Stonehenge Essay 2:
Pillars of the Stars



    Stonehenge has never been completely explained.  The general consensus is that it serves some sort of astronomical function, and many theories have been proposed to show its connection with the heavens.  There are also a number of mysteries involving the construction and heritage of Stonehenge, especially the transportation of the enormous stones necessary to build the monument.

    When Stonehenge was first discovered by the Romans in 60 AD, it was thought to be a place of devil-worship; a belief that has persisted throughout the history of its exploration.  The Romans damaged it, pulling down a great many of the stones, but couldn't destroy the whole thing with the equipment they had.  Later, in 400 AD, when the Roman Empire was more expansive, they opened Stonehenge as a tourist attraction, and many people from the Continent came to look at the "hanging devil-stones."
    When the Romans came, they envisioned horrible sacrifices on the Altar Stone and Slaughter Stone-- and paid little attention to the stones themselves.  In fact, there is quite a mystery involving the origins of the various stones of Stonehenge.  The Trilithons and sarsens are all fairly local, coming from Marlborough Downs, 18 miles away over gently sloping fields.  The bluestones, however, present us with a problem.  They are believed to come from the Preseli Mountains, in southwestern Wales, at a distance of roughly 200 miles!  The Altar Stone is believed to come from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, also in southwestern Wales!  How can this be possible?  To drag such heavy stones-- each bluestone is roughly 4 tons, and the Altar Stone is significantly heavier-- across the hilly terrain for 200 miles would be effectively impossible.
    However, one theory suggests that the stones were not carried that great distance . . . at least not by humans.  It has been suggested that glaciers could have deposited the stones here during the last Ice Age.  And, in many ways, this is the preferred theory.  If the builders of Stonehenge were to carry stones 200 miles from the Preseli Mountains, they would probably select the very best bluestones that were to be found-- but the bluestones at Stonehenge display a wide mix of good, medium, and poor quality, suggesting that the builders simply used what they found on Salisbury Plain.
    Also of note is the layout of the site; it does not seem to be entirely an English stone circle.  Almost all other prehistoric stone arrangements in England are laid out entirely with circles, without any horseshoe shapes.  Stonehenge is unique in this respect, and is unique in another curious respect as well: the art carved into it.  Although most people don't know this, there are many small images carved into the faces of the standing stones.  Axes, daggers, and anthropomorphic goddess-images have all been identified.  Interestingly enough, both the art and the horseshoe-layout are characteristics of stone circles in Brittany, but not of England.  This has led some scholars to believe that the people who built Stonehenge were either from Brittany or heavily influenced by Brittanic styles.

    Many possible astronomical alignments can be suggested for such a large and complex structure as Stonehenge, and the majority have been.  However, instead of dwelling on the failed suggestions, I will here focus on the proven and the controversial.  First of all, there is a great popular opinion that the Heel Stone lines up with the rising sun on the Summer Solstice.  This is not quite true.  Actually, it doesn't quite line up right-- all of the pictures that you see with the sun balanced exactly on the tip of the Heel Stone were produced by moving the camera around until it looked right.  The sun appears to the left of the Heel Stone by a significant margin on the Summer Solstice.  However, it is possible that there was another stone across the axis from the Heel Stone, and together they produced a window to see the sun through.  Also, the Heel Stone has shifted over the years, and now lies at a 27 degree angle, towards the southwest.  The Heel Stone does mark the moonrise in the middle of its 18.6-year swing, though.
    Other astronomical alignments abound in the monument; the southeast and northwest sides of the rectangle made by the Station Stones lines up very well with the May Day sunset, for example.  Two of the Trilithons line up with the extreme moonrise and extreme moonset positions, while the other Trilithons mark solistical sunrise and sunset positions.
    Finally, although many New Age spiritualists think that Stonehenge was a druidic temple, there is no factual evidence to back them up; Stonehenge was constructed roughly 2000 years before the Druids came about.

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