Henge of the World

Henge of the World

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As the full rose-tinted moon ascended sedately into the night sky it bathed the Avebury henge in a pale luminous glow, and the great monolithic stones threw translucent shadows out across the grass. The crisp night air was wet with dew and mist, and the atmosphere was equally laden with expectation. Suddenly a ghostly figure stepped silently from behind one of the massive stones in the central ring, his head betraying the frightening outline of a wolf. The assembled masses on the great banks of the henge gave a muffled collective intake of breath.

A drum began a rhythmic beat, and the Shaman stepped softly from stone to stone in a circular dance, his feet stirring the few wisps of mist that clung to the long grass. The crowd too joined the chant, which grew in confidence and pace, faster and faster and then, quite abruptly - he stopped. An eerie silence descended on the land once more, and not a breath of wind stirred the night air. The Shaman pulled the heart of a bull out of a bag around his waist, it was fresh, dripping blood and gushing great clouds of steam into the night air. The Shaman slowly raised the heart up aloft, the blood dripping onto his mask and gave out a long and mournful cry to the heavens - Aaaarrrrrooowwwwww!


The type of portrayal above may be quite familiar to those of us who have been exposed to the prevailing propaganda given for the Neolithic societies of North Western Europe. But why are we so comfortable with this imagery for the ancient societies who lived near Avebury and Stonehenge? Is it because these imagined shamanic rituals are so alien to our modern culture that we can partition this era off, and consign it to an uncivilised past that has nothing to do with our modern lives? I suspect that this is part of the attraction, and yet the established imagery for Neolithic life is completely wrong. And I can prove it.

But if our basic understanding of Neolithic life is wrong, then what are we to replace it with? How much did ancient man know of our world? How complex was his educational system? These are the questions that we shall try to answer in this short article, and the answers that will emerge from this process will be quite astounding and yet very difficult to dismiss. The starting point in this process is the great henges themselves. Like the great pyramids of Egypt, there have been many and varied ideas proposed as to the function of these amazing megalithic structures. Why did ancient man devote so much time and energy to their construction? And if they were so important, as they evidently were, then what was their true function? To simply brush off these questions by alluding to the imagined shamanic rituals that have just been described is not a real answer. In fact, it is a statement of ignorance. Ancient man knew why these monuments were built, so why don’t we?

The answer is that we are probably not using the right mind-set. We are trying to interpret these structures in our terms; to resolve their function within our established framework of society, history and religion. And the greatest fallacy in this methodology is the bald assumption that we know more than the ancients, who surely must have lived in a barbarous and uneducated era. But perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps our established understanding of history is based upon misinterpretations. Perhaps our view of our educational and technological superiority is unjustified. What if there was, long ago, a highly literate civilisation that was conversant with much of modern science and astronomy; the very same society that designed and organised the construction of these magnificent monuments in both Wessex and Egypt. This may be a heretical proposal, but let us run with this for a while and see where it takes us. The question then becomes: what would a technical civilisation want to design into a grand megalithic monument?

Fig 1. A plan-view of Avebury, showing all the major features. Note the two

smaller circles inside the larger Avebury circle.


Let us look at a few of the main features of Avebury, and see if we can deduce their real function and meaning. In the upper hemisphere of this henge there is a small circle, and in its center there is a group of three large standing stones. Except for the Obelisk in the southern circle, these were the biggest stones on the Avebury site, and so one suspects that they were important in some manner. These three stones were also unlike any others on the site: they were flat, rectangular and placed in the ground in a rectangular fashion, rather than resembling a diamond. They measure some 5 x 4 meters each and were placed in a formation resembling the walls of an enclosure, and so they became known as the Cove.

Many have identified these stones as being an example of a dolmen, which normally consists of three upright stones and a huge capstone on the top. But this is not a normal dolmen: the layout of the lower stones is atypical and there is no evidence of there ever having been a capstone. Actually, this enclosure has another function entirely. It consists of three stones that form a horseshoe-like arrangement that points with its open end out towards the north-east, a horseshoe shape that is enclosed within a circle of stones.

Does this description not sound familiar? Is the 'Cove' not a smaller copy of the central formation on the Stonehenge site? At Stonehenge we have the Trilithons, the pairs of standing stones that form a horseshoe shape in the center of the sarsen circle; the pairs of standing stones that were the largest on the site, the horseshoe arrangement that points out towards the north east. Is this not exactly what we see here in the northern circle at Avebury, a smaller model of Stonehenge?

Fig 2. The Avebury horseshoe formation - The Stonehenge horseshoe formation

The similarity in design between the Avebury horseshoe and the Stonehenge horseshoe formation seemed reasonably clear, and these two megalithic monuments do lie quite close to each other on the plains of Marlborough. But had this correspondence really been planned? If it had, then Avebury contained a smaller model of Stonehenge, or perhaps even a diagram or map of Stonehenge. And therefore the design of Avebury involved cartography - it was something to do with maps.

This in itself is a rather revolutionary concept for a Neolithic site, so in order to pursue this concept further it is at this point that we must try to purge our minds of any previous ideas we may have had about these sites, from whatever end of the spectrum they may come. Try to start with a blank sheet and work up from there. These ancient builders were men and women exactly like us. Their education may have been a little different, but for the educated elite it was probably no less demanding. Think of them as having the same ideas, and perhaps the same knowledge of the world, as ourselves. Many may disagree with such a bold assertion, but that is the very reason why the Avebury henge has not been seen for what it is for so long. It needs an open mind to see the real Avebury.

One of the diamond shaped sarsen stones at Avebury.

Heaven on Earth

The time has come to disclose some of the dramatic evidence that is included in the book Thoth, Architect of the Universe . The answer to one of the central enigmas of British history, is very simply that Avebury is a representation of our planet Earth. And quite a good one at that!

Fig 4. The Avebury Earth - The Real Earth

Such a suggestion may sound preposterous. We are talking about Neolithic man here, so how could Neolithic man have known the form and inclination of our Earth? This is where established dogma and propaganda clouds our judgment. We must keep the sheet of paper blank until we have something to put on it, otherwise this novel and revolutionary reasoning cannot be taken to its ultimate conclusion. Instead, let us take a look at the evidence in favour of this suggestion, for there is plenty there to be found:

a. Notice how the east–west road cuts across the Avebury ring, this can be considered as being the equator of the Avebury Earth.

b. Notice how the circle of Avebury leans to the left a little, at an angle of about 23° from true north. It is unlikely that this is the result of imperfect surveying. As a line joining the centers of the two small inner circles mimics this leaning angle quite precisely, it has to have been designed this way. However, if one is prepared to take on board the controversial theory, one cannot help noticing that the Earth’s current angle of obliquity, the angle at which it also ‘leans’, is some 23.4°.

c. Note that the henge circle is not quite circular. It has traditionally been assumed that this was because the ancients could not survey a circle properly; and yet there are many examples of perfectly circular henges in Britain, including the Stonehenge site and the smaller circles at Avebury. However, we now have an entirely plausible reason for why Avebury was not designed to be circular, it is because the Earth itself is not circular. The Earth as it spins bulges out the equatorial latitudes, and that is exactly what we find at Avebury; the east–west dimension of the henge is greater than the north–south dimension, just as it is on the real Earth.

d. We have already identified the Cove in the northern small circle at Avebury as being a small representation or map of Stonehenge, but why was it put there? The answer is now clear - it is because Stonehenge is in the northern hemisphere, both on the real Earth and on our Avebury Earth. What we appear to have here is a megalithic picture of our Earth, floating in space, a picture with Stonehenge clearly marked for all to see.

Fig 5. Stonehenge at Avebury - The real Stonehenge

This is what one might call a really ground-breaking theory, one that turns upside-down all previous ideas and explanations, not only about Avebury but also about the history of mankind. These are our familiar Stone Age hunter-gatherers, people who have only just come out of the woods to do a little farming and settle in primitive stick and mud huts. It was always difficult to imagine these primitive people having the technology and organization required to drag the massive sarsen stones into these highly elaborate and technical stone circles, like Stonehenge. Yet here we have them not only doing all this, but also drawing highly accurate pictures of our Earth as seen from space.

Such revelations can be uncomfortable on the mind, so think about this for a while and let the concept settle and normalise itself. However, despite this being a truly amazing hypothesis, it would remain just that if it were not for some nice little confirmations that can verify this theory and set us thinking even more.

Complete Picture

The proof that Avebury truly is a representation of the Earth floating in space is to be found in the southern circle at Avebury; the small circle with a small crescent formation inside it, as shown in fig 1. The book Thoth, Architect of the Universe, goes on to demonstrate that this small crescent shape of stones is marked upon the Earth as a small crescent shape of islands in the south Atlantic. And so we have two terrestrial markers on the Avebury site - the Stonehenge Cove in the northern hemisphere, and the crescent shaped Islands in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, the latitude of Stonehenge and the latitude of this crescent of islands is also accurately marked upon the Avebury henge, for it is precisely denoted by the number of stones that were used to circle these formations.

