For such a relatively small place the British Isles are jam packed with history, from roman ruins to Victorian Palaces there is certainly a plethora of relics for anyone looking to get their fix of the past. Perhaps one of the most mysterious and historic of the nations land marks is the ancient stone circle known as Stonehenge. This prehistoric monument sat in the South West of England in the county of Wiltshire is one of the most impressive and likely the most famous stone circles in the world and is believed to be around 5000 years old, dating back to 3000 BC. The question is what exactly is Stonehenge? It’s a question that’s puzzled us for years but after extensive studies into the archaeology and history of this and similar sites we can finally get a good idea of what it’s about.
The Path to Stonehenge
Before Stonehenge was erected in the Neolithic period roughly five pits have been discovered, three of which seem to have been home to large posts that appear to have been totem-pole like. Studies indicate these were built between 8500 and 7000 BC during the Mesolithic period not far from where Stonehenge was later constructed.
We can’t be sure if the two sites are linked however it does indicate the area holds certain significance in history. The land in southern England would likely have been covered in woodland; this area however may have been vastly open landscape in comparison due to the chalk downland in the area. This could have been a major influence in why this area was chosen for such monuments as these.
The first works on Stonehenge are believed to have started circa 3100 BC, though it has seen many different iterations from the structure we know today. The first monument originally consisted of a ditch enclosure with a circular monument surrounding it. The ditch enclosure was made from late cretaceous Seaford chalk in a diameter of roughly 110 m with two entrances. Within these sections also sat 56 holes dubbed the ‘Aubrey Holes’ which may have originally contained wooden or stone structures, we do however know that the remains of the cremated dead were buried in these holes. Around 64 examples of this have been found, in fact it’s believed that a possible 150 people have been buried here which if true would make it the largest late Neolithic burial site amongst the British Isles.
Later, around the year 2500 BC stones were erected in the centre of the monument which consisted of two different types of rock. The Large stones are called ‘sarsens’, these form the large squared arches that have become so iconic today. These are a type of sandstone which can be found across southern England, archaeologists believe that these particular stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles from the circle. On average the stones amongst the central structure weigh in at 25 tons though the largest stands just outside the centre, it’s named the ‘Heel Stone’ and weighs around 30 tons.