5 facts about… Stonehenge

New research into the rocks used to make the ancient monument may answer one of the many unknowns surrounding its mysterious history

© MajaPhoto

© MajaPhoto

From how the colossal stones were transported to the reasons why it was built, Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, is shrouded in mystery. Here are five things we do know about the Neolithic stone circle. Or at least, five things we think we know…

1) Stonehenge is over 5,000 years-old, with construction beginning on the first stage of the monument c3100 BC. It is older than all the pyramids of Egypt. The design would be changed, with stones added and removed, over the next 1,500 years.

2) The monument is made of two major types of stone, sarsens and bluestones. Sarsens are the larger ones, some of them reaching 9m tall and weighing over 20 tons. They are thought to have come from the Marlborough Downs, around 20 miles from Salisbury Plain, and were transported on large logs greased with animal fat. The volcanic bluestones – so called because they have a bluish hue when they get wet – had a longer journey. Weighing around three to four tons, they were brought from the Preseli Hills in Wales – over 150 miles away. There have been several theories explaining how they were moved, including boats, glaciers and even aliens, but the new research might get us closer to the answer…

3) The research was carried out by teams from Aberystwyth University, University College London and National Museum of Wales. They claim over half of the bluestones have been traced to a specific part of the Preseli Hills called Carn Goedog, rather than the outcrop where they were originally thought to come from, Carn Meini. But what does this mean? It is highly unlikely that the stones were moved to Wiltshire using rafts on the Bristol Channel as Carn Goedog is on the other side of the hills from the waterways. Theories of alien intervention may yet gain more traction after this revelation.

4) The purpose of Stonehenge’s existence is another hotly debated issue as records are so sparse from the time of its construction. It may have been used as a memorial to commemorate leaders of the nearby tribes; a site of miracle healing; a burial ground; or an astronomical observatory to mark the winter solstice. Whatever its purpose, it was built with a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and geometry, as it is aligned with the rising and setting of the Sun.

5) There are several replicas of Stonehenge around the world including the Maryhill Stonehenge in Washington state, USA. It was built by a road builder called Sam Hill as a memorial to the victims of World War I. The Esperance Stonehenge in Australia is a full size replica of the original, while Stonehenge Aotearoa in New Zealand is designed to be an astronomical observatory for the Southern Hemisphere. And then there is Carhengein Nebraska, USA, featuring 38 cars rather than stones to make the triliths.

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