Stonehenge Essay Research Paper Stonehenge is surely

Stonehenge Essay, Research Paper

Stonehenge is surely Britain’s greatest national icon, symbolizing mystery,

power and endurance. Its original purpose is unclear to us, but some have

speculated that it was a temple made for the worship of ancient earth deities.

It has been called an astronomical observatory for marking significant events on

the prehistoric calendar. Others claim that it was a sacred site for the burial

of high-ranking citizens from the societies of long ago.

While we can’t say with any degree of certainty what it was for, we can say

that it wasn’t constructed for any casual purpose. Only something very important

to the ancients would have been worth the effort and investment that it took to

construct Stonehenge.

The stones we see today represent Stonehenge in ruin. Many of the original

stones have fallen or been removed by previous generations for home construction

or road repair. There has been serious damage to some of the smaller bluestones

resulting from close visitor contact and the prehistoric carvings on the larger

sarsen stones show signs of significant wear.

In its day, the construction of Stonehenge was an impressive engineering

feat, requiring commitment, time and vast amounts of manual labor. In its first

phase, Stonehenge was a large earthwork; a bank and ditch arrangement called a

henge, constructed approximately 5,000 years ago. It is believed that the ditch

was dug with tools made from the antlers of red deer and, possibly, wood. The

underlying chalk was loosened with picks and shoveled with the shoulderblades of

cattle. It was then loaded into baskets and carried away. Modern experiments

have shown that these tools were more than equal to the great task of earth

digging and moving.

About 2,000 BC, the first stone circle (which is now the inner circle),

comprised of small bluestones, was set up, but abandoned before completion. The

stones used in that first circle are believed to be from the Prescelly

Mountains, located roughly 240 miles away, at the southwestern tip of Wales. The

bluestones weigh up to 4 tons each and about 80 stones were used, in all. Given

the distance they had to travel, this presented quite a transportation problem.

Modern theories speculate that the stones were dragged by roller and sledge

from the inland mountains to the headwaters of Milford Haven. There they were

loaded onto rafts, barges or boats and sailed along the south coast of Wales,

then up the Rivers Avon and Frome to a point near present-day Frome in Somerset.

From this point, so the theory goes, the stones were hauled overland, again, to

a place near Warminster in Wiltshire, approximately 6 miles away. From there,

it’s back into the pool for a slow float down the River Wylye to Salisbury, then

up the Salisbury Avon to West Amesbury, leaving only a short 2 mile drag from

West Amesbury to the Stonehenge site.

The giant sarsen stones (which form the outer circle), weigh as much as 50

tons each. To transport them from the Marlborough Downs, roughly 20 miles to the

north, is a problem of even greater magnitude than that of moving the

bluestones. Most of the way, the going is relatively easy, but at the steepest

part of the route, at Redhorn Hill, modern work studies estimate that at least

600 men would have been needed just to get each stone past this obstacle.

Once on site, a sarsen stone was prepared to accommodate stone lintels along

its top surface. It was then dragged until the end was over the opening of the

hole. Great levers were inserted under the stone and it was raised until gravity

made it slide into the hole. At this point, the stone stood on about a 30?

angle from the ground. Ropes were attached to the top and teams of men pulled

from the other side to raise it into the full upright position. It was secured

by filling the hole at its base with small, round packing stones. At this point,

the lintels were lowered into place and secured vertically by mortice and tenon

joints and horizontally by tongue and groove joints. Stonehenge was probably

finally completed around 1500 BC.

The question of who built Stonehenge is largely unanswered, even today. The

monument’s construction has been attributed to many ancient peoples throughout

the years, but the most captivating and enduring attribution has been to the

Druids. This erroneous connection was first made around 3 centuries ago by the

antiquary, John Aubrey. Julius Caesar and other Roman writers told of a Celtic

priesthood who flourished around the time of their first conquest (55 BC). By

this time, though, the stones had been standing for 2,000 years, and were,

perhaps, already in a ruined condition. Besides, the Druids worshipped in forest

temples and had no need for stone structures.

The best guess seems to be that the Stonehenge site was begun by the people

of the late Neolithic period (around 3000 BC) and carried forward by people from

a new economy which was arising at this time. These "new" people,

called Beaker Folk because of their use of pottery drinking vessels, began to

use metal implements and to live in a more communal fashion than their

ancestors. Some think that they may have been immigrants from the continent, but

that contention is not supported by archaeological evidence. It is likely that

they were indigenous people doing the same old things in new ways.

The legend of King Arthur provides another story of the construction of

Stonehenge. It is told by the twelfth century writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, in

his History of the Kings of Britain that Merlin brought the stones to the

Salisbury Plain from Ireland. Sometime in the fifth century, there had been a

massacre of 300 British noblemen by the treacherous Saxon leader, Hengest.

Geoffrey tells us that the high king, Aurelius Ambrosius, wanted to create a

fitting memorial to the slain men. Merlin suggested an expedition to Ireland for

the purpose of transplanting the Giant’s Ring stone circle to Britain. According

to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the stones of the Giant’s Ring were originally brought

from Africa to Ireland by giants (who else but giants could handle the job?).

The stones were located on "Mount Killaraus" and were used as a site

for performing rituals and for healing. Led by King Uther and Merlin, the

expedition arrived at the spot in Ireland. The Britons, none of whom were

giants, apparently, were unsuccessful in their attempts to move the great

stones. At this point, Merlin realized that only his magic arts would turn the

trick. So, they were dismantled and shipped back to Britain where they were set

up (see illus. at right) as they had been before, in a great circle, around the

mass grave of the murdered noblemen. The story goes on to tell that Aurelius,

Uther and Arthur’s successor, Constantine were also buried there in their time*.

Situated in a vast plain, surrounded by hundreds of round barrows, or burial

mounds, the Stonehenge site is truly impressive, and all the more so, the closer

you approach. It is a place where much human effort was expended for a purpose

we can only guess at. Some people see it as a place steeped in magic and

mystery, some as a place where their imaginations of the past can be fired and

others hold it to be a sacred place. But whatever viewpoint is brought to it and

whatever its original purpose was, it should be treated as the ancients treated

it, as a place of honor .

The modern age has not been altogether kind to Stonehenge, despite the lip

service it pays to the preservation of heritage sites. There is a major highway

running no more than 100 yards away from the stones, and a commercial circus has

sprung up around it, complete with parking lots, gift shops and ice cream

stands. The organization, English Heritage, is committed to righting these

wrongs, and in the coming years, we may get to see Stonehenge in the setting for

which it was originally created. Despite all its dilapidation and the

encroachment of the modern world, Stonehenge, today, is an awe-inspiring sight,

and no travel itinerary around Britain should omit it.


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