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(stōn`hĕnj'), group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, S England. Preeminent among megalithic monumentsmegalithic monument
[Gr.,=large stone], in archaeology, a construction involving one or several roughly hewn stone slabs of great size; it is usually of prehistoric antiquity.
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 in the British Isles, it is similar to an older and larger monument at AveburyAvebury
, village, Wiltshire, S central England. The village, with a medieval church and Elizabethan manor house, lies within Avebury Circle, a Neolithic circular group of upright stones that is older and larger than Stonehenge but not so well preserved.
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, some 20 mi (30 km) away. The great prehistoric structure is enclosed within a circular ditch 300 ft (91 m) in diameter, with a bank on the inner side, and is approached by a broad roadway called the Avenue that connects Stonehenge with the River Avon. Within the circular trench the stones are arranged in four series: The outermost is a circle of sandstones about 13.5 ft (4.1 m) high connected by lintels; the second is a circle of bluestone menhirsmenhir
[Breton,=long stone], in archaeology, name given to the single standing stones of Western Europe, and by extension to those of other lands. Their size varies and their shape is rough and squared, tapering toward the top. See megalithic monuments.
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; the third is horseshoe shaped; the innermost, ovoid. Within the ovoid lies the Altar Stone. The Heelstone is a great upright stone in the Avenue, northeast of the circle. A number of other ancient features are found in the surrounding landscape, including barrows; the Cursus, an long, elongated oval ditch; and the remains of other henges.

Human habitation in the area dates to at least 7000 B.C.; the first known monumental features in the landscape, including the Cursus, date to about 3500 B.C.; and the earth bank and ditch at Stonehenge date to roughly 3000 B.C. Stonehenge is now believed to have been built in several stages between c.3000 and c.1500 B.C. The first bluestones were apparently erected c.2600 B.C.; they were quarried in the Preseli Hills, Wales, c.150–180 miles (240–290 km) away, and may have been used for another purpose first. Stonehenge underwent a series of changes over the next millenium, as the erection, removal, and reerection of various stones shaped the site into the current arrangement; the main construction was completed before 2000 B.C.

It was at one time widely believed that Stonehenge was a druid temple, but this is contradicted by the fact that the druidsdruids
, priests of ancient Celtic Britain, Ireland, and Gaul and probably of all ancient Celtic peoples, known to have existed at least since the 3d cent. BC. Information about them is derived almost exclusively from the testimony of Roman authors, notably Julius Caesar, and
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 probably did not arrive in Britain until c.250 B.C. In 1963 the American astronomer Gerald Hawkins theorized that Stonehenge was constructed and used as a huge astronomical instrument that could accurately measure solar and lunar movements as well as eclipses. Hawkins used a computer to test his calculations and found definite correlations between his figures and the solar and lunar positions in 1500 B.C., a time now known to postdate Stonehenge's main construction. Some archaeologists objected to Hawkins's theory on the basis that the eclipse prediction system he proposed was much too complex for the Early Bronze Age society of England.

Most archaeologists agree, however, that Stonehenge could have been used to observe the motions of the moon as well as the sun. Research by the archaeologist Alexander Thom, based on the careful mapping of hundreds of megalithic sites, indicated that the megalithic ritual circles were built with a high degree of accuracy, requiring considerable mathematical and geometric sophistication. More recent speculation on the Neolithic ceremonial and cultural functions of Stonehenge has included its possible use as a center for healing and as a burial ground for a local ruling family. Among the burials near the site have been found remains of a number of people from W Wales, a man who was raised near the Alps, and a teenage boy raised near the Mediterranean. A discovery in 2008 suggests that Stonehenge was aligned with the winter solstice sunset because local, natural ridges on the Plain that led to its site were so aligned, and other archaeological remains in the surrounding countryside suggest that prehistoric people gathered in the area around the time of the winter solstice. Evidence of a former stone circle with 25 bluestones has been found nearby beside the River Avon; the stones once used there may have been incorporated into Stonehenge. Some of the bluestones produce bell-like sounds when struck; it is unclear, however, how or if this property is connected to their use at Stonehenge.


