Essential Architecture-  United Kingdom

Stonehenge (candidate for the new seven wonders of the world)




near Amesbury in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury.


erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC


Neolithic and Bronze Age




calendar Temple
  Artist's impression of the completed stonehenge.
  Plan of Stonehenge today. After Cleal et al. and Pitts.

Stonehenge is a Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monument located near Amesbury in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. Its geographical location is 51°10′44″N, 1°49′35″W [1]. It is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones and is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. Archaeologists think that the standing stones were erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC although the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury henge monument, and it is also a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge itself is owned and managed by English Heritage while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.


Joseph Seligmans's Stonehenge Complete gives the derivation of 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 "gallows" or "instrument of torture". Medieval gallows consisted of two uprights with a lintel joining them, resembling Stonehenge's trilithons, rather than looking like the inverted L-shape more familiar today.

The "henge" portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. As often happens in archaeological terminology, this is a holdover from antiquarian usage, and Stonehenge cannot in fact be truly classified as a henge site as its bank is inside its ditch. Despite being contemporary with true Neolithic henges and stone circles, Stonehenge is in many ways atypical. For example, its extant trilithons make it unique. Stonehenge is only distantly related to the other stones circles in the British Isles, such as the Ring of Brodgar.

Development of Stonehenge

The Stonehenge complex was built in several construction phases spanning 2,000 years, although there is evidence for activity both before and afterwards on the site.

Dating and understanding the various phases of activity at Stonehenge is not a simple task; it is complicated by poorly-kept early excavation records, surprisingly few accurate scientific dates and the disturbance of the natural chalk by periglacial effects and animal burrowing. The modern phasing most generally agreed by archaeologists is detailed below. Features mentioned in the text are numbered and shown on the plan, right, which illustrates the site as of 2004. The plan omits the trilithon lintels for clarity. Holes that no longer, or never, contained stones are shown as open circles and stones visible today are shown coloured.

 Before the monument
Archaeologists have found four (or possibly five, although one may have been a natural tree throw) large Mesolithic postholes which date to around 8000 BC nearby, beneath the modern tourist car-park. These held pine posts around 0.75 m (2.4ft) in diameter which were erected and left to rot in situ. Three of the posts (and possibly four) were in an east-west alignment and may have had ritual significance; no parallels are known from Britain at the time but similar sites have been found in Scandinavia. At this time, Salisbury Plain was still wooded but four thousand years later, during the earlier Neolithic, a cursus monument was built 600 m north of the site as the first farmers began to clear the forest and exploit the area. Several other early Neolithic sites, a causewayed enclosure at Robin Hood's Ball and long barrow tombs were built in the surrounding landscape.

 Stonehenge 1
The first monument consisted of a circular bank and ditch enclosure (7 and 8) measuring around 110 m (360 feet) in diameter with a large entrance to the north east and a smaller one to the south (14). It stood in open grassland on a slightly sloping but not especially remarkable spot. 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 itself 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 and was not cleared out by the builders. Within the outer edge of the enclosed area was dug a circle of 56 pits, each around 1 m in diameter (13), known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, the seventeenth century antiquarian who was thought to have first identified them. The pits may have contained standing timbers, creating a timber circle although there is no excavated evidence of them. A small outer bank beyond the ditch could also date to this period (9).

 Stonehenge 2
Evidence of the second phase is no longer visible. It appears from the number of postholes dating to this period that some form of timber structure was built within the enclosure during the early 3rd millennium BC. 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 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 2. 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. Late Neolithic grooved ware pottery has been found in connection with the features from this phase providing dating evidence.

 Stonehenge 3 I
Archaeological excavation has indicated that around 2600 BC, timber was abandoned in favour of stone and two concentric crescents of holes (called the Q and R Holes) were dug in the centre of the site. Again, there is little firm dating evidence for this phase. The holes held up to 80 standing stones (shown blue on the plan) 43 of which were derived from the Preseli Hills, 250 km away in modern day Pembrokeshire in Wales. Other standing stones may well have been small sarsens, used later as lintels. The far-travelled stones, which weighed about four tons, consisted mostly of spotted dolerite but included examples of rhyolite, tuff and volcanic and calcareous ash. Each measures around 2 m in height, between 1 m and 1.5 m wide and around 0.8 m thick. What was to become known as the Altar Stone (1), a six-ton specimen of green micaceous sandstone, twice the height of the bluestones, is derived from either South Pembrokeshire or the Brecon Beacons and may have stood as a single large monolith.

