10 Interesting Stonehenge Facts
One of the most famous and recognizable prehistoric sites in the world, Stonehenge continues to fascinate and awe people all around the planet.
There is much that we still do not know about the monument, but in recent times archaeologists have been able to use technological advancements to discover new insights into the stone circle and the people who constructed it.
10 Facts About Stonehenge
- It's Estimated That There Were Around 4,000 Stone Circles in The British Isles and Brittany at One Time
- Stonehenge was a 1,500 Year Building Project
- The Original Monument Served as a Burial Site
- Some of the Stones Used to Build the Monument Were Transported More Than 150 Miles
- The Monument and Surrounding Area Became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986
- Stonehenge is the Subject of a Song in the Comedy Movie: This is Spinal Tap
- People Wrongly Used to Believe That Stonehenge was Built by Druids
- Stonehenge Might Have Marked the Unification of Britain
- There are Numerous Stonehenge Replicas Around the World
- Stonehenge Draws More Than 1.5 Million Visitors Each Year
I explore each fact in more detail below.
1. It's Estimated That There Were Around 4,000 Stone Circles in The British Isles and Brittany at One Time
The monuments were built between 3300 to 900 BCE. Around two thirds of them have since been destroyed. The stone circles were mainly built in highland areas of Scotland, the English Lake District, the south-west of England, and the north and south-west of Ireland. Stonehenge is not the biggest ancient stone circle to be found, that is Avebury, but it is the most architecturally sophisticated.
2. The Monument was a 1,500 Year Building Project
The monument started out as a circular earthwork enclosure, constructed in around 3000 BC. A ditch was dug with simple antler tools, and the excavated chalk piled up to form a bank. Inside the ditch were placed 56 timber or stone posts to form a ring. The site would undergo many changes, perhaps the biggest being in about 2500 BC when bigger stones were brought to the site and used to create a more impressive construction.
3. The Original Monument Served as a Burial Site
Although there is no full agreement on the overall purpose of Stonehenge, it is known that the monument served as a burial site before the big stones arrived. The cremated remains of at least 64 Neolithic people were buried in the circle of 56 pits, known as the Aubrey holes that were part of the original construction.
I know this goes without saying, but Stonehenge really was the most incredible accomplishment. It took five hundred men just to pull each sarsen, plus a hundred more to dash around positioning the rollers. Just think about it for a minute.— Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island
4. Some of the Stones Used to Build Stonehenge Were Transported More Than 150 Miles
The biggest stones, known as sarsens, are up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and weigh an average of 25 tons (22.6 metric tons). They are thought to have been transported from the Marlborough Downs, a distance of 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the north. The smaller stones, known as “bluestones”, weigh up to 4 tons and come from western Wales. Some of them appear to have transported 150 miles (225 km) or more, an incredible feat for the time period. There are numerous theories on how people moved them across such a large distance, but nobody knows for certain.
5. Stonehenge and the Surrounding Area Became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986
As one of the most recognizable prehistoric landmark in Britain, Stonehenge was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument under legislation introduced in 1882 to protect the country's historic monuments. The stone circle is managed by English Heritage and the surrounding area is owned by the National Trust.
6. Stonehenge is the Subject of a Song in the Comedy Movie: This is Spinal Tap
In the movie, a life size model of Stonehenge is supposed to be lowered down onto the stage as the band Spinal Tap perform the song. However, due to a mix up over measurements, where feet are wrongly recorded as inches, the replica turns out to be only 18 inches tall instead of 18 feet, making it considerably less impressive!
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.— Folk Tale
7. People Wrongly Used to Believe That Stonehenge was Built by Druids
In the 17th century, archaeologist John Aubrey proposed that Stonehenge was constructed by Celtic high priests, known as the druids. The theory became popular, but in the mid-20th century, radiocarbon dating showed that Stonehenge had existed at the site for more than 1,000 years before the Celts lived in the area, ruling out the role of ancient druids. In modern times, people who identify themselves as druids carry out rituals at the site, especially at the summer solstice.
8. Stonehenge Might Have Marked the Unification of Britain
In 2012 the Stonehenge Riverside Project put forward the theory that Stonehenge marked the “unification of Britain”. It was a tipping point when people came together culturally and politically. This explains, according to the theory, how such a massive project could be undertaken and completed, and how the bluestone could be transported all the way from Wales.
9. There are Numerous Stonehenge Replicas Around the World
A road builder called Sam Hill constructed the Maryhill Stonehenge in Washington state, USA to commemorate the victims of World War I. Australia has the Esperance Stonehenge, a full-sized copy, while Stonehenge Aotearoa in New Zealand was built to function as an astronomical observatory for the Southern Hemisphere. Perhaps the most bizarre and interesting is Carhenge in Nebraska, USA, which uses old cars rather than stones to create the triliths.
10. Stonehenge Draws More Than 1.5 Million Visitors Each Year
Considered to be one of the most must-see monuments in the world, Stonehenge has experienced huge increases in overall visitor numbers in recent years. In 2013, a visitor center was built at a cost of 27 million pounds, part of a major revamp which included the nearby A344 road being shut and grassed over.
Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!' Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I'll tell you that.— Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
Why was Stonehenge Built?
There are three main theories as to the purpose of the prehistoric monument.
1. It was a site of religious worship and ritual.
2. It was an elaborate burial site.
3. It was a giant observatory/astronomical clock.
In truth it is difficult to know for certain which is true, and it is entirely possible that the answer is that it has served more than one purpose.
The site also evolved over many centuries, so its role may also have changed over time.
The stones are situated in Wiltshire, England, roughly 2 miles (3 km) west of the town of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of the cathedral city of Salisbury.
King Arthur, Merlin and Stonehenge
The 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote mythical tales about King Arthur and events about English, which were believed to be true well into the Middle Ages.
According to Monmouth, the stones were transported from Ireland to Wiltshire by Merlin's magic. He brought them there to commemorate hundreds of British nobles who were killed by the Saxons and buried on Salisbury Plain.
We now know that the stone circle is actually thousands of years older than the time of Merlin, however.
- Johnson, Anthony, Solving Stonehenge: The New Key to an Ancient Enigma (Thames & Hudson, 2008) ISBN 978-0-500-05155-9
- Richards, J, English Heritage Book of Stonehenge (B T Batsford Ltd, 1991)
- English Heritage: Stonehenge: Historical Background
- Chippindale, C, Stonehenge Complete (Thames and Hudson, London, 2004) ISBN 0-500-28467-9
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Can Stonehenge be seen from the Moon?
No, it cannot. Some man-made structures, such as the Great Wall of China are just about visible when viewed (without magnification) from a low Earth orbit in perfect conditions - but the Moon orbits about 381,415 km (237,000 mi) away, too distant to see such detail.Helpful 1
© 2015 Paul Goodman