See G. S. Hawkins, Stonehenge Decoded (1965); H. Harrison and L. E. Stover, Stonehenge (1972); A. Thom, Megalithic Sites in Britain (1967) and Megalithic Lunar Observations (1973); M. Parker Pearson, Stonehenge: A New Understanding (2013).

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Probably the most famous ancient archeological site in England, Stonehenge dates back to 2100 BCE and may have been used by Druids or Neolithic people to observe the motion of the sun and other stars. National Geographic/Getty Images.

Stonehenge (England)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Stonehenge is a large, prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England. The British Isles are covered with stone buildings and monuments that range from the small and simple to the large and complex. Many of these, such as Avebury and Silbury Hill, are also located in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is best understood as the culmination of the culture that produced these many stone monuments.

Stonehenge was constructed in several distinct stages. It began as a large, circular earthwork construction consisting of a ditch, a bank, and holes dug in the chalk. This initial construction dates to the third millennium BCE. Around 2100 BCE a set of stones was brought in from the Preseli Mountains in Wales. Termed “blue stones,” they weighed as much as four tons each and were brought by a circuitous route (covering almost 250 miles) over land and via two rivers. Once at the site, the 82 stones were arranged upright in a semicircle. At the same time, the entranceway to the site through the outer earthworks was widened, and two Heel Stones were placed outside the central site.

Possibly a century later, the largest stones (weighing as much as 50 tons each) on the site were brought in from the northern part of Wiltshire. They were placed upright in a circle around the blue stones from Wales and topped with lintels. As part of this construction phase, five stones were placed in the center of the site in a horseshoe shape. A final construction phase was completed approximately around 1500 BCE, when the blue stones were rearranged into a circle and horseshoe.

The people who constructed Stonehenge, as with the other stone monuments across Great Britain, left no written record of their life and little representational artwork. Over the centuries the many sites across Great Britain were abandoned, and the memory of their purpose was lost. Later residents often raided the older sites for building materials. Archeologists have more recently tried to reconstruct a picture of the ancient society that built Stonehenge, while theories both scientific and otherwise about its exact purpose have varied from the bizarre to the mundane.

Interest in the abandoned Wiltshire sites, especially Stonehenge, revived in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century speculation included the ancient Druids. However, little progress was made until the latter half of the twentieth century, when more systematic archeological work was concentrated on the megalithic culture. That work pushed the dating of Stonehenge to the Neolithic peoples who inhabited the British Isles prior to the Druids, Romans, and Danish folk, when written documents first appear.

A significant advance in understanding Stonehenge occurred in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the placement of the stones, both those in the center and the Heel Stones outside, were aligned in such a way as to predict various astronomical phenomena, especially the movement of the sun in the sky between the summer and winter solstices. Knowledge of such phenomena probably dictated planting and harvesting schedules, as well as providing a calendar for religious celebrations.

Modern Neo-Druids used the discovery of the astronomical alignments to bolster their claims for having access to Stonehenge for religious services. For many years, the Druids and a limited number of worshiper-spectators have been admitted to the site for celebrations at the beginning of the day on the summer solstice. The establishment of the worshiping rights of the Druids has become all the more important in recent decades, since, due to the damage done by tourists, the site itself has been fenced off.


Burl, Aubrey. The Stone Circles of the British Isles. New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976.
Hawkins, Gerald S., and John B. White. Stonehenge Decoded. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.
Mohen, Jean-Pierre. The World of Megaliths. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
Newham, C. A. The Astronomical Significance of Stonehenge. Leeds, UK: John Blackburn, 1972.
Souden, David. Stonehenge Revealed. London: Collins & Brown, 1997.
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Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Courtesy Janet and Colin Bord/Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Stonehenge is a circular setting of standing stones and trilithons surrounded by an earthwork, situated about eight miles north of Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England. Long believed to have been built by the Druids, Stonehenge in fact predates those people by many hundreds of years. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) contains one of the earliest references to it, in which the legend is told of the stones being transported to that site from Ireland by the magic of the magician Merlin. In fact, the huge blue stones originated in Pembrokeshire.

