The most famous stone circle in the world
We are the easy and informative way to visit Stonehenge.
Visitors to the Stones who have read a bit about the people who built it and who worship there generally have a better experience.
The Neolithic People in the Stone Age
Stonehenge was built by the late Neolithic people about 3000 BC. About 4000 BC agriculture changed the way of life of the Neolithic people. It meant that communities were able to have permanent settlements and at certain times of year they had spare resources to engage in activities not directly related to basic survival.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Stonehenge area was used for feasting and celebration and its construction involved people from all over the country.
Stonehenge was not built overnight. Scholars think the entire site was built and developed over a period of around 1500 years during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The main tools used for its construction were deer antlers for digging and stones for shaping the standing-stones. The wheel was not used, nor were any metal tools.
The henge of Stonehenge was the first construction on the site, a ditch and bank enclosing the area where ceremonies took place.
The next phase of construction was the Aubrey Holes. Some 56 pits were dug, located just inside the ditch around the stones. They would have been about three feet wide and deep at the time.
Wooden Posts at Stonehenge
Around 2800-2600 BC, it seems that a large number of wooden posts were erected. It is possible they may have been markers for alignments for the moonrises or they may have been used for forming part of a series of fences, for screening off the central area.
The bluestones, the first stones to arrive at Stonehenge come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.
The Altar Stone could be contemporary with the first arrangement of the bluestones in the semicircle, giving a focal point. This sandstone is much larger than the bluestones, and also probably came on the long journey from Wales, near to Milford Haven on the coast to the south of the Preseli Hills. This is in the centre of Stonehenge lying flat.
These are smaller sarsen stones, originally four, now only two, though you can see the hollows just inside the ditch where the other two stood. At the time of laying they would have resembled the four corners of a rectangle in layout. The alignment of them looks as if they may have been placed for the midsummer sunrise, midwinter sunset and the major northern moonset.
It is not until around 2500-2000 BC that the megaliths - the huge sarsen stones - appear. These stones came from the Marlborough Downs, twenty miles north of Stonehenge near Avebury henge. To get an idea of scale, the size of some of the bigger stones is 8ft wide by 5ft thick and 25ft long. Weights vary from 20 to 50 tons.
When Stonehenge was built there were thirty upright stones, supporting thirty lintels, forming a great circle. Inside this circle were the five pairs of largest sarsens (the Trilithons) arranged in a horseshoe shape. Today only seventeen uprights still stand, with six lintels. You can still see the horseshoe shaped Trilithons (not all standing), with their open ends facing the entrance to the henge. The horseshoe of stones are not all the same height; they were graduated so that the 'Great Trilithon' at the centre stands at a mighty 24 feet tall.
Heel Stone and Stone Alignments
The entrance to Stonehenge is broadly at the north east point of the henge where it joins with the Avenue. It is at the top of the Avenue where the Heel Stone is positioned.
The heel stone is best understood as one of a missing pair. When built, another stone stood seven feet to the northwest; together they would have been a guide to look through, towards the sunrise of the midsummer sun, as seen from the centre of Stonehenge at the Altar Stone. Today this is a major event and crowds of up to 35,000 come to Stonehenge to experience the summer solstice.
At the midwinter solstice the setting sun sinks between the two uprights of the largest trilithon and behind the altar stone symbolising the death of the year and the birth of a new year ahead. Many academics argue this event is far more important than the summer solstice.
There are many other stellar correlations as well as the sun and moon alignments at Stonehenge. The numbers of stones in some of the stone sets correspond to the numbers of days between a full moon, and the number of years in a lunar cycle and can be used to track the lunar cycle.
A number of ley lines crisscross in the centre of Stonehenge. Ley lines are natural magnetic-like phenomena that cross the countryside. Ancient monuments often are sited at the intersection of such ley lines. Even in Saxon times, non-pagan churches were built on a ley line. If you see a church aligned say north-south instead of the traditional east-west, the odds are that a ley line runs straight down the aisle. During your visit to Stonehenge you may be lucky to see someone with dowsing forks tracking the ley lines.
There is a ley line that runs through Stonehenge to Old Sarum and on to Salisbury Cathedral. The mind boggles.
What was Stonehenge Used For?
The Neolithic age in which Stonehenge was built is so long ago that firm, factual information is sparse. As a result there is no shortage of opinions about Stonehenge - it is a UFO landing site or a temple or a celestial observatory or a sacred burial site maybe just a team-building project.
Today the Druid religion uses Stonehenge as a key religious monument, though Druidism wasn't around at the time of the Neolithics.
It is also clear that astronomy had something to do with Stonehenge. It is just too much of a coincidence the positions of the stones are aligned with the Solstices and Equinoxes.
The ley lines that bisect Stonehenge and many other similar Neolithic monuments also indicate more than a coincidence.
There is also evidence that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls was a place of pilgrimage. What is clear is that people travelled some way to Stonehenge. For example, an unearthed skeleton is from a person originating from Switzerland.
Nobody knows for sure what Stonehenge was used for. Was there an oracle at Stonehenge, providing prophetic predictions of the future? What part does Blick Mead play in the location of Stonehenge? These mysteries are part of the appeal and fun of visiting Stonehenge.
Stonehenge sits on Salisbury Plain, a flat area of chalk, covering some 300 square miles. The whole plain is an area rich in archaeology, Stonehenge being one of many ancient monuments or earthworks. The area that Stonehenge sits in has been classed the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and covers many square miles.
