The English castle, as we generally recognise it, was built of stone during the Medieval era. But the story of the history of the castle goes back to the pre-historic times of 3000 - 2000 BC! Pre-historic Stonehenge, and other Stone Circles, were built even before the Neolithic Period when the Causewayed Camps of the Stone Age (3000 - 1800 BC) were built! Stonehenge is famous as being the greatest engineering achievement of pre-historic times.
What is a henge? Facts about the origins of the name 'Stonehenge'
The definition of a henge is "a prehistoric monument built in a circular area with standing stone or wooden pillars and often enclosed by a bank or ditch, probably used for tribal or religious rituals". The origins of the name Stonehenge is taken from the combination of 'stone' and 'henge', a tribute to the biggest henge in Britain. Stonehenge is located on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England - about 137 kilometres Southwest of London. There are many other Stone Circles in Britain which are known to date to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age including Castlerigg (Lake District), Long Meg and her Daughters (Cumbria), Avebury (Wilts), Wayland's Smithy (near the Uffington White Horse), Arbor Low (Derbyshire) and the Rollright Stones (near Oxford)
What was the purpose of Stonehenge?
It is believed that Stonehenge was built as a sacred monument used for meetings and religious purposes. The key stones are aligned with major major solar and lunar events including Solstices and Equinoxes.
Who built Stonehenge? Facts about the History & the Mystery
No one culture can be held responsible for the entire construction and history of the sacred Stonehenge. Through extensive archaeological research it is believed that Stonehenge was built in three stages by three different cultures:
- Construction 1 built by a Secondary Neolithic culture called the Windmill Hill People ( 3500 - 2600 BC )
- the first Stonehenge construction consisted of large stones built on a ditch and bank enclosing a ring of 56 pits - also named the Aubrey Holes after John Aubrey who discovered them
- the Windmill Hill people were probably named for the area of Windmill Hill, Avebury, Wiltshire where some of the stones for Stonehenge originated. Another famous stone circle is situated in Avebury
- Construction 2 built by the Beaker people, named for their pottery drinking cups ( 2600 - 2510 BC )
- second stage history of Stonehenge construction saw the addition of ton blue stone megaliths ( huge stones ) which were brought from the Welsh Preseli mountains
- Construction 3 built by the First Wessex People ( 2600 - 2510 BC )
- the third stage history of the Stonehenge construction saw the addition of 30 sandstone, 25 ton, upright stones called Sarsens were positioned in a circle and capped with morticed stone lintels
Facts about the Description of the ruins at Stonehenge
- Stonehenge has a henge, or a ditch and bank, surrounds the large stone circle
- The Stonehenge ditch is 320 feet (91 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) high and wide
- Long barrows and huge earthworks ( earthen embankments) were built around the stones of Stonehenge
- The Avenue or laneway, marked by several stones, extends from the open horseshoe on the northeast side of the Stonehenge monument to the River Avon
- Along the Stonehenge Avenue the "Slaughter Stone" is situated
- Two pillar stones, called the "Station Stones" are placed in the shape of a rectangle.
- The Stones of the main Stonehenge monument form layers of circles and horseshoe patterns
- An outer stone circle encircling the monument consisting of large stones
- An inner stone circle consisting of smaller stones
- Toward the centre of the Stonehenge monument are trilithons - A Trilithon is a prehistoric structure consisting of two large pillar stones, set upright to support a third which sits across the tops. The stones were attached to the pillars in a technique using mortice and tenon joints
- A final smaller set of stones, set in a horseshoe pattern
Description of the original Stonehenge Structure
Over the years many generations moved some of the original stones to use in other structures. It is believed that the in-tact description of Stonehenge would have been as follows:
- The first stone construction to be placed at the site was the Heel Stone which was 16 feet (4.9m) tall
- The stones increased in size towards the centre of the monument
- The shape of the stones alternated between tall, thin pillars and tall tapering stones ( described as an obelisk shape )
- The Stonehenge Avenue was a ceremonial approach to the Stones which was aligned to the midsummer sunrise
- Along the Avenue is a 'gate' to the main monument called the "Slaughter Stone". It is believed that this may once have been one of a pair of stones
- Two pillar stones, called the "Station Stones" are placed in the shape of a rectangle. It is believed that these may once have been four stones
- A circle of 30 Sarsen outer stones, or sandstones, with lintels
- 60 Bluestones - smaller rocks, called Megaliths, set in a circle between the Sarsen stone circle and
Sarsen stone horseshoe
- Within the Bluestone horseshoe is the construction called the "Altar stone"
- Five huge upright Sarsen stones, called Trilithons, in a Sarsen stone horseshoe
The stones of Stonehenge were placed so that they increased in size towards the centre and alternated in shape between tall, thin pillar-like stones and stones of a tapering obelisk shape.