John Aubrey (1626-97) was the first to incorrectly associate the site with the Druids. In 1740 William Stukeley later elaborated upon this point.

Most of the site is circular in plan. There is an outer ditch with a bank behind it. Inside the bank is a ring of 56 pits known as the Aubrey holes, after their discoverer. There are two further rings of pits, moving inward, before the main stones in the center. This center setting is composed of two circles and two horseshoe shapes of uprights, the first and third capped with lintels. An Altar stone lays southwest of center, two Station stones stand just within the bank on the northwest and southeast, and the Hele stone stands on the avenue outside the entrance, itself surrounded by a small circular ditch.

The Henge formation belongs to the late Neolithic period, a date that has been confirmed by pottery and other objects carbon-dated to 1848 BCE. Other parts of the monument were probably started as early as 2800 BCE. The outer horseshoes of the five Sarsen trilithons increase in height from 16 feet at the outside to 22 feet at the center. In 1953 carvings of Bronze Age weapons were discovered on three of the Sarsen stones.

In the 1960s Professor Gerald Hawkins conducted computer-aided research on the site and proffered the theory that the whole complex was, in effect, a giant astronomical observatory, although more recent discoveries have underscored errors in the supposed alignments of certain stones with astronomical events.

Two miles northeast of Stonehenge is Woodhenge, an older site that was originally constructed of large wooden elements in much the same style as the later Stonehenge. Discovered through the use of aerial photography as recently as 1925, Woodhenge is a circular area of 200 feet in diameter, enclosed by an outer bank and inner ditch. It has six concentric rings of holes.

The reason for building Stonehenge, and the uses to which it was put, are unknown. Modern "Druids" (whose history goes back only to 1833) use the site for a Midsummer ceremony that is more media event than religious ritual. It has no connection with Witchcraft.



one of the largest among megalithic constructions, located in Great Britain, near Salisbury. It consists of three structures erected on one site at different times.

The first structure (1900–1700 B.C.) is a circular embankment with a ditch 97.5 m in diameter. On the inside of the embankment there are pits, some containing cremated human remains. The second structure (1700–1550 B.C.), which is enclosed within the first, has an earthen road leading to it and consists of two concentric circles of stones (38 pairs) standing upright. The third structure (1500–1400 B.C.) consists of hewn stones as high as 8.5 m and weighing up to 28 tons, set upright into the ground. Stone slabs were laid on top of these uprights, forming a closed circle 30 m in diameter. Within the circle are five trilithons (two stones surmounted by a stone slab); these surround the so-called Altar Stone, which lies flat on the ground.

Stonehenge is undoubtedly an ancient temple, possibly connected with sun worship and symbolizing the heavenly sphere. Some scientists, like G. Hawkins, believe that Stonehenge was also an ancient astronomical observatory.


Atkinson, R. J. Stonehenge. [Harmondsworth, I960.]
Hawkins, G., and J. White. Razgadka tainy Stounkhendzha. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)


A megalithic, prehistoric monument near Salisbury, England, in Wiltshire; the most imposing megalithic monument in existence.


huge monoliths with lintels in Wiltshire, England, have long confounded modern man as to purpose. [Br. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 442]
See: Mystery


prehistoric group of huge standing stones arranged in a circle 300 feet in diameter. [Br. Hist.: NCE, 2682]


a prehistoric ruin in S England, in Wiltshire on Salisbury Plain: constructed over the period of roughly 3000--1600 bc; one of the most important megalithic monuments in Europe; believed to have had religious and astronomical purposes
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