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STONEHENGE, Wiltshire

The best-known of all megalithic sites dates back 4000 years ago

Certainly the best known of all megalithic sites, Stonehenge stands in isolation on the undulating chalk of Salisbury Plain, west of Amesbury, between the busy A303 and A344 roads. At first sight this unique and enigmatic site appears smaller than imagined, but the tallest upright stone is 6.7m (22ft) high and another 2.4m (8ft) below ground.
The outermost element of the site is the Avenue that runs straight down a gentle slope for a distance of 530m (560yds) into Stonehenge Bottom. The Avenue consists of twin banks about 12m (40ft) apart with internal ditches and it begins at the entrance to the earthwork enclosure. Here is the Heel Stone, a large upright unworked sarsen (hard sandstone) which lies immediately adjacent to the A344 road. It is worth noting that the nearest source of stones of the size represented by the large sarsens at Stonehenge is on the Marlborough Downs, about 30km (18mi) to the NE. It can only be assumed that these stones (the heaviest of which weighs about 45 tons) were transported on some type of sledge.


Moving inwards from the Heel Stone there is an earthwork enclosure that consists of a ditch and an interior bank, the height of which was calculated by Professor Atkinson as being about 1.8m (6ft). It is known that there were at least two entrances, the one now visible (facing NE) and one to the south. Lying within the entrance is an unworked and now recumbent sarsen stone, stained a rusty red caused by rainwater acting on iron, and known as the Slaughter Stone. Arranged around the inner edge of the earthwork bank were originally four small uprights: the Station Stones, of which two can still be seen. Immediately adjacent to the bank there is a ring of 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes, marked by circular concrete spots. The area between the inner edge of the bank and the outermost stone settings includes at least two further settings of pits: the Y and Z holes.


On the central area of the site there are the stone settings, the sophisticate arrangements that set Stonehenge apart from any other prehistoric monument in Europe. In their construction two types of stone were used: sarsen and bluestone. The sarsens used in the central settings are much larger. The bluestone is a mixture of rocks found on the Preseli Mountains in SW Wales. The most widely accepted theory regards the arrival of the bluestones on Salisbury Plain as the result of human effort, with the route being partly overland and partly by water.


In its complete form the outermost stone setting consisted of a circle of 30 upright sarsens, of which 17 still stand, each weighing about 25 tons. The tops of these uprights were linked by a continuous ring of horizontal sarsen lintels, only a small part of which is now still in position. The stones in the sarsen circle are carefully shaped and the horizontal lintels are jointed together not only by means of simple mortice-and-tenon joints, but they are also locked using what is effectively a dovetail joint. The edges are smoothed into a gentle curve which follows the line of the entire circle.



The bluestone setting, concentric the outer sarsen circle, consisted originally of about 60 stones but many have fallen, dissolved or been crushed. Inside these two circles lies the sarsen horseshoe, consisted originally of five sarsen trilithons (a Greek word that means three stones), each comprising two uprights and a horizontal lintel. Although now fragmentary, the arrangement shows the careful grading of the five trilithons, the tallest of which is 6.7m (22ft) high above ground level. Enfolded within this massive horseshoe, lies a smaller horseshoe arrangement of upright bluestones.


Current archaeological research shows that this site was constructed and modified on various phases, spanning several centuries:

Pre-Stonehenge (9th-8th millennium BC): at least 4 mesolithic pits which originally contained big pine posts, in a line about 200m from the present henge site

Stonehenge 1 (from 3100 BC): construction of the circular bank, the ditch and the 56 Aubrey Holes which probably originally contained timber posts

Stonehenge 2 (from 2550 BC): pottery, animal bones and cremated human remains placed in ditch; cremations deposited in some of the partially filled Aubrey Holes; complex of posts in interior and in entrance causeway

Stonehenge 3 (from 2100 BC): sequence of stone-related structures. It's not possible a close dating, but the sequence should has been as follows:

55074. Bluestones from Wales erected in q and r holes and then dismantled

55075. Sarsen circle and trilithons erected, possibly also a bluestone setting which may have included trilithons, this latter then dismantled

55076. Bluestone circle and oval setting

55077. Arc of bluestones removed from oval to leave present horseshoe setting

55078. Y and Z holes dug, probably for stones which were never erected; during this phase the avenue has also been constructed.