The Construction of Stonehenge
Generations have marvelled and speculated about the Construction of the massive Stonehenge monument. The stones were huge! Who built the monument? Where did the stones come from? How much did the stones weigh? How were the stones transported? What technology was available to help the ancient builders? Just a few of the many questions, which have been addressed below, about the Construction of Stonehenge!
- The Size of the Stones at the Stonehenge Construction
- The 30 Sarsen stones, or sandstones, with lintels weighed up to 25 tons and stood about four metres high
- The Bluestones, called Megaliths, weighed up to 4 tons
- Trilithons were the heaviest of them all weighing about 45 tons
- Where the Stonehenge stones came from
- The 30 Sarsen stones were believed to originate from a quarry at Marlborough Downs, near Avebury in North Wiltshire - 30 kilometres away!
- The Bluestones weighing up to 4 tons are believed to have come from the Preseli Mountains in
in Pembroke, South Wales, nearly 385 kilometres away!!
- Trilithons were
- How the Stonehenge stones were transported to the construction site
- Hundreds, if not thousands of people, must have been used to transport and for the construction of the amazing feat of engineering called Stonehenge
- The stones were transported at a time before the invention of the wheel!
- The stone from Marlborough Downs must have therefore been dragged using roller, sledges, ropes and levers. It is also possible that they waited for the winter snow and transported the stone more easily across the ice
- The Welsh Stone - Stonehenge is situated on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire - the River Avon is just two kilometres away. The approach to Stone henge, called the Avenue, leads down to the River Avon
- The Welsh Stone must have been dragged down to the sea and floated on huge rafts. From the sea they would have been brought up the River Avon and finally dragged overland to Stone Henge
- The ditches and embankments would have been dug by hand using animal bones and deer
antlers as pick-axes during the construction
- Shoulder blades of cattle or oxen were used as shovels to clear away the stones
- The Construction
- The actual construction of Stonehenge is considered architecturally advanced for this era
- Stones was secured in a type of tongue-and-groove slot
- These Lintels were attached to the pillars by mortice and tenon joints
Facts about the History of the Stonehenge Barrows
During the passing of time Barrows were added to the great monument. A Barrow is a large mound of earth or stones placed over a burial site. Long barrows and huge earthworks ( earthen embankments) such as the Cursus and Durrington Walls were built around the stones during the Secondary Neolithic period. During the Bronze Age hundreds of round barrows were built for the burial of chieftains or shamans.
Fact! Stonehenge was not built by the Druids!
The construction of the monument is most often incorrectly credited to the Druids - but the Druids appeared several thousand years later in history - Stonehenge was definitely not built by Druids!
Stonehenge has fascinated people for thousands of years. The monument dates back so far that it is shrouded in mystery. For thousands of years people have speculated over the true purpose of the massive structure. This speculation has led to many theories surrounding Stonehenge which include the following:
- The UFO Stonehenge Theories - Built and visited by Aliens
- The Computer Theories - it has been suggested that Stonehenge was the equivalent of an ancient computer accurately predicting eclipses and the sunset, sunrise, moonset and moonrise during the soltice periods
- The Human sacrifice Stonehenge Theories
- The Stonehenge Builders Theories - That it was built by the Druids or the Phoenicians or the Greeks
- The Atlantis Stonehenge Theories - That it was built by the people of the lost civilisation of Atlantis
- The Healing Theories - that Stonehenge was a source of healing energy
Evidence of other English Stone Circles and Henges
Archaeological evidence and examples of famous English Stone Circles and Henges include those at Castlerigg (Lake District), Long Meg and her Daughters (Cumbria), Avebury (Wilts), Wayland's Smithy (near the Uffington White Horse), Arbor Low (Derbyshire) and the Rollright Stones (near Oxford). The sites are some of the oldest remains in the English landscape.
Why was Stonehenge so important to English history?
Stonehenge was extremely important to English history and evolution. The facts and information provided on this page are highly relevant to anyone with an interest in English castles and Stonehenge! Artefacts can be viewed at the London Museum, Salisbury Museum and Devizes Museum.