to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC for the first time. Atkinson and Piggott also restored other parts of the site by rebuilding some of the fallen and misaligned stones and concreting them into the ground. These reconstructions are still limited to those stones that have demonstrably fallen or become misaligned only in modern times.

Many of the modern damages to the monument are on the one hand due to the former need of the surrounding population for stones, on the other hand due to the souvenir need of earlier visitors. In the meantime, a blacksmith from the nearby town of Amesbury offered a hammer for hire to tourists, who could use it to cut off pieces of the stones as souvenirs.

As part of the Stonehenge Riverside project, archaeologists have been excavating the remains of a Neolithic village dating from 2600 to 2500 B.C. (Grooved Ware) at Durrington Walls 3.2 km from Stonehenge since September 2006. "We think we have found the village of the builders of Stonehenge," expressed in January 2007 Mike Parker Pearson, the head of the excavation project from the University of Leeds.

From March 31 to April 11, 2008, the first excavation in the stone circle since 1964 will take place. Under the direction of Timothy Darvill and Geoff Wainwright, a trench made during the excavations of Hawley and Newall in the 1920s will be reopened to search for organic material. This makes it possible, with the help of mass spectrometry and radiocarbon dating, to pinpoint the time when the bluestones were erected to within a few decades.

In 2010, remarkable new discoveries are being made at the site. The application of modern technologies indicates that there is much more to Stonehenge than just the world-famous circle of stone giants. The whole site, covering many square kilometers, seems to be completely crisscrossed with places of worship and mysterious complexes. British researchers like Vincent Gaffney of the University of Birmingham are of the opinion, one knows at most to ten per cent, what Stonehenge really was and how it looked in detail. A scientific survey of the site, which has just begun, has already uncovered new circles - "Timberhenge" - ditches and mounds, as well as carefully constructed ramparts and depressions.

Investigations in 2013 on the avenue leading from the River Avon southwest into the site reveal that a meltwater channel had already run here since the end of the Ice Age. Michael Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield and Heather Sebire of English Heritage assume that the builders of Stonehenge recognized that the channel ran exactly in the direction of the winter solstice. Thus, they explain the location of the prehistoric site with this found terrain feature.

In September 2014, Vincent Gaffney of the University of Birmingham announced at the British Science Festival in Birmingham that, based on the data collected in recent years as part of the international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project (area-based investigations with ground penetrating radar and magnetometer underway since 2010), a first three-dimensional map showing the traces of unexcavated ground finds has been produced over an area of 12 km². This includes 17 previously unknown wooden and stone structures as well as dozens of newly discovered burial mounds. It is now believed that Stonehenge was the center of scattered ritual monuments that was increasingly expanded over time.

In November 2015, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (Vienna) reported the discovery of a spring at a temperature of 12-14 °C at a distance of 3 km from the village of Amesbury, which, because it did not freeze, could have been favorable for animals and thus for hunters. Bones with stone arrowheads stuck in them were found and flint nodules in an area of a spring pond.

The Stonehenge site was fenced off in 1901 and has since been accessible only for an entrance fee. During World War I, a field airfield (Stonehenge Aerodrome) was built to the west near the site. After the war, this was used as a depot for building materials and later as a pig farm.

In the recent past, Stonehenge has been affected by the close proximity of two busy roads: the A303 between Amesbury and Winterbourne Stoke, upgraded to a freeway in 1958, and the A344, which passes directly by the monument. There were various proposals to relocate or tunnel the roads.

The flow of visitors increased massively after the Second World War. Parking lots and toilets were built opposite the stone circles on the other side of the A344. After repeated vandalism, the site was guarded around the clock. A hut was built next to the parking lots for the wardens.

Since 1968, a tunnel under the A344 connected parking lots and the monument; a semi-subterranean building with a café and museum store was built in it and extended several times. The situation was considered a national disgrace for decades. In 1978, additional fences were erected; since then, visitors could not move freely among the stones, but had to stay on a path between the rampart and the stone circles. Because of the incessant tourist rush, the only way left was to walk around the site in the stream of visitors. In 2005, 800,000 visitors came. Lingering for reflection at the memorable place was hardly possible.

