Ranked among the top 7 heritage sites around the world by UNESCO, Stonehenge is one of the most picturesque marvels of the medieval world. Standing isolated in Wiltshire, England, the prehistoric monument has been a destination for well over 800,000 tourists from all over the world every year. With many theories surrounding its construction and purpose, architects and archeologists have put their minds together in trying to come up with a scientifically acceptable explanation of the monument’s coming into being. Today, many questions surround Stonehenge, with hundreds of documentaries giving different accounts, and crediting different people for its construction and outstanding design.
Monuments are valuable objects in explaining the history of the world, and particularly the culture of the people that invented them. They offer many explanations and descriptions regarding the traditional practices of the tribes and communities that set them up. Monuments are not restricted to any part of the world; on the contrary, they are all over the world, and signify different things. One among the most important methods used in dating the monuments is the radiocarbon dating method. According to this method, Stonehenge – one of the seven wonders of the medieval world – was constructed between 3100 BC and 1600 BC (Norton 52). Other sources say that the tomb was built between 2000 and 300 BC. Stonehenge – a monument of uniquely erected enormous stones – is the most outstanding and awe-inspiring stone circles among the 900 rings in Europe. While they are as many as 900, Stonehenge is considered to be a wonder because of the size of the stones used in its construction. This paper is a comprehensive report of Stonehenge, touching on its age, the location, the civilization, the cultural significance, the size, the methods of construction and the theories surrounding its development.
Today, Stonehenge is owned by the crown, and its management falls under the English Heritage. In the past few years, visitors were allowed to touch the statue but currently, they are roped off and allowed to observe from a set distance. Unlike the past, there are no ritual activities allowed at the monument, such as the spiritual sacrifices and pilgrimages. The last such activity took place in 1905 when druid clerics led a mass of faithful followers to Stonehenge clad in long white robes and donning fake beards. Such are the practices that underlie the purpose of the monument’s construction according to some theorists. Apart from such religious activities, Stonehenge is also thought to have been a grave mound back in the medieval age. This is explained by the fact that the statue stands at the center of many Neolithic and bronze age monuments. Archeologists have as well discovered quite a number of human remains in the area. Like other monuments of the medieval period, the Stonehenge is not intact. Most of the stones have fallen off, raising speculations that perhaps, the monument was horse-shoe shaped, and not a perfect circle as initially thought. Today, the land surrounding Stonehenge is by law owned by the national trust.
One among the reasons why it is difficult to say conclusively who build Stonehenge is the time taken to construct it. While there are different accounts explaining its development, most of them agree that the construction of this landmark monument took approximately 1500 years. For this reason, researchers argue that the monument was not constructed by one distinct group, but rather by different groups and tribes running across many generations. The fascinating ring of enormous stones was built 300 years before the pyramids of Egypt, which are among the wonders of the world. Just like the pyramids of Egypt, the marvel of Stonehenge lies in the geometry and mathematical accuracy in its structure. The people associated with the construction of Stonehenge by many theorists are the druids, the Romans, the aliens and the legends of English mythology, particularly Merlin, who had magical powers. Even so, the most mentioned people among the theories are the druids.
A good number of scholars argue that Stonehenge was created by aliens, probably because human beings were not able to transport and life the stones of such nature and size, given the necessary tools and equipment at the time. The famous 1968 book “Chariots of the Gods?” suggests that the stones were laid there by alien creatures that often visited earth. However, the alien theory is not verifiable by any scientific means. As such, it remains only a suggestion. According to renowned Antiquary John Aubrey, the stones were made by the druids, who used the place as a holy temple, where they observed their religious practices as pagans. While people differ on the nature of druidism, it is speculated that they were either pagan or reserved biblical patriarchs. The idea of the Stonehenge being constructed by the druids has however been disputed by some archeologists and historians who claim that druidism took root around 300 years ago (Holtorf 132). The gap between the age of the monument and the beginning of druidism has raised questions as to whether they built the monument or they just adopted it as their sacred space after finding it at Wiltshire.
Another theory that has had a huge following among historians regarding the origins of Stonehenge is the 16th-century theory of Indigo Jones. According to Jones, the construction of the Stonehenge relied primarily on classical geometry – a discipline that the Romans of the day had perfected. Inferentially, therefore, according to Jones, the Stonehenge was constructed by the Romans. The geometry and symmetrical nature of the Stonehenge are seen in figure 1 below. Even so, history disputes this because, in point of fact, the Romans first arrived in Europe in 55 BC (Haycock 162). Again, the age difference arises, raising questions. This theory has been attacked and praised in equal measure because Romans are innately associated with the birth of symmetry, geometry, and arithmetic. Another theory that has not received much attention from the historians and other scientists is the myth of Merlin. According to English mythology, Merlin was a warrior with magical capabilities. Legend has it that Merlin moved the Stonehenge from its original location, Ireland, to England, where the elite and particularly the English princes could be buried.
