A Bronze Aged temple to the gods or a 20th century make over: is Stonehenge all its cracked up to be?

Standing resolutely and unflinching as a bold statement of intent to anyone even thinking of trying to tell them to ‘budge up’, the huge monolithic stones have been protruding from the Salisbury Plains like an ancient eruption for thousands of years and they clearly have no intention of moving on.

Whenever the subject is raised, the two questions everyone asks are how and why and whilst there have been some answers proffered, one or two have been swiftly swept under the hearth rug.

The ‘why’ is relatively easy to deal with – because no one can say for sure just why it was built. Unlike the architects of the great pyramids whose intentions were obvious and recorded, the Stonehenge builders didn’t think to leave a blue-print for us to paw over. So any conjecture, unless completely outrageous, will likely be given an airing.

The more plausible contenders are: astrological studies (personally I’m not convinced); sun and moon worship which given the primitive nature of Man at the time is likely; but my personal favourite is that it was a place of ceremony cum sacrifice and given the quantity of bones that were found when some of the pits were excavated, I think this is the most credible explanation.

The slightly more exotic raison d’être include alien invasions; the launch/landing pad for UFO’s or part of a giant’s navigation system.

But whatever your belief, nothing can be said for certain.

No, the more interesting question that has been a bone of contention for centuries is the ‘how’.

The word ‘henge’ refers to a ditch with an embankment and the first part, or as it is more technically known, ‘Phase 1’ of Stonehenge was a circular ditch with raised embankment that was constructed in roughly 2900 BC (they were able to date this due to the red deer antlers, oxen shoulder blades and pottery fragments that were found in the ditches).

Bronze Age Man then dug at least 56 holes within this ditch (these became known as the Aubrey holes after the 17th century archaeologist who discovered them), and ‘planted’ a circle of wooden posts.

The foundations were laid.

It was then over the next few hundred years that the wooden posts were replaced with enormous stone pillars.

And herein lies the question that every scientist and archaeologist have disagreed over for decades: just how did ancient Man transport such huge stones plus erect them?

There is no doubting the origins of the stones; the much bigger sarsen stones came from Avebury, the smaller blue stones from Wales and the alter stone from the Breacon Beacons. But that is where the knowledge ends.

C P Green, author of ‘The Provenance of Rocks’ has suggested ancient Man floated the enormous stones up the Bristol Channel and then dragged them the rest of the way. But the BBC’s attempt to re-enact this theory met in disaster when the stone slipped off the raft and sunk to the bottom of the Channel.

Another explanation put forward by Brian John in his book ‘The Bluestone Enigma’ is that a glacier extended from Pembrokeshire to Glastonbury and that as the glacier melted and receded, it deposited huge boulders across the Plains, thus leaving a ready supply of rocks that could be more easily collected.

However, John’s hypothesis has been met with some derision from other authors including C P Green and J D Scourse (author of ‘Transport of the Stonehenge Bluestones’) who have said the absence of other glacial material is proof that the area was not subject to glacial activity.

So the jury is still out as to precisely how the huge rocks arrived 5,000 years ago let alone how they were raised and put in place.

But here is something else you may not know: how many times have you looked at the ancient monument and marvelled at the longevity of its existence, those balanced blocks that look so ‘right’ and have stood there for millennia?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but what you see now is in fact the result of 20th century man’s intervention, with his cranes and heavy machinery.

I’m afraid so: between 1901 and 1964 there were no less than 5 major restoration projects with significant reconstruction carried out when rocks were moved and repositioned. Christopher Chippendale, author of ‘Stonehenge Complete’ states “nearly all the stones have been moved in some way and are standing in concrete”.

Shocked; surprised by this revelation? Perhaps more surprising is the fact that this quite important bit of information was dropped from the guide books during the 1970’s which coincided with the ring fence going up to stop the public getting too close to the monument.

The conspiracy theorist in me might think the ring fencing was to stop anyone pulling back a clump of earth to see the 50 year old concrete bed rather than the 5,000 year old pit.

There are controlled close encounters e.g. the druids are allowed into the circle for the summer solstice, but for the average tourist, you have to make do with walk around the perimeter.

Could it also be that this enforced prevention is to maintain the mystique that surrounds this monument, without which it would be less attractive to many?

Or is the Government truly concerned that the site is a shrine to be honoured and respected thus making it essential to keep the general public at bay?

I hear the druids are looking for new members ………

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About Sophia Moseley

Freelance Copywriter, Feature Writer and Author. Looking for that illusive job that every working mother craves but surviving, just, on what I can find. My writing and poetry keeps my sane. Watch this space.
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4 Responses to A Bronze Aged temple to the gods or a 20th century make over: is Stonehenge all its cracked up to be?

  1. Tony Hooper says:

    Excellent read.

    Although not quite as exotic to learn man and machine created the modern edifice rather than 1000s of men alone against the elements.

  2. calmgrove says:

    Stimulating discussion, Sophia. I’m going to a talk by Mike Parker Pearson next month in St Davids — he is the author of the recent Stonehenge (Simon & Schuster), based on his ongoing archaeological work there — and no doubt it will also be attended by local author Brian John (whom you mentioned and whom I’ve met). So it may be interesting to hear what they both have to say about the geology of the stones! I know Mike’s book is polite but sceptical about John’s glacier theory.

    As to the ‘enhancements’ mentioned, I’ve always known there had been a lot of reconstruction, especially in the early 20th century, which the general public is rarely aware of. My impression is that modern archaeologists are doing their best to rectify past misinterpretations but also that every new investigation is throwing doubt on even more recent work, whether on the monumnet’s dating or its original purposes. It’s what makes the site so interesting and mysterious!

    • How fortunate to have met Brian John & I would imagine Mike’s presentation will be very interesting. Whilst it would be nice to put the stones back to their original positioning etc, notwithstanding no one really knows where they actually belong, I bet there would be a big public outcry if they tried to change anything today! But you are so right, the stones are utterly marvellously fascinating & I have promised myself I will go to the summer solstice just as soon as the weather is reasonable!

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