Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Stonehenge: awesome mystery in the south of England
Archaeologists think that the standing stones were erected around 3200 BC and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC.
The "henge" portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.
Archaeological excavation has indicated that around 2600 BC, timber was abandoned in favour of stone and two concentric crescents of holes (called the Q and R Holes) were dug in the centre of the site.
The holes held up to 80 standing stones (shown blue on the plan) 43 of which were derived from the Preseli Hills, 250 km away in modern day Pembrokeshire in Wales. Other standing stones may well have been small sarsens, used later as lintels. The far-travelled stones, which weighed about four tons, consisted mostly of spotted dolerite but included examples of rhyolite, tuff and volcanic and calcareous ash.
What was to become known as the Altar Stone (1), a six-ton specimen of green micaceous sandstone, twice the height of the bluestones, is derived from either South Pembrokeshire or the Brecon Beacons and may have stood as a single large monolith.
The next major phase saw 30 enormous sarsen stones (shown grey on the plan) brought from a quarry around 24 miles (40 km) north to the site on the Marlborough Downs. The stones were dressed and fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before 30 were erected as a 33 m (108 ft) diameter circle of standing stones with a 'lintel' of 30 stones resting on top. The lintels were joined to one another using another woodworking method, the tongue in groove joint.
Each standing stone was around 4.1 m (13.5 feet) high, 2.1 m (7.5 feet) wide and weighed around 25 tons. Each had clearly been worked with the final effect in mind.
Within this circle stood five trilithons of dressed sarsen stone arranged in a horseshoe shape 13.7 m (45 feet) across with its open end facing north east. These huge stones, ten uprights and five lintels, weigh up to 50 tons each and were again linked using complex jointings. They are arranged symmetrically; the smallest pair of trilithons were around 6 m (20 feet) tall, the next pair a little higher and the largest, single trilithon in the south west corner would have been 7.3 m (24 feet) tall. Only one upright from the Great Trilithon still stands; 6.7 m (22 ft) is visible and a further 2.4 m (8 feet) is below ground.
The images of a 'dagger' and 14 'axe-heads' have been recorded carved on one of the sarsens, known as stone 53. Further axe-head carvings have been seen on the outer faces of stones known as numbers 3, 4, and 5. They are difficult to date but are morphologically similar to later Bronze Age weapons; recent laser scanning work on the carvings supports this interpretation.
Even though the last known construction of Stonehenge was about 1600 BC, and the last known usage of Stonehenge was during the Iron Age (if not as late as the 7th century), where Roman coins, prehistoric pottery, an unusual bone point and a skeleton of a young male (780-410 cal BC) were found, we have no idea if Stonehenge was in continuous use or exactly how it was used.