Redesign since 2013

Since December 2013, the surroundings of Stonehenge and the access for visitors have been rearranged. The A344 road was abandoned in the section of the site, as well as the parking lots and the old visitor support facilities were demolished and renaturalized by mid-2014.

Instead, a visitor center with exhibitions and other offerings was built about two kilometers from the stone circles. The structures cannot be seen from the monument, offering a much more undisturbed experience than before. Visitors reach the stone circles from the museum on foot via a processional route or use a shuttle bus. Time on the road can and should be used to get in the mood with the help of an audio guide in many languages. Use of the shuttle bus and audio guide are included in the admission fee. Members (including time members) of English Heritage receive free admission. Advance reservations are recommended to visit the facilities.

An exhibition about the builders of Stonehenge, their culture and their history is shown for the first time in the visitor center. It consists of a central video and five thematic information stations. The video shows the construction of the site and the changing landscape as a result. The stations provide information in three levels of depth. The exhibition is designed in conjunction with the audio commentary and information panels in the field; all three media work together and complement each other. Outside the visitor center, huts and pits of the builders of Stonehenge are reconstructed.

The route from the visitor center to the monument runs along the former road; about halfway, you can see the site for the first time from a small knoll. There the shuttles stop briefly and visitors have the choice of walking the rest of just under a kilometer to approach the stone circles independently, or also to cover the rest on the bus.

The new structures were built without foundations so as not to disturb any archaeological finds in the ground below.

New religious use

With the rediscovery and spread of classical literature, after the Renaissance there was increasing interest in the Druids mentioned in the ancient texts. Since scientific exploration of prehistory was still in its infancy, Stonehenge was attributed to the Druids as a pre-Roman temple. This erroneous link is still influential. In 1781, Henry Hurle, an Englishman, had founded a secret society called the Ancient Order of Druids. Although interest in Druids waned in the mid-19th century, the religious orders that emerged continued to exist. Their excursions to Stonehenge always attracted onlookers. A striking example is the ceremony of the Ancient Order of Druids in August 1905, when 700 members of this order gathered at Stonehenge and solemnly accepted 256 aspirants into their order. Today, the modern Druids form a part of the neo-religious landscape, specifically Neopaganism. They meet regularly at Stonehenge and hold their ceremonies there.

On the summer solstice of 1972, Stonehenge hosted for the first time one of the Free Festivals popular in Britain at that time. This Stonehenge Free Festival became increasingly popular over the years; in 1984, an estimated 70,000 visitors gathered at the stone circle to celebrate the solstice with live music and various Druidic and neo-pagan rituals. In 1985, violent conflicts between the visitors and the police (battle of the beanfield) occurred in the run-up to the festival, after which the regulatory authorities banned the festival at Stonehenge and closed the area to all visitors, especially during the two solstices and the equinoxes.

In 1998, small groups of neo-pagans (including Druids) were allowed back into the stone circle, and at the turn of the millennium, the Secular Order of Druids, invoking the right of free exercise of religion, obtained that the ban on gathering at Stonehenge be lifted. In 2014, 36,000 people, tourists and devout Druids alike, celebrated the start of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge the night before. The police arrested 25 people, mostly for drug-related offenses.


The amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) put forward a theory in the 1920s, according to which the prehistoric megalithic structures - including Stonehenge - were connected by so-called ley lines, dead-straight lines. Watkins, however, thought of real path connections. The author John Michell (he interpreted the lines in his 1969 published book The View over Atlantis however no more as ways, but brought the Ley lines in connection with earth-magnetic force fields and "force centers".

This view found numerous supporters in the following years among the followers of esotericism up to the present time. Thus Michell's thesis should be proof that the prehistoric builders of Stonehenge and comparable megalithic monuments still lived in perfect harmony with the cosmos and could sense such "lines of force" and "centers" where they then built temples like Stonehenge, for example.

In 2010, documentary filmmaker Ronald P. Vaughan claimed to have discovered a remarkable unit of measurement in the course of his research. The distance to the center of the neighboring stone circle of Avebury would be 27,830 meters, exactly the 1440th part of the equator circumference (1:1440 ≙ 1 minute : 1 day).

