Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 2.0 miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks. It is at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.
Archaeologists believe the iconic stone monument was constructed anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, as described in the chronology below. Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggested that the first stones were erected in 2400-2200 BC, whilst another theory suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC.
The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge monument. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.
Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge could possibly have served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate that deposits contain human bone material from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Such deposits continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.
Function and construction
Stonehenge was produced by a culture that left no written records. Many aspects of Stonehenge remain subject to debate. This multiplicity of theories, some of them very colourful, are often called the "mystery of Stonehenge".
There is little or no direct evidence for the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders. Over the years, various authors have suggested that supernatural or anachronistic methods were used, usually asserting that the stones were impossible to move otherwise. However, conventional techniques using Neolithic technology have been demonstrably effective at moving and placing stones of a similar size. Proposed functions for the site include usage as an astronomical observatory, or as a religious site.
More recently two major new theories have been proposed. Professor Geoffrey Wainwright OBE, FSA, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Professor Timothy Darvill, OBE of Bournemouth University have suggested that Stonehenge was a place of healing-the primeval equivalent of Lourdes. They argue that this accounts for the high number of burials in the area and for the evidence of trauma deformity in some of the graves. However they do concede that the site was probably multifunctional and used for ancestor worship as well. Isotope analysis indicates that some of the buried individuals were from other regions. A teenage boy buried approximately 1550 BC was raised near the Mediterranean Sea; a metal worker from 2300 BC dubbed the "Amesbury Archer" grew up near the alpine foothills of Germany; and the "Boscombe Bowmen" probably arrived from Wales or Brittany, France. On the other hand, Professor Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University has suggested that Stonehenge was part of a ritual landscape and was joined to Durrington Walls by their corresponding avenues and the River Avon. He suggests that the area around Durrington Walls Henge was a place of the living, whilst Stonehenge was a domain of the dead. A journey along the Avon to reach Stonehenge was part of a ritual passage from life to death, to celebrate past ancestors and the recently deceased. It should be pointed out that both explanations were mooted in the 12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth (below), who extolled the curative properties of the stones and was also the first to advance the idea that Stonehenge was constructed as a funerary monument. Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion.