Stonehenge has perplexed scholars for hundreds of years, and even now it is unclear exactly why the stones were erected. This sample essay explore the “How” and “why” of the famous, possibly solar-orientated worship location.
Stonehenge: The how & why?
For years historians have pondered the question of who built the ancient cite of Stonehenge and why? In recent years, new light has been shed on this question. Recent research now suggests that the Stonehenge site was identified as a significant sacred plane at least 500 years prior the erection of the Stone circle itself. However, while strides have been made in the dating of the monument, the site’s original purpose has yet to be identified. Nevertheless, it is now clear that those who built Stonehenge did so for what appear to be socio-religious purposes pertaining to some higher celestial order.
Evidence behind Stonehenge
In 2011, archaeologists from the universities of Birmingham, Bradford and Vienna uncovered archaeological evidence at the Stonehenge site linking its builders to some form of solar-centric religiosity (Bernard & Malone 6). The assumption made from this finding was that the site and its builders were somehow associated with a form of solar worship, particularly as applied to the sun. The chances of a purely coincidental stone alignment linked to the summer solstice are extremely low, thereby lending support to this sun-worship hypothesis. Research then turned to the kind of processional or ceremonial events took place between the two Stonehenge pits.
In a finding suggestive of an even greater significance of the sun, at least to the pre-historic peoples thought to have constructed Stonehenge, it was discovered that the sun hung directly over Stonehenge at its highest point in the year (McDaniel 18). Researchers began to suspect that the socio-religious significance of Stonehenge might pre-date the stone circles themselves, especially given the precise nature of the stone circle’s construction and design.
In 2013, researchers made further discoveries to this effect, which allowed them to conclude that the ancient route toward Stonehenge was carved directly along an ice-age land mass, which itself was naturally formed on the solstice axis (Darvill & Wainwright 7). Just below the modern surface of road that now adorns “Stonehenge Avenue,” excavations revealed pits dug by pre-historic people, in addition to naturally-formed ridges, which seem to have run through these man-made ditches, though the purpose of this architecture remains unclear (Ibid.).
Sacred purposes of Stonehenge
The search, however, for Stonehenge’s purpose was advanced somewhat 45 years ago, when archaeologists discovered an 8000 year-old ritual site sitting atop of what was then Stonehenge’s parking facility. However, this discovery only further complicated matters, at least to some extent, as the sacred site predated Stonehenge itself by some 5,000 years. As such, whatever sacred purpose attributed to the site was unlikely to have been shared by the two peoples whose vestiges populated it (Bernard & Malone 5).
Then, in 2004, tests were conducted on the remains of Bronze Age skeletons found buried in a mass grave near the Stonehenge site, revealing that the ancestors of the skeletons, and those to whom the skeletal remains belonged, were the same peoples who had themselves constructed Stonehenge’s most iconic “bluestone” monuments (Bernard & Malone 15).
Despite all these findings, the original purpose of Stonehenge, in addition to the original purposes of the peoples who built it, remains largely unclear. Most recent findings suggest that there was some practical purpose to the solstice-oriented monument, though this purpose is not yet clear. Then again, this purpose might have amounted to little more than a form of worship; a means of more directly honoring some form of solar or celestially-derived deity. Other theories suggest that Stonehenge was a construct of mythological proportions, removed from the Irish plains and planted at its present site by King Arthur’s magician, Merlin.
Subscribers to the so-called “ancient alien” or “ancient astronaut” theory suggest that some extraterrestrial entity or entities–ones with superior knowledge of science and aerospace technology–aided this pre-historic civilization in the construction of various architectural anomalies, including the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge itself, which these theorists posit was a model of our solar system designed to function as a landing site for landing or observation site for extraterrestrial entities. This set of theories stems from the notion that the peoples to whom construction of Stonehenge is attributed would have then been without the technological wherewithal to engineer the movement of stones of such size and weight.
Given the most recent research, archaeological science is as close as it has ever been to solving the mystery of Stonehenge. While a set of its builders has been identified and while the general purpose of the stone circle’s orientation is more or less clear in that it was constructed according to solstice-axis considerations, the essential purpose of the sight remains unclear. It may yet be that the man-made tunnels uncovered beneath “Stonehenge Avenue” will yield some insight into a practical purpose that Stonehenge was intended to serve.
Otherwise, it may be that Stonehenge was designed as a kind of means of better worshipping in a quasi-pagan form of religiosity. Of course, it may also be that beings not of this Earth aided in the construction of Stonehenge in an effort to further their own purposes, in which case the answer to the Stonehenge riddle may never be known. For the time being, researchers are continuing to excavate the site in the hopes of finding even more answers to one of the most puzzling archaeological questions of ours or, indeed, of any time period.
Bernard, Nancy S. and Malone, Carolyn. Stonehenge. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Darvill, Timothy and Wainwright, Geoffrey. “Stonehenge Excavations 2008.” The Antiquaries Journal. Vol. 89. Sep. 2009: 1-19.
McDaniel, Sean. The Unexplained Stonehenge. Minnesota: Bellwether Media Inc. 2012. Print.