Issue of the day: The secrets of Stonehenge

ONE of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, Stonehenge has always been shrouded in mystery. Now a new exhibition aims to reveal the secrets of the ancient stone circle.

Stonehenge’s secrets…?

Thats what “The World of Stonehenge” exhibition at the British Museum in London pledges to lay bare, promising to shed a light “on its purpose, cultural power and the people that created it” thousands of years ago.


How many thousand…?

The prehistoric monument, towering over Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was constructed in several stages over many hundreds of years. Work began in the late Neolithic Age, around 3000BC, and over the following thousand years, people made many changes to the monument. The last changes were made in the early Bronze Age, around 1500BC when it took on the form we recognise today.


And today?

Around 1 million people visit Stonehenge – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 – each year.


Why was it built?

Theories include that it was an ancient burial site or a healing centre. Its entrance faces the rising sun on the summer solstice and some believe this suggests it was used by ancient astronomers to track the movement of the sun and the moon and to mark the changing seasons.


It is a feat of engineering?

A feat that belies the era. The monument consists of an outer ring of vertical standing stones made of sarsen – sandstone boulders – each around 13 feet in height and 7ft in width, with the heaviest more than 20 tonnes, topped by connecting horizontal lintel stones. They were likely sourced from quarries 25 miles away, while the dozens of smaller bluestones have been traced to the Preseli Hills in Wales, 200 miles away.


How did they get to Salisbury?

Transporting the bluestones, weighing up to 4 tonnes, from such a distance would have been a huge challenge, but all the stones are likely to have been moved via sledges and rollers or rafts, pulled on land by oxen and manpower.


It’s hard to fathom…

The stone circle is a true masterpiece, built before the invention of the wheel or the arrival of metals, using only the simplest of tools and requiring the effort of hundreds of people.



Likely to have included ropes and timber and hammer stones -one of the oldest and simplest stone tools made by humans which amounted to a rock used as a prehistoric hammer, to create fractures on another rock.


Toward what end?

The new exhibit, which opened this week and continues until July 17, endeavours to tell the “human story behind the stones” via a variety of artefacts, ranging from the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars to stone axes from the North Italian Alps. A spokesperson said: “Informed by ground-breaking recent archaeological and scientific discoveries, this landmark exhibition offers new insight on one of the world’s great wonders, bringing the true story of Stonehenge into sharper focus than ever before.”



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