Fast Facts

Location: 3 km west of Amesbury in Wiltshire, Southern England.
Time to Visit: Throughout the year
Preferred Timings: 16th March — 31st May: 9:30 am to 6 pm
1st June — 31st August: 9 am to 7 pm
1st September — 15th October: 9:30 am to 6 pm
16th October — 15th March: 9:30 am to 4 pm
New Year’s Day and Boxing Day: 10 am to 4 pm
Admission Fee: Adult – £6.40; Children (5 — 15) – £3.20; Family (2 adults + 3 children) – £16; Students & Pensioners – £5.10 Members of National Heritage and National Trust — Free
How to Reach: By train to Salisbury and by cab or bus thereon; alternatively by road from Amesbury
Nearest Railway Station: Salisbury
Nearest International Airport: London Heathrow, London Gatwick
Time required for sightseeing: 1 hour

As the last rays of the setting sun rest on the tip of the huge monolith that towers up to the South England sky in the midst of the Salisbury plains, a pall of darkness falls in what remains one of the most intriguing mysteries in Britain. What urged the ancients to transport these heavy stone masses and arrange them in such well-defined patterns in the midst of what was a reigning wilderness? What drove them on? What belief in the unknown? Was it a belief in some omnipotent supernatural or was it desperation to know and define the universe better on scientific lines? What secret rituals were initiated here under the close observance of the choicest Druids, well known in these parts well before the advent of Christianity? These are only some of the mysteries of Stonehenge, the most enduring symbol of early British civilization.

Stonehenge is one of the unsolved mysteries of our planet Earth. According to many, Stonehenge is Britain’s greatest icon representing power, endurance, and mystery. Some view it as an ancient temple constructed for the worship of earth deities, while others claim it to be an astronomical observatory. A third section believes Stonehenge in Britain was used as a burial ground of high-ranking citizens of ancient societies. Whatever the purpose, it was constructed for some well defined objective and not a casual monument. The purpose of Stonehenge remains unsolved and therein lays its mystery.

This megalithic ruin in Wiltshire, west of Amesbury in Southern England is a world heritage site. Stonehenge is not a single structure but a combination of stone, earth, and timber structures built over a period of over 1400 years. The first phase of construction took place between 2950 and 2900 BCE (Before Common Era, or Christian Era, or Current Era), the second phase in 2900 — 2400 BCE, and the final phase between 2550 BCE and 1600 BCE.

Phase I Construction

The first phase of construction was completed in the Middle Neolithic Period i.e., between 2950 BCE and 2900 BCE. In this phase, a ditch, a circular bank and a counterscarp bank of 100 meters in diameter was built. The ditch was 5 meters wide and between 1.3 to 21 meters in depth. Two entry stones placed in parallel in the northeast were arranged in alignment with the summer solstice sunrise. Within the earth bank 56 Aubrey holes to hold wooden posts are arranged in a circle. The Aubrey holes were possibly built as sighting poles to predict eclipses. This arrangement called the ‘henge’ was dug out with the help of tools possibly made from wood and red deer antlers. Two totem poles aligned in an east-west direction could have been used for sighting equinoxes. Picks were used to loosen the underlying chalk layers and thereafter shoveled using cattle shoulder blades.

Phase II Construction

In the next 500 years from 2900 to 2400 BCE many of the Aubrey holes were filled in with cremation deposits. Timber settings were noticed in the north-eastern entrance and at the center of the monument. A large number of post holes without any definite pattern were dug up, the purpose for which is still unclear.

Phase III Construction

The third phase of construction spanning from 2550 BCE to 1600 BCE was the most complicated and astounding. Initially, a series of Bluestones were arranged in ‘Q’ and ‘R’ holes which were afterward dismantled and arranged in a circular formation termed ‘Sarsens’ and a horseshoe formation termed ‘Trilithons’.

The Bluestones each weighing around 4 tons are believed to have been brought from Prescelly Mountains in southwest Wales about 380 km away. Presley Bluestone or Dolerite is a volcanic rock of feldspar which is harder than granite. The mystery of why these Bluestones were carried from Prescelly to Amesbury is unsolved. Carrying these 4-ton rocks were another unbelievable feat. According to recent studies, these huge stones were dragged from Prescelly Mountains to the Milford Haven sea coast with the help of rollers and sled. Thereafter they were sailed up to Frome in Somerset via Bristol and Avon. From thereon they were pulled to Warminster in Wiltshire and again floated down to West Amesbury along River Wylye.

Re-enactment of this entire procedure has been tried out at various times but none have been successful in entirety. Some academicians and scholars, therefore, believe that these stone blocks were carried by glaciations. Surprisingly no glaciation marks have been found on these stones. The mystery thus remains unsolved.

The Sarsen Circle originally comprising 30 neatly trimmed upright sandstone blocks has been reduced to 17 arranged in a circle of diameter 33 meters (108 feet). The rocks standing approximately 4 meters (13 feet) above ground are spaced at a distance of 1 to 1.4 meters. Each block is about 1 meter (3 feet) thick and 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide and taper at the top. These 30 blocks arranged in a circular manner supported rectangular lentils of the approximate length of 3.2 meters (10 ½ feet) fitted to each other using tongue-and-groove joints to form a continuous circle. This entire arrangement of 30 pillars and lentils is an amazing work of design, engineering, and precision stonework.

The Trilithons is an arrangement of ten erect stones in five pairs with each pair supporting a lintel. These five pairs of stone blocks are in the formation of a horseshoe with its open end towards the northeast. The arrangement is symmetrical with the tallest pair at the center. Of the five Trilithons, three are still standing with their lentils.

After completion of the Trilithons, a Bluestone Circle and a Bluestone Oval were added. The former was set up between the Sarsen Circle and Trilithons horseshoe, while the Oval was established within the Trilithons. Subsequently, an arc stone was removed from the northeastern end of the Bluestone Oval to form Bluestone Horseshoe. In the final stages of construction of Stonehenge two series of holes the ‘Y holes’ and ‘Z holes’ were dug out in the formation of two concentric circles with the ‘Y holes’ being the outermost.

For other stones are of particular significance in Stonehenge. Stations stones surrounded by ditches of 10 to 12 meters in diameter; Slaughter Stone in the northeast which forms a break in the bank and ditch arrangement to form the entrance to Stonehenge; Heel Stone of height 4.88 meters (16 feet) and buried 1.22 meters (4 feet) surrounded by a ditch of about 10 meters; Altar Stone of length 4.9 meters (16 feet), breadth 1 meter (3 ½ feet) and thickness 0.5 meter (1 foot 9 inches) lying embedded within the Trilithon Horseshoe. The Alter Stone is the only example of Cosheston Beds Sandstone in Stonehenge.

Related Links : For a dramatic recreation of how things may have looked during the construction of the Stonehenge, watch this video! Bill Baley guides you through a wonderful tour to the Stonehenge. For an authentic Stonehenge experience, complete with historical information on the place, click on this link. For a present reconstruction of the ancient Druidic celebration, held on the day of the Winter Solstice, one of the significant days of the early pagan faith followed in ancient Britain, watch this!

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