The north eastern entrance was also 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. Even so, the monument appears to have eclipsed the site at Avebury in importance towards the end of this phase and the Amesbury Archer, found in 2002 three miles (5 km) to the south, would have seen the site in this state.

The Heelstone (5) may also have been erected outside the north eastern entrance during this period although it cannot be securely dated and may have been installed at any time in phase 3. At first, a second stone, now no longer visible, joined it. Two, or possibly three, large portal stones were set up just inside the north eastern entrance of which only one, the fallen Slaughter Stone (4), 16 ft (4.9 m) long, now remains. Other features loosely dated to phase 3 include the four Station Stones (6), two of which stood atop mounds (2 and 3). The mounds are known as 'barrows' although they do not contain burials. The Avenue, (10), a parallel pair of ditches and banks leading 3 km to the River Avon was also added. Ditches were later dug around the Station Stones and the Heelstone, which was by then reduced to a single monolith.

 Stonehenge 3 II
The next major phase of activity at the tail end of the 3rd millennium BC saw 30 enormous sarsen stones (shown grey on the plan) brought from a quarry around 24 miles (40 km) north to the site on the Marlborough Downs. The stones were dressed and fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before 30 were erected as a 33 m (108 ft) diameter circle of standing stones with a 'lintel' of 30 stones resting on top. The lintels were joined to one another using another woodworking method, the tongue in groove joint. Each standing stone was around 4.1 m (13.5 feet) high, 2.1 m (7.5 feet) wide and weighed around 25 tons. Each had clearly been worked with the final effect in mind; the orthostats widen slightly towards the top in order that their perspective remains constant as they rise up from the ground while the lintel stones curve slightly to continue the circular appearance of the earlier monument. The sides of the stones that face inwards are smoother and more finely worked than the sides that face outwards. The average thickness of these stones is 1.1 m (3.75 feet) and the average distance between them is 1 m (3.5 feet). A total of 74 stones would have been needed to complete the circle and unless some of the sarsens were removed from the site, it would seem that the ring was left incomplete. Of the lintel stones, they are each around 3.2 m long (10.5 feet), 1 m (3.5 feet) wide and 0.8 m (2.75 feet) thick. The tops of the lintels are 4.9 m (16 feet) above the ground.

Within this circle stood five trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape 13.7 m (45 feet) across with its open end facing north east. These huge stones, ten uprights and five lintels, weigh up to 50 tons each and were again linked using complex jointings. They are arranged symmetrically; the smallest pair of trilithons were around 6 m (20 feet) tall, the next pair a little higher and the largest, single trilithon in the south west corner would have been 7.3 m (24 feet) tall. Only one upright from the Great Trilithon still stands; 6.7 m (22 ft) is visible and a further 2.4 m (8 feet) is below ground.

The images of a 'dagger' and 14 'axe-heads' have been recorded carved on one of the sarsens, known as stone 53. Further axe-head carvings have been seen on the outer faces of stones known as numbers 3, 4, and 5. They are difficult to date but are morphologically similar to later Bronze Age weapons; recent laser scanning work on the carvings supports this interpretation. The pair of trilithons in north east are smallest, measuring around 6 m (20 feet) in height and the largest is the trilithon in the south west of the horseshoe is almost 7.5 m (24 feet) tall.

This ambitious phase is radiocarbon dated to between 2440 and 2100 BC.

 Stonehenge 3 III
Later in the Bronze Age, the bluestones appear to have been re-erected for the first time, although the precise details of this period are still unclear. They were placed within the outer sarsen circle and at this time may have been trimmed in some way. A few have timber working-style cuts in them like the sarsens themselves, suggesting they may have been linked with lintels and part of a larger structure during this phase.

 Stonehenge 3 IV
This phase saw further rearrangement of the bluestones as they were placed in a circle between the two settings of sarsens and in an oval in the very centre. Some archaeologists argue that some of the bluestones in this period were part of a second group brought from Wales. All the stones were well-spaced uprights without any of the linking lintels inferred in Stonehenge 3 III. The Altar Stone may have been moved within the oval and stood vertically. Although this would seem the most impressive phase of work, Stonehenge 3 IV was rather shabbily built compared to its immediate predecessors, the newly re-installed bluestones were not at all well founded and began to fall over. However, only minor changes were made after this phase. Stonehenge 3 IV dates from 2280 to 1930 BC.

