15 Interesting Stonehenge Facts
One of the most famous and most 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.
Here are some interesting Stonehenge facts concerning the ancient standing stones:
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
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.
The stone circle is surrounded by many other Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, which together form the biggest concentration of prehistoric sites in England. There are also several hundred burial mounds in the locality.
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.
Stonehenge is the subject of a song by Spinal Tap in the 1984 comedy movie: This is Spinal Tap.
There is no agreement on when the stone circle was built, but it was believed to be sometime between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C. That makes it older than the pyramids. Once built, stones were added and removed over the following 1,500 years.
5. One of Many
There are more than 900 other stone circles in the British Isles, but Stonehenge is the most famous of them.
Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B.C. The cremation burial dating to Stonehenge's sarsen stones phase is likely just one of many from this later period of the monument's use and demonstrates that it was still very much a domain of the dead.— Mike Parker Pearson
6. Site History
There is strong evidence to suggest that the location of monument was used as a burial site before the stone circle was built.
7. Stone Types
Two types of stone were used to construct Stonehenge. The biggest ones, called 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 as far as 140 miles (225 km). There are a number of theories on how people moved them such a large distance.
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.
9. English Heritage
The site is managed by English Heritage and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
10. Public Access
In the past, visitors were allowed to touch the stones, but nowadays the site is usually roped off.
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
Although modern druids carry out rituals at Stonehenge, the Druids had nothing to do with the construction of the stone rings. Ancient Druids conducted their ritual activities mainly in sacred forest groves.
It has been estimated that the building of the monument used up over thirty million hours of labor.
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
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.
The Druids and Stonehenge
In the 17th century, the archaeologist John Aubrey claimed 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 been at the site for more than 1,000 years before the Celts lived in the area, ruling out the role of ancient Druids.
People who identify themselves as modern druids still carry out rituals at the site, however, particularly at the summer solstice.
There are a number of 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.
Stonehenge draws more than 800,000 visitors a year and is considered to be one of the must-see monuments in the world.
- 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
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© 2015 Paul Goodman