The Mysteries of Stonehenge: Facts, Theories and New Findings
Stonehenge, one of the world’s most iconic monuments, is full of mysteries. Located in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is a ring of massive standing stones and stone arches dating back to 3000 BC. Researchers have little knowledge of how the stones were transported, who constructed Stonehenge, or why the structure was built in the first place.
However, the scientific community has recently uncovered evidence that may hold the key to solving the mysteries of Stonehenge. Read on to learn about Stonehenge’s historical background, the scientific theories surrounding the mysterious structures, and the exciting new findings.
Stonehenge Took Over 1,000 Years to Build
The construction of Stonehenge began 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic Age, which ranges from approximately 12,000 years ago to the rise of civilization. Amazingly, Stonehenge took over 1,000 years and thousands of laborers to assemble. So how did this (literally) monumental, generation-spanning construction project begin?
The First Construction Phase
Stonehenge had six long construction phases. In the first phase, around 3000 BC, the builders dug a circular ditch that was 330 feet in diameter with an inner bank and a smaller outer bank in the open grassland. During this phase, builders created two entrances: a big one on the northeast side and a smaller one to the south.
The Final Construction Phases
During the second stage of construction, the builders added timbers to the northeast entrance, around 2640 BC. It wasn’t until the third stage that Stonehenge’s familiar structure started to take shape: This was when builders added stones to the monument.
Creators Used Simple Tools to Build Stonehenge
The builders of Stonehenge had relatively rudimentary tools at their disposal. According to the Daily Mail, primitive tools such as deer antlers and simple pulley systems were used to build the monument. Today, large stones like the ones used in the construction of Stonehenge would require a crane or forklift to move, making the monument’s construction even more incredible.
Stonehenge United the Descendants of the Neolithic Britons
While people native to the British Isles, known today as Neolithic Britons, initiated the formation of Stonehenge over 5,000 years ago, this group’s descendants took on the construction of Stonehenge. They did so by using improved tools to help arrange the stones. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts, tools and bones to reinforce this theory.
Parts of Stonehenge Are Missing
Experts believe pieces of Stonehenge have gone missing since it was completed. Previously, the center is thought to have included an oval of 30 smaller stones. However, many of those stones have gone missing. Of the original five stone arches, only three still stand. In the outer stone circle at Stonehenge, two huge stones are missing.
Where Did the Stones Come From?
Stonehenge was made with two types of stone: sarsen stone and bluestones. Sarsen stones came from the nearby Marlborough Downs of Wiltshire. These stones can also be found in Berkshire, Essex, Oxfordshire, Dorset and Hampshire. The bluestones used in Stonehenge originated in Wales, over 200 miles away.
Sarsen Stones Weigh 25 Tons Apiece
Sarsen stones and bluestones are so heavy that some experts can’t believe humans carried them to Stonehenge. Sarsen stones are a lot bigger and heavier than bluestones. The Sarsen stones used in Stonehenge weigh a whopping 25 tons and are up to 30 feet tall.
How Did the Giant Stones Get There?
So how on earth did the Stonehenge builders move these enormous stones to the build site? Researchers are still baffled by how the builders transported the stones. The size and weight of the stones must have made them each incredibly difficult to move. However, there are a couple hypotheses.
Geologists Think Glaciers Moved the Massive Stones
Another hypothesis suggests that the builders didn’t actually transport the bluestones all the way from Wales. Earth scientist Dr. Brian John argues that thanks to the Ice Age, the movement of glaciers brought the bluestones close to the construction site. As a result, builders used the nearby stones in the monument.
Did Aliens Build Stonehenge?
One of the most popular and strangest theories about Stonehenge is that ancient aliens were responsible for its construction. Swiss author Erich von Däniken claims that aliens used Stonehenge as their landing pad. According to Däniken, this explains how the heavy stones were able to be transported over such a vast distance.
The Popular Devil Theory
If you thought the ancient alien theory was weird, just wait until you hear the one based in Christian theology. The theory states that it was actually the devil, not human builders, who arranged the stones. Yep, you read that right. The devil. So how did the devil supposedly arrange the stones?
Stonehenge Is Featured in Arthurian Legend
According to an Arthurian legend, Merlin created Stonehenge using magic to transport the stones from Mount Killaraus in Ireland. According to “Historia Regum Britanniae” by Geoffrey of Monmouth, King Aureoles Ambrosias asked Merlin where to bury Britain’s slaughtered nobles. Merlin told the king to prepare an army to collect some magical stones from the stone circle in Ireland. Ancient giants created the stone circle, also known as the Giants’ Rings.
Stonehenge Initially Served As a Cremation Site
Archaeologists found over 50,000 cremated bone fragments at Stonehenge, supporting the theory that the area was a giant cremation site, or at least the last known resting place for the remains. The cremated remains belonged to 63 separate individuals.
Many Researchers Agree That Stonehenge Was a Burial Ground
Experts have argued about the purpose of Stonehenge for centuries, but the majority of researchers agree the area served as a massive burial ground. Over 200 of the deceased are buried at Stonehenge. However, it’s a mystery why the dead were laid to rest at the site in the first place.