 Stonehenge 3 V
Soon afterwards, the north eastern section of the Phase 3 IV Bluestone circle was removed, creating a horseshoe-shaped setting termed the Bluestone Horseshoe. This mirrored the shape of the central sarsen Trilithons and dates from 2270 to 1930 BC. This phase is contemporary with the famous Seahenge site in Norfolk.

 After the monument
Even though the last known construction of Stonehenge was about 1600 BC, and the last known usage of Stonehenge was during the Iron Age (if not as late as the 7th century), where Roman coins, prehistoric pottery, an unusual bone point and a skeleton of a young male (780-410 cal BC) were found, we have no idea if Stonehenge was in continuous use or exactly how it was used. The burial of a decapitated Saxon man has also been excavated from Stonehenge, dated to the 7th century. The site was known by scholars during the Middle Ages and since then it has been studied and adopted by numerous different groups. For further details of Stonehenge's historical role, see below.

 Theories about Stonehenge

 Early interpretations

Many early historians were influenced by supernatural folktales in their explanations. Some legends held that Merlin the wizard had a giant build the structure for him or that he had magically transported it from Mount Killaraus in Ireland, while others held the Devil responsible. Henry of Huntingdon was the first to write of the monument around 1130 soon followed by Geoffrey of Monmouth who was the first to record fanciful associations with King Arthur which led the monument to be incorporated into the wider cycle of European medieval romance.

In 1655,the architect John Webb, writing in the name of his former superior,Inigo Jones argued that Stonehenge was a Roman temple, dedicated to Caelus, (a Latin name for the Greek sky-god Ouranos), and built following the Tuscan order [citation needed]. Later commentators maintained that the Danes erected it. Indeed, up until the late nineteenth century, the site was commonly attributed to the Saxons or other relatively recent societies.

The first academic effort to survey and understand the monument was made around 1640 by John Aubrey. He declared Stonehenge the work of Druids. This view was greatly popularised by William Stukeley. Aubrey also contributed the first measured drawings of the site, which permitted greater analysis of its form and significance. From this work, he was able to demonstrate an astronomical or calendrical role in the stones' placement.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, John Lubbock was able to attribute the site to the Bronze Age based on the bronze objects found in the nearby barrows.

The early attempts to figure out the people who had undertaken this colossal project have since been debunked. While there have been precious few in the way of real theories to explain who built the site, or why, there can be an assessment of what we know to be fact and what has been proven false.

First there is the matter of radio carbon dating the construction of the site itself. As has been already stated in the construction outlines above, the monument building of the site began around the year 3100 BC and ended around the year 1600 BC. This allows the elimination of a few of the theories that have been presented. The original theory that the Druids may be the most popular one; however, the Celtic society that spawned the Druid priesthood came into being only after the year 300 BC. Additionally, the Druids are unlikely to have used the site for sacrifices since they performed the majority of their rituals in the woods or mountains, areas better suited for “earth rituals” than an open field. The fact that the Romans first came to the British Isles when they conquered the land in 43 AD negates the theories of Inigo Jones and others that Stonehenge was built as a Roman temple.

 Religious or scientific?
The question that dominates the debate as to what Stonehenge was used for can be easily divided into those that believe it to be a religious or a scientific observatory. As outlined in the theories section below, Gerald Hawkins noted 165 key sites that he stated correlated very strongly with the rising and setting points of the sun and moon. He believed that because of this, the site could be used to anticipate interstellar phenomena. There have been odd occurrences, like the Hale-Bopp comet passing directly over this site at the turn of the millennium to support this theory. This has sparked the idea that the site was created in order to help commemorate the solstices, as the alignment with the sun and moon would seem to indicate.

Further supporting this line of evidence is the fact that the site’s alignment is focused along the lunar lines in a way that increases the accuracy of precession, which is the amount that the Earth’s slight tilt on its axis, or “wobble” will eventually change the timing of lunar events. In short, this site could have been set up to more accurately predict events taking place in the heavens above. While there is still no conclusive evidence that this site was indeed intended for use as an observatory, the fact also that much of the support for the religious use for this has come from a purely political standpoint. The modern Celts, who were for a long time believed to be the creators of the site, have moved quickly to claim the site as their own. They now hold festivals and ceremonies at different times during the year. The problem with this has been outlined above, with the carbon dating refuting their hand in the site’s creation. There are a number of assumptions that have supported this theory, however. It is known that on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the sun shines directly through the centre of the structure, which given many of the cultural attitudes of sun worship that were rampant at the time, seems to indicate a religious purpose. In addition, much of what survives from the distant past, buildings, etc., have all been religious in nature.

