|The word ‘Henge’...
'Henge" simply means hang! Hang means to support from above or the side, like you "hang" a door! Bruce Bedlam spoke to a builder and asked him - what is meant by "the hang of a roof?" He was told " When you put the joists in place they stretch from one wall to the other. That's the hang of the roof!" Even today the word Hanger is used for a large building with no internal supports. Stonehenge is the perfect description of such a building. The roof is supported by the Sarsen Circle alone.
Who Put the "Henge" in Stonehenge?
Facts About Stonehenge
The word "henge" came to its current definiton—a Neolithic earthwork with an internal ditch and an outward bank—in a roundabout way. It was apparently first used in relation to Stonehenge, probably as a Saxon reference to the "hanging stones" or horizontal lintels across the tops of the upright stones of the monument.
Stonehenge is the most renowned of the many British Neolithic earthworks, and thus became a reference point when talking about similar sites, with or without stones. "Stone" was dropped, and the sites became simply "henges." Since other British Neolithic ditch-and-bank constructions have the ditch inside a surrounding bank, over time a henge has come to describe that variety of construction—meaning that technically Stonehenge is no longer a henge, as its ditch lies outside its bank.
- Stonehenge was built between 3100 – 1100 BCE.
- The circle was aligned with the midsummer sunrise, the midwinter sunset, and the most southerly rising and northerly setting of the moon.
- The ground plan and structural engineering of Stonehenge incorporate sophisticated mathematical and geometrical understandings on the part of its builders.
- There were two types of stones used in its construction: the ‘bluestones’ (weighing as much as four tons and brought from 240 miles away) and the Sarsen stones (averaging eighteen feet in height and twenty-five tons in weight).
- It has been estimated that the construction of Stonehenge required more than thirty million hours of labor.
- More than nine hundred stone rings exist in the British Isles. Of these, Stonehenge is the most well known.
The megalithic monuments of Britain and Europe predate those of the eastern Mediterranean, Egyptian, Mycenaean and Greek cultures.
- Prior to the 1950’s most archaeologists believed that Stonehenge’s use had been limited to the ritual activities of different Neolithic chiefdoms. However, it is now known that Stonehenge had another equally important function, which was its use as an astronomical observatory.
- In the 1950s and 1960s, the Oxford University engineer Professor Alexander Thom and the astronomer Gerald Hawkins pioneered the new field of archaeoastronomy - the study of the astronomies of ancient civilizations. Conducting surveys at Stonehenge and other megalithic structures, Thom and Hawkins discovered many significant astronomical alignments among the stones. This evidence indicates that Stonehenge and other stone rings were used as astronomical observatories.
- Stonehenge was simultaneously used for both astronomical observation and ritual function. By gathering data regarding the movement of celestial bodies, the Stonehenge observations were used to indicate appropriate periods in the annual ritual cycle. During those periods, among them being the solstices, equinoxes and different lunar days, festivals and ceremonies were held.
- Myths and legends of Stonehenge shed light on the nature of the activities and ceremonies performed at the festivals. For example, the legendary Merlin tells King Aurelius:
Laugh not so lightly, King, for not lightly are these words spoken. For in these stones is a mystery, and a healing virtue against many ailments. Giants of old did carry them from the furthest ends of Africa and did set them up in Ireland what time they did inhabit therein. And unto this end they did it, that they might make them baths therein whensoever they ailed of any malady, for they did wash the stones and pour forth the water into the baths, whereby they that were sick were made whole. Moreover they did mix confections of herbs with the water, whereby they that were wounded had healing, for not a stone is there that lacketh in virtue of leechcraft.
- And Layamon, a 13th century British poet, also speaks of the healing quality of Stonehenge.
The stones are great
And magic power they have
Men that are sick
Fare to that stone
And they wash that stone
And with that water bathe away their sickness
The Location & Details...
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Stonehenge is a group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, S. England. Pre-eminent among megalithic monuments in the British Isles, it is similar to an older and larger monument at Avebury. The great prehistoric structure is enclosed within a circular ditch 300 ft (91 m) in diameter, with a bank on its inner side, and is approached by a broad roadway called the Avenue. Within the circular trench the stones are arranged in four series: The outermost is a circle of sandstones about 13.5 ft (4.1 m) high connected by lintels; the second is a circle of bluestone menhirs; the third is horseshoe shaped;and the innermost is ovoid. Within the ovoid lies the Altar Stone. The Heel Stone is a great upright stone in the Avenue, northeast of the circle.
