Stonehenge - Ancient megaliths on the English plains (29 May)
Interesting Facts about Stonehenge
NEAR PASTURES OF GRAZING sheep and quiet country towns, Neolithic sites in Great Britain have withstood thousands of years of blustery days. An organized prehistoric society once built earthen mounds, rock-lined tombs, and mysterious stone monuments, feats of engineering so ancient they largely predate written language.
Stonehenge’s sarsen stones were hoisted into place nearly 5,000 years ago. Early laborers brought them to England’s Salisbury Plain from the Preseli Hills in Wales nearly 180 miles (290 km) away; some of the monstrous bluestone slabs weighed up to 50 tons (45 metric tons). One early theory about the monument was that the cosmically oriented stones helped the builders mark the passage of time. Or they may have served as a sacred temple for healing or ritual hunting of aurochs, extinct relatives of modern cattle. But research on Stonehenge is ongoing and new hypotheses are continually put forth.
Though Stonehenge is the British Isles’ best known Neolithic site, it isn’t the oldest or biggest. Twenty-five miles (40 km) north, the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, now visible as a giant earthwork berm and trench, surrounds the quaint village of Avebury. One hundred eighty stones once formed the henge, and though many have been toppled or buried, some sandstone pillars still stand in partial circles at the site. Avebury’s surrounding area includes several smaller sites like Silbury Hill, a large prehistoric mound, and the Sanctuary, a ring of timber posts (later replaced with stones) that stood atop human remains for centuries. Nearly 700 miles (1,127 km) to the north, on the grassy, windswept archipelago of Orkney off the coast of Scotland, humans have eked out an existence for 8,000 years. In 1850, shifting sands during a storm on the shore of the Bay of Skaill uncovered the settlement of Skara Brae, with stacked-stone dwellings arranged with fireplaces, stone beds, and dressers. These were inhabited around the time Stonehenge was built.
About eight miles (13 km) southeast, Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is a 4,500-year-old tomb aligned to send a shaft of sunlight beaming into its inner chamber on the winter solstice. Nearby, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness are situated between two freshwater lochs. Between these two stone circles, archaeologists discovered in 2002 another huge Neolithic stone temple complex, Ness of Brodgar. It has dozens of buildings, walkways, colored stonework, and artifacts like Neolithic art and fine stone tools.