At first glance, Stonehenge may appear to be the remains of a circle of eighty-odd stones, some of which are still the way the builders intended and some of which have collapsed and laying haphazardly on the ground. However, Stonehenge is a more complex structure than might first appear.
Stonehenge's trademark feature is the circle of sarsen stones. This consists of large rectangular stones standing upright and supporting smaller stones lying across the top like a doorway. Each stone is about 35 tons and was brought here some 20 miles from the Marlborough Downs.
The sarsen stones are not in their natural state but were shaped by the builders using primitive tools At the front of the monument (i.e., the side facing the processional avenue), the stones are more smoothly worked than the stones in the back. In addition, they created pegs on the uprights to lock the lintels into place. The lintels themselves are gently curved.
It is believed that there were 30 upright stones and 30 horizontal lintels originally. Of these, only 17 uprights remain in place with six lintel stones also remaining. The other stones could have been taken away and used elsewhere after Stonehenge was abandoned. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the circle was never completed.
Inside the sarsen circle are remains of another circle consisting of 60 smaller bluestones. These were brought 150 miles from the Presili Hills in Wales. They include a variety of rocks including ash stone, dolerite and rhyolite.
In contrast to the sarsens, most of the bluestones do not appear to have been worked. However, there is evidence that they were re-arranged while Stonehenge was in active use. There is also evidence that some stones may have been broken up and taken away after Stonehenge was abaondoned.
Inside the circles are the sarsen trilithons. These look like the elements of the sarsen circle consisting of two uprights and a horizontal lintel. However, these structures are bigger and the uprights are closer together.
Originally, there were five trilithons arranged in a horsehoe with the open end toward the avenue. The largest trilithon, known as the Great Triliton, stood at the closed end. Today, only three trilitons remain. Only one upright of the Great Trilithon is still standing, the other upright and its lintel lay nearby.
Inside the sarsen horseshoe is a horseshoe of bluestones. Unlike the bluestone circle, these stones were extensively worked and like the trilithons they are graduated in height with the tallest at the closed end.
Underneath the wreckage of the Great Tritlithon is the altar stone. This slab of sandstone was also brought from Wales but not from the same place as the bluestones.
There is more to Stonehenge than the stones. Connecting Stonehenge to another henge at West Amesbury, a mile and a half away, is the Avenue. The final section of the Avenue runs straight for 550 yards leading to the entrance to the monument. Today, only traces of the earthworks on either side of the Avenue are visible.
Standing is the Avenue is a large unfinished sarsen stone known as the Heel Stone. According to legend, the devil threw it at a monk who dared to take issue with the devil's prediction that people would never discover how the sarsen stones came to Stonehenge. It is now believed that it actually was a stone native to this site, which the builders set upright. The function of the Heel Stone is unknown but recently a hole was discovered that suggests there may have once been a mate to the Heel Stone.
Surrounding the monument is an earthwork enclosure consisting of a ditch cut out of the chalky soil and an embankment made from the contents of the ditch. It remains from the original Stonehenge of 3000 BC, although it was probably re-dug later.
Inside the bank of the enclosure is a circle consisting of 56 pits spaced 13 to 16 feet apart. Named after a 17th century antiquarian who studied Stonehenge, the exact function of the Aubrey Holes is unknown. However, cremated human remains dating to 3000 BC have been discovered in the holes.
Also near the bank of the enclosure are the Station Stones. Two of the four original stones remain. The function of these sarsens is unknown but they form the corners of a perfect rectangle with its center at the exact center of the monument.
Above: The sarsen circle.
Below: Bluestones inside the monument.
Above: The trilithons.
Below: The Great Trilithon.
Above: The Heel Stone.
Below: One of the two remaining Station Stones.
Above: The area surrounding the monument is dotted with barrows or burial mounds.
Next, we present information on the mechanics of visiting Stonehenge
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Cruise destination guide - England - Stonehenge - page two