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the magic of stonehenge
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Stonehenge

Stonehenge

We go zooming by Salisbury and pass Stonehenge on the A303.  From afar, it is a pile of rocks set in a vast green lawn; an impressive pile of rocks, perhaps, but a pile of rocks nonetheless.  And, it would be easy to undermine the importance of these monuments --- to assume that they are the works of aliens or Druids, as so many have argued.  Instead, what we discovered in our Stonehenge Special Access tour is that this monument is amongst man's greatest Prehistoric achievement.

Marking of 8000 BC posthole

Marking at the parking lot of 8000 BC posthole

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, we have to understand the time period in which these monuments were built.  Around 8,000 BC, as the early humans discovered agriculture and farming, they dug five huge mastholes near what would later be Stonehenge.  Today, the Stonehenge parking lot covers the location of those mastholes and the only indication that prehistoric activity once took place at that spot is a round white circle which could very well be confused with a roundabout marker.

Cursus at Woodhenge

Burial tomb at center of woodhenge

In 5,000 years, the early human civilizations advanced and developed.  They became nomads, conquerers, architects and sculptors.  They developed communities oriented around farming and hunting, domesticators of ancient cows and buffalo, and wandered far across the earth to gather materials and equipment to celebrate their faiths and beliefs.  And, it is around this time that the prehistoric humans in England discovered the circle.  Just as the ancient Egyptian monuments were mostly triangular and pyramidal, the henges are primarily circular or oval. 

Durrington wells

Durrington Walls

So, what is a henge?  A henge is identified by a circular ditch with an internal bank, with or without monuments in the center.  There are hundreds of henges scattered across England but the most famous are the ones in the Salisbury area.  Durrington Walls (above) is the largest henge in England and though it looks like little more than a big grassy field to our untrained eye, our guide Pat showed us how the "valley" is the ditch in the henge and the far "hill" is the bank.

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

The ditch and bank are more obvious at Woodhenge, a smaller henge built around 2,600 BC, which contained large wooden posts of differing widths and heights and a burial mound in the center. 

Animated gif of Stonehenge

Walking up to Stonehenge via the Stonehenge Avenue

Woodhenge and Durrington Walls are both near the River Avon and, from there, the ancient man walked down the three kilometer Stonehenge Avenue, at first seeing nothing, until Stonehenge rises from behind a hill in the distance.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge (in the top picture you can easily see the bank and ditch surrounding the henge)

I can quote you the statistics: the stones weigh about four tons each, the entrance exactly matches the location of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of that period, and the stones were brought from modern-day Wales --- a feat that modern man is unable to recreate using the tools of that time. 

Entrance to Stonehenge

Entrance to Stonehenge

Ultimately, though, as we passed through the entrance of Stonehenge on our special tour, we could only stand awestruck at the enormity of these stones and the near perfect circle they created.

Inside Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge rocks

Inside of Stonehenge

Inside Stonehenge

Stones fitted together at Stonehenge

Inside Stonehenge

The exterior circle --- what most visitors to Stonehenge easily see --- consist of huge four-ton-stones spread evenly around a circle.  The standing stones are ingeniously joined to top stones which, at one point, created a complete ring (or so archaeologists think).

Stonehenge at sunset

Stonehenge at night Stonehenge at night
Stonehenge at night Stonehenge at night
Stonehenge at night Stonehenge at night
Stonehenge at night

Stonehenge as night falls

But, ultimately, as night fell over Stonehenge and we stood within the monument, we forgot that for 10,000 years, this had been a place of worship, celebration, and ceremony.  We forgot that after the 2nd century BC, it was abandoned and neglected, until archaeologists began enthusiastic excavations in the 19th century. 

Stonehenge at night

Stonehenge at night

As the sun set and the stones stood in stark relief against the blue and yellow sky, I kept repeating the same thought: this place is magical.

Details

Pat from Secrets of Stonehenge Chanting at Stonehenge Special Access
Stonehenge Special Access tour

 Pat from Stonehenge Special Access tour; the Druids?witches? doing a laughing exercise

Pat Shelley, our guide on our Stonehenge Special Access tour, has a passion for Stonehenge and brings a dusty pile of rocks alive, until we could almost see the prehistoric men walking about the Salisbury monuments. Aside from all that, going inside Stonehenge without any tourists about is an absolutely remarkable experience.  His tours cost around 85 pounds per person, which certainly isn't cheap, but his tour is absolutely worth every pence.  Only twenty people are allowed inside Stonehenge every evening.  On the day we toured Stonehenge, aside from our tour, there was a private tour group and a very odd bunch of Druids?witches? who stood in the middle of the Stonehenge circle and cackled extremely loudly for about five minutes straight.  (Yes, it absolutely freaked me out.)

If you're in southern England, book Pat's tour.  You won't regret it.

