Stonehenge1 Essay

This essay has a total of 2779 words and 12 pages.

Stonehenge1



Behind every great structure in the world, there are the people who made them, and who
took the time and effort to design them. Those who made Stonehenge succeeded in creating
an incredibly complex and mysterious structure that lived on long after its creators were
dead. The many aspects of Stonehenge and the processes by which it was built reveal much
about the intelligence and sophistication of the civilizations that designed and built the
monument, despite the fact that it is difficult to find out who exactly these people were.
They have left very little evidence behind with which we could get a better idea of their
everyday lives, their culture, their surroundings, and their affairs with other peoples.
The technology and wisdom that are inevitably required in constructing such a monument
show that these prehistoric peoples had had more expertise than expected.

The planning and assembling of Stonehenge took a very long time (about one thousand years,
from 2800 BC to 1500 BC*), and not one but many different groups of people were involved
in the process. How they came about plays an important role in understanding them. Some
of the first men to come to England that are connected to the Stonehenge builders came
when the ice blocking Britain and France melted around 10,000 BC (Souden, 104). After
them, many more groups of people came from the mainland, and had great influence on those
already living there.

The first group involved in the building of Stonehenge was the Windmill Hill people.
These people were semi nomadic farmers, mainly just keeping their flocks of cattle, sheep,
goats, pigs, and dogs, and growing wheat, who had arrived as some of the last Neolithic
(or New Stone Age, 4300 – 2200 BC) newcomers in England. Not only were they farmers they
also hunted, mined flint, made and traded axes, and could almost be called industrialists.
The Windmill Hill people had a very strong religion with a great respect for their dead
and their ancestors. They have exceptional collective graves, in the form of long
barrows, or long manmade piles of dirt, sometimes 300 feet long. Many riches such as
food, tools, and pottery were buried with the dead (Hawkins, 36).

The next group to contribute to Stonehenge was the Beaker people, known for the
beaker-like pottery they would frequently bury with their dead. These people did not
practice the ritual of collective burials, rather single or double burials, and the dead
were accompanied by more weapons such as daggers and axes. These single burials were in
the form of round barrows. The Beaker people were well organized, active, and powerful,
and also probably more territorial (Hawkins, 36). They practiced commerce with other
cultures, and their graves give an impression of there being an aristocracy in the society
(Niel, 84).

The last major group to put time into the construction of Stonehenge was the Wessex
culture group. They arrived on Salisbury plain around 1400 BC, and were involved in
building the most prominent part of Stonehenge- the great stone circles (Niel, 86). These
people were well organized, and probably less aggressive than their predecessors, while
more industrious. The people of Wessex were less concerned with war than they were with
art, peace, and trade. In the graves of their chieftains (the only members of society who
were preserved for afterlife), were goods such as daggers, bows, and various other
ornaments. Their access to such treasures can perhaps be attributed to their great
international traders who probably traded with people from the Mediterranean Sea area
(Hawkins, 37). They built the final phase of Stonehenge, and perhaps brought about many
cultural changes to the monument such as giving the monument visual magnificence and more
astronomical precision (Service Bradbery, 255).

It is necessary, in order to understand the complexity involved in the assembling of
Stonehenge, to know the process by which and the environment in which the monument was
built. By the time Stonehenge was built, the landscape around the area on Salisbury Plain
was rather open with more farmland and grazing land, and less forest. Underneath the
first few feet of soil on Salisbury Plain there was a substantial layer of hard chalk,
which made building rudimentary structures somewhat easier for the people of the era.

The first phase in building Stonehenge was that of the earth monument, which consisted of
a circular bank of dirt (originally about 6 feet tall, now barely 2 feet tall) with a
ditch running along the outside of the bank. There are two breaks in the ditch and bank,
forming two entrances, and in addition there are 56 Aubrey Holes, named for John Aubrey,
their discoverer, in a circle just inside the earth bank (Souden, 30). This first phase,
Stonehenge I, built by the Windmill Hill people, took from about 2950 to 2900 BC to
construct.

