Stonehenge Heritage and UNESCO and has been legally

Stonehenge is one of Britain’s largest and most
recognisable prehistoric monuments, celebrated throughout the world for its mystery, creation and tremendous
size. It is
situated in Wiltshire and consists of a ring of
large up-standing stones or
megaliths set
within earthworks in the middle of a collection of other monuments
from the Neolithic and Bronze age eras including burial mounds, ditches,
barrows and other earthworks. It is believed to have been constructed from
around 3000 BC with the surrounding bank and ditch being dated to this period
and overall the site took over 1500 years to develop into something similar to
what we see today.

Stonehenge
was formed in several phases and this has meant dating the whole site
accurately can be difficult as the various phases of activity, complicated by
disturbance of stones, moving and resetting over years,
early excavation records and human disturbance over the years, all
mean specific dating could be compromised. The monument is now managed by English
Heritage and UNESCO and has been legally protected from the 1800’s. Although
visitors can go to the site the stones have suffered erosion, both from nature
and people climbing and rubbing the stones as well as thousands walking through
the site and so the main stone circle is roped off for most of the year with
special appointments possible to enter the circle and open access during the
summer and winter solstice. The monument and those in the surrounding area
were added to UNESCO’s list
of World Heritage Sites in 1986.

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What makes Stonehenge iconic and important is not just its use or
construction, but the fact that people over a course of thousands of years visited
a site seemingly important, undertaking the gargantuan task of constructing,
re-constructing, amending and forming such an area, showing us without the importance
of the site. Yet, all of this was done before written records, without
instruction and with skills which today would be impossible without the use of
huge machines. There is also the question of communication, during a time when
language is not known about, and shows somehow people were communicating and
working as a community on mass, to form this area. Also, during a time of
hunting and gathering and introducing domesticated animals and farming, people
would have been needed as a priority at home in order to survive and yet people
were spared and sent to produce this monument also adding to the importance.  

This ongoing development has fuelled a growing story about the site, the
surrounding area and the people involved which has captured the minds of Britain
and the world through the years fuelling interest in why this was ever created.
With ongoing public interest inevitably comes funding and analysis as we try to
understand our ancestors and the reasons for the creation of this outstanding
huge monument.

 

 

 

 

Early image

 

The first
stage consisted of forming a large round bank and ditch enclosure measuring
approximately 100 metres in diameter with animal bones and worked flint tools distributed
through its base. Inside this ditch is a circle of 56 holes measuring around metre
wide known as ‘Aubrey holes’ after John Aubrey, an antiquarian and philosopher
from the seventeenth-century who first identified them. Their function is still
a mystery although they are thought to have contained burials or cremations. In
2013 a team of archaeologists, led by Mike Parker Pearson, excavated more
than 50,000 cremated bones from over 60 individuals found to be buried Stonehenge
making it one of the earliest known cemetery’s in Britain, however there
are several other functions also possible alongside this.

 

Image Aubrey holes

 

In around
2600 BC, the henge developed to include stone, possibly to cement the sites
permanence as timbers used prior to this period rotted and would have needed regular
replacement over the centuries and so a mix of local stones and dolerite bluestones transported
from the Preseli Hills, around 150 miles away, in Pembrokeshire, Wales,
was used. Local stone use was clearly for ease given the size but the selection
of the Welsh stone is not known but must have been for some significance, possibly
to reflect a place they lived or stayed or something within the stone they
found beautiful and therefore saw as precious and so fortified the importance
of the site. The stones were large and weighed two tons, possibly moved by
lifting them onto rows of poles to roll them across the landscape however it is
not known exactly how this was achieved.

During
the next major phase, 30 dressed megaliths or sarsen stones were brought from
the local area and were erected to form a circle around 33 metres wide, with lintel
stones on top. Each stone weighed roughly 25 tons and is around 4 metres high
and 2 metres wide. Within this circle stood five trilithons or group of
three stones dressed and
arranged in a horseshoe shape with
its open end facing north east. This phase has been radiocarbon dated to
between 2600 and 2400 BC.  During the Bronze Age, the
bluestones were moved and re-erected several times eventually creating a
horseshoe-shaped setting which mirrored the shape of the central sarsen
Trilithons.

The last
known construction at Stonehenge was around 1500 BC. Since then through excavation archaeologists have
discovered Iron Age, Roman and medieval artefacts
in or around the site. These do not show continuous usage of the site but do represent
continuing visitation through history.

Looking again at why this site is so iconic, the achievement
of building such a structure in a period with no JCB’s or modern forms of
transport given the monumental scale of the stone, again adds to the drama and
mystery of the site and the people who developed it, which can capture the
imagination and leave people wondering about its conception.

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