Stonehenge continues to fascinate the world. The reasons for its existence remain as much a mystery now as it has ever been.
The Stones attracts visitors from all over the world to this small corner of Wiltshire and sometimes it seems that the more questions that are answered the more there are to ask. Part of the world’s fascination with this ancient monument must surely be that no matter how clever and sophisticated Modern Man may be how and why it was built remains hidden from us by the cloak of time.
Wiltshire is rich in historical monuments and Stonehenge forms a focal point of a landscape of burial mounds, massive earthworks and hill forts constructed by the ancient Britons known as Beaker People. You need only glance at detailed maps of Wiltshire to spot these, many accessible to the public, scattered throughout the county. Very close by for example is a large and extensive settlement recently excavated in 2006 at the nearby village of Durrington Walls, less than 3 miles (5km) away. This site to all intents and purposes is a rather muddy field but artifacts and building remains were uncovered during these excavations which date from the same era as the Stones. Again all is very much a mystery but it is believed that the settlement was occupied by the same Beaker People. Whereas the Stone Circle was a place of ceremony and death the settlement at Durrington Walls was very much a living breathing community full of life and activity with a penchant for feasting.
During 2008/2009 the Riverside Project comprising a team of archaeologists from British universities led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield has discovered even more sites around the area. Notably another stone circle about a mile away from the original, nicknamed BlueStonehenge. Although the original bluestones were removed thousands of years ago the holes remain. These original stones may possibly have been used for the major rebuilding of the Stone Circle around 2500 B.C.
This second stone circle was about 10 metres wide and surrounded by a ditch. It is conjectured that the dead were brought to BlueStonehenge prior to cremation and their ashes scattered at the main site. As no one could record this information at the time we will never know but we do now know that the whole area around the Stone Circle is far more complex, both in time and space, than was ever dreamt of even as recently as the turn of the 20th century. It is thanks to the dedication of teams of archaeologists and their new technology that exciting new discoveries are being made with each year that passes.
What visitors see today is about half the original stone monument built between 3000BC and 1500BC. Marvel at the awesome achievement of the ancient Britons in not only transporting these massive stones but erecting them with such precision that served not only as a sacred place of ritual and burial but also as an astronomical calendar.
Although much of it is hidden from us it has been established through carbon dating techniques that the construction occurred in three distinct phases. Initially consisting of a circle of timbers surrounded by a ditch and bank this first henge was constructed around 3100 BC.
Around 2500BC the circle was rebuilt using blue-stones, the smaller stones of the structure still remaining. These are believed to have come from Pembroke South Wales, 245miles (380km) across the Severn Estuary to the NW. Why five ton stones were dragged overland, floated on rafts and brought via the River Avon is all part of the mystery.
Before this phase was completed the site was abandoned for over 1000years. We shall never know why. We do know that around 2300BC the third and final bigger stone monument was constructed much of which remains today.
During this rebuilding phase the original blue-stones from South Wales were dug up and re-arranged but then even bigger stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs, the short escarpment of hills which runs east-west across the northern part of Wiltshire. These were of sandstone and named Sarsens which were upended and linked by horizontal lintels that the visitor sees today.
When you come to Wiltshire you must visit this remarkable World Heritage for yourself.Stonehenge