The crescent shaped islands in the southern hemisphere. For more details on these islands, please see the book.

Hold on a minute. So now we are saying that Stone Age man could not only understand and depict the outline of the Earth, but could also measure lines of latitude on the Earth? Surely that is impossible. What kind of instrumentation would they have used for this?

While the nature of the measuring instrument used to create Avebury is open to debate, the fact that the ancients could measure lines of latitude can be proven; and we can easily demonstrate this right here and now. In the book it was demonstrated that the prime-number seven (7) was sacred, because of its intimate relationship to the fractional approximation of Pi (22:7), and that the numbers 7 and 22 were used many times in these sacred sites. However, if the complete 360° circle of our globe is divided by seven, the answer is 51.42857143. Or if we translate that very accurate number into degrees, minutes and seconds we derive 51° 25ʹ 43ʺ. The degree position here is accurate to 30 m, while the decimal equivalent is accurate to the nearest meter. However:

Latitude 51° 25ʹ 43ʺ lies at the very center of the Avebury Henge.

This amazing feature can now be verified with the remarkable Google Maps system. Firstly, make sure the satellite function is selected, so surface features are displayed. Place the latitude we have just calculated into the Google Map search box (N 51.42857143) and then place alongside it the appropriate longitude (W 1.8541980). Note where the red marker is placed - right in the center of the Avebury Henge. The likelihood of this occurring by chance is about a million to one. Personally, I believe that this precise latitude was deliberately chosen by the ancient architects, in order to demonstrate to us that the 360° latitude measurement system well understood in this early era and therefore the spherical form of the Earth must have also been understood. And yet if Stone Age man knew the form of the Earth, they could quite easily highlight and preserve that knowledge by fashioning a henge in the shape of the Earth. However, this revolutionary new evidence does create a very different perspective on the capabilities of ancient man, and the levels of knowledge and technology that they possessed.

Avebury lies on an exact 1/7th of the circumference of the Earth. The red marker on this image, is the Google marker for 51° 25 ʹ 43 ʺ north.

By Ralph Ellis

7 Things You Should Know About Stonehenge

Around 3000 B.C. a circular earthwork was constructed at the site, consisting of a ditch (dug using tools made from antlers) with an inner and outer bank. Inside the bank were 56 pits, which became known as the Aubrey Holes, after antiquarian John Aubrey, who identified them in 1666. Archaeologists estimate Stonehenge was home to 150 or more cremation burials from approximately 3000 B.C. to 2300 B.C., and they’ve called it Britain’s biggest known cemetery of the time.

The two types of stones at the center of the monument, the large sarsens and smaller bluestones, arrived at the site sometime around 2500 B.C. Afterward, they were shaped using various stoneworking techniques and arranged in formations. The final stage of construction was a ring of pits now referred to as the Y holes, dug sometime between 1600 B.C. to 1500 B.C. The Y holes encircled another ring of pits called the Z holes, which were dug at an earlier time and surrounded the sarsens. Researchers are unclear as to whether the Y and Z holes served any purpose. It’s also unknown how long Stonehenge continued to be used after the Y holes were dug.


Stonehenge is a Neolithic / Bronze Age monument located on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, southern England. The first monument on the site, began around 3100 BCE, was a circular ‘henge’ earthwork about 360 feet (110 metres) in diameter, a 'henge' in the archaeological sense being a circular or oval-shaped flat area enclosed by a boundary earthwork.

This structure probably contained a ring of 56 wooden posts (or possibly an early bluestone circle), the pits for which are named Aubrey Holes (after the 17th century local antiquarian John Aubrey). Later, around 3000 BCE (the beginning of Stonehenge Phase II), some kind of timber structure seems to have been built within the enclosure, and Stonehenge functioned as a cremation cemetery, the earliest and largest so far discovered in Britain. Phase III at Stonehenge, beginning around 2,550 BCE, involved the refashioning of the simple earth and timber henge into a unique stone monument.


In the first stage, two concentric circles, (sometimes known as the ‘Double Bluestone Circle’), of 80 ‘bluestone’ (dolorite, rhyolite and tuff) pillars were erected at the centre of the monument, with a main entrance to the North East. These bluestones, weighing about 4 tons each, originate in the Preseli Hills, in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, and were probably transported from there to Salisbury Plain over a route at least 185 miles long (see the chapter on Preseli). Apart from the bluestones, a 16.4 foot long greenish sandstone slab, now known as the Altar Stone, was brought to Stonehenge from somewhere between Kidwelly, near Milford Haven on the coast to the south of the Preseli Hills and Abergavenny, in southeast Wales.

It is thought that that the north eastern entrance to the enclosure was remodelled during Phase III so that it precisely aligned with the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of the period. Outside this entrance another feature, known as the Avenue, was added to the Stonehenge landscape. The Avenue (probably a ceremonial pathway) consists of a parallel pair of ditches and banks stretching for 1.5 miles from Stonehenge down to the River Avon. It had previosuly been thought that around 2,400 BCE the bluestones were dug up and replaced by enormous sarsen blocks brought from a quarry around 24 miles to the north on the Marlborough Downs.


However, recent work lead by Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield has suggested redating the sarsen phase to 2640-2480 BCE, which would obviously affect the chronology of the site significantly. Thirty of these huge sarsens, each around 13.5 feet high, 7 feet wide and weighing around 25 tons, were set up in a 98 foot diameter circle. On top of these were placed smaller sarsen lintels (horizontal stones) spanning the tops and held in place by ‘mortice and tenon’ joints. Within this sarsen circle a horse-shoe shaped setting of 15 more sarsens, making five trilithons (two large stones set upright to support a third on their top) was erected. Somewhere between 2280 and 1900 BCE, the blue stones were re-erected and arranged at least three times, finally forming an inner circle and horseshoe between the sarsen circle and the trilithons, mirroring the two arrangements of sarsen stones. This arrangement is essentially the monument that we see the remains of today.

Between 2030 and 1520 BCE a double ring of oblong pits, known as the Y and Z holes, were dug outside the outermost sarsen circle, possibly to take another setting of stones. However, there is no evidence that the holes ever held stones or wooden posts and they were eventually allowed to silt up naturally. The Y and Z holes seem to mark the end of significant activity at the site and after c. 1520 BCE there was no further construction at Stonehenge, and the monument appears to have been abandoned.

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But why was Stonehenge built and was was it used for? As mentioned above, the monument certainly functioned as a cremation cemetery early in its history, probably for the burial of elite members of clans or prominent local families. The presence of a number of burials around Stonehenge which exhibit signs of trauma or deformity have suggested to some researchers, among them Professor Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University, that the monument was a place of healing, akin to a prehistoric Lourdes. Other researchers, such as Professor Mike Parker Pearson, head of the Stonehenge Riverside Project at the University of Sheffield, believe that Stonehenge functioned as the domain of the dead in a ritual landscape that involved sacred processions to the nearby henge monument of Durrington Walls.

But it would be wrong to attempt to define a single use for Stonehenge. The function of the monument probably changed many times over its 1500 year history as different peoples came and went in the surrounding landscape, and the nature of society changed irrevocably from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

Millennia in the making

Work on the iconic stone circles began centuries after the Greater Cursus, around 3000 B.C. The earliest section was an outer circular earthwork, formed by a moat and two embankments on either side. The central horseshoe made of trilithons (two upright stones topped by a lintel) and the surrounding outer ring of stones were completed around 2500 B.C. These giant building blocks, called sarsens, are sandstone. Weighing around 25 tons each, they were quarried only about 20 miles from where they are today. The 80 smaller slabs of dolerite bluestone standing alongside them came from much farther away: western Wales, a distance of about a 140 miles.


The Oxford English Dictionary cites Ælfric's tenth-century glossary, in which henge-cliff is given the meaning "precipice", or stone thus, the stanenges or Stanheng "not far from Salisbury" recorded by eleventh-century writers are "stones supported in the air". In 1740 William Stukeley notes, "Pendulous rocks are now called henges in Yorkshire . I doubt not, Stonehenge in Saxon signifies the hanging stones." [11] Christopher Chippindale's Stonehenge Complete gives the derivation of the name Stonehenge as coming from the Old English words stān meaning "stone", and either hencg meaning "hinge" (because the stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or hen(c)en meaning "to hang" or "gallows" or "instrument of torture" (though elsewhere in his book, Chippindale cites the "suspended stones" etymology). [12]

The "henge" portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. [11] Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. [13] As often happens in archaeological terminology, this is a holdover from antiquarian use.

