Posted: August 28, 2012 by noxprognatus in Monuments

Stonehenge Construction Periods, Phases, and History


Stonehenge is definitely one of England’s greatest icons. Its original purpose is still somewhat unclear, but some have speculated that it was a temple made for worship of ancient earth deities. It has also been called an astronomical observatory for marking significant events on the ancient prehistoric calendar. Others claim that it was a sacred site created by Merlin and King Arthur for the burial of high-ranking citizens from societies of long ago.

No matter what the claim has been for Stonehenge’s original purpose, the truth is that it has inspired countless generations of people to strive to learn and figure out the history of our past. Stonehenge is somewhat a “gateway to the realms” providing insights into humanities past and showing that maybe we were not as “technically challenged” as some would like us to believe.

Construction of Stonehenge was broken into three periods:

Stonehenge Period I (c. 2950-2900 BC)

The earliest portion of Stonehenge dates to approximately 2950-2900 BC. The dates for each “period” can be fixed to about a 100 years or so with radiocarbon dating, but as to the exact building sequence within each period archaeologist cannot be certain.

The first period of Stonehenge was basically a circular enclosure outlined by two banks and a ditch with an entrance to the northeast and a standing stone a bit away from the entrance.

Stonehenge Period I (image from Mohen)

The outer circle was made from earthand even though it is now mostly destroyed, it was about 380 feet in diameter, 8 feet wide, and 2 or 3 feet high.

The ditch (more like pits) was not uniform in shape or depth and it varied in width from 10 – 20 feet and a depth of 4.5 – 7 feet. Not much effort was taken in keeping the ditch clean. Archaeologists have been able to use the varied fragments (picks made of red deer antlers, scoops made of oxen shoulder blades, and some pottery fragments) found near the bottom of the ditch to help date its construction.

Next was the chalkwork inner bank of Stonehenge. It was an impressive sight standing at least 6 feet high, about 20 feet wide and had a diameter of 320 feet. It was composed of the solid chalk that makes up most of the surface region around Stonehenge. An interesting fact to note is that all of the other Stonehenge type monuments have their bigger encircling banks outside of the quarry ditches; yet Stonehenge has its bigger bank within the ditch. No one has been able to figure out why Stonehenge was done like this.

The Heel Stone.

From the center of the circle facing northeast is the entrance into Stonehenge. It is about 35 feet wide and is set so that a person standing in the center of Stonehenge can see the sun rise on midsummer morning just to the left of the heel stone.

The naturally shaped heel stone is about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide by 7 feet thick. Its lower 4 feet is buried in the ground and it weighs an estimated 35 tons. It is made up of natural sandstone called sarsen which are thought to have come from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles to the north of Stonehenge. Currently the heel stone leans inward toward the circle at an angle of about 30 degrees from the perpendicular, but it is believed that the stone was once standing straight. Circling the stone about 12 feet from its base is a covered ditch filled with chalk.

Aubrey Holes.

Inside the circle are 56 Aubrey holes (named after their 17th century discoverer John Aubrey) which vary from 2.5 – 6 feet in width, and 2 – 4 feet in depth. They were spaced quite accurately in a 288 foot diameter circle with an average center point for each hole of 19 inches (+/- an inch or two).

Probably also dating to this time are the four Station Stones (only two survive) which stand approximately on the circle of Aubrey holes. They formed a rectangle perpendicular to the midsummer sunrise line of the monument. Of the two still standing, one is naturally shaped while the other is slightly tooled. There is some contention among archaeologists as to when the Station Stones were placed at Stonehenge but general consensus is during period I.

The questions still remain. What purpose did it serve? Who built it? For phase II there will be another blog. After the final phase. We will discuss the possible uses and some of the theories of the Henge.  Nox.

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