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The name "Stonehenge" means "hanging stones" and was given to the structure by the Saxons, Medieval writers called it the "giant's dance."
Presently the remains of Stonehenge include a henge and horseshoe of sarsen sandstones and bluestons, some which weigh as much as twenty-six tons. Some of the sandstones are topped by lintels and are called "trilithons."
The physical construction of the three stages of Stonehenge is speculative based on the archaeological evidence found after many excavations, and, as it shall be shown the times of the con- struction the stages are approximated. Stonehenge I (ca. 3500 to 2300 BC) which consisted of a ditch with two banks, three standing stones, four wooden posts and a ring of 56 holes, called Aubrey Holes, named after John Aubrey, an English 17th-century antiquarian. Within the holes, measuring 2.5 feet to 6 feet in width and 2 to 4 feet deep, was found chalk. They appeared to have been often dug and refilled with cremated human remains. Other Stone Age relics were found in the holes too. The Heel Stone, 20 feet long, 8 feet high, and 7 feet wide was in placed. It was the first standing stone.
Stonehenge II (ca. 2150 to 2000 BC) was erected during the time of the so called Beaker People who did not believe in cremation. During this stage a double circle of 80 giant bluestones, brought from the Prescelly Mountains in south Wales, was built within the henge. The entrance was widened, and an avenue was created linking Stonehenge to the River Avon about two miles away.
The discotinuation of the work of Stonehenge II possibly occurred when the Wessex people, powerful and wealthy craftsmen, took over and drove the Beaker People out. This was when the bluestones circle was dismantled.
The final stage of construction or Stonehenge III included three substages. The dating of these may be as follows: Stonehenge IIIa, ca. 2100 to 2000 BC; Stonehenge IIIb, ca. 2000 to 1550 BC); and Stonehenge IIIc, ca. 1550 to 1100 BC).
In the first substage Stonehenge was shaped as it presently stands. But, also, in the first and second substages most of the activity concerned the dismantling and re-erecting of the bluestones. In the first substage thirty sarsens were placed in a carefully spaced ring around a horseshoe of five sarsen trilithons in the center. A lone upright sarsen was placed outside of the of the double bluestones circle. It now lies there, but seems to be have been inappropriately named the Slaughter Stone for there is no evidence that it played any part in any executions or sacrifices.
The main event which occurred in the second substage was the erection of the Alter Stone which stands in the middle of the horseshoe.
In the third substage the bluestones were once again reerected. A bluestone horseshoe of 19 stones was built within the trilithons, the remains still stand. There was a placement of bluestones between the sarsen horseshoe and the sarsen circle. Carvings of bronze axes and daggers, symbols of the sun were made in the sarsens. "Boats of the Dead" were hammered into the western stones.
Stonehenge represents a feat of exceptional engineering by civilized people. One estimate is that the construction of original structure required an overwhelming 1,497,680 man- days of physical labor, including logistics and planning.
Estimated dates of for the construction of the three stages range from 3500 to 1100 BC. Professor R.J.C. Atkinson, in 1956, approximated the dates of the stages as follows:
Stonehenge I .....1900 - 1700 BC
Stonehenge II .....1700 - 1600 BC
Stonehenge III .....1500 - 1400 BC
So, from the above estimated datesthe time of the construction of Stonehenge is very uncertain. Professor Atkinson's dates are described as "very approximate." This too adds to the enigma surrounding the structure.
Also the exceptional engineering feat Stonehenge adds to its enigma. The lintels of the sarsen circle were joined together with such accuracy that it is hardly believable that it was accomplished with the naked eye alone without instruments. The lintels, themselves, had to be raised 20 feet before being placed on the uprights to which they were secured by pre-cut tenon and mortice joints.
Practically speaking such craftsmanship did not coincide with the people living within the area at that time. The inhabitants in Britain around 2000 BC were neolithic, uncivilized farmers living within small village communities. They neither knew how to use metals nor how to read or write.
The estimations of the number on men that would have been needed to move the 81 sarsen stones makes it seem humanly impossible. Professor Atkinson estimates that with no less than 1500 men, working constantly with only a few days of rest between trips, to move the stones from nearby Avebury to Stonehenge would have taken five and a half years. Professor G.S. Hawkins estimated a quarter of a million to a million and a quarter man-days would have been required to build the third stage, The population to supply such a labor force simply did not exist.
All this speculation has only heightened the questions as to why and how the structure was built. King James I (1566-1625), ordered the first authoritative study of modern times, when instructing his Surveyor-General of Works, and great architect, Inigo Jones to survey the structure to determine how it got there. Jones' first conclusion was that Stonehenge was constructed with such design and beauty that it could not have been built by the Druids (see Druidism) as previously thought. The Druids and others of the time were considered barbaric, unskilled people.
Jones concluded that Stonehenge had to be constructed by civilized people who were skilled in architectural design and mathematics. The following obvious conclusion was that Stonehenge was built by the Romans. But, the speculation of the date of construction of the first stage renders the Roman construction theory erroneous. Stonehenge was or was being constructed practically 2000 years before Julius Caesar set foot on British soil. Although the Roman construction of Stonehenge theory is erroneous this does not invalidate Jones' theory that the structure was built by civilized people. Both the architectural and engineering designs of the structure give evidence of this. The construction was clearly beyond the skills of barbaric man.
Going along with the statement that Stonehenge was built by people with highly skilled architectural and engineering abilities is the theory that the structure served as an astronomical observatory. There has been much debate over this issue, but there exists evidence to substantiate the observatory theory; and unless it can be refuted on mathematical grounds such evidence must be accepted.
The evidence is based on the exact placement of the stones, and is detailed in two books "Megalithic Sites in Britain" (1967) and "Megalithic Lunar Observatories" (1971) by Alexander Thom of Oxford University. Within these books are the results of surveys which Thom conducted on megaliths ranging from the Orkney Islands and the Outer Hebrides to the south of Britainy.
