UK - Wiltshire - Stonehenge
Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. Over time, legend and theory has ascribed it everything from Merlin the wizard, the Devil, and Aliens to the Romans, Danes and Saxons. The first academic effort, in 1640 by John Aubrey, credited the Druids and for astronimical or calendrical purposes. By the 19th century, archaelogical findings dated it to the Bronze Age and carbon dating has pegged construction of the monument from about 3100 BC to 1600 BC. These datings debunked most of the popular theories. Popular opinion now holds that it was likely built as either an astronomical observatory or for religious rituals linked to the solstices, harvests and/or the dead. Its alignments with the sun and moon seem too coincidental for there not to be correlation, but it is hard to fathom primitive man having such a grasp over science.
The outermost element is the Avenue, which runs straight down a gentle slope for 530m, consisting of twin banks about 12m apart with internal ditches. It begins at the entrance to the enclosure where the Heel Stone, a large sub-rectangular upright unworked sarsen stone (with a mini thickness of 8 ft, rising to a bluntly pointed top 16 ft high) stands. When viewed from the centre of the circle, it shows the direction of the midsummer sunrise. Excavations reveal it is buried 4 feet in the ground and suggest that it may have been one of a pair.
Lying within the entrance is a fallen 16 ft long sarsen stone, known as the Slaughter Stone. Arranged around the inner edge of the bank were originally four small uprights, the Station Stones, of which two are still visible. Immediately adjacent to the bank is a ring of 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes, marked by circular concrete spots. Some of these holes held cremated human remains, but none were used for posts or stones. The area between the inner edge of the bank and the outermost stone settings includes at least two further settings of pits: the Y and Z holes.
The Sarsen Circle, the outermost stone setting, consists of a continuous ring of upright sarsens (17 of the original 30 stand), each more than 25 tonnes, with horizontal lintels. The edges are smoothed into a gentle curve which follows the line of the entire circle.
The Blue Stones Cresecent, arranged in a double crescent setting within the Sarsen Circle, consisted originally of about 60 stones, of which many have fallen, dissolved or been crushed.
The Sarsen Horeshoe, set inside the two circles, consists of five sarsen trilithons, each comprising a pair of upright topped by lintel. Although now fragmentary, the arrangement shows the careful grading of the five trilithons, the tallest of which is 6.7m high above ground level. Enfolded within this massive horseshoe lies a smaller horseshoe arrangement of upright bluestones.
Stonehenge as we know it likely evolved through several phases. The following is the current timeline as presented by English Heritage.
Phase I, c3000BC. The first monument was the surving circular earthen bank and ditch (or henge) and Aubrey Holes.
Phase II, c2900-2400BC: Wooden structures were added. Excavations have revealed a complicated pattern of post holes in the centre of the henge as well as at the northeastern and southern entrances. Nothing remains of the posts and little is known about their look or function. Speculative use includes tribal markers or supports for roofed buildings.
Phase III, c2600-1600BC: The final phase, covering a period of 1000 years, is marked by a change from building in wood to building in stone. Around 2600 BC, the blue stones were transported 385km (240 miles) from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales. It is still unknown what make these stones special enough to warrant the considerable undertaking of transport. In the Early Bronze Age, the sarsens were transported over 30km (19 miles) from the Marlborough Downs. It was also an incredible task to erect the stones, secure them together with sophisticated joints, and shape their rough surface with stone hammers. Some of the stones have carvings, looking like daggers and axes. It is also during this period that the Avenue was built. During this period, the blue stones were rearranged at least three times. It seems as though this phase was left unfinished because the Y and Z holes were prepared outside the circle but never used.