Stonehenge and the Avebury Henge became World Heritage Sites in 1986. Stonehenge
itself is owned and managed by English Heritage and the surrounding downland
is owned by the National Trust. Stonehenge is a Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic
monument located near Amesbury, Wiltshire, about 8 miles northwest of Salisbury.
It is made up of earthworks surrounding a circle of large standing stones.
It is believed that the standing stones were put up between 2500 BC and 2000
BC although the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch have been dated to
about 3100 BC.
The name "Stonehenge" comes from the Old English words "stan"
meaning "stone", and either "hencg" meaning "hinge"
( the big stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or "hen(c)en"
meaning "gallows". Archaeologists now give the name "henge"
to earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.
Dating the various phases of building at Stonehenge is complicated because
the early excavation records were not precise and there has been a disturbance
of the natural chalk by periglacial effects and animal burrowing.
- Archaeologists have found four (or possibly five) large Mesolithic postholes
which date to around 8000 BC
- The first monument consisted of a circular bank and ditch enclosure measuring
around 360 feet in diameter with a large entrance to the north east and a
smaller one to the south. It stood in open grassland on a slightly sloping
but not especially remarkable spot. This first stage dates from around 3100
BC. Within the outer edge of the enclosed area was dug a circle of 56 pits,
each around 1m in diameter, known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, the
seventeenth century antiquarian who was thought to have first identified them.
- Evidence of the second phase is no longer visible. It appears that some
form of timber structure was built within the enclosure during the early 3rd
- Archaeological excavation has indicated that around 2600 BC, timber was
abandoned in favour of stone and two concentric crescents of holes (called
the Q and R Holes) were dug in the centre of the site. The holes held 80 standing
bluestones brought from the Preseli Hills, 250 km away in
modern day Pembrokeshire in Wales.The north eastern entrance was also widened
at this time with the result that it precisely matched the direction of the
midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of the period.
- The next major phase of activity in the 3rd millennium BC saw 30 enormous
sarsen stones brought from a quarry around 24 miles north.
The stones were dressed and fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before
30 were erected as a 108 ft diameter circle of standing stones with a 'lintel'
of 30 stones resting on top. The lintels were joined to one another using
another woodworking method, the tongue in groove joint. Within this circle
stood five trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape
45 feet across with its open end facing north east. This phase is radiocarbon
dated to between 2440 and 2100 BC.
- Two further rings of pits were dug outside the outermost sarsen circle,
called the Y and Z Holes. The Z holes were about 2m outside the outermost
sarsen circle and the Y holes about 5m further out. Monument building at Stonehenge
appears to have been abandoned around 1600 BC.
- The burial of a decapitated Saxon man has also been excavated from Stonehenge,
dated to the 7th century AD. The site was known by scholars during the Middle
Ages and since then it has been studied and adopted by numerous different
- Some legends held that Merlin the wizard had a giant build the structure
for him while others held the Devil responsible. Geoffrey of Monmouth who
was the first to record fanciful associations with King
Arthur which led the monument to be incorporated into the wider cycle
of European medieval romance.
- The first academic effort to survey and understand the monument was made
around 1740 by John Aubrey . He declared Stonehenge the work of Druids.
- By the turn of the nineteenth century, John Lubbock was able to attribute
the site to the Bronze Age based on the bronze objects found in the nearby
- Stonehenge is aligned north east — south west, and it has been suggested
that particular significance was placed by its builders on the solstice and
equinox points, so for example on a midsummer's morning, the sun rose close
to the Heelstone. It is unlikely that such an alignment can have been merely
- A debate was triggered by the 1963 publication of Stonehenge Decoded, by
British born astronomer Gerald Hawkins, who claimed to see a large number
of astronomical alignments, both lunar and solar, at the site and argued that
Stonehenge could have been used to predict eclipses .Today, the consensus
is that most of the astronomical case, although not all, was overstated.
- Speculation has surrounded the engineering skills required to build Stonehenge.
Assuming the bluestones were brought from Wales by hand, and not transported
by glaciers as Aubrey Burl has claimed, various methods of moving them relying
only on timber and rope have been suggested. In a 2001 exercise in experimental
archaeology, an attempt was made to transport a large stone along a land and
sea route from Wales to Stonehenge. Volunteers pulled it on a wooden sledge
over land, but once transferred to a replica prehistoric boat, the stone sank
in the Bristol Channel.
- It has been suggested that timber A-frames were erected to raise the stones,
and that teams of people then hauled them upright using ropes. The topmost
stones may have been raised up incrementally on timber platforms and slid
into place or pushed up ramps. The carpentry-type joints used on the stones
imply a people well skilled in woodworking and they could easily have had
the knowledge to erect the monument using such methods.
- Estimates of the manpower needed to build Stonehenge put the total effort
involved at millions of hours of work. Stonehenge 1 probably needed around
460 man-days of work, Stonehenge 2 around 15,000 man-days and the various
parts of Stonehenge 3 may have involved up 73 000 days of work. The working
of the stones is estimated to have required around 830 000 days of work using
the primitive tools available at the time.
- The first recorded excavations at Stonehenge were carried out by William
Cunnington and Richard Colt Hoare. In 1798, Cunnington investigated the pit
beneath a recently fallen trilithon and in 1810, both men dug beneath the
fallen Slaughter Stone and concluded that it had once stood up.
- In 1900 William Gowland undertook the first extensive work, establishing
that antler picks had been used to dig the stone holes and that the stones
themselves had been worked to shape on site.
- The largest excavation at Stonehenge was undertaken by Lieutenant-Colonel
William Hawley in 1919, funded by the Office of Works, and continued until
- In 1950 the Society of Antiquaries commissioned Richard Atkinson, Stuart
Piggott and John FS Stone to carry out further excavations. They developed
the phasing that still dominates much of what is written about Stonehenge.
- In 1979 and 1980 Mike Pitts led two smaller investigations as part of service
trenching, close by the Heelstone, finding the evidence for its neighbour.
By the beginning of the 20th century a number of the stones had fallen, perhaps
due to visitors clambering on them during the nineteenth century. Three phases
of conservation work were undertaken which righted some unstable or fallen stones
and carefully replaced them in their original positions using information from
The midsummer sunrise began attracting modern visitors in 1870s, with the
first record of recreated Druidic practices dating to 1905 when the Ancient
Order of Druids enacted a ceremony. The earlier rituals were augmented by the
Stonehenge free festival, held between 1972 and 1984.
In 1985 the site was closed to festival goers by English Heritage and the National
Trust by which time the number of midsummer visitors had risen from 500 to 30,000.
There was then no midsummer access for almost fifteen years until limited opening
was negotiated in 2000.
In more recent years, the setting of the monument has been affected by the
proximity of the A303 road between Amesbury and Winterbourne Stoke, and the
A344. The Department for Transport announced that the A303 would be upgraded,
including the construction of the Stonehenge road tunnel. But as yet no work
has been done on this
- English Heritage
World Heritage Sites in Britain