Figure 1: the circular shape of Stonehenge
Strangely, Stonehenge is aligned perfectly with both the midsummer sunset as well as the midwinter sunset. This raises questions on whether the monument was an astronomical observation point. The alignment was first explained by William Stukeley, who, despite discovering the alignment, did not support the astronomical observation argument, but rather thought that the druids were the constructors of the monument, and that they used it for purposes of worship, sacrifices and burials. While the Romans were well versed in mathematics and geometry, it is easier to believe that they used some technique to lift and erect the huge weighty stones. For the druids, history gas no record of geometrical knowledge associated with them. However, the archeologists and historians tend to believe that the druids, who were essentially hunters and gatherers, used locally available techniques such as dragging and rolling as seen in figure 2 below.
Figure two: Druids transporting the stones used in Stonehenge construction
Worth mentioning is that the theory of the druids, or whoever built the Stonehenge, dragging the stones from their initial location has been disputed after recent experiments have been performed to illustrate and prove the possibility of the idea. Researchers argue that since the idea is impossible in modern times were the surface is smoother, it is even more impossible in a time when most of the land was forested and covered with much vegetation barrier. It is important to note that the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge were obtained from an area, 240 miles from Stonehenge. The bluestones, which weighed tons, could not have been lifted to the top of the monument without some form of advanced technology (Haycock 171). However, architectural thinking and engineering concepts suggest that the constructors must have used some carefully constructed ramps that leaned on the vertically set stones from the exterior. See figure 3 below:
Figure: the construction of Stonehenge
In the year 2006, a research team led by professor Mike Parker Pearson discovered small permanent buildings two miles northeast of Stonehenge. According to the archeologists, the dwellers of the civilization could have been responsible for the construction of Stonehenge. According to the findings of the group, the distance from Stonehenge suggests that the monument was not just an ordinary place, but rather a place with a special function – spiritual, cultural, or astronomical. Apparently, the speculations surrounding the function of Stonehenge are more than the speculations surrounding the question: who constructed Stonehenge?
Many theories have been suggested regarding the purposes of the monument. Perhaps the latest and most peculiar conclusion is the result of research carried out by the president of the London society of antiquaries – Geoffrey Wainwright. According to Wainwright’s September 22, 2008 explanation, the Stonehenge was used as a health spa. The monument, according to him, was built in such a way that people could get healed. What he did not explain is where the Stonehenge healing came from – was it from the gods, or from the astronomical aspects and alignment of the center of the monument? An aerial view of the monument reveals that the center of the monument resembles ancient shrines and spiritual spaces.
Figure 4: aerial view of Stonehenge revealing its shrine-like properties
Undoubtedly, what makes Stonehenge stand out from other megaliths is the size and weight of the materials used. Today, placing a 30 ton slab on top of other 17 ton pillars perfectly erected is not an uphill task, especially considering that we now have robust construction technology. However, one cannot help but wonder how the elements were put together to bring out such mega-structure in the ancient age. It is thought that Stonehenge originally consisted of eighty stones, of which only 43 remain standing today. The inner circle, made of the primary rock – Sarsen – is about 33 meters in diameter (Holtorf 114). The pillars, which are neither evenly shaped nor spaced are averagely 1.4 meters apart, and stand at an average height of 4 meters off the ground.
Today, Stonehenge is the oldest known man-made feature in the world. With so many myths and theories surrounding its construction, the monument many experiments have been done in order to try and reconstruct the method used in putting together this feature that has come to be at the center of medieval mystery. Thus far, no experiment has come up with a clear explanation of how the statue was put together. This has led some thinkers into concluding that the stones were hauled by some huge animals that are extinct today – dinosaurs perhaps. Still Stonehenge stands to be a mystery that has evoked unanswerable questions for the last more five centuries.
Archeological architects argue that the most outstanding feature of Stonehenge is the dry-jointing technique used. This is a technique that has been observed in only two megaliths – the Stonehenge itself, and the pyramid of Giza. Dry-jointing is a method used to put together the corners of a large structure, perhaps what could be compared to the modern day interlocking blocks that have gained popularity is the construction industry. The interlocking blocks, commonly referred to as the pre-cast blocks function in a manner that significantly reduces the cost of construction, through eliminating such aspects of development as the use of concrete and other materials to permanently create the corner.
Figure 5: erecting the dry-jointed
Estimating the labor requirement of constructing the Stonehenge to completion is an uphill task. Foremost, the structure was built over a period of well over a millennium. It, therefore, follows that it was attended to by many generations between 3100 BC and 1600 BC (Hill 72). It is not possible to tell how many men were working on the multi-phase construction, especially considering that the stonework could have taken ages, considering that the tools and equipment of the time were so necessary as to be associated with such humble tasks as hunting and gathering. With such micro-flint tools, engineers argue that they could have taken countless man hours to complete the stonework, let alone erecting the pillars and setting the heavier blocks above them.
