Reading About Stonehenge

Self saw Stonehenge for the first time in 2014. Her only souvenir from that time was an English Heritage Guidebook she found in the gift shop. All these years later, while dusting her bookshelves (which haven’t been dusted in probably a decade, she’s a very bad housekeeper) she finds it again and sits down to read it.

Stonehenge consists of a ditch, some animal bones (which in some cases pre-date the ditch, by hundreds of years), and a mixture of rock types.

The largest stones, “some of which weigh over 35 tonnes, are known as sarsens … a type of extremely hard sandstone.” The most likely source of these sarsens are 19 miles to the north, in Wiltshire.

The smaller stones, “known collectively as bluestones,” come from Wales, over 150 miles to the west. “There were originally at least 80 bluestones at Stonehenge, some weighing up to three tonnes.”

How did these stones get to Stonehenge?

Start with the sarsens: “… experiments have shown that stones this size can be dragged on a simple wooden sledge by a team of about 200 people. To drag a stone from the Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge, using a route that, wherever possible, avoided steep slopes, would take about 12 days.”

But why on earth — ? This is, for self, the real mystery of Stonehenge: not the origin of the stones, but why people would dedicate themselves to such a project.

It must have been during a long period of peace — for Stonehenge took time to assemble. And the society must have been fairly organized — or maybe they used slaves? The community that built them must have been fairly large, to spare the use of 200 men dragging stones for 12 days. Maybe they had hundreds of slaves?

Not only that, the stones were worked over, shaped into their current forms. Self can’t even. The strength it must have taken. Perhaps they used the equivalent of a wrecking ball. Did any workers die from accidents during the pulling upright of those stones? Maybe if some of them slipped … self’s imagination goes into such strange places!

What about the smaller stones, the bluestones? They were transported from much farther away (150 miles!) There is evidence that the sarsens were in place starting from around 2500 BC, and were subsequently never moved (Ha!), but the smaller stones were re-arranged several times.

Self remembers that she chose very carefully what kind of tour to take: she found a small group tour, led by a retired military officer, which left Southampton at sunset (since she arrived in London only a few hours before, and had to make a mad dash to Southampton after dropping her suitcases off at her hotel, she kept falling asleep on the bus and nearly missed the tour) and arrived at the stones by walking over a sheep meadow littered with sheep dung. She hadn’t slept at all on the plane from San Francisco and it was bitter cold on that tree-less plain. Her first sight of the monument was a very small bump on the horizon that grew ever larger until it began to resemble a claw against the sky. The approach was almost religious in feeling? The last big tour bus had pulled away. And suddenly: the stones! Approaching them on foot was the right thing: it’s how the earliest people would have approached. In fact, there would have been a long procession of people. Since there were no signs of human habitation in the vicinity, it’s clear the site was considered a place for one activity only: worship.

But worship of what?

Hopefully there will be an answer before she finishes reading the guidebook!

Stay tuned.

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