cremation burial remnants have been carbon-dated to 3030-2880 BC (5,000 years ago), about when the first ditch-and-bank monument was cut into Salisbury Plain. The stones are roped off, so no touching; if you wish to hug megaliths head for nearby Avebury.
Why and Who: After 6 years of extensive excavation of the whole plain around Stonehenge, leading archeologist, Professor Mike Parker Pearson has concluded that Stonehenge commemorates a royal dynasty, probably of Welsh origin - hence the labour of dragging 80 three ton Welsh blue stones from Preseli Hills, about 250 miles away. The bigger Sarsen stones weighed around 40 tons and were dragged from 20 miles away.
Between 150 and 240 people were buried in 'Aubrey Holes' around Stonehenge over a 600 year period, along with ceremonial weapons and antler 'pick-axes' so Parker Pearson believes that this was a monumental tomb of a single royal family.
Furthermore, 2 miles (three kms) away another ancient site created at the same time, Durrington Walls, which had a significant timber henge, shows signs of a massive population, perhaps 100,000 folk, with cremation rites on the nearby Avon River.
Further up the river is a ceremonial track leading past (holes for) four bluestones 3 kms up to Stonehenge. In other words, Durrington was home for the living, Stonehenge for the dead and both were part of one complex.
World Heritage Site of Stonehenge
is set in gently rolling, rural Salisbury plain, Wiltshire county,
an hour or two driving from London. It's a wonderfully bare
but fitting location, though slightly degraded by two smallish
roads passing nearby.
Naturally, as one of England's top monuments,
it's heavily visited, though the English Heritage organisation
have done a good job in concealing the visitor centre and car
parks and keeping internal fencing to the minimum.
multi-lingual personal audio players are included in the reasonable
entry fee and offer clear and comprehensive information on all
aspects of Stonehenge.
The walking route circles the stones at an acceptable distance,
though touching is forbidden. Stonehenge photos are of course,
is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day and
also difficult to access on the days
before and after the summer (June 21) and winter solstices (December
21) as the police try to control 15,000 or so overnighting Pagans,
Druids, Gypsies, New Age Travellers, Ravers and wackos of every
description from getting high on the stones, literally and metaphorically.
Physical access to the stones is not permitted (due to potential vandalism) except on midsummer night of the Summer Solstice or by permission from the English Heritage organisation.
If a tourist feels like getting touchy with ancient stones and not around in mid June then the best thing to do is to head for Avebury where similar stones - though smaller - are charmingly located and accessible.
Getting to Stonehenge
Directly from London is a fairly easy day trip southwest by rental car, tour or train to Salisbury (2 trains an hour, taking 80 minutes). However, since the Stonehenge area offers many interesting sights, notably Avebury, varied White Horses, crop circles if you're lucky and more, in addition to the cities of Salisbury and Winchester and the lovely Dorset coast just an hour away, many tourists choose to overnight at the nearest city to the henge, which is Salisbury.
From Salisbury it's an easy drive or take an official Stonehenge tour bus or a regular public bus, though that will involve a half an hour's walk from Amesbury.
Off A344 road (and well-posted), Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE.
Opening times are:
March - 31 May, 9.30am - 6pm.
June - 31 August, 9am -7pm.
September - 15 October, 9.30am-6pm.
October - 15 March, 9.30am - 4pm.
first design was a simple circular earth bank and ditch with a central sanctuary.
500 years later a wooden structure was built there and then
around 2950 BC a powerful Neolithic chieftain was spurred by
his priests to upgrade this to a monumental religious edifice
by dragging eighty large bluestones on sledges 240 miles (385km)
from Wales, shaping them and arranging them in a double circle.
Larger Sarsen stones (a kind of sandstone) and lintel stones
arrived a few years later from Avebury, a mere twenty miles
the large vertical stones were clearly tipped into pre-dug holes,
then levered upright, how primitive man persuaded the massive
lintel stones to settle on top of the verticals - into pre-carved
joints - is something of a mystery.
Stonehenge circle is aligned to midsummer sunrise and midwinter
in addition to some special moon phases, but this astronomical
alignment probably had more to do with the timing of pagan rituals
than determining optimum agricultural timing, i.e. when to sow
seed or when to harvest.
Ancient peoples living in very close contact with nature had
a powerful belief in the Earth Mother and Sky Father, thus the
heavily female symbolism of Stonehenge's concentric stone arrangements
- resembling a womb and vulva. To guarantee fertility of crops,
animals and families the Sky Father needed to penetrate the
Earth Mother, and this is clearly visible about 5am from 18-24th
June when the sun is bright (visible from the roadside through
The shadow from the phallic Heel Stone enters the
vulva arch to touch the Womb (or Cult) Stone (pictured above,
though not at sunrise!).
are no museums at the Stonehenge site but 7 miles (10kms) away
Salisbury Museum (Cathedral Close)
has an excellent collection of artifacts, as has Devizes
Museum (Long Street).
Future of Stonehenge:
Stonehenge is managed by English Heritage and the surrounding
landscape by the National Trust. These two organisations are
planning, with the help of the Highways Agency, to put the larger
of the two roads in a tunnel, and to close much of the other
road, thus restoring Stonehenge to its original solitary glory.
new visitor centre will be located 2 miles (3km) from the stones
with considerably more facilities than the present centre, and
a land train will take visitors who prefer to ride to the site.
There is no schedule for these improvements yet as the cost
of the tunneling will be monstrous and no one is volunteering
to pick up the bill, but it's likely to happen within ten years.
Until then, well, this is still one of England's top sights
but try to see it on a sunny day out of season.
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