Discover the secrets of this incredible ancient monument…
Calling all young historians and budding archaeologists – we’re off to investigate the mysteries behind a perplexing prehistoric puzzle! Up for joining? Then check out our fascinating Stonehenge facts…
What is Stonehenge?
Found on England’s Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, Stonehenge is a huge man-made circle of standing stones. Built by our ancestors over many hundreds of years, it’s one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments… And one of it’s biggest mysteries, too!
When was Stonehenge built?
Work started on this super stone circle around 5,000 years ago in the late Neolithic Age – but it took over 1,000 years to build, in four long stages! Archaeologists believe the final changes were made around 1,500BC, in the early Bronze Age.
The structure of Stonehenge
If you visit Stonehenge today, you’ll see many of the enormous stones still standing strong in a circular arrangement. Archaeological research shows that the structure of this amazing monument changed over time, as it was built and rebuilt by generations of ancient peoples.
4,000 years ago, Stonehenge was made up of an outer circle of 30 standing stones called ‘sarsens’, which surrounded five huge stone arches in a horseshoe shape. There were also two circles made of smaller ‘bluestones’ – one inside the outer circle and one inside the horseshoe – as well as four ‘station stones’ positioned outside the central monument. The entire site was surrounded by a circular ditch and bank, which also remains this day!
How was Stonehenge built?
It’s a question that has baffled people for centuries – and even to this day, no theory has been proven! How could people thousands of years ago have transported and arranged such colossal stones?
A legend from the 12th century claimed giants placed the monument on a mountain in Ireland, before a wizard named Merlin magically moved the stone circle to England. It’s a shame they didn’t really have a wizard to help them – they could have done with the help…
The lighter bluestones weigh about 3,600kg each (that’s the same as two cars!), while the bigger sarsen stones each weigh a whopping 22 tonnes – that’s as heavy as four African elephants! Archaeologists believe that the sarsen stones were hauled to the site on big wooden sledges from 32km away, but the bluestones have been traced to rock outcrops 225km away in Wales! It’s thought they could have been dragged on sledges to a waterway and then floated on rafts to the building site.
Shaping the stones would have required hundreds of hours of hard graft with stone hammers and chisels. But how were the ginormous boulders lifted to their standing position? Well, it’s thought that first, the builders dug deep ditches for the base of the boulders. They then used ropes and strong wooden poles and frames to raise them up, before packing the ditches with rocks and rubble to hold them in place. And voilà – job done!
What was Stonehenge used for?
Once again, no one really knows for sure. But the stones themselves give us a few clues, which have given rise to many different theories…
Each year, on 21 June (the longest day of the year), the sun always rises over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge – a single large sarsen stone which stands outside of the main monument. And the sun always sets over the Heel Stone on the shortest day of the year. Therefore, researchers believe that Stonehenge may have been a ‘calendar’, linked to the study of the stars.
Other theories suggest that the site could have been a place of healing where sick people flocked in hope of being cured by the monument’s miraculous powers. Others think the site may have been a kind of Stone Age ‘computer’ that credited solar or lunar eclipses – or a temple to the sun or moon gods.
But one thing is for sure – Stonehenge was used as a cemetery. Experts estimate that about 200 people are buried on the grounds. They also think that important funeral ceremonies would have been performed at the site – though why the dead were laid to rest there, no one knows…
Did you know…?
Each year, around 20,000 people gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky all year. It makes for a spectacular sunrise!