Early mention of Stonehenge was made in 1135 by chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth who claimed that it was brought by a tribe of giants from Africa to Ireland, and from there flown by the wizard Merlin across the sea. Another legend claims that the stones were stolen from an Irish woman by the Devil, and re-erected on Salisbury Plain by Merlin for Ambrosius Aurelianus, the King of Britons.


Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site and it is owned by the English Heritage. This conservation organization, along with the National Trust who owns 587ha of land surrounding the monument, is working towards removing the A344 road and improving the landscape around the stones. Their aim is to restore Stonehenge to its isolated dignity. As a matter of fact, as one of the most visited monument in England, the site is always overwhelmed with tourists. So the best approach is early in the morning or in the evening, when it is not open to the public. There are magnificent views of the monument coming by car from the A303. In the Salisbury Museum there are objects found during excavations at Stonehenge and an original William Turner painting of the site.

Stonehenge hosts more than 800,000 visitors every year, as many as 2,000 per hour during the busiest periods, and I wouldn't be surprised if every one of them had a different theory about why this stone circle was built. Whether it was originally intended to be a church, a calendar or a UFO landing site, Stonehenge is probably the most famous megalithic monument on Earth. Stonehenge is believed to be about 5,000 years old. The oldest known sketch, made in 1574, shows the stones looking only slightly newer than they do today.

In his book Stonehenge, The Secret of the Solstice, Dr. Terence Meaden says the earth embankment and various stone circles of Stonehenge were constructed for worship of the Great Goddess. Other nearby sacred sites, including Avebury and the West Kennet Long Barrow, which were built during the same era, all contain feminine symbols of creation, the spirit that would have been most important to a people who were changing from nomadic hunters into farmers. Meaden sees the same symbols in the phallic upright stones and vaginal doorways of Stonehenge.

Clare Prout, the coordinator of the London, England based organization Save Our Sacred Sites, wrote that most visitors "park their car, pay their entrance fee, walk under the tunnel to reach the field that Stonehenge stands in and walk about a bit, nonplussed. There doesn't seem to be any meaning to the stones, they don't say anything and you can't touch them. So they take a photo to prove to themselves that they've been there and go back under the tunnel to the shop where they can buy Stonehenge earrings for 10. The spiritually motivated visitor might, as I did, weep for the death of the temple because really, the place seems at best hibernating, at worst, dead."

Prout went on to reveal how wrong she realized her first impressions were when she got the opportunity to participate in a pagan ritual at Stonehenge. When she gathered with a group of like-minded women and men, one morning before dawn, she discovered that Stonehenge is not dead at all, but "very, very aware." During their worship, Prout said, "the stones seemed to welcome and accept us, allowing us to do what we needed in perfection." "I prepared myself for a zap of power from the Land," she said. "What did happen was a subtle, slow process of feeling very good about myself and the group and the Land."

On June 22, 1999, newspapers and television broadcasts showed the shameful behavior of a mob of hooligans who broke down the fence and jumped on top of stones, forcing the cancellation of a planned Summer Solstice worship by a peaceful group of Druids. We are living in a time of quickening energies, a

period when the forces of darkness seem to be gathering strength. It is more important than ever for responsible, loving people to bring their positive energies to sacred places such as Stonehenge. Many tour organizers are now able to get special permission for their groups to enter Stonehenge during times when it is closed to tourists. I encourage you to attend one of these early-morning or late-evening sessions, when you and your group can merge and focus your collective energies to help heal and protect Stonehenge and other precious places of power.


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