Few theories have given much emphasis to the possible practical application of astronomical observation, on the grounds that such a mammoth undertaking must have had an ideological rather than practical basis. There is, in other words, a gap between cultic-superstitious explanations and those based on a more modern idea of scientific astronomy. At the time there was no other way to establishing precise calendar dates, whether these were needed for agricultural, social or seasonal-religious reasons. The double-level circle of the monument defined the observational vantage-point from which the movement of constellations could be accurately established. A less massively-founded edifice than Stonehenge, such as one of wood, would not retain accuracy over any long period, and without at least one authoritative comparison, events and seasons had no chronological index since the length of the year in days was not known. Whatever its goals, the cooperative effort necessary for such a large constructive undertaking can be appreciated in relation to the unique value of accurate dating for the whole region of southern Britain, but our ignorance of the social context of the time has meant that this area has been little addressed.

 Archaeoastronomy and Stonehenge
The main axis of Stonehenge is aligned northeast-southwest, and while early research assumed this was an inaccurate alignment on summer solstice horizon sunrise, a far more credible interpretation is that standing on the right hand side of the Heel Stone and looking between the upright pillars of the grand trilithon the monument would have offered an accurate alignment on the winter solstice sunset. The debate was first triggered by the 1963 publication of "Stonehenge Decoded", by British born astronomer Gerald Hawkins. Further contributions to the debate came from British astronomer C. A. Newham and Sir Fred Hoyle, the famous Cambridge cosmologist, as well as by Alexander Thom, a retired professor of engineering, who had been studying stone circles for more than 20 years. Their theories faced early criticism from archaeologists like Richard Atkinson.

Since then archaeoastronomy has re-examined both the evidence and its methods. In 1999 the archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles produced "Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland", and in 1996 Professor John North published "Stonehenge: Neolithic Man and the Cosmos". Both authors argue that ancient monuments like Stonehenge fulfilled a religious function and were not ‘scientific observatories’. This shift in view does not mean that the builders were unable to make accurate astronomical alignments. One finding of John North is that standing on the left hand side of the Heel Stone, the once-every-nineteen year phenomenon of the southern minor standstill moonsets could be seen descending behind the gap between the protruding grand trilithon lintel and the outer circle lintel. In 2006 the anthropologist Lionel Sims published in the "Cambridge Archaeology Journal" arguing that the Stonehenge double alignment on the southern standstill moonsets and the winter solstice sunsets was true of hundreds of prehistoric monuments, and was part of an emerging solar religion that both preserved and displaced a more ancient respect for the moon.

 The bluestones
Roger Mercer has observed that the bluestones are incongruously finely worked and has suggested that they were transferred to Salisbury Plain from an as yet unlocated earlier monument in Pembrokeshire. J. F. S. Stone felt that a Bluestone monument had earlier stood near the nearby Stonehenge cursus and been moved to their current site from there. If Mercer's theory is correct then the bluestones may have been transplanted to cement an alliance or display superiority over a conquered enemy although this can only be speculation. Oval shaped settings of bluestones similar to those at Stonehenge 3iv are also known at the sites of Bedd Arthur in the Preseli Hills and at Skomer Island off the southwest coast of Pembrokeshire. Some archaeologists have suggested that the igneous bluestones and sedimentary sarsens had some symbolism, of a union between two cultures from different landscapes and therefore from different backgrounds.

Recent analysis of contemporary burials found nearby known as the Boscombe Bowmen, has indicated that at least some of the individuals associated with Stonehenge 3 came either from Wales or from some other European area of ancient rocks. Petrological analysis of the stones themselves has verified that they could only have come from the Preseli Hills and it is tempting to connect the two.

The main source of the bluestones is now identified with the dolerite outcrops around Carn Menyn although work led by Olwen Williams-Thorpe of the Open University has shown that other bluestones came from outcrops up to 10 km away.

