"Who were the peoples that built the various Stonehenges and for what reasons were they built? Of late, much attention has been given to the astronomical aspects of the final structure, but that was not an end in itself. Stonehenge is a social question and in that it is far more interesting and closer to the primary interest of its builders. As we have said before, the question is not astronomy but cosmology, the parallelisms of heaven and earth. Cosmology is the expression of a whole people, not a product of scientific expertise."
-Leon E. Stover & Bruce Kraig: Stonehenge
Just outside of Salisbury, England, a gargantuan relic of the past has stood vigil
over the Salisbury Plain for some 3,ooo years. Constructed of mammoth blocks of stone,
some averaging over thirty tons in weight, it is truly the most megalithic and ancient
landmark in all of England. Who were its builders? How did they manage to construct
this awe-inspiring marvel? "What purpose did it serve, this monument and memorial of
men whose other memorials have all but vanished from the earth? Was it a city of the
dead? A druid place of horrid sacrifice? A temple of the sun? A market? A pagan
cathedral, a holy sanctuary in the midst of blessed ground?" (p.1, Hawkins, 1965)
Stonehenge is without a doubt one of the most intriguing archaeological finds of all time.
Let us explore all its mystery and grandeur, and hopefully, glean insight into its creators'
Stonehenge, as aforementioned, lies on the Salisbury Plain. The terrain
today is treeless and more-or-less flat, consisting of chalk downs and grass. The area of
the stones itself is level, surrounded by a ditch enclosing a banked, elevated area within
which the stones are themselves situated. Also encircling Stonehenge itself is a ring of
fifty-six pits known as the Aubrey Holes, named after their discoverer, James Aubrey.
Over the eons, Stonehenge has endured much punishment. Stonehenge
has held its ground for some 3,ooo years in spite of harsh climatic conditions that have
not allowed the structure to pass time without taking their toll-- erosion has left its mark
on her stones. Additionally, at some time between 55 B.C. and 410 A.D., Romans
desecrated Stonehenge, knocking down several upright stones and adding to its current
state. In January 1797, three more stones were toppled, as well as two more in 1900. By
1958, these five stone were finally raised and reassembled to restore Stonehenge to its
appearance during the Roman occupation.
For decades, Stonehenge has been shrouded in myth and mystery. Many
believe(d) it to be a place of druid sacrifice, a temple in which horrid acts were
conducted. Today, however, many believe Stonehenge held a sort of calendrical
function. Hawkins (1965) has found that the Stonehenge complex could have been used
to predict the summer and winter solstices, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and
eclipses of the sun and the moon! Hawkins believes that Stonehenge was used as a
means of predicting the positions of moon and sun as relative to the earth, and thus the
seasons as well. (This information would have proved beneficial in the seasonal planting
Using a computer to calculate positions of the sun and moon and stars as they would have been arrayed in 1500 B.C., Hawkins concluded that Stonehenge was a giant observatory of celestial phenomenon and predictor of lunar eclipse.
Hawkins thought that the four station stones were set up as a rectangle to mark the extremes of the solar and lunar settings when sighted alon diagonals running through a supposed geometrical center of the monument. The five trilithons were meant to frame setting and rising sun and moon at their extreme positions. Hawkins also sets up a complex fifty-six year lunar eclipse cycle in which the Aubrey Holes are postulated as holding posts for movable counters to mark a passage of the moon toward that event.
A famous astronomical aspect of Stonehenge was discovered by
W. Stukeley in 1740. He noticed that the main axis of Stonehenge was aligned precisely
to the midsummer sunrise, indicating that Stonehenge had some astronomical purpose.
The chances, as calculated by Hawkins, of Stonehenge being so precisely aligned by
accident are less than one in five-hundred. Other evidence for Stonehenge's astronomical
uses also include the incredibly narrow view through the trilithons. A very narrow angle
is viewable through each trilithon, and the sunrise, sunset, and moonrise and moonset are
all visible through their given trilithons. Much of the astronomical work in Stonehenge
was uncovered by Hawkins, an accomplished astronomer. He found many correlations
that seem to prove that Stonehenge had its roots in some astronomical purpose. Hawkins
also calculated that the probability that the alignments in Stonehenge were merely
accidental would have been less than one chance in a million.
A significant observation was made by C.A. Newham. After a series of experiments and calculations, he noterd that in the completed structure, an observer standing at the center would see the full moon nearest the winter solstice rise over the heel stone, alerting him to a subsequent lunar or solar eclipse
It thus seems obvious that the builders of Stonehenge viewed the sun and
moon as highly important, perhaps religious figures. "The one thing about Stonehenge
upon which everyone is agreed is that it is primarily a 'temple'.... indeed it may well have
been used for many activities which today have no overt connection with religious beliefs
or practice, such as political councils and the dispensing of justice; or even for more
frankly secular purposes like the holding of markets.... these, however, are activities
which are unlikely to have left any tangible traces" (p.168, Atkinson, 1956).
See the Diagrams section for illustrations of the aforementioned alignments