Legends and legends

The Fersenstein was once also known as Friar's Heel. A legend, which can be dated to the 17th century at the earliest, tells the origin of the name:

Some believe that the name Friar's Heel derives from Freya's He-ol or Freya Sul, named after the Germanic deity Freya and the (supposedly) Welsh words for "way" and "Sunday," respectively.

Stonehenge is often associated with the Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth claims that Merlin brought Stonehenges from Ireland, where it was originally built on Mount Killaraus by giants who brought the stones from Africa. After its rebuilding at Amesbury, Geoffrey goes on to describe, first Ambrosius Aurelianus, then Uther Pendragon, and later Constantine III were buried inside the ring. In many places in his Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey mixes British legend with his own imagination. He associates Ambrosius Aurelianus with the prehistoric monument simply because his name resembles that of nearby Amesbury.

In modern times, pseudoscientists such as Erich von Däniken have theorized that Stonehenge was built by extraterrestrial visitors to Earth.


First literary works around Stonehenge were written at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century: in this period Edmund Spenser wrote his epic poem The Faerie Queene and Thomas Rowley wrote his drama The Birth of Merlin. Both works deal with the connection of the wizard Merlin with Stonehenge and are largely inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth's book History of the Kings of Britain. The poet John Dryden wrote a poem in the second half of the 17th century paying homage to Stonehenge as the coronation site of Danish kings. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, Stonehenge played hardly any role in non-scientific literature.

Notable again is the novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), published in 1891. In this love story, Stonehenge plays a central, symbolic role. The novel was filmed in 1979 by Roman Polański with Nastassja Kinski in a leading role and later won three Oscars; it was not filmed on original locations.

The non-scientific literature about Stonehenge in the 20th century is considerably richer and is dominated above all by historical novels. From the now almost unmanageable number of publications, for example, the novel Pillar of the Sky by Cecelia Holland, published in 1985, the novel Die Druiden von Stonehenge by Wolfgang Hohlbein, published in 1995, or the novel Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell, published in Germany in 2001, are worth mentioning. But family sagas, horror, fantasy, and even crime novels also take up Stonehenge as a more or less dominant part of their plots. John Cowper Powys, in his monumental work about life in the 1920s Glastonbury Romance, combines legends about the Holy Grail and the Arthurian myth with Stonehenge in one episode.


Only three images of Stonehenge are known from the entire Middle Ages. The first pictorial representations of the site come from manuscripts of the 14th and 15th centuries. Since the 16th century there are relatively realistic pictorial representations.

The first of the three illustrations shows the complex in a panoramic view - distorted in perspective, however, to a rectangle; the second illustrates the construction of the complex by the magician Merlin and shows how he lifts one of the capstones onto two supporting stones. The third illustration was rediscovered in 2007 and comes from the historical work Compilatio de Gestis, which was probably written down around 1441. The text accompanying this illustration also refers to the construction of the complex by the wizard Merlin.

The first realistic representation was made by the Dutch artist Lucas de Heere (1534-1584) as a watercolor to illustrate his report Corte Beschryving van England, Scotland ende Irland, handwritten from 1573 to 1575. The painting shows the stone circle from an elevated position facing northwest. The human figure in the center of the picture leans against the supporting stone No. 60. An engraving from 1575 signed only with the initials "R.F." and a watercolor from 1588 by William Smith in the manuscript Particular Description of England show the complex from a similar view as de Heeres watercolor. Presumably, all three pictures are based on the same, unknown original. The engraving signed only with "R.F." was in 1600 the model for a Stonehenge illustration in the book Britannia by William Canden (1551-1623). The illustration was in turn the model for other images of Stonehenge.

The writings of the antiquarian John Aubrey (1626-1697) at the end of the 17th century, the research of the physician William Stukeley published in 1740 on Stonehenge, and the poems of Ossian by James Macpherson (1736-1796) influenced artists during the 18th century to interpret Stonehenge in their paintings as a Celtic or Druidic cult site.

