Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments. Construction took place in several stages; the first monument was an early henge monument built around five thousand years ago, and the stone circle was constructed during the end of the Neolithic period, estimated to be around 2500 BC. During the Bronze Age, several burial mounds were built nearby.
The first structures found in the area around the monument are several pits, three of which may have held large posts, thought to be erected during the Mesolithic period between 8500 and 7000 BC. It’s unknown how or if these posts are related to the later Stonehenge monument.
The chalk downlands may have been an untypically open area at a time when much of southern England was covered in woodland. This may be why it was chosen as the site of an early Neolithic monument complex. There are other monuments in the area dating from around 3500 BC, which potentially influenced the later location of Stonehenge.
The First Monument:
Features such as the Heel Stone and the low mound known as the North Barrow may have been early components of Stonehenge. However, the earliest known major event was the building of a circular ditch with inner and outer banks, thought to be built around 3000 BC. This early form of henge monument had two entrances and enclosed an area of around one hundred meters in diameter, which you can learn more about on a Stonehenge tour.
The stones were set up in the center of the monument in around 2500 BC. There are two types of stone used at Stonehenge; the smaller ‘bluestones’ and larger sarsens. The sarsens were erected in two arrangements: an inner horseshoe and outer circle, and the bluestones were set up in between them to form a double arc.
The sarsens close to the entrance are thought to have been raised at the same time that the stones were set up in the center of the monument, along with the four peripheral Station Stones.
200 to 300 years later, the central bluestones were moved again to form a circle and inner oval, and once again altered later on to form a horseshoe shape. At this time, the earthwork avenue, which connects the monument with the river Avon, was built.
The stone settings at Stonehenge were constructed during a time of significant change in prehistory. At the time, new styles of pottery, knowledge of metalworking, and a transition to the burial of individuals were arriving from Europe. Well-furnished graves, such as that of the Amesbury Archer, have been discovered nearby to the monument.
The area around Stonehenge was home to one of the greatest round barrow concentrations in Britain during the early Bronze Age. Many barrow groups were deliberately located on the hilltops that are visible from the monument itself, including those on King Barrow Ridge, and particularly rich burials found at the Normanton Down cemetery.
After the middle Bronze Age, less communal effort was put into constructing ceremonial monuments like Stonehenge, with more focus on activities such as field creation. In the Iron Age, around 700 BC, Vespasian’s Camp, a large hillfort, was built one and a quarter miles east of the monument, overlooking the River Avon.
Since many Roman objects have been found in the area, most assume that Stonehenge was visited frequently during the Roman period from AD 43. And, recent excavations have suggested that it was a place of ritual importance to the Romano-British people.
Stonehenge is one of the oldest sites in the UK and the world over. As one of the ancient wonders of the world, it’s definitely worth the visit.