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STONEHENGE

WHEN WAS STONEHENGE BUILT?

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Archaeologists have now been able to establish when the construction of Stonehenge began.
 
Between 3100 and 2800 BC the Great Cursus 300 yards from Stonehenge had been constructed - nearly one and a half miles long and 150 yards wide, on an east-west alignment. This was a ditch hewn in the chalk 6 feet deep and wide, and would have appeared brilliant white in the green of what had now become pastureland. Was this used for chariot racing by the ancient Britains, from 'cursus', the Latin term for race course? Or was it a processional way, a path for the dead? The placing of burial mounds, known as the Cursus Barrows, on their edges may support this view.
 
Stonehenge
THE CONSTRUCTION OF STONEHENGE
click photo for enlargement
Around 2700 BC, the henge was constructed. Using only picks made of deer antlers, a ditch about 6 feet deep was dug. The spoil from the ditch was used to make the bank on the inside. On the north-east of the henge, an entrance was created by a gap in the ditch and bank. Within the bank, a circle of fifty six pits known as the Aubrey holes were dug.
 
Over the next 200 years, between 2700 and 2500 BC, a large number of wooden posts were erected. The ones at the north-eastern entrance may have served as markers for astronomical measurements, in particular the extremes of the moonrise and moonset. Other scholars feel these may have guided people through narrow paths to the ceremonial centre, adding a mystique to the entry. When looked at from the centre of the monument, we can see that the entrance stakes line up - these small posts are six rows deep. The four larger posts furthest away are located in what was later to become the Avenue leading to the north-east. They were perhaps 1m in diameter, possibly whole tree trunks.
 
The Stonehenge Avenue
THE STONEHENGE AVENUE
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From about 2500 BC onwards, the first stones arrived. The bluestones were erected and the Avenue, a grand-scale earthwork monument sweeping nearly 2 miles from the River Avon to the north-eastern entrance of Stonehenge, was begun. Aligned on the midsummer sunrise, was this a ceremonial approach to Stonehenge? Or perhaps the route used to transport the bluestones of Stonehenge from the river to their final destination? The Heel Stone was erected in the middle of the Avenue. When viewed from the centre of the stone circle, it shows the direction of the midsummer sunrise. Immediately within the bank, the entrance was marked by three standing stones, one of which remains lying on the ground, and is now known as The Slaughter Stone. The tall Altar Stone, which was later to feature in the Sarsen ring, made its appearance at this early stage.
 
Now, at an accelerating speed, the next hundred years, around 2000 BC, saw the construction of the sarsens. This was the final splendour of Stonehenge, the pinnacle of its construction - a continuous ring of sarsens 90 feet in diameter elevated in the air. This was to become the first and only raised stone circle known.
 

WHO BUILT STONEHENGE?

 
Windmill Hill People
Given the length of time taken to create Stonehenge, who could have carried out such a feat? We now know that just as the monument was constructed in distinct stages, its builders belonged to distinct groups.
 
The first group, the Windmill Hill people, named after one of their earthworks on Windmill Hill, near Stonehenge, built the large circular furrows and mounds. They had collective burials in large stone-encased tombs. Most of their burial mounds point east-west. Originating in eastern England, they were one of the first semi-nomadic hunting and gathering groups with an agricultural economy, maintaining a strong reverence for circles and symmetry.
 
The second group - The Beaker people - is thought to have originated in Spain, migrating northwards and colonising north-west Europe. Their name comes from their ancient traditions in which they would bury beakers, or pottery drinking cups, with their dead.
 
Beaker Burial
Instead of burying their dead in mass graves, they showed more reverence for death by placing them in small round graves marked by mounds called tumuli. It is assumed by archaeologists that the Beaker People were more warlike in nature than most tribes of their time because they buried their dead with more weapons, such as daggers and battle-axes. The Beaker Folk were highly organised and industrious, using sophisticated mathematical concepts, and they managed their society by using a chieftain system.
 
Beaker People Beaker Pottery Beaker Burial
 
Bronze Dagger Carving Stonehenge
BRONZE DAGGER CARVING
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The Wessex People are considered the third and final group to work on the Stonehenge site. They arrived around 1500 B.C. at the height of the Bronze Age. They were among the most advanced cultures outside the Mediterranean during this period. Since their tribal bases were located where ridgeways, or ancient roads, met, we can assume they became skillful and well-organised traders, controlling trade routes throughout southern Britain. These people are thought to have been responsible for the bronze dagger carving found on one of the large sarsen stones within Stonehenge.
 
 
 
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