Sacred circle: Stonehenge predates the Druids by over 1,000 years, however.

STONEHENGE LIES ON Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire, England. The whole area is regarded as mystical, with an abundance of ley lines, and is widely accepted as the centre of the crop circle phenomenon. Stonehenge itself was constructed in three stages. The first began in about 3,000 BC, when a circular ditch was dug around the site and a raised bank two yards high and 106 yards in diameter was formed. Just inside the bank, 56 shallow holes were dug and then refilled and the first rock, the ‘Heel Stone’, was introduced. This was positioned to mark the axis of sunrise at the summer solstice. Two smaller entrance stones were put in place, then 40 wooden posts, marking positions of the sun, were erected. In around 2,000 BC, a two-mile avenue to the River Avon was created. From southwest Wales, the builders imported 82 ‘bluestones’, weighing over four tonnes each. To reach the site they would have had to travel 240 miles over land and water. These bluestones were used to construct a double circle inside the site. It is believed the builders never finished this design because they already had the idea to erect the third, and most impressive, phase.

This started in around 1900 BC, with the selection of 75 loose blocks of sandstone, known as sarsens, from Avebury, 20 miles away. Using rollers and ropes, these 25-tonne, 17-feet-long rocks were pulled to the site where they were then shaped and lifted into upright positions. The architectural detail of this stage is phenomenal, and the lintel stones that cap the pillars are actually curved to fit in the large circle. The Welsh blue stones were repositioned, and the structure was complete. In each stage, the stones were placed at specific points demonstrating the position of the sun and moon at important times. The site was in continual use until about 1,000 BC, but we still do not know exactly what it was used for. Very little human or cultural debris has been found on the site, so there can be no definitive answers. Some experts say that this absence of historic litter leads to the suggestion that the structure was a temple or sacred site. Many of the other 900 stone circles in Britain served many uses and were often meeting places, so they often have remnants of ancient day-to-day life. Similarly, the amount of trouble endured, and the sheer scale of the project, indicates that Stonehenge was something of immense importance. The bluestones brought from Wales were exceedingly valuable to the Ancient Britons, and were ideal for a temple.

The possibility that it was partly used as a burial site has also been considered – during limited excavations it was discovered that the 56 shallow holes dug during the first phase contained cremated bones. There are also barrows, or burial tombs, of later Bronze Age warriors dotted around the outlying area. Because of Stonehenge’s obvious correlation to important astronomical events, a whole host of other theories have arisen. It may have been used as an observatory, or even a gigantic lunar calendar. In 1965, Gerald S. Hawkins, an astronomer at Boston University, published a book entitled Stonehenge Uncoded. In it, he claimed a computer had proven that Stonehenge marked many astronomical alignments. He even went so far as to say that Stonehenge was a computer itself, designed by the Ancient Britons to read the stars and calculate upcoming eclipses, but many experts feel he has not discovered the true significance of the structure.

In the seventeenth century historians believed the structure had been built by ancient Celtic priests, and many modern druids feel it is their right to perform rituals and ceremonies at the site. They are now no longer allowed to, and for good reason. Not only was damage occurring to the area, but modern druids have no connection to their Celtic namesakes. Anyway, Stonehenge was built over 1000 years before the Celtic druids existed. Unfortunately, in the last few hundred years many of the stones have been stolen, lost or collapsed, and poor restoration work has been performed on some of the stones that remain. But the magic of the site and the design never dissipates. One legend says the most famous of all Britain’s magicians, Merlin, summoned the stones and set them in place. It is a story in keeping with the mystical tradition of the area. Maybe the simple fact is that modern minds have just not imagined the true use of the site yet.

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