Despite being contemporary with true Neolithic henges and stone circles, Stonehenge is in many ways atypical—for example, at more than 24 feet (7.3 m) tall, its extant trilithons' lintels, held in place with mortise and tenon joints, make it unique. [14] [15]

Mike Parker Pearson, leader of the Stonehenge Riverside Project based around Durrington Walls, noted that Stonehenge appears to have been associated with burial from the earliest period of its existence:

Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B.C. The cremation burial dating to Stonehenge's sarsen stones phase is likely just one of many from this later period of the monument's use and demonstrates that it was still very much a domain of the dead. [10]

Stonehenge evolved in several construction phases spanning at least 1500 years. There is evidence of large-scale construction on and around the monument that perhaps extends the landscape's time frame to 6500 years. Dating and understanding the various phases of activity are complicated by disturbance of the natural chalk by periglacial effects and animal burrowing, poor quality early excavation records, and a lack of accurate, scientifically verified dates. The modern phasing most generally agreed to by archaeologists is detailed below. Features mentioned in the text are numbered and shown on the plan, right.

Before the monument (from 8000 BC)

Archaeologists have found four, or possibly five, large Mesolithic postholes (one may have been a natural tree throw), which date to around 8000 BC, beneath the nearby old tourist car-park in use until 2013. These held pine posts around two feet six inches (0.75 m) in diameter, which were erected and eventually rotted in situ. Three of the posts (and possibly four) were in an east-west alignment which may have had ritual significance. [16] Another Mesolithic astronomical site in Britain is the Warren Field site in Aberdeenshire, which is considered the world's oldest Lunar calendar, corrected yearly by observing the midwinter solstice. [17] Similar but later sites have been found in Scandinavia. [18] A settlement that may have been contemporaneous with the posts has been found at Blick Mead, a reliable year-round spring one mile (1.6 km) from Stonehenge. [19] [20]

Salisbury Plain was then still wooded, but 4,000 years later, during the earlier Neolithic, people built a causewayed enclosure at Robin Hood's Ball and long barrow tombs in the surrounding landscape. In approximately 3500 BC, a Stonehenge Cursus was built 2,300 feet (700 m) north of the site as the first farmers began to clear the trees and develop the area. A number of other previously overlooked stone or wooden structures and burial mounds may date as far back as 4000 BC. [21] [22] Charcoal from the ‘Blick Mead’ camp 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Stonehenge (near the Vespasian's Camp site) has been dated to 4000 BC. [23] The University of Buckingham's Humanities Research Institute believes that the community who built Stonehenge lived here over a period of several millennia, making it potentially "one of the pivotal places in the history of the Stonehenge landscape." [24]

Stonehenge 1 (c. 3100 BC)

The first monument consisted of a circular bank and ditch enclosure made of Late Cretaceous (Santonian Age) Seaford Chalk, measuring about 360 feet (110 m) in diameter, with a large entrance to the north east and a smaller one to the south. It stood in open grassland on a slightly sloping spot. [25] The builders placed the bones of deer and oxen in the bottom of the ditch, as well as some worked flint tools. The bones were considerably older than the antler picks used to dig the ditch, and the people who buried them had looked after them for some time prior to burial. The ditch was continuous but had been dug in sections, like the ditches of the earlier causewayed enclosures in the area. The chalk dug from the ditch was piled up to form the bank. This first stage is dated to around 3100 BC, after which the ditch began to silt up naturally. Within the outer edge of the enclosed area is a circle of 56 pits, each about 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter, known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, the seventeenth-century antiquarian who was thought to have first identified them. These pits and the bank and ditch together are known as the Palisade or Gate Ditch. [26] The pits may have contained standing timbers creating a timber circle, although there is no excavated evidence of them. A recent excavation has suggested that the Aubrey Holes may have originally been used to erect a bluestone circle. [27] If this were the case, it would advance the earliest known stone structure at the monument by some 500 years.

In 2013 a team of archaeologists, led by Mike Parker Pearson, excavated more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments, from 63 individuals, buried at Stonehenge. [3] [4] These remains had originally been buried individually in the Aubrey holes, exhumed during a previous excavation conducted by William Hawley in 1920, been considered unimportant by him, and subsequently re-interred together in one hole, Aubrey Hole 7, in 1935. [28] Physical and chemical analysis of the remains has shown that the cremated were almost equally men and women, and included some children. [3] [4] As there was evidence of the underlying chalk beneath the graves being crushed by substantial weight, the team concluded that the first bluestones brought from Wales were probably used as grave markers. [3] [4] Radiocarbon dating of the remains has put the date of the site 500 years earlier than previously estimated, to around 3000 BC. [3] [4] A 2018 study of the strontium content of the bones found that many of the individuals buried there around the time of construction had probably come from near the source of the bluestone in Wales and had not extensively lived in the area of Stonehenge before death. [29]

Between 2017 and 2021, studies by Professor Pearson (UCL) and his team suggested that the bluestones used in Stonehenge had been moved there following dismantling of a stone circle of identical size to the first known Stonehenge circle (110m) at the Welsh site of Waun Mawn in the Preseli Hills. [30] [31] It had contained bluestones one of which showed evidence of having been reused in Stonehenge. The stone was identified by its unusual pentagonal shape and by luminescence soil dating from the filled-in sockets which showed the circle had been erected around 3400-3200 BCE, and dismantled around 300–400 years later, consistent with the dates attributed to the creation of Stonehenge. [30] [31] The cessation of human activity in that area at the same time suggested migration as a reason, but it is believed that other stones may have come from other sources. [30] [31]

Stonehenge 2 (c. 3000 BC)

Evidence of the second phase is no longer visible. The number of postholes dating to the early third millennium BC suggests that some form of timber structure was built within the enclosure during this period. Further standing timbers were placed at the northeast entrance, and a parallel alignment of posts ran inwards from the southern entrance. The postholes are smaller than the Aubrey Holes, being only around 16 inches (0.4 m) in diameter, and are much less regularly spaced. The bank was purposely reduced in height and the ditch continued to silt up. At least twenty-five of the Aubrey Holes are known to have contained later, intrusive, cremation burials dating to the two centuries after the monument's inception. It seems that whatever the holes' initial function, it changed to become a funerary one during Phase two. Thirty further cremations were placed in the enclosure's ditch and at other points within the monument, mostly in the eastern half. Stonehenge is therefore interpreted as functioning as an enclosed cremation cemetery at this time, the earliest known cremation cemetery in the British Isles. Fragments of unburnt human bone have also been found in the ditch-fill. Dating evidence is provided by the late Neolithic grooved ware pottery that has been found in connection with the features from this phase.

Stonehenge 3 I (c. 2600 BC)

Archaeological excavation has indicated that around 2600 BC, the builders abandoned timber in favour of stone and dug two concentric arrays of holes (the Q and R Holes) in the centre of the site. These stone sockets are only partly known (hence on present evidence are sometimes described as forming 'crescents') however, they could be the remains of a double ring. Again, there is little firm dating evidence for this phase. The holes held up to 80 standing stones (shown blue on the plan), only 43 of which can be traced today. It is generally accepted that the bluestones (some of which are made of dolerite, an igneous rock), were transported by the builders from the Preseli Hills, 150 miles (240 km) away in modern-day Pembrokeshire in Wales. Another theory is that they were brought much nearer to the site as glacial erratics by the Irish Sea Glacier [32] although there is no evidence of glacial deposition within southern central England. [33] A 2019 publication announced that evidence of Megalithic quarrying had been found at quarries in Wales identified as a source of Stonehenge's bluestone, indicating that the bluestone was quarried by human agency and not transported by glacial action. [34]

The long-distance human transport theory was bolstered in 2011 by the discovery of a megalithic bluestone quarry at Craig Rhos-y-felin, near Crymych in Pembrokeshire, which is the most likely place for some of the stones to have been obtained. [33] Other standing stones may well have been small sarsens (sandstone), used later as lintels. The stones, which weighed about two tons, could have been moved by lifting and carrying them on rows of poles and rectangular frameworks of poles, as recorded in China, Japan and India. It is not known whether the stones were taken directly from their quarries to Salisbury Plain or were the result of the removal of a venerated stone circle from Preseli to Salisbury Plain to "merge two sacred centres into one, to unify two politically separate regions, or to legitimise the ancestral identity of migrants moving from one region to another". [33] Evidence of a 110-m stone circle at Waun Mawn near Preseli, which could have contained some or all of the stones in Stonehenge, has been found, including a hole from a rock that that matches the unusual cross-section of a Stonehenge bluestone “like a key in a lock.” [35] Each monolith measures around 6.6 feet (2 m) in height, between 3.3 and 4.9 ft (1 and 1.5 m) wide and around 2.6 feet (0.8 m) thick. What was to become known as the Altar Stone is almost certainly derived from the Senni Beds, perhaps from 50 miles (80 kilometres) east of the Preseli Hills in the Brecon Beacons. [33]

The north-eastern entrance was widened at this time, with the result that it precisely matched the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of the period. This phase of the monument was abandoned unfinished, however the small standing stones were apparently removed and the Q and R holes purposefully backfilled.