Slightly more detailed than the first, the second phase of building Stonehenge involved
the creation of a wooden monument. The postholes scattered about the floor of the
monument are evidence for this stage. There seem to have been a roughly corridor shaped
structure at the southern entrance of the earth monument, and a more detailed setting
around the northeastern entrance (Souden, 32). The Avenue, made up of a pair of long,
straight, and parallel ditches, was also said to have been part of this second phase of
Stonehenge. Stonehenge II could be credited to the Beaker people, approximately betweens
the years 2800 and 2300 BC.

The third and most impressive stage of the monument is that of the stone monument. Since
the building of this phase extended from about 2500 to 1600 BC, it was the longest and
most complex of the three, and was so divided up into six sub phases. First in the
sequence was the arrival of the bluestones (the first, and smaller, type of stone involved
in Stonehenge III), and then the arrival of the sarsen stones (the larger, bulkier stones
in Stonehenge III), followed by a possible bluestone arrangement, then the stones were
erected to their final settings (after a little rearranging), and finally small holes
called the X and Y holes were dug around the outside of the stone circles (Souden, 35).
The builders of Stonehenge III were the people of the Wessex Culture, most likely in
alliance with other peoples.

It is understandable, through all of the complexity shown in the monument, that it many
long hours to build and much patience and persistence to complete the construction. The
bluestones had to be carried 200 to 250 miles from their source in the Prescelly Mountains
back to the Stonehenge site. They were probably carried by waterways for most of the
route because waterways are safer, quicker, and less difficult. One probably route was
that the stones would be dragged to the coast nearest the Prescelly Mountains, then along
the coast of the Bristol Channel, and then into the river systems of England, to the
Stonehenge Avenue, and then the stones may have been carried up the Avenue toward the
monument. (Hawkins, 65). The most simple was to transport the stones over land is by
having a crew of men to haul the stones on rollers. Similar transport methods were used
for the sarsen stones, however their location was much more close as the source of the
sarsen stone was in the Marlborough Downs, only about 20 miles north of Stonehenge. There
was somewhat of a clear land path for these stones to be carried on, so water transport
was minimum. But these stones weighed about 30 tons each, and hauling these stones over
20 miles of hills could have easily used a total of 1,000 men and 7 years to be completed
(Hawkins, 66). The sarsen stones were put into large holes in the ground, and joined to
their lintels by a mortise-and-tenon joint, and the lintels joined to each other (in the
outer circle) with a tongue-and-groove joint (Souden, 88). Much organization skills are
needed to coordinate such a large number of men to perform the physical labor of
constructing such a monument. The effort put into fabricating this monument is
incomparable to anything that would be done today.

When all of the constructing, refining, and arranging was finished, the resulting
structure was extraordinary. There is an outermost circle (still considerably inside the
ditch and bank) of 30 of the sarsen stones, each averaging 13 feet 6 inches tall (Niel,
28), and each connected by a lintel stone to each stone on either side. Just inside that
circle of sarsens is a circle of bluestones, smaller stones which are usually not too much
more than 6 feet tall. Inside of the bluestone circle is the trilithon horseshoe, or a
horseshoe-shaped setting of sarsens in trilithons, or two sarsens standing next to each
other with one lintel across the top. The open end of the horseshoe faces the northeast.
Inside the trilithon horseshoe is a bluestone horseshoe. Inside the bluestone horseshoe,
somewhat towards the center, is the altar stone, which might not have been used for that
purpose. At the entrance to the monument, the heel stone stands just south of the line
that runs down the center of the avenue, and not far off lies the slaughter stone, laying
on the ground in the break of the circular bank. There are four station stones just
inside the earth bank- one that points north, one that points to the south, and two that
together make a line perpendicular to the axis of the avenue. The faces of all of the
sarsen stones were dressed and shaped, and they were mostly given a convex shape to
exaggerate the impression of grandeur one gets when looking up at the monuments.

Being that there is little evidence for what Stonehenge could have been created, other
than the people buried in and what we directly observe about the monument, there have been
many hypotheses about its purpose, and many of these hypotheses seem to be appropriate.
Continues for 6 more pages >>




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