Aubrey Burl and a number of geologists and geomorphologists contend that the bluestones were not transported by human agency at all and were instead brought by glaciers at least part of the way from Wales during the Pleistocene. There is good geological and glaciological evidence that glacier ice did move across Preseli and did reach the Somerset coast. However, it is uncertain that it reached Salisbury Plain, and no further specimens of the unusual dolerite stone have so far been found in the vicinity. One current view is that glacier ice transported the stones as far as Somerset, and that they were collected from there by the builders of Stonehenge.[2].

 Stonehenge as part of a ritual landscape

Sunset at Stonehenge

Many archaeologists believe Stonehenge was an attempt to render in permanent stone the more common timber structures that dotted Salisbury Plain at the time, such as those that stood at Durrington Walls. Modern anthropological evidence has been used by Mike Parker Pearson and the Malagasy archaeologist Ramilisonina to suggest that timber was associated with the living and stone with the ancestral dead amongst prehistoric peoples. They have argued that Stonehenge was the terminus of a long, ritualised funerary procession for treating the dead, which began in the east, during sunrise at Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, moved down the Avon and then along the Avenue reaching Stonehenge in the west at sunset. The journey from wood to stone via water was, they consider, a symbolic journey from life to death. There is no satisfactory evidence to suggest that Stonehenge's astronomical alignments were anything more than symbolic and current interpretations favour a ritual role for the monument that takes into account its numerous burials and its presence within a wider landscape of sacred sites. Many also believe that the site may have had astrological/spiritual significance attached to it.

Support for this view also comes from the historian of religions, Mircea Eliade, who compares the site to other megalithic constructions around the world devoted to the cult of the dead (ancestors). "Like other similar English monuments [For example, Eliade identifies, Woodhenge, Avebury, Arminghall, and Arbor Low] the Stonehenge cromlech was situated in the middle of a field of funeral barrows. This famous ceremonial centre constituted, at least in its primitive form, a sanctuary built to insure relations with the ancestors. In terms of structure, Stonehenge can be compared with certain megalithic complexes developed, in other cultures, from a sacred area: temples or cities. We have the same valourisation of the sacred space as "centre of the world," the privileged place that affords communication with heaven and the underworld, that is, with the gods, the chtonian goddesses, and the spirits of the dead.".[1] In addition to the English sites, Eliade identifies, among others, the megalithic architecture of Malta, which represents a "spectacular expression" of the cult of the dead and worship of a Great Goddess.[2]

 Construction techniques and design

Closeup of Stonehenge

Much speculation has surrounded the engineering feats required to build Stonehenge. Assuming the bluestones were brought from Wales by hand, and not transported by glaciers as Aubrey Burl has claimed, various methods of moving them relying only on timber and rope have been suggested. In a 2001 exercise in experimental archaeology, an attempt was made to transport a large stone along a land and sea route from Wales to Stonehenge. Volunteers pulled it for some miles (with great difficulty) on a wooden sledge over land, using modern roads and low-friction netting to assist sliding, but once transferred to a replica prehistoric boat, the stone sank in Milford Haven, before it even reached the rough seas of the Bristol Channel.

As far as positioning the stones, it has been suggested that timber A-frames were erected to raise the stones, and that teams of people then hauled them upright using ropes. The topmost stones may have been raised up incrementally on timber platforms and slid into place or pushed up ramps. The carpentry-type joints used on the stones imply a people well skilled in woodworking and they could easily have had the knowledge to erect the monument using such methods. In 2003 retired construction worker Wally Wallington demonstrated ingenious techniques based on fundamental principles of levers, fulcrums and counterweights to show that a single man can rotate, walk, lift and tip a ten-ton cast-concrete monolith into an upright position. He is progressing with his plan to construct a simulated Stonehenge comprising of eight uprights and two lintels.

Alexander Thom was of the opinion that the site was laid out with the necessary precision using his megalithic yard.

The engraved weapons on the sarsens are unique in megalithic art in the British Isles, where more abstract designs were invariably favoured. Similarly, the horseshoe arrangements of stones are unusual in a culture that otherwise arranged stones in circles. The axe motif is, however, common to the peoples of Brittany at the time, and it has been suggested at least two stages of Stonehenge were built under continental influence. This would go some way towards explaining the monument's atypical design, but overall, Stonehenge is still inexplicably unusual in the context of any prehistoric European culture.

