Stonehenge

Stonehenge (stōn´hĕnj´), group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, S England. Preeminent among megalithic monuments in the British Isles, it is similar to an older and larger monument at Avebury. The great prehistoric structure is enclosed within a circular ditch 300 ft (91 m) in diameter, with a bank on the inner side, and is approached by a broad roadway called the Avenue. Within the circular trench the stones are arranged in four series: The outermost is a circle of sandstones about 13.5 ft (4.1 m) high connected by lintels; the second is a circle of bluestone menhirs; the third is horseshoe shaped; the innermost, ovoid. Within the ovoid lies the Altar Stone. The Heelstone is a great upright stone in the Avenue, northeast of the circle.

It was at one time widely believed that Stonehenge was a druid temple, but this is contradicted by the fact that the druids probably did not arrive in Britain until c.250 BC In 1963 the American astronomer Gerald Hawkins theorized that Stonehenge was used as a huge astronomical instrument that could accurately measure solar and lunar movements as well as eclipses. Hawkins used a computer to test his calculations and found definite correlations between his figures and the solar and lunar positions in 1500 BC However, as a result of the development of calibration curves for radiocarbon dates, Stonehenge is now believed to have been built in several stages between c.3000 and c.1500 BC, with the main construction completed before 2000 BC Excavation and testing in 2008 established a date of between 2400 and 2200 BC for the erection of the bluestones. Some archaeologists objected to Hawkins's theory on the basis that the eclipse prediction system he proposed was much too complex for the Early Bronze Age society of England.

Most archaeologists agree, however, that Stonehenge was used to observe the motions of the moon as well as the sun. Research by the archaeologist Alexander Thom, based on the careful mapping of hundreds of megalithic sites, indicates that the megalithic ritual circles were built with a high degree of accuracy, requiring considerable mathematical and geometric sophistication. More recent speculation on the Neolithic ceremonial and cultural functions of Stonehenge has included its possible use as a center for healing and as a burial ground for a local ruling family. Among the burials near the site have been found remains of a man who was raised near the Alps and a teenage boy raised near the Mediterranean. Evidence of a former stone circle with 25 bluestones has been found nearby beside the River Avon; the stones once used there may have been incorporated into Stonehenge.

See G. S. Hawkins, Stonehenge Decoded (1965); H. Harrison and L. E. Stover, Stonehenge (1972); A. Thom, Megalithic Sites in Britain (1967) and Megalithic Lunar Observations (1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Stonehenge
R. J. C. Atkinson.
Hamish Hamilton, 1956
Stonehenge: Making Space
Barbara Bender; Paul Aitken; Wesley Burrage; Mark Edmonds; Ian Hodder; Ronald Hutton; Hilary Jones; Nick Merriman; Dolores Root; Chris Tilley; Ruth Tringham; Peter Ucko.
Berg Publishers, 1998
Beyond Stonehenge
Gerald S. Hawkins.
Harper & Row, 1973
Stonehenge
Burl, Aubrey.
History Today, Vol. 51, No. 3, March 2001
The Making of Stonehenge
Rodney Castleden.
Routledge, 1993
Stonehenge
Caroline Malone; Nancy Stone Bernard.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Mindsteps to the Cosmos
Gerald S. Hawkins.
Harper & Row, 1983
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "Stonehenge: A Clue"
Understanding the Neolithic
Julian Thomas.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Seven "Regional Sequences: The Stonehenge Area"
From Black Land to Fifth Sun: The Science of Sacred Sites
Brian Fagan.
Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Seven "Stonehenge and the Idea of Time"
Pollution and Property: Comparing Ownership Institutions for Environmental Protection
Daniel H. Cole.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Stonehenge: Public or Private Property?" begins on p. 137
Architecture as Experience: Radical Changes in Spatial Practice
Dana Arnold; Andrew Ballantyne.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Misprisions of Stonehenge"
Landscape and Englishness
Robert Burden; Stephan Kohl.
Rodopi, 2006
Librarian’s tip: "'The Architecture of the Devil': Stonehenge, Englishness, and English Fiction" begins on p. 123
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