Were Elite Families Buried at Stonehenge?
When archaeologists first removed the skeletons from Stonehenge, they thought the bones were unimportant and returned them to the site in 1935. The researchers also assumed the remains only belonged to men. However, when archaeologists came back and exhumed the site again in 2013, they learned a few new things. The remains belonged to almost equal numbers of men, women and children.
A Place to Celebrate the Astronomical Calendar
Some experts believe that Stonehenge is linked to astronomy. The sun rises over the Heel Stone every year on June 21, the summer solstice. Since the monument aligns with the sunrise during the summer solstice, researchers think Stonehenge is connected to the study of the stars.
Some Researchers Believe Stonehenge Was a Site for Healing
Another theory implies that Stonehenge may have been a place of healing. Archaeologists have found evidence that those who were sick visited the monument hoping to find a cure. Many skeletons discovered in the cemetery had signs of illness or injury. One of the remains that researchers found suggested the man suffered from a shattered kneecap and a poisonous abscess in his jaw.
The Stones Hold Acoustic Properties
Have you ever yelled in an empty lecture hall or church and heard your echo? According to experts, the stones created the same amazing acoustic conditions. A researcher from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, Bruno Fazenda, says, “As they walk inside they would have perceived the sound environment around them had changed in some way. They would have been stricken by it, they would say, ‘This is different.’”
Examining Stonehenge and Its Replica
In 2011, Fazenda and his colleagues tested Stonehenge’s acoustic properties to understand reverberation. However, since pieces of Stonehenge were missing, the researchers also tested the acoustics of a Stonehenge replica in Maryhill, Washington to gain more insight. The duplicate in Mary Hill serves as a memorial to soldiers from World War I.
Bluestones Made Ringing Noises
The stones at Stonehenge do more than just reverberate. The bluestones also produce ringing sounds when they are tapped, similar to bells. This quality seems to support the theory that bluestones were specifically chosen for their acoustic properties. Recent research has revealed that most, if not all, the bluestones used in Stonehenge have these acoustic properties.
Was Stonehenge a Place of Religious Worship?
Another theory suggests that Stonehenge was a religious center controlled by priests. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many people thought Stonehenge was a Druid temple, formed by ancient Celtic pagans. John Aubrey, who discovered the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge, also associated the monument with Druids.
Why Did Neo-Druids Hold a Religious Ceremony at Stonehenge?
It’s normal for Stonehenge to receive hundreds of visitors from all over the world. However, one unusual visit from a group of Neo-Druids turned into a massive religious ceremony. In 1905, over 700 Neo-Druids gathered at Stonehenge to honor their spiritual heritage.
Researchers Used Lasers and Found Art Carved on the Stones
Over time, researchers found new developments on Stonehenge. In 2012, carvings found on the monument’s stones suggest that Stonehenge was a prehistoric art gallery. According to the Independent, 72 early Bronze Age carvings were cut into five of the stones. Currently, it’s impossible for the naked eye to see the carvings, but a detailed laser scan can detect the images. During the Bronze Age, the carvings would have been visible because the stones weren’t damaged yet.
Some of the Stonehenge Builders Lived in Wales
With new technology, scientists can learn more about the Stonehenge builders. Initially, experts believed the builders lived close to Stonehenge. However, in 2018, a group of scientists from the University of Oxford discovered that some of the ancient builders lived in Wales, the home of Stonehenge’s bluestones.
Scientists gained new insight that some of the Stonehenge builders also lived in West Wales after analyzing 5,000-year-old remains from Stonehenge. The scientists studied 25 skulls and bones from the 56 Stonehenge pits that were originally excavated in the 1920s.
Researchers Used DNA to Discover the Origins of the Builders
In 2019, researchers found the Britons who built Stonehenge descended from migrant farmers. This was determined by analyzing DNA from the inner ear bone of a 9,000-year-old skeleton known as Cheddar Man. Cool and dry burial conditions helped preserve the DNA of Cheddar Man’s remains, found in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset.
Farmers from Turkey at Stonehenge?
After examining DNA from the skeletons found at Stonehenge, the results revealed the population’s ancestors originated from the Eastern Mediterranean region. These farmers came to the British Isles around 4000 BC, before Stonehenge was built in 3000 BC. In 4000 BC, only hunters and gatherers lived in Britain. When the farmers arrived in Britain, they brought their agricultural methods, pottery, and religious beliefs.
Farmers Gradually Replaced the Area’s Hunter-Gatherer Population
Researchers expected the DNA to show a mixed population of farmers and hunter-gatherers throughout the Neolithic period in Britain. However, they found that the hunter-gatherer population diminished drastically during the Neolithic period, without a resurgence. These findings will help shed further light on the population that built Stonehenge, giving researchers a better understanding of the agricultural and social developments of the Neolithic period.
Will We Ever Solve the Mysteries of Stonehenge?
Although researchers have found new evidence that may help tell us the real story about Stonehenge, many aspects of the monument remain unknown. Was Stonehenge a religious temple, a graveyard, a healing ground, or all three? Currently, scholars don’t have all the answers.