Blick Mead is a spring about a mile east of Stonehenge. The water is a constant temperature of around 11 degrees C. It never freezes.
Archaeological studies shows human habitation at Blick Mead goes back to 8,000 BC. Worked flints and animal bones, some cooked, mostly from aurochs have been found at the site. It is probable that the site, with a spring that never freezes over, would have been an attractive place to live.
A rare algae called Hildenbrandia lives in the spring and it causes stones taken from it to turn bright red on exposure to air in a matter of hours. This could have given the place a magical significance. There are theories that it is the original attraction that brought hunters to the area.
There are ancient burial mounds, called Barrows, dotted around the Stonehenge landscape. Archaeological finds have turned up skeletons too, such as the Archer, the Bronze Age man discovered in 1978 in the outer ditch of Stonehenge. The evidence seems to suggest that Stonehenge was a sacred area. People lived away from the site and came to worship. In recent years more than bone fragments of 63 people have been discovered at Stonehenge. More recently archaeological evidence seems to point to Stonehenge being a burial place for the elite only - the 'royals'.
The other archaeological finds around Stonehenge show evidence of a large settlement of houses nearby. Theories are that Stonehenge formed part of a larger ceremonial complex along the nearby Avon that included Durrington Walls and Woodhenge.
Stonehenge Avenue was discovered in the 18th century. It was thought to have been built during the third stage of building at Stonehenge, and is nearly two miles long, being made up of a pair of parallel banks set about 37 yards apart. Starting at the River Avon, it runs north-west for about 3/4 mile, where it then turns and follows a westerly direction, passing between the two sets of barrows - the New King and the Old King. This is its longest stretch, it then takes a sharp turn south west at 'the elbow', where it heads gently uphill towards the Stone Circle of Stonehenge.
The Avenue is thought to have been built as a processional route towards Stonehenge, but also may have been to commemorate the journey taken by the Bluestones from the River Avon, if this was how they had been transported here. Walking the Avenue gives an excellent view of Stonehenge.
The Stonehenge Cursus, just to the north of Stonehenge is nearly two miles long. Its width is around 400 ft. A cursus is made up of two parallel ditches, joined at the ends in an elongated oval shape. The Stonehenge Cursus has been dated to between 3630 and 3375 BC and archaeologists have not yet found an explanation for its use.
There are at least forty burial sites, called Barrows, surrounding Stonehenge.
King Barrow Ridge
If you look due east from Stonehenge, along the A303, you can see the King Barrow Ridge. This is an area of three groups of barrows running north-south.
Excavation has revealed pits with artefacts such as pottery, flint tools and bones, all predating Stonehenge. There is just one long barrow in this area, from a much earlier period, Neolithic rather than Bronze Age. This dates from between 4000-3000 BC. It is located further north from both the Old and the New King Barrows, at the eastern end of the Cursus.
Normanton Down Barrows
Normanton Down is located in the other direction from the King Barrow Ridge, south west from Stonehenge, half a mile away, across the A303. Here many types of barrow ranging from disc to bell shaped to bowl shaped can be seen. The famous Bush Barrow, excavated in 1808 revealed a male skeleton with a rich array of burial goods including a lozenge shaped sheet of gold, bronze daggers and axe and more. The goods suggest that the people buried here would have carried high status, and would have been leaders in their community. Like Stonehenge, the Normanton Down barrows would have been used for special, ceremonial occasions.
Winterbourne Stoke Barrows
Winterbourne Stoke Barrows are situated one and a half miles west from Stonehenge. Winterbourne Stoke is a very impressive barrow cemetery, containing barrows of almost every conceivable shape including bowl, saucer, disc, bell and pond.
Like other similar monuments, these barrows would have been the final resting places for some of the most important people of these periods. Archaeological finds turned up include bronze daggers, urns, pottery, flints and amber beads. Most of the barrows were dug in a southwest-northeast alignment.
Woodhenge is two miles northeast of Stonehenge. Woodhenge was contemporary with Stonehenge. It has a diameter of around 95 yards, and just one entrance to the north-north east.
Towards the centre of the circle you will see a low flint cairn, marking the spot where a young child was found buried in a pit. Bones from a young adult male were also found in the ditch near the entrance. Various artefacts such as grooved ware pottery and antler picks as well as flint tools were recovered from the site.
The Cuckoo Stone
The Cuckoo Stone is a short, rather misshapen sarsen stone that was once a standing stone but now lies on its side. Its location is in the field some 550 yards west of Woodhenge. It is thought that the stone was abandoned sometime during the building of Stonehenge. Although it is now on its side, it was standing some time during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when it was written about by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, a local historian. A Cuckoo Stone or Fool's Stone is a name given to solitary standing stones, often left by melting glaciers.
While Stonehenge was possibly a monument for the dead, Durrington Walls was the home of the living, a place of feasts and rituals. Today it can be seen as a massive grassy ridge, surrounding a central basin. The henge is 1,600 ft. in diameter, making it the largest in Britain.
Recent archaeology has discovered pits that contained wooden posts, marking what would have been a giant timber monument, belonging to the builders of Stonehenge. At one time thousands of people - builders of Stonehenge and their families - would have been living at Durrington Walls.
Crop Circles are a feature of every summer in the area around Stonehenge and south Wiltshire. However they are made, most are spectacular and beautiful.