When was it built ?
Around 3500 BC the semi-nomadic peoples that populated the Salisbury Plain began to build the monument now known as Stonehenge. The original construction was a circular ditch and mound with 56 holes forming a ring around its perimeter. The first stone to be placed at the site was the Heel Stone. It was erected outside of a single entrance to the site. 200 years later 80 blocks of Bluestone was transported from a quarry almost 200 miles away in the Preseli Mountains. It is surmised that these blocks were transported by way of rafts along the Welsh coast and up local rivers, finally to be dragged overland to the site. These stones were erected forming two concentric circles.
At some point this construction was dismantled and work began on the final phase of the site. The Bluestones were moved within the circle and the gigantic stones that give Stonehenge its distinctive look were installed. Some of these massive stones weigh as much as 26 tons!
Bruce Bedlam believes he has solved the age-old conundrum of how such enormous monoliths could have been moved over these great distances by a supposedly primitive people. And if their technical and logistical skills were capable of such a feat, he believes it would be no great imaginative leap to suppose that they would have been able to design and build the wooden structure illustrated here.
Stonehenge World Heritage Site Facts and figures
Stonehenge (c. 3,000-1,600 BC)
- 1st phase – earth monument - circular bank and ditch (c. 3,000 BC)
- 2nd phase – timber monument (c. 2,900 to 2,600 BC)
- 3rd phase – stone monuments (c. 2,500 to 2,000 BC) – bluestones and larger sarsens re-arranged in several phases. Abandoned after 1,600 BC.
- The tallest stone is 7.3m high and weighs over 45 tonnes. It is one of the 5 sarsen Trilithons. The sarsen circle was originally composed of 30 uprights (each weighing about 25 tonnes) capped by horizontal lintels (about 7 tonnes). The bluestones, weighing up to 4 tonnes each, came from the Preseli Hills in Wales, some 240km away.
Neolithic and Bronze Age Monuments
- Other key monuments include the Stonehenge Avenue (c. 2,500-1,700 BC and 2.5km long), the Cursus (c. 3,600-3,400 BC and 2.7km long), Woodhenge (c. 2,300 BC), and Durrington Walls (c. 2,500 BC).
- The Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) contains more than 350 prehistoric burial mounds. These include 10 Neolithic long barrows, the rest are Bronze Age round barrows. The key barrow cemeteries are Normanton Down, King Barrows, Cursus Barrows, Winterbourne Stoke, Wilsford and Lake Barrows.
- Altogether, the WHS includes more than 700 known archaeological features (including find spots), of which 415 are protected by scheduling within 180 scheduled areas.
Size and Ownership
- The Stonehenge WHS covers 2,665 hectares (26.6 square km - 6,500 acres). Ownership and management of the WHS is shared between English Heritage, the National Trust, the Ministry of Defence, the RSPB, farmers and householders in Amesbury, Larkhill and the Woodford Valley.
- Stonehenge, Woodhenge and parts of Durrington Walls are owned by the state and managed by English Heritage.
- A large part of the landscape surrounding Stonehenge is owned by the National Trust (827 ha, 31% of the WHS)
Stonehenge Visitors and Facilities
- In the Stonehenge part of the WHS, 520 hectares of arable land (20% of the WHS) have been signed up for grass restoration between 2000 and 2008, protecting and enhancing the setting of 105 prehistoric monuments.
- This represents a financial commitment from Defra of £2,256,000 over the lifetime of the stewardship agreements (10 years).
- 887,000 visitors to Stonehenge in 2007/08 (excluding the Solstice and including free education visits and stone circle access)
- About 50% are from overseas, 30% are part of a group and 5% are education visitors. More than 70% of the education visitors are from overseas.
- Summer Solstice: 30,000 people in June 2008. After years of problems, Stonehenge reopened in 2000 for the Summer Solstice under strict conditions.
- Existing visitor facilities built in 1968 (extended car park, new café, shop and underpass)
- Access inside the stone circle was stopped in 1978 because of vandalism and erosion due to increasing visitor numbers
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Visitor numbers to Stonehenge
(excluding the Solstice and including free education visits and stone circle access)