is a megalithic edifice located near Amesbury on England’s Salisbury Plain. The structure is composed of a series of large stones arranged in a circular pattern surrounded by an inner bank and shallow ditch. The site itself is listed with UNESCO and is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument managed by English Heritage. [1]

Questions often asked are: What was Stonehenge, who built it and when?

One legend says Merlin (at the behest of Aurelius Ambrosius) directed its removal from Ireland where it had originally been located, giants having constructed it with healing stones brought from Africa. When 15,000 knights failed to accomplish the task by conventional means, the wizard supposedly cast a spell making the rocks as light as a feather before transporting them to Britain himself.

In a second legend, Hengist, an invading Saxon king, had the stones erected in atonement for a treacherous deed, whereby he had ordered his men to fall on Brythonic warriors invited to a feast and slaughter them..

Over the years mainstream history has attributed construction of the monument (mistakenly) to the Saxons, Vikings, Romans and others, the most popular belief, still prevelant, that it was a pagan temple erected by the Druids (in actual fact the Celts are relative newcomers to Britain and though their holy men may have used Stonehenge in their rituals the origins of the structure would have been far more of a mystery to them than it is to us).

Today, however, the mists are clearing, modern archaeological techniques providing us with a more accurate insight into the monument's past, careful analysis of the findings revealing its secrets, carbon dating revealing its age. It appears that Stonehenge was not built all at once but was instead completed in a series of changes, modifications and additions that took place over many centuries.

In its earliest phase dated approximately 3100 BCE the monument was just a circular bank and ditch with a diameter of approximately 360 feet (110 meters) and two entrances, the larger located to the northeast the smaller to the south. Apparently the ditch was used as a storage area for the bones of deer, oxen and various flint tools, while the outer edge of the enclosed  area was punctuated by 56 pits, each about a meter (3 feet) wide, known as the Aubrey Holes (after their discoverer) their original intent unknown.

The second phase is dated from approximately 3000 BCE and extrapolating from the large number of post holes it would seem some sort of wooden structure was erected within the enclosure. It also appears that at this time Stonehenge was used as a cremation cemetery, a number of the Aubrey Holes and the ditch functioning as a repository for cremated remains.

Evidence indicates that stone replaced timber around 2600 BCE and that holes were dug in the center area to hold bluestones brought from the Prescelly Mountains (Preseli Hills) of Wales. A huge block of green sandstone from the Brecon Beacons became known as the Alter Stone. Other modifications included a widening of the north-eastern entrance in order to make it line up precisely with the sunrise of midsummer and sunset of midwinter. For some reason the bluestones were then removed and the holes filled in. A pair of parallel ditches connecting with the River Avon was added as were the Heelstone and Station Stones.

A period of major activity began around 2450 BCE, thirty sarsen stones were erected each weighing about 25 tons; it must have been an enormous undertaking and perhaps that's why the circle which would have required 74 stones to complete was never finished. Within this partially completed circle stood five trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape. The stones, ten uprights and five lintels, weigh up to 50 tons each. The bluestones were re-erected then rearranged as a circle between the sarsens and as an oval in the center, a section of which was later removed those that remained forming a horseshoe shape similar to the central trilithons. With these actions the last phase of major construction came to an end. The last known construction at Stonehenge took place around 1600 BCE, its last usage during Britain's Iron Age (which ended [in the south] with the Roman conquest).

Stonehenge appears to have been used for different things at different times: a place of worship, a cemetery, crematorium, observatory, calendar and some sources even claim a UFO landing site. The mysterious edifice seems to have been in a constant state of flux changing to meet the needs of successive generations. Perhaps the builders themselves were unsure of what it was they had built or what it was they wanted it to be. In truth the mystery may be, not what was Stonehenge but why was Stonehenge?

[1] In an effort to curtail graffiti and other forms of vandalism the site is surrounded by both an outer perimeter fence and an inner rope barrier (concessions regarding less restricted access are made for special occasions and at certain times of the year).

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