Stonehenge: Tour of A World Heritage Site
Go Back in Time With the Bluestones and Sarsens
Having made regular trips to southern England in the last number of years, 2013 was a milestone for the family as the last of our three children graduated from university. Another different sort of milestone for me was soon to be uncovered - to see Stonehenge up close.
Whilst driving towards London the day after my son's graduation and putting up with never ending traffic queues and breakdowns, not to mention the abysmal weather on the road, we drove past Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Only being able to see it in a foggy mist, I thought to myself that one day I really must visit this historic site rather than always just drive past it.
Little did I realize that that 'one day' would be in a weeks time.
My journey back to Ireland just happened to go via this extraordinary place. I made ample time to stay there and take photographs while wandering around and listening to an informative commentary on a small portable set each of us had been given.
Staying behind off the site after public closure, I tried to get immersed in the myths and legends of Stonehenge as I watched the sun setting on these vast stones. There is something special about trying to take yourself back in time to think about all the hows, whys and wheres.
Created on 27 Sep 2013
IMMINENT All Things Round
Selected as Lens of the Day on 11 Nov 2013
All photos © Rob Hemphill - unless credited otherwise
What is Stonehenge?
Stonehenge is a prehistoric Neolithic monument in Wiltshire in southern England., located about 8 miles from the cathedral city of Salisbury. It's a ring of giant standing stones set into the ground; however, many of the stones are now no longer standing.
The sheer size of each stone beggars belief as to how they were mined and carved let alone transported to this site and erected. It's a fascinating puzzle that has proved hard to crack - theories abound on the enigma of the stones.
Archaeologists think it was built anytime between 3000 BC to 2000 BC. in 2008, results of radiocarbon dating suggest that the first stones could have been erected between 2400 and 2200 BC. It's also possible that bluestones may have been raised here as early as 3000 BC.
Possibly the Most Famous Neolithic Site in the World - Is getting a new visitor center
Mural on a wall of the underpass depicting the movement of stones by Neolithic man.
As I approached Stonehenge by road, with about a mile to go to the actual site, I could see that a new building was under construction, this is going to be the long awaited new visitor center.
At present, the famous Neolithic site draws in up to 9,000 visitors a day, who come to see this Unesco World Heritage Site. It has to be one of the most popular places of interest and is definitely part of Britain's identity.
With so many people to process, the current facilities, built in 1968, of some portable buildings and a car park are just to out-of-date for the 21st century. As each visitor arrives, he or she is given a gadget resembling a small fat mobile phone with which to listen to an excellent commentary while walking around the stones. This no doubt will be dramatically upgraded and modernized.
Simon Thurley, the CEO of English Heritage, says that 'Stonehenge has been a national humiliation' since 1984 when English Heritage became guardians of the stones. He added 'Stonehenge is the only recognizable man-made structure in Britain that seems to be treated like a motorway service station'. But after many years of controversy about the 'Stonehenge problem', it seems that a solution may have been found, for the time being at least!
Stonehenge - A New Understanding
Mike Parker Pearson's book 'Stonehenge' has to be one of the most recent, and perhaps best books written about this special place. It's a scholarly book which reviews the status of many archaeological studies of the monument and its environment.
It's very well organized and written, and offers so much information with regards to the current state of understanding of what is probably the greatest megalithic structure within Europe, and perhaps the world.
For anyone interested in the study of ancient structures, this book is a must-have.
In the early part of the 17th century King James I pondered the enigma of this significant stone circle, and commissioned Inigo Jones, his architect general to report on the state of the stones' and determine their origins. Jones reckoned that only the Romans had the expertise and skills to build such a complex structure, and provided detailed drawings of the stones as they would have been in their original state. Jones dismissed the ancient Britons as complete savages and totally incapable of undertaking such a 'stately structure’.
The same questions as to who built Stonehenge, why it was built it and for what are still being asked 400 years later. The focus is now to ensure full preservation of the stones and control visitor numbers to a realistic level of no more than 5,000 people per day. With the main road passing nearby, there is no question that cars and traffic in general have exacerbated the problem.
