Avebury is actually three

Stonehenge Facts For Kids

The stones of Stonehenge have endured centuries of weathering and erosion.

Credit: ivanovsky | Shutterstock

Stonehenge is a massive stone monument located on a chalky plain north of the modern-day city of Salisbury, England. Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over a period of about 10, 000 years. The structure that we call “Stonehenge” was built between roughly 5, 000 and 4, 000 years ago and that forms just one part of a larger, and highly complex, sacred landscape.

The biggest of Stonehenge’s stones, known as sarsens, are up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and weigh 25 tons (22.6 metric tons) on average. It is widely believed that they were brought from Marlborough Downs, a distance of 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the north.

Smaller stones, referred to as “bluestones” (they have a bluish tinge when wet or freshly broken), weigh up to 4 tons and come from several different sites in western Wales, having been transported as far as 140 miles (225 km). It’s unknown how people in antiquity moved them that far. Scientists have raised the possibility that during the last ice age glaciers carried these bluestones closer to the Stonehenge area and the monument’s makers didn’t have to move them all the way from Wales. Water transport through raft is another idea that has been proposed but researchers now question whether this method was viable.

No one knows why ancient people built Stonehenge, but it seems to have been arranged to face the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.

Credit: Pete Strasser nasa.gov

Building Stonehenge

The story of how Stonehenge, and its sacred landscape, was built is evolving rapidly as new archaeological discoveries are made. The IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre at the University of Birmingham is using an array of technologies, including ground penetrating radar and magnetometers, to map Stonehenge and its environs. The project has produced an enormous amount of data, which scientists haven’t fully analyzed.

In addition other research projects have also made recent finds, such as evidence for widespread prehistoric hunting and what may be a new road. When the new discoveries are combined with older finds, it shows that Stonehenge was just one part of a complex and constantly changing sacred landscape.

From what scientists can tell, Salisbury Plain was considered to be a sacred area long before Stonehenge itself was constructed. As early as 10, 500 years ago, three large pine posts, which were totem poles of sorts, were erected at the site.

Hunting played an important role in the area. Recently researchers uncovered roughly 350 animal bones and 12, 500 flint tools or fragments, just a mile away from Stonehenge, the finds dating from 7500 B.C. to 4700 B.C. The presence of abundant game may have led people to consider the area sacred.

Stonehenge at sunrise.

Credit: Simon Wyatt

Recently researchers have also discovered a massive wooden building, which may have been used for burial rituals. Also, dozens of burial mounds have been discovered near Stonehenge indicating that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were buried there in ancient times. At least 17 shrines, some in the shape of a circle, have also been discovered near Stonehenge.

As time went on the landscape continued to change. Around 5, 500 years ago, two earthworks known as Cursus monuments were erected, the longest of which ran for 1.8 miles (3 km).

More construction occurred around 5, 000 years ago with postholes indicating that either bluestones or upright timber posts were propped up on the site. Then, around 4, 600 years ago, a double circle made using dozens of bluestones was created at the site.

By 4, 400 years ago, Stonehenge had changed again, having a series of sarsen stones erected in the shape of a horseshoe, with every pair of these huge stones having a stone lintel connecting them. In turn, a ring of sarsens surrounded this horseshoe, their tops connecting to each other, giving the appearance of a giant interconnected stone circle surrounding the horseshoe.

By 4, 300 years ago, Stonehenge had been expanded to include the addition of two bluestone rings, one inside the horseshoe and another between the horseshoe and the outer layer of interconnected sarsen stones.

Construction at Stonehenge slowed down around 4, 000 years ago. As time went on the monument fell into neglect and disuse, some of its stones fell over while others were taken away. [In Photos: A Walk Through Stonehenge]

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