Stonehenge

Posted on by Ted Levine

Suppose you came upon a statue in the woods. “What is this?” you might ask. Why is it here? Who brought it? Why? How did they get it here? What does it mean? These are reasonable questions. With a little research and some effort, you could probably find the answers and satisfy your curiosity.

Now, imagine coming upon something for which there are no answers—whose origins and reason for existence you could never know, no matter how much research you did.

Imagine Stonehenge, forever to be one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Stonehenge is an assemblage of giant stones in southern England. The name “Stonehenge” comes from henge, the Anglo-Saxon word for “hanging,” which refers to the horizontal stones in the monument.(Jon Arnold/Danita Delimont)

What We Do Know

The Age

Stonehenge was built in phases from about 3100 B.C. to 1600 B.C. Yes, more than 5,000 years ago—during the Stone Age, long before the wheel was invented! We know this because scientists have used carbon dating to analyze the age of animal bones buried at the site.

This is what Stonehenge looks like from above. The stone near the road is called the Heel Stone.(Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images)

The Stones

The monument consists of enormous stones laid out in concentric circles. The outermost circle is about 32 yards in diameter. The stones of the outer circle are sandstone columns connected by lintels about ten feet long. The lintels are shaped to the curve of the circle.

Even larger blocks of sandstone and lintels form an inner semicircle. The largest of these stones weighs about as much as a fully loaded cement truck—40 tons. Today, sandstone similar to the kind at Stonehenge is found about 19 miles north, but no closer.

Within the inner circle of pillars and lintels are smaller stones, called bluestones. Also arranged in a circle, some are still standing as they have been for thousands of years. Others are leaning or lying on the ground. These four-ton stones are from mountains nearly 250 miles away!

The Placement

A special stone called the Heel Stone stands at some distance from the main structure. Imagine standing at the center of the structure and looking toward the Heel Stone. If it were the morning of the summer or winter solstice, you would see the sun rise directly over the Heel Stone.

That’s what we know about the structure. Here’s some of what we don’t know….

How were the stones transported?

How were they stood on end?

How were the lintels put in place?

Is it mere coincidence that the sun rises and sets over the Heel Stone on the summer and winter solstice, or was the placement of the stone chosen for that very purpose?

Answers to these questions represent a combination of theory and imagination.

What We Think

Transportation

Most archaeologists maintain that people transported the stones, even the bluestones that came from so far away. According to these specialists, the stones were dragged over land and perhaps towed along the shoreline to their destination.

In 2000, a group of Welsh and English volunteers participated in a reenactment of the process by moving a three-ton bluestone from the Preseli Mountains in Wales to Stonehenge. The volunteers used methods and boats they thought might have been available 5,000 years ago.

To travel along the coast, the stone was towed by two boats lashed together. At a point along the way, one of the ropes snapped, and the stone sank. It took many divers and a lot of muscle power to hoist the stone back into position.

Imagine what it might have taken take to house, clothe, and feed all the people needed to transport these stones! Would it have been possible? No one knows for sure.

Map of southern England and Wales

Children visit at Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain. England (Richard Nowitz/Getty Images)

Many geologists contend that ancient glaciers deposited the massive boulders across the plains of southern England. These would have been gathered by the Stone Age monument-makers and transported to the site. It would have been a big job but not as big as transporting the stones nearly 250 miles.

Today, the immediate area around the monument is free of large boulders. However, supporters of this view point to the many glacial remnants within a 60-mile radius to suggest that glaciers were no strangers to the area. Perhaps farmers had already removed most of the large stones.

Construction

What happened once the stones were at the site? How were they raised upright? And how were the lintels jacked into position? Barbara J. Becker, a historian of science, proposes the following:

Construction of Stonehenge

Image Credit: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1978

However, like almost everything else about Stonehenge, we have no way of knowing for sure that this is what happened.

What We Imagine

Whatever your view about how Stonehenge was built, a single question remains: Why? Like much else about this mysterious monument, theories abound.

Some believe the monument was an astronomical calendar. According to this group, the placement of the stones predicted solar eclipses and marked the summer and winter solstices. But would Stone Age people have had the knowledge to erect such a monument?

Others contend that Stonehenge was a place of healing, a place where some type of primitive surgery was performed. As evidence, people of this view cite the nearby discovery of skeletons with crude gashes…. But the gashes could have had many origins.

Still others feel that Stonehenge was a burial ground and site for ancestor worship. Skeletal remains dating from 3000 B.C. to 2500 B.C. are offered as evidence for this theory. But why here?

Research scientists and others continue to explore Stonehenge and its many mysteries. For now, only two things are certain:

The sun will rise over the Heel Stone to mark the next solstice.

Our understanding of Stonehenge will remain incomplete.

What do you think?

Written by Marjorie Frank.

Take 5 Quiz - Stonehenge

Progress: 0%

What is Stonehenge?

Which sentence does not state a fact about Stonehenge?

What is significant about the placement of the Heel Stone?

Why is Stonehenge so mysterious?

Which sentence does not describe a theory about why Stonehenge was built?

 

  • Love this website and Love Kids Discover Magazine… Thank you for providing such a unique and positive publication for our children.

    Patricia S.

  • I know it says it's for kids, but everyone loves it!

    Charlotte K.

  • My daughter has been reading your magazines for over five years, she devours the issues when they arrive!!

    Susan G.

  • My kids LOVE the magazine - has been a great start point on research for papers and science fair projects!

    Gail V.

  • The topics in the various magazines have sparked great conversational skills as well as working on language literacy with my students… GREAT TOPICS for a variety of students.

    Monique K.

  • I truly enjoy the activities and the wonderful resources. Thanks!

    Samone C.

  • My kids are all older now (2 high school, 1 college) and Kids Discover is STILL our most waited for, most read, most loved magazine we get. THANKS!!!

    Robert S.

  • I recommend this magazine to everyone, young and old!

    Rebecca G.

  • Kids Discover is such a wonderful resource for my classroom. My students enjoy reading about all the interesting topics.

    James P.

  • My son is a big fan of your magazine... In the days of non-stop TV and Video games, magazines like yours are a breath of fresh air!

    GM