Estimates of the manpower needed to build Stonehenge put the total effort involved at millions of hours of work. Stonehenge 1 probably needed around 11,000 man-hours (or 460 man-days) of work, Stonehenge 2 around 360,000 (15,000 man-days or 41 years) and the various parts of Stonehenge 3 may have involved up to 1.75 million hours (73 000 days or 200 years) of work. The working of the stones is estimated to have required around 20 million hours (830 000 days or 2300 years) of work using the primitive tools available at the time. Certainly, the will to produce such a site must have been strong, and it is considered that advanced social organisation would have been necessary to build and maintain it. However, Wally Wallington's work suggests that Stonehenge's construction may have required fewer man-hours than previously estimated.

 Alternative views

Stonehenge from a distance

Stonehenge's fame comes not only from its archaeological significance or potential early astronomical role but also in its less tangible effect on visitors, what Christopher Chippindale describes as "the physical sensation of the place", something that transcends the rational, scientific view of the monument. This manifests itself in the spiritual role of the site for many different groups and a belief that no single scientific explanation can do justice to it as a symbol of the great achievement of the ancient Britons and as a symbol of something that continues to confound mainstream archaeology.

Some people claim to have seen UFOs in the area, perhaps connected with the military installations around Warminster, that has led to ideas over it being an extraterrestrial landing site. Alfred Watkins found three ley lines running through the site and others have employed numerology, dowsing or geomancy to reach diverse conclusions regarding the site's power and purpose. New Age and neo-pagan beliefs might see Stonehenge as a sacred place of worship which can conflict with its more mainstream role as an archaeological site, tourist attraction, or marketing tool. Post-processualist archaeologists might consider that treating Stonehenge as a computer or observatory is to apply modern concepts from our own technology-driven era back into the past. Even the role of indigenous peoples in archaeology, rarely applied in Western Europe, has created a new function for the site as a symbol of Welsh nationalism.

The significance of the 'ownership' of Stonehenge in terms of the differing meanings and interpretations held by the many orthodox and unorthodox stakeholders in the site has been increasingly apparent in recent decades. Researchers Jenny Blain and Robert J. Wallis (Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights project, have pointed to the huge variety of views which show the continued and growing importance of Stonehenge today, as symbol and 'Icon of Britishness'; and indicate also the increased awareness of pasts by many people with no training in archaeology or heritage. For many, Stonehenge and other ancient monuments form part of the 'living landscape' which holds its own stories and which is there to be engaged with as people mark the seasons of the year. Today's mythology around Stonehenge includes the recent history of the Battle of the Beanfield and the previous Free festivals. Stonehenge has not one meaning but many. Today, curators English Heritage facilitate 'managed open access' at solstices and equinoxes, with some disputes over the days on which these fall. Blain and Wallis argue that issues over access relate not only to physical presence at the stones but to interpretations of past and validity of 'new-indigenous' and pagan usages in the present and such 'alternative' views have been central in alerting public awareness to the issues of roads, tunnels and landscape, noted below.

 Excavations at Stonehenge
The first recorded excavations at Stonehenge were carried out by William Cunnington and Richard Colt Hoare. In 1798, Cunnington investigated the pit beneath a recently fallen trilithon and in 1810, both men dug beneath the fallen Slaughter Stone and concluded that it had once stood up. They may have also excavated one of the Aubrey Holes beneath it. In 1900 William Gowland undertook the first extensive work, establishing that antler picks had been used to dig the stone holes and that the stones themselves had been worked to shape on site.

The largest excavation at Stonehenge was undertaken by Lieutenant-Colonel William Hawley and Robert S. Newall after the site had come into state hands. Their work, initially focusing on righting fallen stones, began in 1919 following the transfer of land and continued until 1926. It was funded by the Office of Works. The two men excavated many portions of the features at Stonehenge and were the first to establish that it was a multi-phase site.

In 1950 the Society of Antiquaries commissioned Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott and John FS Stone to carry out further excavations. They recovered many cremations and developed the phasing that still dominates much of what is written about Stonehenge. In 1979 and 1980 Mike Pitts led two smaller investigations as part of service trenching, close by the Heelstone, finding cryoturbated chalk and evidence for its neighbour.

Myths and legends

The Heelstone

"Friar's Heel" or the "Sunday Stone"
The Heel Stone was once known as "Friar's Heel." A folk tale, which cannot be dated earlier than the seventeenth century, relates the origin of the name of this stone:

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.

