Over the half-term holiday, my daughter and I decided to visit Stonehenge. Although I have seen it a number of times from the (now re-routed) road, this was the first time I had actually visited the stones, so we were both eager to see them close up.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located on Salisbury plain in Wiltshire, England. It’s ring of world famous standing stones are set within a complex of earthworks, including several hundred burial mounds. Recent discoveries in the surrounding area through the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, now indicate that Stonehenge was only one part of a thriving Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape, where recent archaeological evidence suggests even larger stone monuments may have existed.
For centuries, people have speculated as to purpose of Stonehenge, proposing everything from prehistoric solar clock, to ancient healing center to ceremonial burial ground. That’s excluding the more fantastical theories of having been built by the devil or aliens. Many believe it to be a temple of some kind, mainly due to the fact that it appears unsuitabe for living in or defending, but no one can say for sure who built it and whom it might be dedicated to.
Built in several stages, Stonehenge began about 5,000 years ago as a simple earthwork enclosure where prehistoric people buried their cremated dead. It is thought that after this initial stage little changed for almost 1000 years until the stone circle, in two phases, was erected in the centre of the monument, in the late Neolithic period, around 2000 BC. It has been estimated that the three phases of the construction required more than thirty million hours of labour.
Two types of stone are used at Stonehenge: the larger sarsens, and the smaller bluestones. Although the smaller of the two, it is the bluestones which baffle Archaeologists the most, as it is believed by many that they originated in the Preseli mountains, south-west Wales, some 240 miles (when you take into account the route they might have taken) from their final resting place. Although we may never know what method our Neolithic Ancestors used to transport these 82 stones, it seems likely that move them they did, suggesting a civilisation capable of complex project planning and implementation over considerable timescales.
The new visitor centre at Stonehenge opened in December 2013. Although some people have voiced concerns over access being limited to the stones, and the cost to visit, we thought it was fabulous. (I should also say that English Heritage and National Trust members get in free). Being able to book online for a specific time slot, when traveling a distance with kids, suited us, as did the great parking, toilets and cafe. We were also very pleased to make use of the shuttle bus to and from the stones (about 1.5miles away) as it was a bitterly cold day. The exhibition centre houses nearly 300 archaeological treasures found buried at the site – from jewellery to pottery to human remains, and outside there is a Neolithic Village reconstruction where we saw demonstrations on rope making with plant fibres, and examples of flint knapping and early tools.
We are still fascinated by our early man ancestors and their history, and have just purchased a couple of prehistoric cookbooks, so expect some prehistoric cooking adventures soon!
There are lots of wonderful Neolithic sites that you can visit in the West of England, Hetty Pegler’s Tump (Uley Long Barrow) is a Long Barrow in Gloucestershire that you can visit and enter for free. And if you fancy learning some of the skills that ancient man used to survive check out the amazing Wilderness Gathering that takes place each year in Wiltshire.