Scientific Mystery Solved?

Scientific Mystery Solved?

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres (2.0 miles) west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) north of Salisbury.

One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones.

It is at the center of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

A recently published analysis draws attention to the fact that the stones display mirrored symmetry and that the only undisputed alignment to be found is that of the solstices, which can be regarded as the axis of that symmetry.

This interpretation sees the monument as having been designed off-site, largely prefabricated and set out to conform to survey markers set out to an exact geometric plan.

The idea of ‘precision’ demands that exact points of reference were used, both between the structural elements and in relation to the axis (i.e. that of the solstices). 

Johnson’s theory asserts that prehistoric survey markers could not have been placed within the footprint of the stones, but must have been (as in any construction) external to the stones.

That almost all the stones have one ‘better’ i.e. flatter face, and that face is almost invariably inwards, suggests that the construction was set out so that the prehistoric builders could use the center point of the inner faces as reference.

This is very significant in respect of the Great Trilithon; the surviving upright has its flatter face outwards, towards the midwinter sunset, and was raised from the inside.

The remainder of the trilithon array (and almost all of the stones of the Sarsen Circle) had construction ramps which sloped inwards, and were therefore set up from the outside.

Placing the centre face of the stones (regardless of their thickness) against markers would mean that the ‘gaps’ between the stones were simply consequential.

There is some debate as to why the stones are there in the first place but it is starting to become widely believed that Stonehenge was used as a form of a religious area of burial. What was unknown is how these massive stones were placed the way they are.

There is little or no direct evidence for the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders.

Over the years, various authors have suggested that supernatural or anachronistic methods were used, usually asserting that the stones were impossible to move otherwise.

However, conventional techniques using Neolithic technology have been demonstrably effective at moving and placing stones of a similar size.


Making History:

Stonehenge is a world famous enigma. But we aren’t going to let it remain a total mystery. In Making History: Stonehenge, we are traveling 4,000 years back in time.

For the first time you’ll see Stonehenge not as a ruin but as a prehistoric temple. Our presenter Jeff Douglas meets the Stonehenge experts and examines the evidence: ancient weapons, "magic" stones and murder victims.

Jeff passes the facts back to Steve, Colin and Neil three graphic artists on a Stone Age adventure. You'll see the designers using cutting edge CGI to re-create dramatic moments from the history of Stonehenge.

The study of the geometric layout of the monument shows that such methods were used and that there is a clear argument for regarding other outlying elements as part of a geometric scheme (e.g. the ‘Station Stones’ and the stoneholes 92 and 94 which mark two opposing facets of an octagon).

A geometric design is scalable from concept to construction, removing much of the need for measurements to be made at all. Much speculation has surrounded the engineering feats required to build Stonehenge.

Assuming the bluestones were brought from Wales by hand, and not transported by glaciers as Aubrey Burl has claimed, various methods of moving them relying only on timber and rope have been suggested.

In a 2001 exercise in experimental archaeology, an attempt was made to transport a large stone along a land and sea route from Wales to Stonehenge.

Volunteers pulled it for some miles (with great difficulty) on a wooden sledge over land, using modern roads and low-friction netting to assist sliding, but it became clear that it would have been incredibly difficult for even the most organized of tribal groups to have pulled large numbers of stones across the densely wooded, rough and boggy terrain of West Wales.

In 1997 Julian Richards teamed up with Mark Witby and Roger Hopkins to conduct several experiments to replicate the construction at Stonehenge for NOVA's "Secrets of Lost Empires" mini series.

They arranged for a gang of 130 people to attempt to tow a 40 ton concrete replica on a sledge which was placed on wooden tracks.

They used grease to make it easier to tow up a slight incline and still they were unable to budge it.

They gathered additional men and had some of them use levers to try to pry the megalith while others towed it at the same time.

When they all worked together at the same time they were able to move it forward.

They were uncertain whether this would be the way they would have transported the largest stones 25 miles.

To do this would require an enormous amount of track and a lot of coordination for a large number of people. In some cases this would involve towing the stones over rougher terrain. They also conducted an experiment to erect 2 forty ton replicas and put a 9 ton lintel on top.

After a lot of experimenting they were able to erect 2 megaliths using a large number of people towing and using levers. They also managed to tow the lintel up a steel ramp. They were unable to determine this was the final answer but they demonstrated that this was a possible method. At times they were forced to use modern technology for safety reasons.

Josh Bernstein and Julian Richards organized an experiment to pull a 2 ton stone on wooden tracks with a group of about 16 men. They placed the stone on a wooden sledge then placed the sledge on a wooden track.

They pulled this with two gangs of about 8 men. To move the stones as many miles across Southern England, the creators of Stonehenge would have had to build a lot of track, or move and rebuild track in pieces, as the stones were taken to their final destination.

Who Built Stonehenge?

Who built Stonehenge and why?

Using computer modeling, anthropologists reveal the face of a man who may have contributed to the construction of this ancient structure 4,300 years ago.

A recent article has argued that the massive stones could be moved by submerging them in water and towing them below an ancient vessel or group of vessels. This technique would have two significant advantages.

It would reduce the load borne by the vessel while part of the stone's weight is displaced by the water. Secondly, the arrangement of the load below the vessel would be much more stable and reduce the risk of catastrophic failure.

Naturally, this would apply only for transportation over water. The technique was tried during the Millennium Stone Project 2000, with a single bluestone slung beneath two large curraghs. The sling frayed away, and the stone plunged to the bed of Milford Haven.

