Stonehenge Essay, Research Paper
I. On Salisbury Plain in Southern England stands Stonehenge, the most famous of all megalithic sites. Stonehenge is unique among the monuments of the ancient world. Isolated on a windswept plain, built by a people with no written language, Stonehenge challenges our imagination.
The impressive stone circle stands near the top of a gently sloping hill on Salisbury Plain about thirty miles from the English Channel. The stones are visible over the hills for a mile or two in every direction. Stonehenge is one of over fifty thousand prehistoric “megalithics” in Europe.
As Stonehenge is approached, the forty giant stones seem to touch the sky. Most of the stones stand twenty-four or more feet high. Some stones weigh as much as forty tons. Others are smaller, weighing only five tons. At first glance, the stones may seem to be a natural formation. But a closer look shows that only human imagination and determination could have created Stonehenge.
II.The Stonehenge today looks quite different from the Stonehenge of old. Wind and weather have destroyed a little of Stonehenge over the ages. People have destroyed much more.
Today, less than half of the original stones still stand as their builders planned. Many of the once upright stones lie on their sides. Religious fanatics, who felt threatened by the mysteries posed by Stonehenge, knocked over many of the standing stones. They toppled some of the huge stones, which then split into pieces; they buried others.
Other stones were “quarried” over the centuries as free building material and hauled away. Even into this century, visitors have come with hammers to carry away a chip of stone with them.
III.Only in recent years have the stones been protected from the huge amounts of people that see them every year. No longer can anyone roam among the stones. Too much damage, intentional or not, has been done by the hundreds of thousands of visitors. Today, tourists are even prevented from walking between the stones for fear that the millions of footsteps every year might make the stones unstable.
IV.The twelfth-century English writer and historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, first recorded Merlin’s building of Stonehenge in his famous book History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey claimed that his book was a translation of “a certain very ancient book written in the British language.” However, no other scholar or historian knows of the existence of such a book.
According to Geoffrey, the great stones were brought from Ireland to England to mark the burial place of a group of slain British princes. These prince-warriors had been treacherously killed by Hengist, the leader of an army of Saxons who invaded Britain around 450 AD
Others said to have built Stonehenge were the Devil, (disguised as a gentleman), the Romans, the Druids, the people of the Lost Continent of Atlantis, Indians of North America, and the Phoenicians of Greeks.
V.There appear to be three phases of construction known as I, II, and III.
Stonehenge I (3100 to 2300 B.C.)
Stonehenge I was a large open-air circle almost one hundred yards across. A dirt bank six feet high and a ditch seven feet deep and ten to twenty feet wide made the circle. The first stage of Stonehenge was quite simple. It had two circular embankments separated by a ditch. The Aubrey Holes were dug and the Heel Stone was in place. There may have been a wooden structure in the middle.
Just within the bank was a circle of 56 holes, named “Aubrey’s Holes” after their discoverer. Some of these were used for burials. The four Stones of the Seasons, placed according to the position of the sun at the dawn of the summer solstice, were in the center of the platform.
Stonehenge II (2150 to 2000 B.C.)
Europe was still in the Neolithic age when the second phase of Stonehenge began. The entrance was widened into an avenue to the end stone, or Heel Stone, just outside the main group. Blue/hued stones were brought from the Prescelly Mountains in Wales, some 125 miles away. They were arranged in two concentric circles on the platform. How these stones were transported is one of the greatest mysteries of Stonehenge, even today.
This second phase was never fully completed. Suddenly it was replaced by a new, more grandiose project, and the blue stones were taken away. No one knows where they were taken. The third phase began almost immediately after this occurrence.
Stonehenge III (2000 B.C. to 1100 B.C.)
