- Curious Peoples
The Enigma of Prehistoric Engineering
Stonehenge, an iconic archaeological site in southern England, remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Built about 5,000 years ago by ancient Britons who left no written records, this megalithic circle on Salisbury Plain continues to inspire awe, fascination, and intense debate.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century writer known for his mythical account of English history and the tale of King Arthur, linked Stonehenge to the wizard Merlin. His story tells of King Aureoles Ambrosias, who, mourning the slaughter of hundreds of British nobles by Saxons, sought to create a memorial. Ambrosias sent an army to Ireland to retrieve the Giants’ Ring, a stone circle made from magical African bluestones and constructed by ancient giants. When the soldiers couldn’t move the stones, Merlin magically transported them across the sea, positioning them over the mass grave. Legends also mention that Ambrosius and his brother Uther, King Arthur’s father, are buried at Stonehenge.
Other legends about Stonehenge’s origins claim it to be the work of invading Danes or the ruins of a Roman temple. Some modern interpretations are quite imaginative, proposing that it could be an alien spacecraft landing area or a giant fertility symbol.
In the 17th century, archaeologist John Aubrey and antiquarian William Stukeley, who discovered primitive graves at the site, popularized the idea that the Druids, Celtic high priests, built Stonehenge. However, radiocarbon dating in the mid-20th century showed the structure predates the Celts’ arrival in the region. Despite this, modern Druids still gather at Stonehenge for the summer solstice.
An aerial shot of Stonehenge
Today, many scholars agree that Stonehenge functioned as a burial site and possibly served other purposes, such as a ceremonial site or a religious pilgrimage destination. In the 1960s, astronomer Gerald Hawkins proposed that Stonehenge functioned as an astronomical calendar, aligning with solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses. Though intriguing, this theory faces skepticism regarding the builders’ astronomical knowledge and England’s often cloudy skies.
Recent findings of illness and injury in human remains at Stonehenge led to the theory that it might have been a place of healing, with the bluestones believed to possess curative properties.
The monument’s purpose remains unclear, and so do the details about its architects and construction. Over centuries, extensive fieldwork has revealed that Stonehenge’s creation spanned more than a millennium. Its initial form, dating back 5,000 years, was a simple circular earthen bank and ditch. This structure featured a complex arrangement of wooden posts. Around 2600 BCE, these were replaced by 80 dolerite bluestones from Wales. Of these stones, 43 still stand today.
Computer rendering of the overall site as it may have appeared
These bluestones were rearranged at least three times, especially after adding larger sarsen stones, which came several hundred years later. These massive sandstone blocks, each weighing approximately 25 tons, were transported from about 19 miles (30 kilometers) away. They were used to form a continuous outer circle and were also crafted into the iconic trilithons, the three-piece structures that dominate the center of Stonehenge. The construction of Stonehenge, a monumental task, is estimated to have required over 20 million labor hours.
The name “Stonehenge” likely stems from the Saxon “stan-hengen,” meaning “stone hanging” or “gallows.” Stonehenge, along with over 350 surrounding monuments and ancient earthworks featuring circular banks and ditches, including the similar temple complex at Avebury, showcases the rich historical and cultural significance of the area. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
Words of wisdom
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” —Napoleon Bonaparte
“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is to say ‘I don’t want to.’” —Lao Tzu
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill
“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.” —Seth Godin
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