Clearly, the tools were exceptionally necessary, especially because from scientific evidence of a recent study, the plains and smooth rolling hills of Salisbury, where the Stonehenge stands, were sacred. According to the scientific research, animals were among the primary consumables of the area – a finding that has led many into thinking that the area was meant for the sacrificing of animals, and perhaps humans. According to the multi-phase construction theory, the first stage was constructed 5000 years ago and involved the digging of trenches and banks in the plains of Salisbury. The digging used the simplest of tools made from deer older, and these may have taken several hundreds of years. The second phase saw the erection of the locally sourced sandstones in a horseshoe shape.
The stones used in the second phase of development were sourced from a local place, 20 miles north of Salisbury. The third phase, which came at around 2000 BC, saw the final erection of the bluestones sourced 200 miles away from Salisbury, somewhere in Wales. Some archeologists speculate that the stones were hauled using sledges. The tallest of the bluestones is 24 feet tall (Haycock 155). The 40 ton stones are connected at the top by other bluestones that according to the legend of Merlin are magical African stones brought to Ireland by ancient giants before the fifth century.
With all the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge, it is not easy to compare the monument to any modern day construction. Perhaps, the only structures that come close to its comparison on a time-space travel schedule are the few buildings and massive works seen on the discovery channel and such documentaries as the famous ‘mega-structures’. Trying to imagine what Stonehenge could have been like if it had been constructed today is a difficult task. However, it is worth mentioning that, had it been built today, the monument could have been more elegant and easier to set up, considering that we are living in an era of technology, scientific advancement and full knowledge in all related fields.
In my imagination, the only way to construct a modern day Stonehenge is to do what is referred to as matching. In matching, I would take the features of Stonehenge and try to fit them in the modern world and see which structure or feature takes the qualities. For instance, I would start with the size. Primarily, Stonehenge is the largest of all known stone rings in Europe. Today, Burj Khalifa is the largest building in the world. Just like Stonehenge, the techniques and style adopted in constructing Burj Khalifa raise many questions. This awe-striking modern day construction can be said to be a modern-day Stonehenge. However, it is worth mentioning that the purposes for which these two structures were built are different. While the Burj Khalifa building is a commercial building, Stonehenge was meant for spiritual, cultural and to some extent, political reasons. Therefore, it only makes sense to argue that if Stonehenge had been built today, it could have been an enormous cultural or perhaps religious site.
In my imagination, if Stonehenge had been built today, it would be a larger structure made from pre-cast concrete blocks which use dry-jointing. Probably, the building could have been painted white to reflect the sanctity of the area. The modern Stonehenge could have been in some holy city, perhaps the Vatican City or the Islamic city of Mecca (Norton 54). Unlike the 5th century Stonehenge, the 21st century Stonehenge could have been complete with such features as electric lighting, proper roofing and an excellent compound within which serenity could be maintained. As a matter of, if Stonehenge were built today, the materials could have been more than just sarsen and bluestones. A modern-day Stonehenge could be bigger than Burj Khalifa because as at the time of its construction, Stonehenge was the largest manmade feature. The beautiful design that could define its interior could be used to indicate the function of the building even hundreds of generations to come because unlike at the time of the 5th century, we now have such cultural symbols as the Christian cross and comprehensible language that could probably be engraved on the walls. Unlike the original fifth century Stonehenge, a modern Stonehenge could not raise mysterious questions in the future regarding the constructors. Even so, Stonehenge still stands as a mystery posing many unanswered questions.
Haycock, David B. William Stukeley: Science, Religion, and Archaeology in Eighteenth-Century England. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2002. Print. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=dF36uoPQR5oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=William+Stukeley:+Science,+Religion,+and+Archaeology+in+Eighteenth-Century+England.&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-vGVVKLWHYOQPbrKgcAH&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=William%20Stukeley%3A%20Science%2C%20Religion%2C%20and%20Archaeology%20in%20Eighteenth-Century%20England.&f=false
Hill, Rosemary. Stonehenge. London: Profile Books, 2010. Print https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=-vWrImYK8K0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Hill,+Rosemary.+Stonehenge.+London:+Profile+Books,+2010.+Print&hl=en&sa=X&ei=MfKVVPTlBsXcPe78gMgE&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Hill%2C%20Rosemary.%20Stonehenge.%20London%3A%20Profile%20Books%2C%202010.%20Print&f=false
Holtorf, Cornelius. From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology As Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2005. Print. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=cyZdQ7hPWkEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=From+Stonehenge+to+Las+Vegas:+Archaeology+As+Popular+Culture.&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XPKVVJnNA4j0PKntgYgE&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=From%20Stonehenge%20to%20Las%20Vegas%3A%20Archaeology%20As%20Popular%20Culture.&f=false
Norton, Eric. "We Will Rock You." Publishers Weekly 260.15 (2013): 52. Business Source Premier. 24 Nov. 2014.