The Heel Stone, a Tertiary sandstone, may also have been erected outside the north-eastern entrance during this period. It cannot be accurately dated and may have been installed at any time during phase 3. At first, it was accompanied by a second stone, which is no longer visible. Two, or possibly three, large portal stones were set up just inside the north-eastern entrance, of which only one, the fallen Slaughter Stone, 16 feet (4.9 m) long, now remains. Other features, loosely dated to phase 3, include the four Station Stones, two of which stood atop mounds. The mounds are known as "barrows" although they do not contain burials. Stonehenge Avenue, a parallel pair of ditches and banks leading two miles (3 km) to the River Avon, was also added.

Stonehenge 3 II (2600 BC to 2400 BC)

During the next major phase of activity, 30 enormous Oligocene–Miocene sarsen stones (shown grey on the plan) were brought to the site. They came from a quarry around 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of Stonehenge, in West Woods, Wiltshire. [36] The stones were dressed and fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before 30 were erected as a 108-foot (33 m) diameter circle of standing stones, with a ring of 30 lintel stones resting on top. The lintels were fitted to one another using another woodworking method, the tongue and groove joint. Each standing stone was around 13 feet (4.1 m) high, 6.9 feet (2.1 m) wide and weighed around 25 tons. Each had clearly been worked with the final visual effect in mind the orthostats widen slightly towards the top in order that their perspective remains constant when viewed from the ground, while the lintel stones curve slightly to continue the circular appearance of the earlier monument. [ citation needed ]

The inward-facing surfaces of the stones are smoother and more finely worked than the outer surfaces. The average thickness of the stones is 3.6 feet (1.1 m) and the average distance between them is 3.3 feet (1 m). A total of 75 stones would have been needed to complete the circle (60 stones) and the trilithon horseshoe (15 stones). It was thought the ring might have been left incomplete, but an exceptionally dry summer in 2013 revealed patches of parched grass which may correspond to the location of removed sarsens. [37] The lintel stones are each around 10 feet (3.2 m) long, 3.3 feet (1 m) wide and 2.6 feet (0.8 m) thick. The tops of the lintels are 16 feet (4.9 m) above the ground. [ citation needed ]

Within this circle stood five trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape 45 feet (13.7 m) across, with its open end facing northeast. These huge stones, ten uprights and five lintels, weigh up to 50 tons each. They were linked using complex jointing. They are arranged symmetrically. The smallest pair of trilithons were around 20 feet (6 m) tall, the next pair a little higher, and the largest, single trilithon in the south-west corner would have been 24 feet (7.3 m) tall. Only one upright from the Great Trilithon still stands, of which 22 feet (6.7 m) is visible and a further 7.9 feet (2.4 m) is below ground. The images of a 'dagger' and 14 'axeheads' have been carved on one of the sarsens, known as stone 53 further carvings of axeheads have been seen on the outer faces of stones 3, 4, and 5. The carvings are difficult to date but are morphologically similar to late Bronze Age weapons. Early 21st-century laser scanning of the carvings supports this interpretation. The pair of trilithons in the north east are smallest, measuring around 20 feet (6 m) in height the largest, which is in the south-west of the horseshoe, is almost 25 feet (7.5 m) tall. [ dubious – discuss ]

This ambitious phase has been radiocarbon dated to between 2600 and 2400 BC, [38] slightly earlier than the Stonehenge Archer, discovered in the outer ditch of the monument in 1978, and the two sets of burials, known as the Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen, discovered three miles (5 km) to the west. Analysis of animal teeth found two miles (3 km) away at Durrington Walls, thought by Parker Pearson to be the 'builders camp', suggests that, during some period between 2600 and 2400 BC, as many as 4,000 people gathered at the site for the mid-winter and mid-summer festivals the evidence showed that the animals had been slaughtered around nine months or 15 months after their spring birth. Strontium isotope analysis of the animal teeth showed that some had been brought from as far afield as the Scottish Highlands for the celebrations. [4] [5] At about the same time, a large timber circle and a second avenue were constructed at Durrington Walls overlooking the River Avon. The timber circle was oriented towards the rising Sun on the midwinter solstice, opposing the solar alignments at Stonehenge. The avenue was aligned with the setting Sun on the summer solstice and led from the river to the timber circle. Evidence of huge fires on the banks of the Avon between the two avenues also suggests that both circles were linked. They were perhaps used as a procession route on the longest and shortest days of the year. Parker Pearson speculates that the wooden circle at Durrington Walls was the centre of a 'land of the living', whilst the stone circle represented a 'land of the dead', with the Avon serving as a journey between the two. [39]

Stonehenge 3 III (2400 BC to 2280 BC)

Later in the Bronze Age, although the exact details of activities during this period are still unclear, the bluestones appear to have been re-erected. They were placed within the outer sarsen circle and may have been trimmed in some way. Like the sarsens, a few have timber-working style cuts in them suggesting that, during this phase, they may have been linked with lintels and were part of a larger structure. [ citation needed ]

Stonehenge 3 IV (2280 BC to 1930 BC)

This phase saw further rearrangement of the bluestones. They were arranged in a circle between the two rings of sarsens and in an oval at the centre of the inner ring. Some archaeologists argue that some of these bluestones were from a second group brought from Wales. All the stones formed well-spaced uprights without any of the linking lintels inferred in Stonehenge 3 III. The Altar Stone may have been moved within the oval at this time and re-erected vertically. Although this would seem the most impressive phase of work, Stonehenge 3 IV was rather shabbily built compared to its immediate predecessors, as the newly re-installed bluestones were not well-founded and began to fall over. However, only minor changes were made after this phase. [ citation needed ]

Stonehenge 3 V (1930 BC to 1600 BC)

Soon afterwards, the northeastern section of the Phase 3 IV bluestone circle was removed, creating a horseshoe-shaped setting (the Bluestone Horseshoe) which mirrored the shape of the central sarsen Trilithons. This phase is contemporary with the Seahenge site in Norfolk. [ citation needed ]

After the monument (1600 BC on)

The Y and Z Holes are the last known construction at Stonehenge, built about 1600 BC, and the last usage of it was probably during the Iron Age. Roman coins and medieval artefacts have all been found in or around the monument but it is unknown if the monument was in continuous use throughout British prehistory and beyond, or exactly how it would have been used. Notable is the massive Iron Age hillfort known as Vespasian's Camp (despite its name, not a Roman site) built alongside the Avenue near the Avon. A decapitated seventh-century Saxon man was excavated from Stonehenge in 1923. [40] The site was known to scholars during the Middle Ages and since then it has been studied and adopted by numerous groups. [ citation needed ]

Stonehenge was produced by a culture that left no written records. Many aspects of Stonehenge, such as how it was built and for what purposes it was used, remain subject to debate. A number of myths surround the stones. [41] The site, specifically the great trilithon, the encompassing horseshoe arrangement of the five central trilithons, the heel stone, and the embanked avenue, are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice. [42] [43] A natural landform at the monument's location followed this line, and may have inspired its construction. [44] The excavated remains of culled animal bones suggest that people may have gathered at the site for the winter rather than the summer. [45] Further astronomical associations, and the precise astronomical significance of the site for its people, are a matter of speculation and debate. [ citation needed ]

There is little or no direct evidence revealing the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders. Over the years, various authors have suggested that supernatural or anachronistic methods were used, usually asserting that the stones were impossible to move otherwise due to their massive size. However, conventional techniques, using Neolithic technology as basic as shear legs, have been demonstrably effective at moving and placing stones of a similar size. [46] How the stones could be transported by a prehistoric people without the aid of the wheel or a pulley system is not known. The most common theory of how prehistoric people moved megaliths has them creating a track of logs which the large stones were rolled along. [47] Another megalith transport theory involves the use of a type of sleigh running on a track greased with animal fat. [47] Such an experiment with a sleigh carrying a 40-ton slab of stone was successfully conducted near Stonehenge in 1995. A team of more than 100 workers managed to push and pull the slab along the 18-mile (29 km) journey from the Marlborough Downs. [47]

Proposed functions for the site include usage as an astronomical observatory or as a religious site. More recently two major new theories have been proposed. Geoffrey Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Timothy Darvill, of Bournemouth University, have suggested that Stonehenge was a place of healing—the primeval equivalent of Lourdes. [48] They argue that this accounts for the high number of burials in the area and for the evidence of trauma deformity in some of the graves. However, they do concede that the site was probably multifunctional and used for ancestor worship as well. [49] Isotope analysis indicates that some of the buried individuals were from other regions. A teenage boy buried approximately 1550 BC was raised near the Mediterranean Sea a metal worker from 2300 BC dubbed the "Amesbury Archer" grew up near the Alpine foothills of Germany and the "Boscombe Bowmen" probably arrived from Wales or Brittany, France. [50]

