Wednesday November 26, 2014

Stonehenge

Stonehenge


  On Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, stands one of prehistory's most baffling monuments - Stonehenge. While the origins and meaning of this complex of stones has eluded scholars for 5 centuries, archaeologists now believe it evolved in 3 main phases between about 3500 and 1100 b.c. The first Stonehenge, which was a circular ditch-and-bank enclosure, was probably used as a cemetery. It had an outer ring of 56 small burial pits. Called the Aubrey Holes, they are named after the 17th Century antiquarian John Aubrey, who first recorded them. North-East of the entrance to the earthworks stood the huge seven metre high Heel Stone. A second stage of building added an earthen avenue between the Heel Stone and the entrance. Eighty huge blocks of Bluestone, probably brought from the Preseli Hills in south Wales, 320 kilometers away, were erected in two circles on the site. In the final building stage, the bluestones were rearranged and replaced by a circle of 30 structures known as the trilithons, consisting of two upright stones supporting a horizontal stone. Within this circle, five freestanding trilithons were erected in a horseshoe shaped arrangement.  

The planning, skill, time and labor involved in creating Stonehenge clearly indicate its importance to its builders. But what could its purpose have been? Since the eighteenth century, scholars have noted the alignments of the stones to sections of the sun, moon cycles, indicating that astronomy may have been practiced at the site. By the early 1900's, British astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer, had suggested that the monument's axis was aligned towards the sunrise on midsummer's day. More recently, CA Newham, a British layman, produced calculations of complex astronomical lines linked to different parts of Stonehenge. In the 1960's, Gerald Hawkins, a British astronomer working in America, found that both the stones and the Aubrey Holes were aligned with major solar and lunar events. Hawkins concluded that the site had been not only an observatory, but also a type of primitive computer, which was used to predict eclipses. Archaeologists remained skeptical, but in 1967, Alexander Thom, a Scottish professor of engineering at Oxford, also suggested that Stonehenge was an observatory for the study of Moon cycles.

 

While scientific study of the site still continues, Stonehenge remains shrouded in folklore. According to local legend, the gigantic bluestones were magical healing stones that had been brought from Ireland through the magical arts of Merlin, the wizard or King Arthur's court. The great Heel Stone is associated with a legend in which the devil is said to have once found a monk hiding among the stones. Before the unfortunate man was able to escape, the devil threw a huge boulder, which pinned him by the heel. The ruins of Stonehenge have long been popularly linked with the ancient Celtic priesthood of Druids, although experts have ruled out any connection. Modern Druids, unrelated to the original Celts, used to gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice each June until 1985. In that year, authorities banned the festival for fear of damage being done to these magnificent stone, whose secrets have yet to be fully revealed.

 From the book "The Almanac of the Uncanny"
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