For this phase, new stones were brought from a quarry in Marlborough Down, 27 miles from Stonehenge. Once carved, they were arranged to form a wide circle covered with a continuous lintel. The thirty vertical uprights and the horizontal holes were ingeniously fitted together. In the center of the circle stood five great trilithens. Each of these structures was formed of three stones in form of an inverted “U.” The trilithens were arranged in a semi-circle, so that only one opening led to the interior. At dawn on the morning of the summer solstice, the first ray of sun penetrats the interior point; after passing over the Heel Stone, to reach the very center of the semi-circle formed by the trilithens.
Later in the Bronze Age, the monument underwent some minor changes. Some of the blue stones from Prescelly were recovered and put in the space outlined by the five trilithons. The structure then consisted of three concentric circles of upright stones.
The time period for this construction was relatively short. Within about one-hundred years, the major portion of Stonehenge had been completed. Thus, about four-thousand years ago the central part of Stonehenge stood magnificently on the Salisbury Plain. Some of these blue stones were taken down and moved again. Around 1000 BC,
the avenue was extended all the way to the River Avon.
VI.Gerald Hawkins, an astronomer from Harvard College Observatory, felt that the most obvious purpose for Stonehenge was a huge important calendar, marking one major day in the year, the summer solstice. After more computer research, Hawkins found that Stonehenge also seemed to mark significant risings and settings of the moon. He programmed his computer to pinpoint where the sun and moon rose and set in 1500 BC. The results were astonishing. Hawkins wrote, “There was no doubt. Those important and often duplicated Stonehenge alignments were oriented to the sun and moon.”
According to Hawkins theory, Stonehenge was a gigantic celestial calendar. Hawkins theorized that Stonehenge also served as a source of power for priests and their people. Hawkins also theorized that Stonehenge “served as an intellectual game.” Hawkins questioned why these thinking, intelligent people would stop with the simple alignment of Stonehenge.
He answered his own questions, writing, “I think that the men who designed its various parts enjoyed the mental exercise above and beyond the call of duties. They had to set themselves more challenges, and try for more difficult, rewarding, and spectacular solutions, partially for the greater glory of God, but partly for the joy of man, the thinking animal.”
Hawkins returned to the Stonehenge enigma in 1964. This time he focused his energies on the alignment of the Aubrey Holes, and came to a conclusion. He concluded that the Aubrey Holes were used to predict eclipses of the moon. He theorized that the holes were a huge “Neolithic computer”, suggesting that the priests of Stonehenge placed wooden markers in certain Aubrey Holes. By moving the markers, people could calculate and predict eclipses of the moon. Hawkins reached that conclusion by noting that eclipses occur in a repeated cycle of every 18.61 years.
Three times 18.61 rounded off is 56, the exact number of the Aubrey Holes. By moving markers from hole to hole around the ring, eclipses of the moon could be predicted.
Another famous British scientist, Fred Holye, professor of astronomy at Cambridge University, made his analysis of the astronomical use of Stonehenge after examining Hawkins sight lines. Hoyle agreed that Stonehenge was an astronomical sight; however, he disagreed with Hawkin’s ideas about the standing stones of Stonehenge III.
Hoyle believed that while these builders had great skill, they did not have the astronomical skill to construct such a complicated celestial calendar. Stonehenge can be used to predict Easter and Passover, two religious holidays unknown by the early builders of Stonehenge. The early builders may not have understood all the intricacies of the Stonehenge celestial calendar.
Hawkin’s theory seemes to answer many questions about the astronomical significance of Stonehenge.Yet, his theories posed many more questions.
VII.Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Stonehenge. Almost every author has had new ideas or theories about it. Over the years, some of the secrets have been uncovered. Archaeologist digs have revealed many things about Stonehenge. However, we can only guess at how these alignments were used. We can only speculate as to the ceremonies performed around the great stones.
Also, we can only theorize as to why Stonehenge was ever conceived and constructed. The stones still tower over the Salisbury Plane. They stand and have stood for thousands of years.
We may never know all the answers to the questions surrounding Stonehenge. Until we can stand in the footsteps of the people of Stonehenge, we will never answer all of the questions and riddles surrounding it. Still, the great silent stones challenge us to try to unravel their secrets.