On the other hand, Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University has suggested that Stonehenge was part of a ritual landscape and was joined to Durrington Walls by their corresponding avenues and the River Avon. He suggests that the area around Durrington Walls Henge was a place of the living, whilst Stonehenge was a domain of the dead. A journey along the Avon to reach Stonehenge was part of a ritual passage from life to death, to celebrate past ancestors and the recently deceased. [39] Both explanations were first mooted in the twelfth century by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who extolled the curative properties of the stones and was also the first to advance the idea that Stonehenge was constructed as a funerary monument. Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion. [51]

There are other hypotheses and theories. According to a team of British researchers led by Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, Stonehenge may have been built as a symbol of "peace and unity", indicated in part by the fact that at the time of its construction, Britain's Neolithic people were experiencing a period of cultural unification. [41] [52]

Stonehenge megaliths include smaller bluestones and larger sarsens (a term for silicified sandstone boulders found in the chalk downs of southern England). The bluestones are composed of dolerite, tuff, rhyolite, or sandstone. The igneous bluestones appear to have originated in the Preseli hills of southwestern Wales about 140 miles (230 km) from the monument. [53] The sandstone Altar Stone may have originated in east Wales. Recent analysis has indicated the sarsens originated from West Woods, about 16 miles (26 km) from the monument. [54]

Researchers from the Royal College of Art in London have discovered that the monument's igneous bluestones possess "unusual acoustic properties" – when struck they respond with a "loud clanging noise". According to the team, this idea could explain why certain bluestones were hauled such a long distance, a major technical accomplishment at the time. In certain ancient cultures, rocks that ring out, known as lithophonic rocks, were believed to contain mystic or healing powers, and Stonehenge has a history of association with rituals. The presence of these "ringing rocks" seems to support the hypothesis that Stonehenge was a "place for healing", as has been pointed out by Bournemouth University archaeologist Timothy Darvill, who consulted with the researchers. The bluestones of Stonehenge were likely quarried near a town in Wales called Maenclochog, which means "ringing rock", where the local bluestones were used as church bells until the 18th century. [55]

Researchers studying DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains across Britain determined that the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge were farmers who came from the Eastern Mediterranean, travelling west from there. DNA studies indicate that they had a predominantly Aegean ancestry, although their agricultural techniques seem to have come originally from Anatolia. These Aegean farmers then moved to Iberia before heading north, reaching Britain in about 4,000 BC. [56] [57]

These Neolithic migrants to Britain also may have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large megaliths, and Stonehenge was part of this tradition. [56] [57]

At that time, Britain was inhabited by groups of Western Hunter-Gatherers, similar to the Cheddar Man. When the farmers arrived, DNA studies show that these two groups did not seem to mix much. Instead, there was a substantial population replacement. [56]

The Bell Beaker people arrived later, around 2,500 BC, migrating from mainland Europe. The earliest British beakers were similar to those from the Rhine. [58] There was again a large population replacement in Britain. The Bell Beakers also left their impact on Stonehenge construction. [59] They are also associated with the Wessex culture. [ citation needed ]

The latter appears to have had wide-ranging trade links with continental Europe, going as far as Mycenaean Greece. The wealth from such trade probably permitted the Wessex people to construct the second and third (megalithic) phases of Stonehenge and also indicates a powerful form of social organisation. [60]

The Bell Beakers were also associated with the tin trade, which was Britain's only unique export at the time. Tin was important because it was used to turn copper into bronze, and the Beakers derived much wealth from this. [61]


"Heel Stone", "Friar’s Heel", or "Sun-Stone"

The Heel Stone lies northeast of the sarsen circle, beside the end portion of Stonehenge Avenue. [62] It is a rough stone, 16 feet (4.9 m) above ground, leaning inwards towards the stone circle. [62] It has been known by many names in the past, including "Friar's Heel" and "Sun-stone". [63] [64] At the Summer solstice an observer standing within the stone circle, looking northeast through the entrance, would see the Sun rise in the approximate direction of the Heel Stone, and the Sun has often been photographed over it.

A folk tale relates the origin of the Friar's Heel reference. [65] [66]

The Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up, and brought them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, "No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!" A friar replied, "That’s what you think!", whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there. [67]

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable attributes this tale to Geoffrey of Monmouth, but though book eight of Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae does describe how Stonehenge was built, the two stories are entirely different.

The name is not unique there was a monolith with the same name recorded in the nineteenth century by antiquarian Charles Warne at Long Bredy in Dorset. [68]

Arthurian legend

The twelfth-century Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), by Geoffrey of Monmouth, includes a fanciful story of how Stonehenge was brought from Ireland with the help of the wizard Merlin. [69] Geoffrey's story spread widely, with variations of it appearing in adaptations of his work, such as Wace's Norman French Roman de Brut, Layamon's Middle English Brut, and the Welsh Brut y Brenhinedd.

According to the tale, the stones of Stonehenge were healing stones, which giants had brought from Africa to Ireland. They had been raised on Mount Killaraus to form a stone circle, known as the Giant's Ring or Giant's Round. The fifth-century king Aurelius Ambrosius wished to build a great memorial to the British Celtic nobles slain by the Saxons at Salisbury. Merlin advised him to use the Giant's Ring. The king sent Merlin and Uther Pendragon (King Arthur's father) with 15,000 men to bring it from Ireland. They defeated an Irish army led by Gillomanius, but were unable to move the huge stones. With Merlin's help, they transported the stones to Britain and re-erected them as they had stood. [70] Mount Killaraus may refer to the Hill of Uisneach. [71] Although the tale is fiction, archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson suggests it may hold a "grain of truth", as evidence suggests the Stonehenge bluestones were brought from the Waun Mawn stone circle on the Irish Sea coast of Wales. [72]

Another legend tells how the invading Saxon king Hengist invited British Celtic warriors to a feast but treacherously ordered his men to massacre the guests, killing 420 of them. Hengist erected Stonehenge on the site to show his remorse for the deed. [73]

Sixteenth century to present

Stonehenge has changed ownership several times since King Henry VIII acquired Amesbury Abbey and its surrounding lands. In 1540 Henry gave the estate to the Earl of Hertford. It subsequently passed to Lord Carleton and then the Marquess of Queensberry. The Antrobus family of Cheshire bought the estate in 1824. During the First World War an aerodrome (Royal Flying Corps "No. 1 School of Aerial Navigation and Bomb Dropping") [74] was built on the downs just to the west of the circle and, in the dry valley at Stonehenge Bottom, a main road junction was built, along with several cottages and a cafe. The Antrobus family sold the site after their last heir was killed in the fighting in France. The auction by Knight Frank & Rutley estate agents in Salisbury was held on 21 September 1915 and included "Lot 15. Stonehenge with about 30 acres, 2 rods, 37 perches [12.44 ha] of adjoining downland." [75]

Cecil Chubb bought the site for £6,600 (£532,800 in 2021) and gave it to the nation three years later, with certain conditions attached. Although it has been speculated that he purchased it at the suggestion of – or even as a present for – his wife, in fact he bought it on a whim, as he believed a local man should be the new owner. [75]

In the late 1920s a nationwide appeal was launched to save Stonehenge from the encroachment of the modern buildings that had begun to rise around it. [76] By 1928 the land around the monument had been purchased with the appeal donations and given to the National Trust to preserve. The buildings were removed (although the roads were not), and the land returned to agriculture. More recently the land has been part of a grassland reversion scheme, returning the surrounding fields to native chalk grassland. [77]


During the twentieth century, Stonehenge began to revive as a place of religious significance, this time by adherents of Neopaganism and New Age beliefs, particularly the Neo-druids. The historian Ronald Hutton would later remark that "it was a great, and potentially uncomfortable, irony that modern Druids had arrived at Stonehenge just as archaeologists were evicting the ancient Druids from it." [78] The first such Neo-druidic group to make use of the megalithic monument was the Ancient Order of Druids, who performed a mass initiation ceremony there in August 1905, in which they admitted 259 new members into their organisation. This assembly was largely ridiculed in the press, who mocked the fact that the Neo-druids were dressed up in costumes consisting of white robes and fake beards. [79]

Between 1972 and 1984, Stonehenge was the site of the Stonehenge Free Festival. After the Battle of the Beanfield between police and New Age travellers in 1985, this use of the site was stopped for several years and ritual use of Stonehenge is now heavily restricted. [80] Some Druids have arranged an assembling of monuments styled on Stonehenge in other parts of the world as a form of Druidist worship. [81]