In 1797, the highest of the still standing triliths inside the complex collapsed. For the artists, this created the problem of reproducing the structure and depth of the stone setting in their paintings. In response, paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries now prefer to show the stone circle from a particularly deep perspective, depicting the stones against the backdrop of a low-lying horizon. One of the best-known images that takes this perspective is a watercolor by John Constable (1776-1837), who visited Stonehenge in 1820. Constable initially made only a sketch and then created a watercolor of the stone circle 15 years later. The English landscape painter William Turner (1775-1851) produced other well-known images of Stonehenge. Around 1811 he drew a first view of the stone circle, which later served him as a model for a painting. Another picture was created in 1828 and shows Stonehenge during a thunderstorm.

Painter and sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) created one of the most important recent works of art on Stonehenge in the 1970s with the 16 lithograph Stonehenge Albums.


Documentations and lectures



  1. Stonehenge
  2. Stonehenge
  3. ^ "Whereas mtDNA lineages from megalith burials harbor haplogroups K, H, HV, V, U5b, T, and J (among others), males from megalith burials belong almost exclusively to YDNA haplogroup I, more specifically to the I2a sublineage, which has a time to most recent common ancestor of ∼15000 BCE. This pattern of uniparental marker diversity is found not only among individuals buried in megaliths, but also in other farmer groups from the fourth millennium BCE, which display similar patterns of uniparental marker diversity ... The high frequency of the hunter-gatherer-derived I2a male lineages among megalith as well as nonmegalith individuals suggests a male sex-biased admixture process between the farmer and the hunter-gatherer groups. ... The I2 YDNA lineages that are very common among European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers are distinctly different from the YDNA lineages of the European Early Neolithic farmer groups, but frequent in the farmer groups of the fourth millennium BCE, suggesting a male hunter-gatherer admixture over time."[65]
  4. ^ "... the predominance of a single Y haplogroup (I-M284) across the Irish and British Neolithic population. ... provides further evidence of the importance of patrilineal ancestry in these societies."[66]
  5. ^ "Whereas mtDNA lineages from megalith burials harbor haplogroups K, H, HV, V, U5b, T, and J (among others), males from megalith burials belong almost exclusively to YDNA haplogroup I, more specifically to the I2a sublineage, which has a time to most recent common ancestor of ∼15000 BCE. This pattern of uniparental marker diversity is found not only among individuals buried in megaliths, but also in other farmer groups from the fourth millennium BCE, which display similar patterns of uniparental marker diversity ... The high frequency of the hunter-gatherer-derived I2a male lineages among megalith as well as nonmegalith individuals suggests a male sex-biased admixture process between the farmer and the hunter-gatherer groups. ... The I2 YDNA lineages that are very common among European Mesolithic HGs are distinctly different from the YDNA lineages of the European Early Neolithic farmer groups, but frequent in the farmer groups of the fourth millennium BCE, suggesting a male hunter-gatherer admixture over time."[65]
  6. ^ "We provide the first evidence for sex-biased admixture between hunter-gatherers and farmers in Europe, showing that the Middle Neolithic “resurgence” of hunter-gatherer-related ancestry in central Europe and Iberia was driven more by males than by females."[67]
  7. Eintrag „Stonehenge“ im Duden.
  8. E.J. de Meester: Did Atlantis lay in England? (Nicht mehr online verfügbar.) 12. August 2007, S. siehe dritte Grafik, archiviert vom Original am 12. August 2007; abgerufen am 2. April 2020 (englisch).  Info: Der Archivlink wurde automatisch eingesetzt und noch nicht geprüft. Bitte prüfe Original- und Archivlink gemäß Anleitung und entferne dann diesen Hinweis.@1@2Vorlage:Webachiv/IABot/
  9. Neues aus Stonehenge - Die ganze Doku. Abgerufen am 5. Oktober 2020.
  10. Colin Renfrew: Die Megalith-Kulturen. Hrsg.: Spektrum der Wissenschaft. Januar 1984.
  11. R.S. Thorpe & O. Williams-Torpe: The myth of long-distance megalith transport. Hrsg.: In Antiquity. 1991.
  12. a b c d e f g et h Atkinson chronologie révisée édition 1984, p. 215-216 (on a retenu les datations 14C en valeurs corrigées).
  13. a et b Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, England, Oxford University Press, 1989, 2e éd., « Stonehenge; henge2 »

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