Stonehenge-When? Who? Why?

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Author’s Note Since history first started recording Stonehenge, Stonehenge has been a mystery. The three biggest questions being who built Stonehenge, how did those people build Stonehenge, and why? This essay is only meant to be on when, who and why, not how, but because there are so many stories and theories in answer to “who built Stonehenge” that include “how was Stonehenge built”, these will not be incorporated. This essay has also been written for a reader with a fair bit of knowledge about Stonehenge and its environment.

Stonehenge, an ancient stone monument on Salisbury Plain, England, was built in three stages- Stonehenge I-the earthwork monument, Stonehenge II-the wooden monument, and Stonehenge III-the stone monument. The oldest part of Stonehenge is the post-holes. These are collections of holes at the north-east and southern entrances, and the centre of Stonehenge. These holes date to about 8000 B.C., older than any of the other ancient world monuments. Stonehenge I was built at about 000 B.C. in the Middle Neolithic era, also known as the ‘Age of Astronomy’. In about 650 B.C., Stonehenge II was built in the Late Neolithic era, also known as the ‘Age of Sacred Landscapes’. Finally, the stone monument we see today, Stonehenge III, was built at about 000 B.C., between the Early and Middle Bronze Age eras.

These times are very important when deciding which group of people actually built and used Stonehenge. The people of the Middle Ages credited Stonehenge to such Classical Age groups as the Egyptians, Mycenaeans, Romans and Greeks. This is mostly because these cultures were known to have the great mathematical and architectural knowledge to build something as advanced as Stonehenge. As they were at the peak times of their civilisations, they were constructing great monuments of their own. The Egyptians, for example, were building the great pyramids of Giza. The Greeks were thought to have built Stonehenge, because several of the up-right Sarsen stones had dagger shapes carved into them which are much like the traditional signature of the Greeks. The placement of the stones also has a resemblance to Agamemnon’s city wall, and the Lion Gate of Mycenae. However, the Romans did not settle in Britain until the 1st century B.C. and these civilisations existed up to 1500 years after Stonehenge I was erected.

One of the most popular beliefs is that Stonehenge was built by the Druids, the Celtic high priests, who used it for their rituals and worship. John Aubrey came up with this idea in the 17th Century A.D. The Druids of the time grabbed at the theory and spread it. But again this theory was disproved because Carbon dating shows that the Celts, having moved into Britain in about 00 B.C., way to late to be Stonehenge’s builders. However recently, The Order of Druids has come up with a new idea, which means that it could have been a Druid monument after all. They say that the Celts didn’t accomplish one ‘invasion’ of Britain, and that they more married into the population already there. This means that at least some Druids could have been there much earlier, perhaps as early as the time of Stonehenge’s construction. But this again is more likely to be a scheme by the modern Druids to gain popularity. Also, the Celtic Druids preferred to worship in open forests and marshes, not temples on bare plains.

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Aubrey Burl, a British scholar, has suggested that Stonehenge was built by the ancient French, namely the Bretons of France. Burl says that a carving on one of the stones bears a resemblance to Breton images of female guardians of the dead. The horseshoe configuration of Stonehenge’s central trilithons are also very alike 16 standing-stones in Britanny. However, the main problem with this theory is that there are no Breton sites comparable to Stonehenge. It is also more likely that Stonehenge III’s trilithons were copied from local sites such as Woodhenge.

The most popular theory is that the three stages of Stonehenge were built by three different groups. The Windmill Hill people probably built Stonehenge I. They were the local people of the time and liked to build circular furrows, surrounded by ditches, like Stonehenge. In 000 B.C. the Beaker Folk invaded. They buried their dead with weapons, and so the bodies at Stonehenge are probably theirs and they had enough mathematical knowledge to align Stonehenge II with the solstices. Lastly the Wessex people arrived in 1500 B.C. They were one of the most advanced cultures in Europe with great trading, military and mathematical knowledge. They probably carved the daggers and axes into the stones of Stonehenge III.

Lastly there are many Middle Ages legends of Stonehenge being built by such people as the Devil, Merlin, King Arthur, giants, the people of Atlantis and as the burial ground of the Celtic warrior queen Boadicea, however these myths are so absurd that they are not worth considering.

As little remnants of any of these cultures remains, it is near impossible to tell why Stonehenge was constructed.

One popular theory is that Stonehenge was the site of sacrifices or executions, or a burial ground. Cremated remains were placed in the pits of the poles of Stonehenge II and bodies have been found in the ditch and surrounding area. One of these is a rich Swiss archer known as the “King of Stonehenge”. The idea of execution or sacrifice came from the meaning of ‘henge’, which is ‘to hang’. Some people have taken this to meaning the hanging of criminals from the trilithons. Also is the Altar Stone which people may have been laid upon. However the Altar Stone was originally upright, and due to the nature of the local people a burial site would not have been as extravagant.

The other greatest theory is that Stonehenge is aligned with the sun, stars and moon and was therefore for predicting eclipses, changing seasons or the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. However most of the claimed alignments are so imperfect that it is most likely that they are coincidence, especially seeing Stonehenge is a circular shape. It is likely however that the people of Stonehenge would have aligned Stonehenge and it’s Avenue with the Midwinter sunset because the Winter Solstice is of particular importance because it symbolises rebirth and distinguishes between farming seasons. If Stonehenge was aligned with the Midwinter sunset, then it therefore would have to be aligned with the Midsummer sunrise, but this sunrise was probably of no importance to the people.

Finally, is also the theory that Stonehenge was a temple to the Earth Mother and therefore a giant fertility symbol. This goddess was certainly important enough to the people to have such a temple erected in her honour. Supposedly Stonehenge, from above, looks like the female sexual organ, and the horseshoe of trilithons in the centre like the birth canal, which would associate Stonehenge with the Earth Mother. However this theory is almost certainly incorrect for many reasons. Firstly, why would there be burials at a place associated only with life? How would the people know what it looked like from above? And Stonehenge was put together over a long period of time, and originally in the time of Stonehenge I, the Earth Mother was not worshipped.

It is my opinion that Stonehenge was built in turn by the Windmill Hill, Beaker and Wessex peoples, as they had the technology and lived in the immediate area. I also believe that Stonehenge was for some ritual purpose, perhaps a mixture of all the theories here. It may also have been a meeting place or marker. The one thing I do know for sure is that so far none of these theories have been sufficiently proven, and more theories are being suggested every day. One day I hope we will know Stonehenge’s origins for sure.


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Souden, David, STONEHENGE Mysteries of the Stones and Landscape, Sandstone Books, Australia, 18


Treasures Of The Ancient World Stonehenge, Cromwell Film Productions Limited, 18 (Video)

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