Some claim "Friar's Heel" is a corruption of "Freyja's He-ol" or "Freyja Sul", from the Nordic goddess Freyja and (allegedly) the Welsh words for "way" and "Friday" respectively.

Arthurian legend
Stonehenge is also mentioned within Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth said that Merlin the wizard directed its removal from Ireland, where it had been constructed on Mount Killaraus by Giants, who brought the stones from Africa. After it had been rebuilt near Amesbury, Geoffrey further narrates how first Ambrosius Aurelianus, then Uther Pendragon, and finally Constantine III, were buried inside the ring of stones. In many places in his Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey mixes British legend and his own imagination; it is intriguing that he connects Ambrosius Aurelianus with this prehistoric monument, seeing how there is place-name evidence to connect Ambrosius with nearby Amesbury.

In World Mythology: An Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics (3rd ed.), by Donna Rosenburg, on pp. 428-30, she summarizes the Stonehenge story of the definitive Arthur legend. By this the reader learns that, according to the legend of King Arthur, the rocks of Stonehenge were paganistic healing rocks from Africa. Giants brought them from Africa to Ireland for their demonic healing properties. The second King of Britain, Aurelius Ambrosias (5th Century), wished to erect a memorial to the nobles (3000) who had died in battle with the Saxons. Those nobles were buried near Salisbury. With the help of Merlin, Aurelius made Stonehenge that monument. So the King sent Merlin, Uther Pendragon (Arthur's father), and 15,000 knights to Ireland to retrieve the rocks. They slew 7,000 Irish. As the knights tried to move the rocks with ropes and force, they failed. Then Merlin whispered witchcraft incantations over the rocks and they became as light as pebbles. Then Stonehenge was dedicated in Britain. Shortly after, Aurelius died and was buried within the Stonehenge monument, or "The Giants' Ring of Stonehenge".

Recent history

The sun rising over Stonehenge on the Summer solstice 2005 (21 June).

By the beginning of the 20th century a number of the stones had fallen or were leaning precariously, probably due to the increase in curious visitors clambering on them during the nineteenth century. Three phases of conservation work were undertaken which righted some unstable or fallen stones and carefully replaced them in their original positions using information from antiquarian drawings.

Stonehenge is a place of pilgrimage for neo-druids and those following pagan or neo-pagan beliefs. The midsummer sunrise began attracting modern visitors in 1870s, with the first record of recreated Druidic practices dating to 1905 when the Ancient Order of Druids enacted a ceremony. Despite efforts by archaeologists and historians to stress the differences between the Iron Age Druidic religion, the much older monument and modern Druidry, Stonehenge has become increasingly, almost inextricably, associated with British Druidism, Neo Paganism and New Age philosophy.

The earlier rituals were augmented by the Stonehenge free festival, held between 1972 and 1984, and loosely organised by the Politantric Circle. However, in 1985 the site was closed to festival goers by English Heritage and the National Trust by which time the number of midsummer visitors had risen from 500 to 30,000. A consequence of the end of the festival 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. There was then no midsummer access for almost fifteen years until limited opening was negotiated in 2000.

In more recent years, the setting of the monument has been affected by the proximity of the A303 road between Amesbury and Winterbourne Stoke, and the A344. In early 2003, the Department for Transport announced that the A303 would be upgraded, including the construction of the Stonehenge road tunnel. The controversial plans have not yet been finalised by the government.

Also announced has been a new heritage centre, which was intended to be open in 2006. Current provision for visitors has often been criticised; in 1993 Stonehenge's presentation was condemned by the Public Accounts Committee of the British House of Commons as 'a national disgrace'. English Heritage proposes a new purpose-built facility 3 km from the stones at Countess Road in Amesbury, on the edge of the World Heritage Site boundary. Locals in Amesbury have complained that the scheme would shift traffic congestion from Stonehenge to their own village. They have also suggested that the necessary time that the public would now have to spend travelling to and from Stonehenge would likely dissuade many visitors, especially American and Japanese tourists on whistle-stop tours of England, from visiting at all.

In July 2005 the plans were thrown into uncertainty following refusal of planning permission for the visitors' centre by Salisbury District Council while the British government placed the rising costs of the road scheme under review.

Replicas and derivative names

Detail of Carhenge, a Stonehenge replica constructed from vintage American cars.