12/06/2011 08:42
Dan
Good article!
Here's another new theory!
http://heavenshenge.blogspot.com/2011/12/of-hyperion-we-are-told.html
12/07/2011 15:38
Interesting Dan!
Akila's recent blog post: the magic of stonehenge
12/06/2011 16:37
Those sunset shots are absolutely lovely. Not something you see very often. It must have been a great experience.
12/07/2011 15:30
Thanks Dean! It was a spectacular day to be at Stonehenge.
Akila's recent blog post: the magic of stonehenge
12/07/2011 00:38
you were so lucky to be there on a beautiful day. The photos are lovely.
Denise's recent blog post: Ubud is about the rice fields
12/07/2011 15:28
Denise - We were! It was the first really sunny and beautiful day we had in England and the sunset was the best one we had in that entire month. We got super lucky with the weather!
Akila's recent blog post: the magic of stonehenge
12/07/2011 03:39
Shilpi
One of my son's dreams to be there... and we share it ... and i cant repeat enough... awe--- some photography....I had to tear away my eyes from the skies ...
12/07/2011 15:14
Aw, thanks Shilpi! It is an amazing place to visit and absolutely worth the money to stand inside the circle (because by the time the sun sets in the summer time, all tourists have to leave except for those with special access.)
Akila's recent blog post: the magic of stonehenge
12/07/2011 09:04
These pictures are absolute perfection! WOW!!!!!!!!! Loved this post.
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12/07/2011 15:09
Thank you Andi!
Akila's recent blog post: the magic of stonehenge
12/07/2011 16:18
Amazing photos. Helluva job guys!
12/11/2011 15:45
Thanks Keith!
12/08/2011 01:38
Anirbaan
The narrative was absolutely fantastic, almost reminded me of Orwell with all those descriptions! And your images are brilliantly focused... amazing post, can't wait to get to stonehenge now!
12/11/2011 15:45
Thank you so much Anirbaan! We're both blushing.
12/08/2011 02:43
That cackling sounds creeeeepy! We didn't get a chance to take a tour or walk amongst the stones, but we still loved visiting Stonehenge. The area is beautiful and being at the site of such immense historical significance was awesome.
Christy @ Technosyncratic's recent blog post: Sunny Views and a Shady Owner: Apartment Hunting in Chiang Mai
12/11/2011 15:43
Christy, It was CREEPY! I'd never heard anything like it and it was especially creepy because they were laughing in the middle of Stonehenge and there were no other sounds around there. The whole area is gorgeous, too. I remember how beautiful y'all's pictures were --- I think it's impossible to take a bad picture there!
12/16/2011 16:32
Stonehenge was one of my favorite local trips when I was living in London. We weren't able to climb on the rocks but I've seen pictures of other people doing just that.
Megan Eileen 's recent blog post: Tourism Boards Galore
01/05/2012 13:12
It's fantastic, isn't it? I don't think anyone was able to climb on top of the rocks but we were allowed inside only after hours. It was so nice to be inside the stone circle.
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12/28/2011 03:51
these pics are just amazing...
01/05/2012 18:02
Thanks so much linda john!
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01/17/2012 19:06
Lovely pictures, and did you ever get a chance to talk to the druids/ witches? I'm left wondering what they were all about :). By the way, how do we know those stones came all the way from Wales? Is it that those types of stones are not found anywhere near? Just curious.
Arundhati's recent blog post: Dear Brad,
01/20/2012 10:51
Arundhati, We didn't get a chance to talk to the druids because they were chanting the whole time that we were there. But, archaeologists know that the stones came from Wales because they've discovered the exact rock where the stone was carved from. Here's the link to the most recent newspaper article about this: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/12/111222-stonehenge-bluestones-wales-match-glacier-ixer-ancient-science/
01/20/2012 16:24
Thanks for the link, Akila. Fascinating. And I loved those aliens-did-it comments at the bottom.
Arundhati's recent blog post: Dear Brad
11/20/2012 14:30
Kay
Hi there - very late to this discussion, I found it whilst looking for info on Stonehenge's Avenue - I like your gif of how the stones appear to rise out of the ground whilst walking up the Avenue, it's something I've tried to explain to people (badly) so good to see it in action!

Something very few people know, and only seen very occasionally (less than once a year, with the weather we have over here!) - if you stand in the centre of the stones on the morning of the Winter Solstice, the sun will rise precisely between two barrows on the horizon, which are sadly partly hidden in the trees now - I saw this myself one year - and it's led me to believe that the henge was built to honour the Winter and not the Summer - after all, wouldn't you rather welcome the returning sun than celebrate it getting colder and darker?

The Preseli Bluestones are definitely from the Preseli mountains in Wales - but they were at Stonehenge before the last phase of building and may have formed a circle of trilithons on their own, prior to the Sarsens being brought down from near Avebury. If you're lucky enough to get access into the circle, have a close look at the small bluestones - at least one of them has mortice holes where it has been sitting as a lintel prior to being placed upright, and others have carving that doesn't correspond with their current position and suggest they were used for another purpose. There have also been some found acting as lintels in barrows, so maybe these were spare ones after the Stonehenge ones were rearranged and were recycled?

All that we know for sure is that the more we find out, the more we realise that we know very little! :-)

Kay Dickinson
(BA Archaeologist, University of Leicester)

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