The History of Stonehenge
Over many centuries, there has been intense debate about the significance and uses of Stonehenge. Certainly it became the focal point of a landscape filled with prehistoric ceremonial and burial structures. It also represented an enormous investment of labour and time.
A huge effort and great organisation was needed to carry the stones tens - and sometimes hundreds - of miles by land and water, and then to shape and raise them. Only a sophisticated society could have mustered so large a workforce, and produced the design and construction skills necessary to build Stonehenge and its surrounding monuments.
Stonehenge's orientation in relation to the rising and setting sun has always been one of its most remarkable features. Yet it remains uncertain whether this was because its builders came from a sun-worshipping culture or because - as some have asserted - the circle and its banks were part of a huge astronomical calendar?
What cannot be denied is the ingenuity of the builders of Stonehenge. With only very basic tools - such as antler picks and bone 'shovels' - at their disposal, they dug the enclosing ditch and erected the bank, later using similar tools to dig the holes for the stones.
Other stone tools were used to shape the mortises and tenons that linked uprights to lintels. Some of these tools can be seen, together with other artefacts including personal material from graves, on display in the museums at Salisbury and Devizes.
The first monument at Stonehenge ( of around 3,000 BC) consisted of a circular ditch and bank ( about 100 metres in diameter), possibly with a ring of 56 wooden posts, the pits for which are now called Aubrey Holes, after the 17th century Wiltshire antiquarian John Aubrey.
Some 4-500 years later the first stones arrived: these were bluestones, transported over 240 km (150 miles) from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. Paired bluestones were erected in an arc to the north east of the centre of the monument. Shortly afterwards this was dismantled, and replaced by an arrangement of stones which included the much larger super-hard 'sarsen' stones from the nearby Marlborough Downs.
The outer circle was composed of 30 sarsen uprights with a similar number of lintels: this enclosed five sarsen trilithons (pairs of uprights with a lintel across each), arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the open end towards midsummer sunrise.
Bluestones, which clearly had a special significance for the builders, were re-erected in a circle between the outer sarsen circle and horseshoe, and inside the horseshoe. Some bluestones were later removed to leave the final setting, the remains of which can be seen today.
In the landscape immediately around Stonehenge there are visible remains of many different types of monuments, and many more have been detected. Neolithic monuments include long barrows, and the long rectangular earthwork to the north, the Cursus ( so called because it was once thought to resemble a chariot racecourse): together with the henge monuments at Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, contemporary with the middle phases at Stonehenge. The most numerous monuments are the remains of many Bronze Age round barrows, which were built after Stonehenge Stone Circle was complete.
World Heritage Site
Source English Heritage.
Stonehenge and Avebury became a World Heritage Site in 1986 for their outstanding prehistoric monuments dating from 3,700 to 1,600 BC. At Stonehenge, the unparalleled stone circle is surrounded by a landscape containing more than 350 burial mounds and major prehistoric monuments such as the Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls.
To explore the many monuments of the World Heritage Site, check out theStonehenge World Heritage Site Interactive Map
Altogether, the Stonehenge World Heritage Site covers around 2,600 hectares owned or managed by English Heritage, the National Trust, the Ministry of Defence, the RSPB, farmers and householders. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan sets out a strategic framework to conserve and manage the Site and its Outstanding Universal Value for present and future generations.
For an introduction to the management of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site check out our leaflet
For feedback on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site web pages or if you would like further information, please contact:
Stonehenge World Heritage Team
English Heritage, Wyndham House, 65 The Close, Salisbury, SP1 2EN
Source English Heritage