The earlier rituals were complemented by the Stonehenge Free Festival, loosely organised by the Polytantric Circle, held between 1972 and 1984, during which time the number of midsummer visitors had risen to around 30,000. [82] However, in 1985 the site was closed to festivalgoers by a High Court injunction. [83] A consequence of the end of the festival in 1985 was the violent confrontation between the police and New Age travellers that became known as the Battle of the Beanfield when police blockaded a convoy of travellers to prevent them from approaching Stonehenge. Beginning in 1985, the year of the Battle, no access was allowed into the stones at Stonehenge for any religious reason. This "exclusion-zone" policy continued for almost fifteen years: until just before the arrival of the twenty-first century, visitors were not allowed to go into the stones at times of religious significance, the winter and summer solstices, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. [84]

However, following a European Court of Human Rights ruling obtained by campaigners such as Arthur Uther Pendragon, the restrictions were lifted. [83] The ruling recognized that members of any genuine religion have a right to worship in their own church, and Stonehenge is a place of worship to Neo-Druids, Pagans and other "Earth based' or 'old' religions. [85] Meetings were organised by the National Trust and others to discuss the arrangements. [86] In 1998, a party of 100 people was allowed access and these included astronomers, archaeologists, Druids, locals, pagans and travellers. [86] In 2000, an open summer solstice event was held and about seven thousand people attended. [86] In 2001, the numbers increased to about 10,000. [86]

Setting and access

When Stonehenge was first opened to the public it was possible to walk among and even climb on the stones, but the stones were roped off in 1977 as a result of serious erosion. [87] Visitors are no longer permitted to touch the stones but are able to walk around the monument from a short distance away. English Heritage does, however, permit access during the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and autumn equinox. Additionally, visitors can make special bookings to access the stones throughout the year. [88] Local residents are still entitled to free admission to Stonehenge because of an agreement concerning the moving of a right of way. [89]

The access situation and the proximity of the two roads have drawn widespread criticism, highlighted by a 2006 National Geographic survey. In the survey of conditions at 94 leading World Heritage Sites, 400 conservation and tourism experts ranked Stonehenge 75th in the list of destinations, declaring it to be "in moderate trouble". [90]

As motorised traffic increased, the setting of the monument began to be affected by the proximity of the two roads on either side—the A344 to Shrewton on the north side, and the A303 to Winterbourne Stoke to the south. Plans to upgrade the A303 and close the A344 to restore the vista from the stones have been considered since the monument became a World Heritage Site. However, the controversy surrounding expensive re-routing of the roads has led to the scheme being cancelled on multiple occasions. On 6 December 2007, it was announced that extensive plans to build Stonehenge road tunnel under the landscape and create a permanent visitors' centre had been cancelled. [91]

On 13 May 2009, the government gave approval for a £25 million scheme to create a smaller visitors' centre and close the A344, although this was dependent on funding and local authority planning consent. [92] On 20 January 2010 Wiltshire Council granted planning permission for a centre 1.5 mi (2.4 kilometres) to the west and English Heritage confirmed that funds to build it would be available, supported by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. [93] On 23 June 2013 the A344 was closed to begin the work of removing the section of road and replacing it with grass. [94] [95] The centre, designed by Denton Corker Marshall, opened to the public on 18 December 2013. [96]

Archaeological research and restoration


Throughout recorded history, Stonehenge and its surrounding monuments have attracted attention from antiquarians and archaeologists. John Aubrey was one of the first to examine the site with a scientific eye in 1666, and in his plan of the monument, he recorded the pits that now bear his name, the Aubrey holes. William Stukeley continued Aubrey's work in the early eighteenth century, but took an interest in the surrounding monuments as well, identifying (somewhat incorrectly) the Cursus and the Avenue. He also began the excavation of many of the barrows in the area, and it was his interpretation of the landscape that associated it with the Druids. [97] Stukeley was so fascinated with Druids that he originally named Disc Barrows as Druids' Barrows. The most accurate early plan of Stonehenge was that made by Bath architect John Wood in 1740. [98] His original annotated survey has recently been computer redrawn and published. [99] [ page needed ] Importantly Wood's plan was made before the collapse of the southwest trilithon, which fell in 1797 and was restored in 1958. [ citation needed ]

William Cunnington was the next to tackle the area in the early nineteenth century. He excavated some 24 barrows before digging in and around the stones and discovered charred wood, animal bones, pottery and urns. He also identified the hole in which the Slaughter Stone once stood. Richard Colt Hoare supported Cunnington's work and excavated some 379 barrows on Salisbury Plain including on some 200 in the area around the Stones, some excavated in conjunction with William Coxe. To alert future diggers to their work they were careful to leave initialled metal tokens in each barrow they opened. Cunnington's finds are displayed at the Wiltshire Museum. In 1877 Charles Darwin dabbled in archaeology at the stones, experimenting with the rate at which remains sink into the earth for his book The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. [ citation needed ]

Stone 22 fell during a fierce storm on 31 December 1900. [100]


William Gowland oversaw the first major restoration of the monument in 1901, which involved the straightening and concrete setting of sarsen stone number 56 which was in danger of falling. In straightening the stone he moved it about half a metre from its original position. [99] Gowland also took the opportunity to further excavate the monument in what was the most scientific dig to date, revealing more about the erection of the stones than the previous 100 years of work had done. During the 1920 restoration William Hawley, who had excavated nearby Old Sarum, excavated the base of six stones and the outer ditch. He also located a bottle of port in the Slaughter Stone socket left by Cunnington, helped to rediscover Aubrey's pits inside the bank and located the concentric circular holes outside the Sarsen Circle called the Y and Z Holes. [101]

Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott and John F. S. Stone re-excavated much of Hawley's work in the 1940s and 1950s, and discovered the carved axes and daggers on the Sarsen Stones. Atkinson's work was instrumental in furthering the understanding of the three major phases of the monument's construction.

In 1958 the stones were restored again, when three of the standing sarsens were re-erected and set in concrete bases. The last restoration was carried out in 1963 after stone 23 of the Sarsen Circle fell over. It was again re-erected, and the opportunity was taken to concrete three more stones. Later archaeologists, including Christopher Chippindale of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge and Brian Edwards of the University of the West of England, campaigned to give the public more knowledge of the various restorations and in 2004 English Heritage included pictures of the work in progress in its book Stonehenge: A History in Photographs. [102] [103] [104]

In 1966 and 1967, in advance of a new car park being built at the site, the area of land immediately northwest of the stones was excavated by Faith and Lance Vatcher. They discovered the Mesolithic postholes dating from between 7000 and 8000 BC, as well as a 10-metre (33 ft) length of a palisade ditch – a V-cut ditch into which timber posts had been inserted that remained there until they rotted away. Subsequent aerial archaeology suggests that this ditch runs from the west to the north of Stonehenge, near the avenue. [101]

Excavations were once again carried out in 1978 by Atkinson and John Evans, during which they discovered the remains of the Stonehenge Archer in the outer ditch, [105] and in 1979 rescue archaeology was needed alongside the Heel Stone after a cable-laying ditch was mistakenly dug on the roadside, revealing a new stone hole next to the Heel Stone.

In the early 1980s Julian C. Richards led the Stonehenge Environs Project, a detailed study of the surrounding landscape. The project was able to successfully date such features as the Lesser Cursus, Coneybury Henge and several other smaller features.

In 1993 the way that Stonehenge was presented to the public was called 'a national disgrace' by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. Part of English Heritage's response to this criticism was to commission research to collate and bring together all the archaeological work conducted at the monument up to this date. This two-year research project resulted in the publication in 1995 of the monograph Stonehenge in its landscape, which was the first publication presenting the complex stratigraphy and the finds recovered from the site. It presented a rephasing of the monument. [106]

21st century

More recent excavations include a series of digs held between 2003 and 2008 known as the Stonehenge Riverside Project, led by Mike Parker Pearson. This project mainly investigated other monuments in the landscape and their relationship to the stones — notably, Durrington Walls, where another "Avenue" leading to the River Avon was discovered. The point where the Stonehenge Avenue meets the river was also excavated and revealed a previously unknown circular area which probably housed four further stones, most likely as a marker for the starting point of the avenue.

