“According to the legend, Merlin supposedly magically transported Stonehenge from Ireland to England” (The Mystica, para. 28). A major mythological reference to Stonehenge includes Arthurian lore and concerns the magician Merlin. “The name “Stonehenge” means hanging stones” (The Mystica, para. 2). The Saxons gave this name to the monument while medieval writers also referred to it as giant’s dance. Stonehenge is located about eight miles north of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England. In addition to Arthurian lore, other theories exist, which include astrological and religious purposes. Stonehenge is a historical monument located in England. Rich with theory and myth, Stonehenge is a mystery, which eludes scientists and historians alike. Myths of Stonehenge’s origins include astrological, ceremonial, religious, evil, mystical and healing.
Mythical Place/Object Paper
The origin of Stonehenge remains mysterious today. Common myths surrounding the existence of Stonehenge include ceremonial platforms, connections with the summer and winter solace, astrological purposes, connections with Pagans, and Merlin the Wizard from King Arthur’s era. Stonehenge is a factual place clouded in mystery, the monument holds a powerful mystique; myths might be the only answer for the unexplainable wonders.
Historically speaking, the origin of the Stonehenge structure has been associated with Danes, Romans, Greeks, Atlanteans, Egyptians, Saxons, and Celts. King Aurelius and Merlin are also thought to be the builders. Some believe the structure first existed in Scotland then moved to England by giants and magicians. According to one legend, dancing giants were turned into stones, which are how Stonehenge acquired its unique shape suggesting the circular position of the stones. Despite the myths, history suggests Stonehenge was originally built by the Windmill Hill people approximately between 3500 and 2300 BC.
Stonehenge has taken its current shape in three stages. “Initial structure consisted of a ditch with two banks, three standing stones, four wooden posts and a ring of 56 holes, called Aubrey Holes, named after John Aubrey – an English 17th century antiquarian” (The Mystica, 2008). The holes measured 2.5 to 6 feet in diameter while initial depths of the holes are believed to have been 2 to 4 feet, filled with chalk. Myths suggest the holes were refilled with cremated human remains. “The Heel Stone is 20 feet long, 8 feet high, and 7 feet wide was the first standing stone” (The Mystica, 2008). During 2150 to 2000 BC, Stonehenge’s structure was enhanced by the Beaker People who did not believe in cremation and refilling stones. During this phase, Beaker people built a double circle within the henge that consisted of 80 bluestones. The stones were brought from the Prescelly Mountains located in South Wales, England. Beaker People also widened the entrance creating an avenue linking Stonehenge to the River Avon which is about two miles. The final stage lasted between 2000 and 1100 BC; Stonehenge was shaped as it now exists. Stonehenge represents a feat of exceptional engineering by civilized people. “According to one estimate, the construction of the structure required an overwhelming 1,497,680 men, days of physical labor including logistics and planning for the Stonehenge” (Welcome to Stonehenge, 1998).
According to an article by Dimitrakopoulos (2004), a theory of the “Heel Stone” depicts that Stonehenge reflects the change of seasons. The location of the heel stone with the placement of the sun during summer and winter suggests changes in the seasons. Witcombe (1998) further explains the interpretation of 18th century British antiquarian, William Stukeley, in which the horseshoe arrangement of the stones was deliberate. “It was quickly surmised that the monument must have been deliberately oriented and planned so that on midsummer’s morning the sun rose directly over the Heel Stone and the first rays shone into the centre of the monument between the open arms of the horseshoe arrangement” (Witcombe, 1998, para.6). Due to the relationship of the sun and seasons, Stukeley surmised that Stonehenge was a temple and possibly “an ancient cult centre for the Druids” (Dimitrakopoulos, 2004, p.2). However, some scientists discredit the theory of the seasons.
Stonehenge is believed to of been a place of worship. A theory believing Druids had built the structure for a sacred place for Pagans to predict the Summer and Winter Solstice. Today Stonehenge is popular to Neo-Pagans and modern Druidic Orders who hold festivals at the site with the permission of the local British government.
The origins of Stonehenge are a mystery; myths help explain the unexplainable. One myth involves the Heel Stone and evil powers of the devil that purchases magical stones from an Irish woman. The devil takes the stones to a village and dares the people to count them as part of a game. “The friar of the village tells him (devil) there are too many (stones) to tell, which is based on another myth that says it is impossible to count all the stones” (Dimitrakopoulos, 2004, p.4). The devil gets angry, throws the stones at the friar’s heel and thus the relationship to the Heel Stone reference. Another popular myth written by 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth includes the King of the Britons, Aurelius wanted to build a monument over the Saxon soldier’s grave. Merlin the magician was asked to help find a monument telling the king to “look in a mountain of Ireland where a circle of massive stones stood, named the Giant’s Dance” (Dimitrakopoulos, 2004, p.4). “These stones, believed to have the ability to heal, were so names after a myth that they were brought from African long ago by giants…King Aurelius and his army tried to dismantle the stones without success” (Dimitrakopoulos, 2004, p.5.). Merlin assisted with his powers and reconstructed the site, which is named Salisbury Plain.
