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Stonehenge: A History

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Author Topic: Stonehenge: A History  (Read 1926 times)
Danielle Gorree
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Posts: 4269

« on: April 02, 2007, 02:07:06 am »

Theories about Stonehenge

Early interpretations

Many early historians were influenced by supernatural folktales in their explanations. Some legends held that Merlin had a giant build the structure for him or that he had magically transported it from Mount Killaraus in Ireland, while others held the Devil responsible. Henry of Huntingdon was the first to write of the monument around 1130 soon followed by Geoffrey of Monmouth who was the first to record fanciful associations with King Arthur which led the monument to be incorporated into the wider cycle of European medieval romance.

In 1655, the architect John Webb, writing in the name of his former superior Inigo Jones, argued that Stonehenge was a Roman temple, dedicated to Caelus, (a Latin name for the Greek sky-god Ouranos), and built following the Tuscan order[citation needed]. Later commentators maintained that the Danes erected it. Indeed, up until the late nineteenth century, the site was commonly attributed to the Saxons or other relatively recent societies

The first academic effort to survey and understand the monument was made around 1640 by John Aubrey. He declared Stonehenge the work of Druids. This view was greatly popularised by William Stukeley. Aubrey also contributed the first measured drawings of the site, which permitted greater analysis of its form and significance. From this work, he was able to demonstrate an astronomical or calendrical role in the stones' placement.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, John Lubbock was able to attribute the site to the Bronze Age based on the bronze objects found in the nearby barrows.

The early attempts to figure out the people who had undertaken this colossal project have since been debunked. While there have been precious few in the way of real theories to explain who built the site, or why, there can be an assessment of what we know to be fact and what has been proven false.

StonehengeFirst there is the matter of radio carbon dating the construction of the site itself. As has been already stated in the construction outlines above, the monument building of the site began around the year 3100 BC and ended around the year 1600 BC. This allows the elimination of a few of the theories that have been presented. The original theory that the Druids may be the most popular one; however, the Celtic society that spawned the Druid priesthood came into being only after the year 300 BC. Additionally, the Druids are unlikely to have used the site for sacrifices since they performed the majority of their rituals in the woods or mountains, areas better suited for “earth rituals” than an open field. The fact that the Romans first came to the British Isles when Julius Caesar led an expedition in 55 BC negates the theories of Inigo Jones and others that Stonehenge was built as a Roman temple.

The question that dominates the debate as to what Stonehenge was used for can be easily divided into whether it was a religious or a scientific observatory. As outlined in the theories section below, Gerald Hawkins noted 165 key sites that he stated correlated very strongly with the rising and setting points of the sun and moon. He believed that because of this, the site could be used to anticipate astronomical phenomena. This has sparked the idea that the site was created in order to help commemorate the solstices, as the alignment with the sun and moon would seem to indicate.

Further supporting this line of evidence is the fact that the site’s alignment is focused along the lunar lines in a way that increases the accuracy of precession, which is the amount that the Earth’s slight tilt on its axis, or “wobble” will eventually change the timing of lunar events. In short, this site could have been set up to more accurately predict events taking place in the heavens above. While there is still no conclusive evidence that this site was indeed intended for use as an observatory, the fact also that much of the support for the religious use for this has come from a purely political standpoint. The modern Celts, who were for a long time believed to be the creators of the site, have moved quickly to claim the site as their own. They now hold festivals and ceremonies at different times during the year. The problem with this has been outlined above, with the carbon dating refuting their hand in the site’s creation. There are a number of assumptions that have supported this theory, however. It is known that on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the sun shines directly through the centre of the structure, which given many of the cultural attitudes of sun worship that were rampant at the time, seems to indicate a religious purpose. In addition, much of what survives from the distant past, buildings, etc., have all been religious in nature.

Few theories have given much emphasis to the possible practical application of astronomical observation, on the grounds that such a mammoth undertaking must have had an ideological rather than practical basis. There is, in other words, a gap between religious explanations and those based on a more modern idea of scientific astronomy. At the time there was no other way of establishing precise calendar dates, whether these were needed for agricultural, social or seasonal-religious reasons. The double-level circle of the monument defined the observational vantage-point from which the movement of constellations could be accurately established. A less massively-founded edifice than Stonehenge, such as one of wood, would not retain accuracy over any long period, and without at least one authoritative comparison, events and seasons had no chronological index since the length of the year in days was not known. Whatever its goals, the cooperative effort necessary for such a large constructive undertaking can be appreciated in relation to the unique value of accurate dating for the whole region of southern Britain, but our ignorance of the social context of the time has meant that this area has been little addressed.
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