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The Construction of Stonehenge in Wiltshire from 1800 BC

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Building and Construction of Stonehenge

Stonehenge stands on the bare, wind-swept downs of Wiltshire, about eight miles north of Salisbury. It is often described as a stone circle, but it actually consists of the remains of several circles put up at different times, probably between 1800 and I400 BC.

The first Stonehenge was made by a farming people who were skilled in the use of timber who made religious buildings in the form of circles of great wooden posts. The sacred area was enclosed by a bank and a ditch. That of the first Stonehenge was 340 feet across, and inside the encircling bank there was a series of 56 small pits. Some of these contained burnt bones and may have held posts.

Not long after the first building of Stonehenge a people known as the Beaker Folk (because beaker-like vessels were found in their graves) invaded this part of Britain. They built around the centre of the Stonehenge enclosure a double circle of upright stones known as the bluestones. It has been proved that these were fetched all the way from the Prescelly Hills in Pembrokeshire in the west of Wales. Some are several tonnes in weight, and it must have been a tremendous undertaking to bring them by sea, river and land to Wiltshire.

At the same time that the bluestones were erected the Beaker Folk made what is now known as the 'Avenue'. This is a way about 70 feet wide and marked by a low bank and ditch on each side, leading from the main sacred enclosure all the way to the River Avon, which is about two miles distant.

For the next rebuilding of Stonehenge, a large number of enormous blocks of sandstone, known as sarsens and weighing up to 50 tonnes each, were brought from the Marlborough Downs. The bluestones were removed and 30 sarsens were set up in a great circle, 100 feet across. The top of each stone was connected to the next by a stone known as a lintel. The lintels were joined to each other and fastened to the tops of the upright stones by means of knobs.

Inside this great sarsen circle five sets of lintelled stones were set up in the form of a horseshoe. The open end of this faced northeast towards the entrance and the Avenue, and the closed end contained an enormous sarsen, now known as the altar stone. All these stones were carefully trimmed into shape.

Such fine work dating from so early a time has not been found anywhere else in northwestern Europe. It seems likely, therefore, that the construction of Stonehenge at this time must have been in the hands either of a man from Greece or Crete or of someone who knew the stone monuments there. This is confrmed by some faint carvings on some of the stones, which show axes and daggers of a kind known to have been used at Mycenae in ancient Greece.

The bluestones were not completely removed. Many were set up in a circle inside the sarsen circle and in a horseshoe inside the sarsen horseshoe. By about 1400 B.C. Stonehenge had become what it is today, the most impressive Bronze Age monument in northwestern Europe. Two rings of post-holes, known as the Y and X holes, seem to have been made after some of the great stones of Stonehenge had fallen - about the time of Julius Caesar, who died in 44 BC.

It is often said that Stonehenge was built by the druids, who were the priests of the Celtic people before the Romans invaded Britain. However, Stonehenge in its final form was completed 200 years before the druids appeared in Britain at all.

From the earliest times Stonehenge seems to have been planned so that the sun on mid-summer morning is seen to rise behind the tip of one of the stones known as the Sunstone. There is nothing, however, to show that the builders did this with any scientific or religious idea.

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