Several objects have been found at Stonehenge. A gravesite dated approximately 2100 BC held different treasures. The treasures included archer arrowheads, wrist guards, tiny copper knives, and flint with metalworking tools. A small rock the size of a hand was thought to have served as an anvil a small piece of gold was found as well (Stonehenge.co.uk, nd, p.1).
Stonehenge was a large barrier or Henge, comprising a trench and the Aubrey holes are carbon dated to 3100 BC (Stonehenge.co.uk, n.d, p.1). The Aubrey holes are round pits, about one mile wide with steep sides and flat bottoms forming a circle approximately 284 feet in diameter. Shortly after this stage Stonehenge was abandoned for over 1000 years (Stonehenge n.d. p.1).
The second stage began around 2150 BC according to carbon dating. The 82 bluestones from the Preseli Mountains were brought to the site. The belief is these stones, weighing 4 tons each, were pulled on rollers then loaded onto rafts. The journey covered approximately 240 miles.
The third stage is dated around 2000 BC; adding the Sarsen stones, which may have came from North Wiltshire. The largest stone transported to Stonehenge weighed 50 tons and could have only been moved using sledges and ropes. Modern calculations shows it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the huge rollers in front of the sledge (Stonehenge.co.uk, n.d, p.1).
Excavations have revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling. The holes themselves were probably made as part of the religious ceremony. Archaeologists have unearthed remains of a Bronze Age archer at Stonehenge. The remains of four adults and two children have been found about half a mile from the archer. The remains are believed to be dated to 2300 BC. The grave contained four pots belonging to the Beaker Culture that lived in the Swiss Alps during the Bronze Age.
In 2002 an exceptional grave was excavated near Stonehenge. The grave was the richest of its type in Britain. The grave was found during construction of a housing development on the opposite bank of the Avon. The grave contained a man who had suffered from a jaw abscess, a limp, and a badly damaged knee. They named the man the Amesbury Archer, he was radiocarbon dated to 2450-2200 B.C. The grave contained 16 flint arrowheads, gold ornaments and copper daggers. The items were the oldest dated metalwork in Britain. The artifacts style suggests the man came from central Europe, the isotopic analysis of his teeth all support this information (M. Pitts, 2008).
Many archeologists believe Durrington Walls, which is two miles from Stonehenge, was where the builders of Stonehenge lived. In 2003, the Sheffield team revived the effort to excavate the ancient village. The excavations revealed clay floors of eight prehistoric houses. Each house measured approximately 16 square feet with clay floors and a fireplace in the middle with holes and slots in the floors where furniture used to stand (E. Sohn, 2007).A large number of animal bones and leftover cooking utensils were also found. Test show the houses are approximately the same age as the human remains found at Stonehenge (E. Sohn, 2007).
In 2005 researchers found a road made of stone next the houses at Durrington Walls. The road measured 90 feet wide and 560 feet long and ran between River Avon and a circle of trees which is thought to have been used for ceremonies (E. Sohn, 2007). Two miles up river at Stonehenge is a similar road between the river and Stonehenge (E. Sohn, 2007).
Many similarities between Durrington Walls and Stonehenge have been found. The roads at Durrington Walls and Stonehenge align with the position of the sunrise and sunset on the longest day of the year. A circle of trees at Durrington Walls and a set of three giant stones at Stonehenge frame the sunrise or sunset on the shortest day of the year. These similarities enforce the solstice belief.
Discovered in 1925, Woodhenge has been linked to Stonehenge as they are both set in a circle and not very far apart. It has been dated to approximately 2300 – 2000BC making it close to the same timeline of building of the stone circle of Stonehenge.
Durrington Walls a massive circular earthwork, or henge, about 500 meters located north of Woodhenge. Due to the number of animal bones found at the site, it has been suggested that the site was once a place for rituals.
In summary Stonehenge is still intriguing as it was when first discovered. The original purpose still surrounds Stonehenge with mystery of what once was. The mystery is part of the lure to Stonehenge many of the stories told cannot be proven or disproven, which makes many of the stories true myths. The rich and mystical presence of Stonehenge will continue to lure future generations to observe and research in hopes to prove the origins as solid facts.
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Stonehenge.co.uk (nd, nd). Your guide to Stonehenge. Retrieved March 1, 08, from http://stonehenge.co.uk/history.htm
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