Photo shows the antiquated visitor buildings on the site.
Another mural depicting what the original layout of the stones would have looked like.
The Stonehenge Enigma
Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England
Facts & Info About Stonehenge
English Heritage is the guardian for Stonehenge. Find out about visiting it and opening times.
- Bronze Age Mediterraneans may have visited Stonehenge
The analysis from two males provides new evidence that one had come from the Mediterranean area, whilst the previously known ‘Amesbury Archer’ had come from the Alps.
- Why does Stonehenge cause hippies to get angry?
Archaeologists are angered by hippies association with Stonehenge. Druids normally favor watery places, bogs and streams to worship their gods, not stones!
- Stonehenge was built on solstice axis, dig confirms
Recent excavations confirm a theory that Stonehenge was built along an ice age land-form that happened to be on the solstice axis.
- So THAT'S where the rocks for Stonehenge came from 5,000 years ago
See where the Stonehenge bluestones came from.
If Stones Could Speak
From most reviews I've read about 'If Stones Could Speak', I've found the same dazzling enthusiasm from its readers. With a straightforward text, plenty of drawings and photographs, this book should appeal to readers of all ages.
The readers are reminded by the author to look at the historical theories with an open mind and generate their own thoughts and ideas. We think we know a lot about places like Stonehenge, but we can only scratch the surface - that's what makes history like this so interesting.
This really is a must read book for keen history buffs or potential archaeologists.
Have You Been to Stonehenge?
Guiding the Crowd Masses
Walkway approaching the site takes you back in time with graphic murals of men moving the giant stones.
Having just received the gadget to listen to the commentary about Stonehenge, I followed the crowds under this walkway - which definitely needs to be modernized, and headed off to the site just a few hundred yards beyond.
Once there, it's clear that everyone has to stay on the designated path or roped off grass area surrounding the stones. No more is it possible to walk up and touch them, which in this day and age is quite right due to the aimless destructive habits of some. I've been to several places to see historic artifacts which have been desecrated by carving and graffiti, so sad that some spoil it for the many.
After closing time comes, security guards are seen walking around maintaining a presence in case anyone has ideas of their own. The site has long attracted groups of sun worshipers who want to see either the sunrise or sunset over the stones.
Tony Johnson's book is an intriguing read, so if you're fascinated at the enigma that is Stonehenge, delve into this excellent book.
Much new evidence is uncovered and discussed with lots of pictures, sketches and drawings, but one thing remains the same - we can only speculate and debate.
Built For What?
Speculation on the reason it was built range from astronomy to human sacrifice.
History of Stonehenge
First Stage - Stonehenge I
The Stonehenge that is seen today is the final stage of three stages that was completed around 3,500 years ago, but first of all I'm going to take you back 5,000 years.
The very first Stonehenge was simply a huge earthworks or Henge, which comprised a ditch, bank, and pits called Aubrey holes, all possibly constructed around 3100 BC. The Aubrey holes are circular pits in the chalk which have steep sides and flat bottoms, and are about one meter wide and one meter deep. They form a circular enclosure that is about 300 feet (90 meters) in diameter.
Excavations have revealed cremated human bones in areas of the chalk filling, and it's thought that the holes themselves were probably not for graves, but as part of the religious ceremony. Soon after this stage Stonehenge was abandoned and remained untouched for the next 1000 years.
Second Stage - Stonehenge II
It was around 2150 BC when the second stage started, and when the drama of the bluestones began.
How did they transport the massive stones?
Around 82 bluestones originating from the Preseli mountains, 240 miles away in south-west Wales, were transported to the site. There is much debate as to why they choose stones from so far away, and if they did come from there, how did they move them to the site. With each stone weighing about 4 tonnes, they would have constructed an efficient system of rollers and sledges to move the stones along the ground possibly to Milford Haven. Then a hoisting system would have enabled them to load the stones onto rafts for the journey by sea along the south Wales coast. From the sea, they came up the rivers Avon and Frome, and shifted them overland once again to near Warminster in Wiltshire. The last part of this incredible journey was mainly by water, firstly travelling down the river Wylye to the town of Salisbury, then along the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury.