In April 2008, Tim Darvill of the University of Bournemouth and Geoff Wainwright of the Society of Antiquaries began another dig inside the stone circle to retrieve datable fragments of the original bluestone pillars. They were able to date the erection of some bluestones to 2300 BC, [2] although this may not reflect the earliest erection of stones at Stonehenge. They also discovered organic material from 7000 BC, which, along with the Mesolithic postholes, adds support for the site having been in use at least 4,000 years before Stonehenge was started. In August and September 2008, as part of the Riverside Project, Julian C. Richards and Mike Pitts excavated Aubrey Hole 7, removing the cremated remains from several Aubrey Holes that had been excavated by Hawley in the 1920s, and re-interred in 1935. [28] A licence for the removal of human remains at Stonehenge had been granted by the Ministry of Justice in May 2008, in accordance with the Statement on burial law and archaeology issued in May 2008. One of the conditions of the licence was that the remains should be reinterred within two years and that in the intervening period they should be kept safely, privately and decently. [107] [108]

A new landscape investigation was conducted in April 2009. A shallow mound, rising to about 16 in (40 centimetres) was identified between stones 54 (inner circle) and 10 (outer circle), clearly separated from the natural slope. It has not been dated but speculation that it represents careless backfilling following earlier excavations seems disproved by its representation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century illustrations. There is some evidence that, as an uncommon geological feature, it could have been deliberately incorporated into the monument at the outset. [25] A circular, shallow bank, little more than four inches (10 cm) high, was found between the Y and Z hole circles, with a further bank lying inside the "Z" circle. These are interpreted as the spread of spoil from the original Y and Z holes, or more speculatively as hedge banks from vegetation deliberately planted to screen the activities within. [25]

In 2010, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project discovered a "henge-like" monument less than 0.62 mi (1 km) away from the main site. [109] This new hengiform monument was subsequently revealed to be located "at the site of Amesbury 50", a round barrow in the Cursus Barrows group. [110]

In November 2011, archaeologists from University of Birmingham announced the discovery of evidence of two huge pits positioned within the Stonehenge Cursus pathway, aligned in celestial position towards midsummer sunrise and sunset when viewed from the Heel Stone. [111] [112] The new discovery was made as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project which began in the summer of 2010. [113] The project uses non-invasive geophysical imaging technique to reveal and visually recreate the landscape. According to team leader Vince Gaffney, this discovery may provide a direct link between the rituals and astronomical events to activities within the Cursus at Stonehenge. [112]

In 2014, the University of Birmingham announced findings including evidence of adjacent stone and wooden structures and burial mounds near Durrington, overlooked previously, that may date as far back as 4000 BC. [116] An area extending to 4.6 square miles (12 km 2 ) was studied to a depth of three metres with ground-penetrating radar equipment. As many as seventeen new monuments, revealed nearby, may be Late Neolithic monuments that resemble Stonehenge. The interpretation suggests a complex of numerous related monuments. Also included in the discovery is that the cursus track is terminated by two 16-foot (5 m) wide, extremely deep pits, [117] whose purpose is still a mystery.

An announcement in November 2020 stated that a plan to construct a four-lane tunnel for traffic below the site had been approved. This was intended to eliminate the section of the A303 that runs close to the circle. The plan had received opposition from a group of "archaeologists, environmentalists and modern-day druids" according to National Geographic but was supported by others who wanted to "restore the landscape to its original setting and improve the experience for visitors". Opponents of the plan were concerned that artifacts that are underground in the area would be lost or that excavation in the area could de-stabilize the stones, leading to their sinking, shifting or perhaps falling. [118] [119]

In February 2021, archaeologists announced the discovery of "vast troves of Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts" [119] while conducting excavations for a proposed highway tunnel near Stonehenge. The find included Bronze Age graves, late neolithic pottery and C-shaped enclosure on the intended site of the Stonehenge road tunnel. Remains also contained a shale object in one of the graves, burnt flint in C-shaped enclosure and the final resting place of a baby. [120]

Origin of sarsens and bluestones

In July 2020, a study led by David Nash of the University of Brighton concluded that the large sarsen stones were "a direct chemical match" to those found at West Woods near Marlborough, Wiltshire, some 15 miles (25 km) north of Stonehenge. [121] A core sample, originally extracted in 1958, had recently been returned. First the fifty-two sarsens were analysed using methods including x-ray fluorescence spectrometry to determine their chemical composition which revealed they were mostly similar. Then the core was destructively analysed and compared with stone samples from various locations in southern Britain. Fifty of the fifty-two megaliths were found to match sarsens in West Woods, thereby identifying the probable origin of the stones. [121] [122] [123]

During 2017 and 2018, excavations by Professor Pearson's team (UCL) at Waun Mawn, a small stone circle site in the Preseli Hills, revealed that the site had originally housed a 110-metre (360 ft) diameter stone circle of the same size as Stonehenge's original bluestone circle, also oriented towards the midsummer solstice. [30] [31] The circle at Waun Mawn also contained a hole from one stone which had a distinctive pentagonal shape, very closely matching the one pentagonal stone at Stonehenge (stonehole 91 at Waun Mawn/stone 62 at Stonehenge). [30] [31] Soil dating of the sediments within the revealed stone holes, via optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), suggested the absent stones at Waun Mawn had been erected around 3400–3200 BCE, and removed around 300–400 years later, a date consistent with theories that the same stones were moved and used at Stonehenge, before later being reorganised into their present locations and supplemented with local sarsens as was already understood. [30] [31] Human activity at Waun Mawn ceased around the same time which has suggested that some people may have migrated to Stonehenge. [30] [31] It has also been suggested that stones from other sources may have been added to Stonehenge, perhaps from other dismantled circles in the region. [30] [31]

Why was Stonehenge built?

Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous of all the henges, vast circular monuments constructed from wood or stone that litter the British countryside. The prehistoric monument was most likely erected in what is now England sometime between 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. and some of the stones were transported all the way from neighboring Wales — no small feat for a Stone Age civilization.

It must have surely been a gargantuan effort and it begs the question: Why on Earth did they bother? Why did Stone Age people build so many henges?

"The short answer is that I don't know and neither does anyone else," said Rosemary Hill, a historian and author of "Stonehenge" (Profile Books and Harvard University Press, 2008).

Before we go any further, it's important to note that, technically speaking, Stonehenge isn't even a henge. The word "henge" is in fact a relatively recent term, first defined by British archaeologist Thomas Kendrick in 1932 to mean a circular bank with a ditch inside it and one or more entrances protruding through the bank. "But Stonehenge is the other way around, it's a bank inside a ditch," Hill told Live Science.

Another fun fact: Even ignoring the reverse order of ditch and bank, most henges still wouldn't have looked like Stonehenge because they were usually made from wood, which makes sense. Wood is everywhere, and is much easier to carve and transport, even if it isn't as durable. It wasn't until the 20th century that archaeologists realized that Britain once boasted a bounty of wood henges that have long since rotted away and vanished from sight.

"After the First World War, when people started flying over the country, they started to see where these constructions had been because they left traces on the ground with their mounds. People hadn't really noticed until they got a bird's-eye view," Hill said. "They're also pretty much unique to Britain."

In Ireland and the Brittany region of France, there are also some similarly ancient stone circles, which though technically not henges do overlap in academic discussions. There's also a wooden henge-like monument dating to the late Stone and early Bronze ages that's not too far from Berlin, and a 4,500-year-old "timber circle" monument in Portugal. If we're counting all of these different types of circles together, there are thought to be thousands sprinkled around the British Isles and parts of mainland Europe. So, back to the question in hand: Why?

Researchers have proposed myriad ideas over the years, suggesting that monuments like Stonehenge were used as sacred hunting grounds, places of community gathering, astronomical calendars, structures for sound amplification, cemeteries or even havens for ancient healing. Excavations offer supporting evidence for some of these claims.

"They've found [human] remains at Stonehenge, so that's strong evidence it was a burial site and it's orientated to the sunset during the winter solstice," Hill explained. "So I think you can say it's to do with the dead and the solstices. It's not unreasonable to think of it as a ritual site and there's no evidence of people eating or living there."

Woodhenge was identified from an aerial photograph taken by Squadron Leader (later Group Captain) Gilbert Insall, VC, in 1926, [3] during the same period that an aerial archaeology survey of Wessex [4] by Alexander Keiller and OGS Crawford (Archaeology Officer for the Ordnance Survey) was being undertaken. Although some sources attribute the identification of the henge to Crawford, Crawford himself credits its discovery [5] to Insall. However, the site had been previously found in the early 19th century and described as an earthwork, thought to be a disc barrow. It was originally called Dough Cover. Maud Cunnington and B.H. Cunnington subsequently excavated the site between 1926 and 1929, [6] confirming that it was indeed a henge. [6]

Pottery from the excavation was identified as being consistent with the grooved ware style of the middle Neolithic, although later Beaker sherds were also found. Thus, the structure was probably built during the period of cultural similarities commonly known as the Beaker. The Beaker culture spans both the Late Neolithic and Britain's Early Bronze Age and includes both the distinctive "bell beaker" type ceramic vessels for which the cultural grouping is known, and other local styles of pottery from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

While construction of the timber monument was probably earlier, the ditch has been dated to between 2470 and 2000 BC, which would be about the same time as, or slightly later than, construction of the stone circle at Stonehenge. [7] Radiocarbon dating of artefacts shows that the site was still in use around 1800 BC. [8]

The site consists of six concentric oval rings of postholes, the outermost being about 43 by 40 metres (141 by 131 ft) wide. They are surrounded first by a single flat-bottomed ditch, 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) deep and up to 12 metres (39 ft) wide, and finally by an outer bank, about 10 metres (33 ft) wide and 1 metre (3.3 ft) high. [6] With an overall diameter measuring 110 metres (360 ft) (including bank and ditch), the site had a single entrance to the north-east. [8]

At the centre of the rings was a crouched inhumation of a child which Cunnington interpreted as a dedicatory sacrifice, its skull having been split. [9] Subsequent theories have indicated that the weight and pressure of the soil over the years could have caused the skull to fragment. [10] After excavation, the remains were taken to London, where they were destroyed during The Blitz, making further examination impossible. Cunnington also found a crouched inhumation of a teenager within a grave dug in the eastern section of the ditch, opposite the entrance. [6]

Most of the 168 post holes held wooden posts, although Cunnington found evidence that a pair of standing stones may have been placed between the second and third post hole rings. Excavations in 2006 indicated that there were at least five standing stones on the site, [7] arranged in a "cove". The deepest post holes measured up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) and are believed to have held posts which reached as high as 7.5 metres (25 ft) above ground. Those posts would have weighed up to 5 tons, and their arrangement was similar to that of the bluestones at Stonehenge. The positions of the postholes are currently marked with modern concrete posts – a simple and informative method of displaying the site.