There is a full-size replica of Stonehenge as it would have been before decay at Maryhill in Washington state, built by Sam Hill as a war memorial. Stonehenge Aotearoa in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand is a modern adaptation aligned with the astronomy seen from the Antipodes; it was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society from wood and sprayed concrete. The University of Missouri–Rolla has a half-scale replica located on campus, UMR Stonehenge. East Stroudsburg University, in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, has a small replica on its campus dubbed "Stroudhenge".

Carhenge was constructed from vintage American cars near Alliance, Nebraska by the artist Jim Reynolds in 1987. Another replica, called Stonehenge II, in Texas is constructed from an adobe-like material. Tankhenge existed in the border zone of Berlin in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Wall. Tankhenge was constructed from three ex-Soviet armoured personnel carriers.

A full-size Stonehenge made out of foam — and inevitably called Foamhenge — stands near Natural Bridge, Virginia [3].

Another modern take on Stonehenge exists outside of Sante Fe, New Mexico, constructed out of junked refrigerators, known as 'Fridgehenge'. The site was created by the artist Adam Jonas Horowitz. [4]

Another full-size exact replica of what Stonehenge would have looked like 4000 years ago, also made of foam, was constructed and erected just 10 mi (16 km) southwest of the actual Stonehenge. It was used for scientific and archaeological studies and was removed after.

The rock band Black Sabbath featured a Stonehenge stage set for the 1983-1984 Born Again tour that ended up being too large to fit in most venues. This was parodied in the movie This is Spinal Tap, when the band orders a Stonehenge set but it arrives in miniature due to a confusion between feet and inches. There was also a Chicago based heavy metal band named Stonehenge that actually owned the trademark to the name. Stonehenge met with underground success in the 1990's - 2000's performing with acts such as Pantera, Iced Earth, Trouble and Manowar.

Aside from modern replicas, several other archaeological sites have had Stonehenge's name partially or fully incorporated into their own names. America's Stonehenge is an unusual and controversial site in New Hampshire. A henge near Stonehenge containing concentric rings of postholes for standing timbers, discovered in 1922, was named Woodhenge by its excavators because of similarities with Stonehenge. The timber Seahenge in Norfolk was named as such by journalists writing about its discovery in 1998.

In May 2006, reports emerged of an "Amazon Stonehenge" Calcoene, 390 kilometres from Macapa, the capital of Amapa state, near Brazil's border with French Guyana. It is comprised of 127 stones, possibly forming astronomical observing points.

MIThenge refers to an astronomical event in which the sun directly lines up with the Infinite Corridor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These are the only evenings in which the entire corridor is illuminated by direct sunlight.

Stonehenge in popular culture
The band Hawkwind played a concert at Stonehenge during the Stonehenge Festival on 20 June 1984.
In the film Troll 2 (1990), Creedence claims that her druid ancestors came from Stonehenge.
In the film Shanghai Knights they crash onto Stonehenge in a car.
Much of the the final episode of the animated series Mighty Max, Armageddon Outta Here, takes place at Stonehenge, with the series' main antagonist, Skullmaster, attempting to perform a ritual there that will grant him the power to transform time.
In the video game EarthBound, Stonehenge houses an alien facility underneath it.
In the video game Ace Combat 4, Stonehenge was used as a long range anti-air artillery.
In the video game Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Stonehenge was used to mend a crystal.
A miniature Stonehenge was featured in the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap.
In what may have been a reference to This is Spinal Tap, Stonehenge is the final venue in the video game Guitar Hero II.
English comic Eddie Izzard discusses Stonehenge in his stand-up Dress to Kill.
In the film National Lampoon's European Vacation, Stonehenge is toppled over when Clark backs into one of the stones.
In the film Merlin The Return, the character Merlin uses Stonehenge's immense magical power to banish the evil character Mordred to the Netherworld. It is also used later in the movie by Mordred as a means of merging the Netherworld and Earth.
In the novel "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy, the main character Tess is captured by the police at Stonehenge.
In S. M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time novels, Stonehenge is used by the Fiernan people as an observatory, aid to mathematical memorization, and religious center. It is referred to as "The Great Wisdom."
In the Phish song Wilson
In the Ayreon album "Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer", the song "And the Druids Turn to Stone" tells about the magical creation of the place.

^ ELIADE, Mircea, A History of Religious Ideas, vol. I, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, p. 118, translated: W. Trask, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1978
^ Id., see also, Id., pp. 114 - 138 for other examples of megalithic constructions.

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