For 5,000 years people have been drawn to Stonehenge. We will never know what drew visitors here over the centuries or why hundreds of people toiled over thousands of years to erect this site, yet visitors the world over come to wonder at this exceptional feat of engineering.
Salisbury Plain, before Stonehenge, was forest, which over the centuries gradually changed to open downland. Sadly the monument you see today is only about half its original size, due to some stones having fallen down and others being taken for building or repair of farm tracks. Visitors over the centuries have added to the damage. It was common practice to bring a hammer and chip bits off the stones to take away as souvenirs. You would probably be hung, drawn and quartered if you tried it these days.
The first stage of the building of Stonehenge was a circle of timbers surrounded by a ditch and bank, which would have been dug using animal bones such as shoulder blades of oxen to dig and deer antlers to pick away at the chalk underneath. By radio carbon dating of deer antlers excavated from the ditch, it is now know that the first stage was built over 50 centuries ago, about 3,100 BC and then the mystery begins. Apart from old bones found around the banks edge, 56 holes were also found. These are now known as Aubrey Holes, named after John Aubrey, the 17th century antiquarian who found them around 1666. These holes held wooden posts just as later holes were dug to hold stone pillars. This was the first stage built just over 5,000 years ago. A wooden post circle surrounded by a ditch and bank.
Around 2,100 BC, some 4,000 years ago and about 2,000 years before the Romans set foot in Britain, Stonehenge was rebuilt, this time of stone. Bluestones were used at this stage which came from the Prescelli Mountains in Pembroke, South Wales, 245 miles (380 klms) away. It is thought that they were dragged to the sea where they were floated on rafts, brought up the River Avon and finally dragged overland to where this stand today. A wondrous feat considering they weigh about 5 tons each and amazing dedication by these ancient people to transport the stones all the way from South Wales.
Before this second stage of construction was finished, work stopped and for a period Stonehenge was abandoned. When restarted, it was to build a bigger and better Stonehenge, the one we know today. This would be the final third stage, built about 2 .000 BC. The bluestones were repositioned and this time much bigger stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs 20 miles (32 klms) away. These giant sandstones or Sarnen stones as they are known today where hammered to size and shape with 'mauls' (stone balls). Each stone was raised to an upright position and linked with lintels. Each lintel is held in place using tongue and groove joints linking the lintels in a circular manner. The lintels were held in place on the uprights using ball and socket joints. To cap it all the whole structure was designed to align with the rising of the sun on mid-summer day. We will never truly know how the stones were made to stand upright, but it must have required the sheer brute strength of hundreds of men to do it. The heaviest of the stones weigh in the region of 45 tonnes.
Stonehenge is without doubt one of the finest prehistoric monuments in existence today and a remarkable mystery.
Stonehenge - Painted by John Constable
Stones of Stonehenge
Stonehenge is probably Britain’s most important and famous prehistoric monument in the whole of Britain (indeed, one of the most famous sites in the World) and has attracted and continues attract thousands of visitors every year from across the globe.
Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks. It is at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.