|Stonehenge, Part 2
Stonehenge was built in three distinct phases crossing over nearly fifteen centuries between 3050 and 1600 B.C. Although classified into three key phases, the third one - creation of the famous stone structure - spans a much wider time frame than the first two phases.
The early phases described here, spanned eras when the site was used for purposes we can only speculate about today. Stonehenge and Neighboring Monuments, a guide published by English Heritage, and the book Mysterious Britain by Homer Sykes provide some of the background.
While meandering around the site, even when it is quiet, one can hear the echoes of the past. One can picture processions and ceremonies, happy festival days, scenes of praise and of worship. There would be a fire to warm the heart. England is not renowned for being warm in winter, or summer either for that matter.
While imagining the scene, it became apparent to me that the site is missing an element. Earth is in plentiful supply as the foundation of the site. Fire was present to keep the spirits warm. Stone and metal were represented in the form of copper and bronze tools and gold-plated ornaments for burial ceremonies. The one obviously missing element is water.
The nearest river, the Avon, is some distance away. The Avenue, which is a walkway leading from the Stonehenge to join the Cursus (another walkway 2.8 km. or 1.7 miles long), eventually leads to the River Avon. Most monuments and towns are located within easy reach of a river of some sort. Why in this case the absence of water? The answer to this appears to lie in the first phase of the building of the site.
PHASE ONE, 3050-2900 B.C. - EARTH
The initial Stonehenge was created by digging a circular ditch with a raised bank on the outer sides of the ditchs circumference and broken steeper banks on the inside. The banks were raised about six feet higher by the chalk dug out from the ditch. The circular ditch was dug deep with flat sides and a flat bottom. This in itself does not sound particularly impressive until one considers that most of it was built with primitive tools made from antlers or animal bones. It becomes considerably more impressive when one takes into account that the average mans height was substantially less than six feet in these times.
Could the deep flat-bottomed ditch support the missing element? It is a definite possibility, given that England is renowned for its rainfall. These ditches must have filled up with water and drained via the Avenue and eventually into the river. The Avenue is like a giant handle on this physical magnifying glass, and it aligns with the position of the rising sun on Midsummer Day. Again built as a combination of ditch and bank, the Avenue is the main entrance (a second entrance exists at the southern end) that leads to a cross walkway called Cursus, a road junction on the path to the river.
Inside the inner bank of the main circular ditch, on the flat of the circle centre, was a ring of 56 large pits in the chalky earth called Aubrey holes, averaging about a meter, or just over a yard, wide and deep. They are thought to have originally held wooden posts.
It is thought that this very first Stonehenges purpose was as a meeting place and ceremonial site, which had some alignment to the sunrise and sunset. Burial of the dead took place in long barrows, which were large burial mounts scattered around the outside of the site. They resemble giant molehills, several meters (yards) in circumference.
The site is very similar to Woodenhenge, another ancient site about three km (two miles) away; however, Woodenhenge is considerably younger. It looks like a giant, round market stall with a roof overhead and a circular hole in the middle to let the light in.
PHASE TWO, 2900-2600 B.C. - WOOD
This second phase of the building spanned many centuries, and many generations must have used the site during its construction. Very little is truly known about this phase of the construction, as the later constructs were built over this phase. It is thought that a wooden structure was added to the interior of the circle.
The enclosing ditches had naturally weathered by the beginning of this phase. Archaeologists have found evidence of broken bones and antlers that were lining the bottom and gradually filling up the circumference ditch. It is thought that cremated remains were buried there and in the Aubrey holes where the posts had once been. In addition, local festivals may have been held at the site. Or perhaps the area was used as a primitive recycling area.
In the surrounding countryside, several other circular structures were built. Many had circular pits similar to the Aubrey holes. In those structures, the holes were used to embed wooden posts that enabled the circles to have a roof-type structure. Again those are thought to have been meeting places or markets. The local countryside is some of the most fertile in the United Kingdom, so the thought of primitive markets where people came to barter is not far-fetched, and it would have been to barter rather than shop as the age of the site long predates any form of local monetary system.
At Stonehenge, it is likely that some form of roof existed. There are signs of this around the entrance at the top of the Avenue (which may also have had some from of roof), and around the southern entrance. This would have been a vast area when covered over. The diameter of the enclosure would be in the region of 100 meters or 110 yards. The land around the site is fairly flat and clear and the earth chalky, so the wood would need to have been transported some distance to create this enclosure. A structure of this type would have attracted large numbers of people, and if used as a market was one of monumental proportions given the time of construction. It is thought that some form of community lived locally to the site, around the time when the natives first began to live in communities. Clearly Stonehenge was an important centre to those people of ancient times.