When the stones arrived at the site they were set up to form a double circle in the center. A pair of Heel Stones were also erected at this time, and part of the nearer Avenue was built being accurately aligned with the midsummer sunrise.
Many tourists when they recount their experience at Stonehenge immediately talk about the vast trilithons made of Sarsen stone, but the real magic I think is to be found in the inner horseshoe which is made of the Preseli Bluestones.
Third Stage - Stonehenge III
It was around 2000 BC when the vast Sarsen stones arrived at Stonehenge. They are thought to have been brought to the site from the Marlborough Downs near Avebury 25 miles away to the north of the county.
As the largest of the Sarsen stones weighed 50 tonnes, it wouldn't have been possible to transport them to Stonehenge by water, so the giant stones would have been moved using the tried and tested system of the day, sledges and ropes.
To pull one of these stones would have required 500 men using ropes made of leather, and a further 100 men to prepare and lay the colossal rollers in front as they traveled.
The Sarsens were arranged outside the bluestones to form an outer circle, then a continuous line of lintels were fitted using the carpentry techniques of mortice and tenon, and tongue and groove jointing. On the inside of the circle, five trilithons (a structure which consists of two large vertical stones supporting a third horizontal stone set across the top.) were placed and arranged in a horseshoe-shaped formation, the remains can still be seen today.
Image credit: Wikipedia - 17th century depiction of Stonehenge
It was soon after 1500 BC when the final stage took place. The bluestones are also rearranged into the same horseshoe-shaped formation.
It's unknown how many bluestones would have been in the inner circle, but it's estimated to have been around 60, these have long since disappeared or been broken up. A few remain just as stumps below the ground.
From the National Geographic - Stages of Stonehenge - the evolution from earth burrows to megalithic monoliths.
Stonehenge Summer Solstice
Midsummer: the Summer Solstice
~ On the longest day of the year (21st June), thousands of people are drawn to Stonehenge to watch the sunrise.
~ The solstice has had spiritual significance for many thousands of years.
~ The word 'solstice' means a standing still of the sun.
~ Recent pagan celebrations only began at the site during the 20th century.
~ For pagans, "the solstice marks the high point of the year, a time of great vitality for the energy of life..." says Gus diZerega, Beliefnet
Photo credit: The Wild Hunt - Druids at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice
Which Was Not Used in Building Stonehenge?
Which of these were not used in building Stonehenge?
Answer to the poll above - vote first & no cheating!
How did they get the name 'Bluestones'?
The stones in the inner circle were originally blue getting their color from a mixture of dolerite and milky feldspar. Dolerite is a volcanic rock and various forms of it are found around the world.
When the stones break or fracture, this new surface is a blue color, or perhaps nearer to green! Only 45 of the original 82 or so bluestones are still at Stonehenge.
Photo credit: British Geological Survey/NERC
Microscopic analysis of a bluestone which confirms their origin in the hills in west Wales.
I know this is quite a long video, but I do recommend you try and watch it - it's worth it!
An enlightening film that puts a lot in perspective about the Neolithic period compared to others, and how man changed from being a hunter-gatherer to a farmer.
The sun going down on the day I visited.
Seeing a sunset at this extraordinary place concentrated the mind. I parked up on a nearby laneway along with other revelers, possible pagans and druids, and we all watched the last of the day's rays fall over the stones.
Several small trucks and vans remain here, whether they are the equivalent to gypsies or travelers I wasn't sure, but they all seemed to live permanently in their vehicles. There were small fires burning and children crying - all adding to the experience!
Which Was Not Used in Building Stonehenge?
Henges - The bank and ditch make up a henge, but there's only one at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge was built BEFORE the invention of the wheel,
It has been estimated that construction took more than 30 million hours of labor.
Druid or Pagan?
In the 2011 census, almost 60,000 people in England and Wales describe themselves as pagan.
Step Around Stonehenge
Print this PDF guide, loads of fun and games with activities to do at the site.