It has been suggested that timber A-frames were erected to raise the stones, and that teams of people then hauled them upright using ropes. The topmost stones may have been raised up incrementally on timber platforms and slid into place or pushed up ramps.

The carpentry-type joints used on the stones imply a people well skilled in woodworking and they could easily have had the knowledge to erect the monument using such methods.

In 2003 retired construction worker Wally Wallington demonstrated ingenious techniques based on fundamental principles of levers, fulcrums and counterweights to show that a single man can rotate, walk, lift and tip a ten-ton cast-concrete monolith into an upright position.

He is progressing with his plan to construct a simulated Stonehenge comprising of eight uprights and two lintels.

Alexander Thom was of the opinion that the site was laid out with the necessary precision using his megalithic yard.

The engraved weapons on the sarsens are unique in megalithic art in the British Isles, where more abstract designs were invariably favoured. Similarly, the horseshoe arrangements of stones are unusual in a culture that otherwise arranged stones in circles.

The axe motif is, however, common to the peoples of Brittany at the time, and it has been suggested at least two stages of Stonehenge were built under continental influence. This would go some way towards explaining the monument's atypical design, but overall, Stonehenge is still inexplicably unusual in the context of any prehistoric European culture.

Estimates of the manpower needed to build Stonehenge put the total effort involved at millions of hours of work.

Stonehenge Secrets

The first excavation inside the ring at Stonehenge in more than four decades is underway.

The two-week dig will try to establish, once and for all, some precise dating for the creation of the monument.

Stonehenge 1 probably needed around 11,000 man-hours (or 460 man-days) of work, Stonehenge 2 around 360,000 (15,000 man-days or 41 years).

The various parts of Stonehenge 3 may have involved up to 1.75 million hours (73,000 days or 200 years) of work.

The working of the stones is estimated to have required around 20 million hours (830,000 days or 2,300 years) of work using the primitive tools available at the time. Some scientists believe it was actually over 30 million hours of labor to erect Stonehenge.

There is still much debate on how long it took these workers to erect Stonehenge but all agree it was a daunting task with many hours of labor required.

Certainly, the will to produce such a site must have been strong, and an advanced social organization would have been necessary to build and maintain it. However, Wally Wallington's work suggests that Stonehenge's construction may have required fewer man-hours than previously estimated.

Note that the estimate of 20 million man-hours means that 10,000 men working on the site for 20 days each year, for 8 hours per day, could have completed it in 12.5 years.

The reason why Stonehenge was built remains somewhat of a mystery to this day.

Stonehenge has been subjected to many theories about its origin, ranging from the academic worlds of archaeology to explanations from mythology and the paranormal.

A giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge. From a manuscript of the Brut by Wace in the British Library. This is the oldest known depiction of Stonehenge.

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 Merlin which led the monument to be incorporated into the wider cycle of European medieval romance.

According to Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae, using his magic Merlin took the circle from its original place in Ireland at the behest of Aurelius Ambrosius to serve as an appropriate burial place for Britain's dead princes.

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.

First there is the matter of radiocarbon dating the construction of the site itself. 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 theory that the Druids were responsible 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.

There are some theories to what Stonehenge represents and they are:

Science Theory - It is believed that the site could be used to anticipate astronomical phenomena. This has sparked the belief that the site was created to help commemorate the solstices, as the alignment with the sun and moon would seem to indicate.

Secular Calendar Theory
- The double-level circle and the central stone of the monument define an observational vantage-point from which the precession of constellations could be accurately established.

It would have been known from earlier and less massive constructions that these events corresponded precisely with the cycle of seasons, but wooden edifices, earth-mounds and even standing-stone circles would not retain accuracy over any long period.

Without at least one authoritative standard, events and seasons had no chronological index, since the exact length of the year (including part-days) was not known, nor would the mathematics have been available to extrapolate from it. There was a good reason for a massive and permanently immobile construction at a flat inland location where all sides of the sky could be equally measured.

Healing Theory
- Britain's Bournemouth University archaeologists, led by Geoffrey Wainwright, president of the London Society of Antiquaries, and Timothy Darvill, on September 22nd, 2008, speculated that it may have been an ancient healing and pilgrimage site, since burials around Stonehenge showed trauma and deformity evidence: "It was the magical qualities of these stones which ... transformed the monument and made it a place of pilgrimage for the sick and injured of the Neolithic world."

Radio-carbon dating places the construction of the circle of bluestones at between 2,400 B.C. and 2,200 B.C., but they discovered charcoals dating 7,000 B.C., showing human activity in the site.

Ritual Landscape Theory
- Many archaeologists believe Stonehenge was an attempt to render in permanent stone the more common timber structures that dotted Salisbury Plain at the time, such as those that stood at Durrington Walls. Modern anthropological evidence has been used by Mike Parker Pearson and the Malagasy archaeologist Ramilisonina to suggest that timber was associated with the living and stone with the ancestral dead amongst prehistoric peoples.

They have argued that Stonehenge was the terminus of a long, ritualised funerary procession for treating the dead, which began in the east, during sunrise at Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, moved down the Avon and then along the Avenue reaching Stonehenge in the west at sunset.

The journey from wood to stone via water was, they consider, a symbolic journey from life to death. There is no satisfactory evidence to suggest that Stonehenge's astronomical alignments were anything more than symbolic and current interpretations favour a ritual role for the monument that takes into account its numerous burials and its presence within a wider landscape of sacred sites. Many also believe that the site may have had astrological/spiritual significance attached to it.