Further comparisons with Stonehenge were quickly noticed by Cunnington: both have entrances oriented approximately to the midsummer sunrise, and the diameters of the timber circles at Woodhenge and the stone circles at Stonehenge are similar.

Over 40 years after the discovery of Woodhenge, another timber circle of comparable size was discovered in 1966, 70 metres (230 ft) to the north. Known as the Southern Circle, it lies inside what came to be known as the Durrington Walls henge enclosure.

There are various theories about possible timber structures that might have stood on and about the site, and their purpose, but it is likely that the timbers were free-standing, rather than part of a roofed structure. [7] For many years, the study of Stonehenge had overshadowed work on the understanding of Woodhenge. Recent ongoing investigations as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project are now starting to cast new light on the site and on its relationship with neighbouring sites and Stonehenge.

Theories have emerged in which the sites may all be part of a layout in which the structures were linked by roads, and which incorporated the natural features of the River Avon. One of these paths, consisting of a series of wide parallel banks and ditches referred to as Stonehenge Avenue, crosses the ridge between the two sites that would otherwise make them both visible from one another, [11] possibly connecting them physically as well as spiritually.

One suggestion is that the use of wood rather than stone may have held a special significance in the beliefs and practices involving the transformation between life and death, [6] possibly separating the two sites into separate "domains". [11] These theories have been supported by findings of bones of butchered pigs exclusively at Woodhenge, showing evidence of feasting, leaving Stonehenge as a site only inhabited by ancestral spirits, not living people. [11] These same possible representations have also been seen in ritualistic megalithic sites on the island of Madagascar, at least 4,000 years after the erection of Woodhenge. [11]

Second stage: 2640–2480 bce

Except for human burials, there is no evidence of activity between Stonehenge’s first and second stages of construction. About 2500 bce the sarsen stones were brought from the Avebury area of the Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles (32 km) to the north. Outside the northeastern entrance of Stonehenge they were dressed smooth by pounding with sarsen hammers. They were then arranged inside the circle in a horseshoe-shaped setting of five tall trilithons (paired uprights with a lintel)—the central and largest of which is known as the giant trilithon—surrounded by 30 uprights linked by curved lintels to form a circle. The stones appear to have been laid out systematically in units and subunits of the long foot the circumference of the sarsen circle is 300 long feet. The lintels, weighing some 7 tons each, are held on top of the uprights by mortise-and-tenon (dovetail) joints, and the ends of the curved lintels of the sarsen circle fit together with tongue-and-groove joints. All the joints were created using hammer stones, presumably in imitation of woodwork. Most of the sarsen uprights weigh about 25 tons and are about 18 feet (5.5 metres) high. The uprights of the giant trilithon, however, were 29 feet (9 metres) and 32 feet (10 metres) high, weighing more than 45 tons.

Only one of the giant trilithon’s uprights still stands, reaching a height above ground of about 23 feet (7 metres). Only six lintels (out of a total of 230) sit in place on the sarsen circle, with two more lying on the ground. Three of the five sarsen trilithon lintels are in place, with the other two on the ground. Four of the uprights from the sarsen circle are absent, and one is much shorter than the others. Although it is possible that the sarsen circle was never completed, the existence of a hole for an absent sarsen suggests that this stone and others were reused as construction materials for Roman buildings and medieval churches in the vicinity.

The bluestones were observed by Atkinson to have been arranged into a double arc, which, for convenience, he called the Q and R Holes. Atkinson’s records suggested that the Q and R Holes predated the sarsen circle and trilithons, but Darvill and Wainwright’s excavation in 2008 cast doubt on this stratigraphic relationship. It is more likely that the bluestone arc was indeed constructed as part of the sarsen circle and trilithon monument, with bluestones brought from the Aubrey Holes. Bluestones may also have been brought to Stonehenge at this time, or slightly later, from Bluestonehenge (where they had been removed by at least 2280 bce ). The bluestones weigh up to 4 tons each, and the taller ones are over 6 feet (2 metres) high. Most of them are unworked natural pillars.

Four upright stones, called the Station Stones, were erected near the Aubrey Hole ring, probably also during the second stage of Stonehenge, if not during the period between the monument’s first and second stages. Only two of the stones—both of sarsen—have survived. The four Station Stones were placed in a rectangular formation, aligned along the same solstitial axis as the great trilithon and the bluestone arc. The two missing Station Stones were partially covered by low mounds known as the South Barrow and the North Barrow. The South Barrow was raised on top of the floor of a 36-by-33-foot (11-by-10-metre) building in the shape of a D that lay immediately to the east of the small southern entrance through Stonehenge’s bank and ditch. From this entrance an undated passageway marked by timber posts led toward the centre of the monument. Other sarsens were erected within the northeastern entrance. Three of them formed a facade across the entrance, of which the sarsen known as the Slaughter Stone is the sole survivor. Beyond them lies the Heelstone, set within a circular ring ditch. From the Slaughter Stone to just past the Heelstone, three evenly spaced stone holes (undated) share the same axis as the timber posts thought to belong to Stonehenge’s first stage.

About the same time the sarsens were erected, two sets of concentric timber circles were built within a large settlement almost 2 miles (3 km) to the northeast of the Stonehenge monument. One of these circles, called the Southern Circle, was set at the centre of an ancient settlement of small houses. The other, the smaller Northern Circle, was built on the north side of the settlement. Nine houses, up to about 18 feet (5.5 metres) square in plan, were excavated in 2004–07 and reckoned to form part of a 42-acre (17-hectare) settlement that may have supported up to 1,000 such dwellings. This seasonally occupied and short-lived community is thought to have been the builders’ camp. By 2460 bce its ruins were enclosed by the bank and ditch of Britain’s largest henge enclosure, Durrington Walls. Outside its south entrance stood a third concentric timber circle—Woodhenge.

Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge

The Ring of Brodgar has never been excavated, so we don’t know its age for sure. In the absence of scientific dates, our best guess is that the main ring was constructed between 2600 and 2400 BC. The surrounding burial mounds and stone setting date from between 2500 and 1500 BC.

Scheduled in 1882, it was one of the first places to be protected as a site of historical significance in the British Isles.

Ceremonial centre

The Ring of Brodgar may have been involved in ceremonies celebrating the relationship between living and past communities. It’s also been suggested that the sites in the surrounding area were used for observations of the moon from the Ring of Brodgar, though there’s scant evidence for the activities Neolithic people did at the site, or why.

It’s easy to see why Orkney’s Neolithic inhabitants might have set up a ceremonial circle on this spot – surrounded by hills and lochs, the site has a truly spectacular setting. Standing in its centre gives the sense of being in a natural amphitheatre.

Standing tall

Unusually, the ring has a truly circular layout. Of the original 60 stones, 36 survive, ranging between 2.1m to 4.7m tall. The stone circle has a diameter of 104m, and is encircled by a rock-cut ditch, or henge, measuring 136m across, making it one of the largest and finest stone circles in the British isles.

The erecting of the stones and construction of the massive rock-cut ditch would have required considerable manpower and organisation.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

The Ring of Brodgar is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Along with the Ring of Brodgar and its adjacent stones and burial mounds, the site includes:

The other three monuments were built before the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. The Ring of Brodgar was built about 500 years later.

The architectural achievements of Orkney’s Neolithic population speak of an early and sophisticated society in northern Britain. There is a piquant contrast between the small absolute size of the Orkney community 5000 years ago and its exceptional cultural vigour.

Opening times

Please follow the one way system on your visit.

Some sections of the inner path may be closed periodically to allow the grass path to rest and regenerate.

Please continue to follow government guidance, staying 2 metres away from other visitors, and bring your own hand sanitiser with you, to help keep everyone safe.


Ring of Brodgar Statement of Significance
Ring of Brodgar on Scran

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Ring of Brodgar on Canmore

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