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It is dawn. Light wisps of mist swirl around your feet as you walk. A large group of upright stones looms ominously in front of you as you enter the group of stones you become aware of their awesome magnitude. The sun, rising directly over a large heel stone ahead of you, casts an eerie light over the scene. You are in Salisbury, England, exploring one of the greatest known pre-historic monuments ever built, Stonehenge.
Stonehenge was built between 3100 BCE and 1550 BCE about 8 miles from Salisbury, England. It was thought to have been built by ancient Neolithic men. Some people think that it was built as an astronomical clock to predict eclipses and tell when the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes occurred.
In 1919, the Society of Antiquaries in London carried out a series of excavations on the site of Stonehenge to find out more about it. According to the evidence found at the site, Stonehenge was built in three different main periods.
The first period of construction probably started in about 3100 BCE, during the Neolithic Age. During this period a large circular ditch was dug and a ring of 56 pits, known as Aubrey Holes, was made around the ditch.
The second period of construction probably started in 2100 BCE. During this period huge pillars of rock were brought to the site from Wales and erected in two circles around the center of the site. Some people think that the double circle was never completed and dismantled during the third period of construction. Also during the second period the most important part of the whole structure, the 35 ton heel stone, was put into place. When one stands in the center of the monument at dawn, facing the direction in which the sun rises, on either the Summer or Winter solstice, they can see the sun rising directly over the heel stone.
During the third period of construction, a circle of 30 upright stones weighing about 50 tons each was erected and capped by a ring of stone lintels. These stones enclosed a horseshoe-shaped formation of five pairs of upright stones. A stone lintel also capped each of these pairs. Other changes involved adding, removing, and rearranging stones that had been put up during the second period of construction. This last period of construction probably ended around 1550 BCE.
Throughout England there are hundreds of other structures like Stonehenge that scientists think were used for the same purpose. The most famous of these is a 3000-year-old wooden monument in Wiltshire, which is also thought to be an astronomical clock, used for religious ceremonies.
Is Stonehenge an astronomical clock? A site for religious ceremonies? We may never know for sure, but it will always capture our imaginations and make us wonder about life in ancient times.
Picture 1: "An aerial view of Stonehenge" from: http://www.stonehenge.com/ December 17, 1999.
Picture 2: "Stonehenge after the first period of construction" from: http://www.stonehenge.com/ December 17, 1999.
Picture 3: "Stonehenge after the second period of construction" from: http://www.stonehenge.com/ December 17, 1999.
Picture 4: "Stonehenge after the final period of construction" from: http://www.stonehenge.com/ December 17, 1999.
Picture 5: A view of the large outer stone pillars" from: http://www.travel.com/stonehenge/pictures December 17, 1999.
Picture 6: An overall view of Stonehenge" from: http://www.travel.com/stonehenge/pictures December 17, 1999.
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