The conclusions of Thom's work can be listed and summarized under five headings. These headings included results from the many sites surveyed.
From these facts it would seem safe to judge the megaliths were used as lunar observatories.
An astronomical observation concerning Stonehenge was made by William Stukeley, an 18th. century antiquarian and archae- ologist, was there were two distinct alignments with the sun and moon over the four burial stones, called the Four Stations, and the Heel Stone. The Four Stations have their short sides directed toward the midsummer sun rise, and their long side directed toward the setting of the moon.
Another distinct astronomical phenomena of Stonehenge is that a visitor standing at the center of the structure on Midsummer Day (June 24) can see the sun rise directly over the Heel Stone.
Even though Inigo Jones disproved the Druids built Stonehenge Stukeley agreed with John Aubrey, that the Druids possibly used the structure as a temple or psychic center. Stukeley, also believed the Druids to be serpent worshippers, and thought both Stonehenge and Avebury were temples of serpent Draconita. Another possible use was as an observatory, for the Druids developed the own Coligny or Bush Barrow calendar. Though there is a good body of evidence that Stonehenge and other monolithic sites were used as lunar observatories, this still does not answer the question as to who built them. It has pretty much been established that Britain did not have the skilled population at the time Stonehenge was constructed. There are assumptions that populations to construct these megalithic sites were imported. A clue which may have prompted such speculation lies in Thom's assumption that there was a central distribution from which standard rods were received.
The first of many of these assumptions is that these imported people were from Egypt. However, the primary objection to this is the age of the oldest megaliths, approximately 4000 BC -- several centuries before the First Egyptian Dynasty and over 1000 years before the first pyramids.
However, in spite of this objection, the builders are known to be megalithic people, and the term "megalithic culture" is not descriptive of one homogeneous culture but of a complex of cultures. From the studies of an amateur etymologist J.P. Cohane, written in his book "The Key," some subjective conclusions have been drawn. These conclusions seem to substantiate the above facts. A "pre-Sumerian" civilization was established in the Euphrates valley in the fifth millennium BC. From this civilization men sailed to explore all parts of the world. It is suggested, whether by necessity or choice, a group landed in Britain or France and stayed there. They founded the first megalithic culture, and they were the ones who built the first Passage Graves. Eventually with the passage of time they reverted back to barbarianism.
The above suggested solution seems to fail to meet two conditions set forth by the assumptions of Inigo Jones and Thom concerning the builders of Stonehenge. Namely, it is doubtful that such early explorers would have the architectural and engineering skills to build Stonehenge as Jones concluded. Second, there is no reference to a central distribution point as Thom suggested the builders had.
A more plausible suggestion would seem to be the builders of Stonehenge, and possibly the other megaliths as well, came from the kingdom of Atlantis before it sunk into the sea. Evidence of this possibility comes from the quotes of Plato in the "Kritias", a report allegedly from Egyptian archives, that mentions men who lived on the sea "called the Atlantic." Their kings ruled "many islands situated there" and later extended their rule over "those within the Pillars of Hercules up to Egypt and Tyrrhenia."
Although there is a question of the actual existence of Atlantis as discused in the description of the kingdom, this suggestion seems plausible. Almost everyone agrees Plato was not merely telling a story, but was describing actual known facts, in his description of Atlantis, and in the "Kritias" where he says the capital of these ruling kings was Atlantis.
In his description of Atlantis Plato described it as a perfectly designed, symmetrical city. If the builders of Stonehenge had migrated from Atlantis, then they would have possessed the technical skills to construct the megalith as it is described. If they came directly from Atlantis, then that city could have been their central distribution point. Or, if they had migrated to Egypt first, then the distribution point could have been somewhere in Egypt. If the later is true, then the above theory of early explorers sailing to Britain or France and stating the first megalithic culture becomes more plausible. Either way, both conditions of the two assumptions espoused by Jones and Thom are met.
The objection might be made when one speaks of Atlantis one enters the area of mythology. This can be replied to as being correct. But, there is more mythology surrounding Stonehenge. A major portion of such mythology is found in Arthurian lore and concerns the magician Merlin. According to legend Merlin supposedly magically transported Stonehenge from Ireland to England. This is told by Geoffery of Manmouth in his "Histories of the Kings of Britain" written in the 12th. century.
The British King Ambrosius (who was the reputed brother of Uther Pendragon and uncle of Arthur) wanted a burial place and an everlasting memorial for the Britons who were treacherously killed at a meeting on Salisbury Plain to which the Saxon Hengist had invited them. At the king's wish Merlin sent for the Giant's ring which was then situated on Mount Killaraus in Ireland.
Further mythology concerns the Heel Stone was first named by Aubrey. He said it resembled an indentation of a heel. The legend surrounding this stone, also called the Friar's Heel, says a friar and the Devil were fighting. At the moment of sunrise the Devil was forced to run away, and the stone struck the friar on the heel.
As a political site Stonehenge is alleged to be the burial place of the pagan queen Boadicea who fought the Romans, a gallows for British soldiers in honor of the god Woden, and a memorial for slain men fighting against the Saxons.
A recent theory concerning the third stage of Stonehenge was that its construction was to celebrate the annual marrying of the gods.
When writing about Stonehenge one feels like a mathematician who divides the number one by the number three, there is always a remainder left which could reach into infinity if the division procedure were extended long enough. Such a comparison is applicable to Stonehenge because of it enigmatic characteristics. Answers and speculations that are given to questions invariably lead to other questions and speculations. This is why Stonehenge remains one of the great mysteries of humankind, always challenging the mind to wonder about its mysterious and mystical past. A.G.H.