Stonehenge remains a focal point of speculation and mystery due to its large imposing size and uncertainty over its purpose.
The primary use of Stonehenge was as a burial site. However, most scholars believe that it also was used for ceremonial purposes and therefore as a destination point for pilgrimage voyages.
No construction projects were possessing equal public stature built in ancient Britain.
When was Stonehenge Built?
This magnificent structure was built in what is today Wiltshire in England. Rather than being built all at once, it was built in stages between 3000 and 1500 BCE.
This means that the technology available to the builders evolved considerably throughout construction. It also means the site retained its cultural significance for well over a millennium.
Was Stonehenge a Druid Temple?
For centuries it was assumed that Stonehenge was built and maintained by Druids and was therefore related to their practices. It was believed to have been the center of nature-oriented Druidic religion.
However, it appears to have been built well before the Druid religion came into being in a recognizable form. Nonetheless, modern practitioners of variants of Druidism see it as a holy spot and commit pilgrimages to it to this day.
Many Theories and Few Answers
Due to its massive size and the amount of attention and construction activity at the site, there is no doubt that it held significant importance for the local people. It also seems to have attracted visitors from the farthest reaches of the British Isles.
However, we lack any written records from the time, and therefore our insight into the purpose of the site is limited to the interpretation of archaeological finds. This means we will never fully understand how the people of the time viewed the site.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, the British cleric, and historian, wrote in the 12th Century that the site was built as a Briton memorial to those slain by the Saxons in the immediate aftermath of the Roman occupation of Britain. As he explained, the Wizard Merlin was in charge of the project. Like much of what Geoffrey wrote, this was patently false and puts the estimated construction about 2000 years too late.
Other early historians speculated that Stonehenge was built by the Phoenicians, or were the only remnants from the epic flood Noah survived in the Old Testament.
Noted astronomer Gerald Hawkins believed that Stonehenge was used as an elaborate calendar. He theorized that the points of the structure corresponded to various astronomical phenomena such as the moon equinox and eclipses.
This may be true. Astronomers came to this conclusion when they noted that the entrance to the temple faces the exact position of the rising sun during the summer solstice.
However, some critics maintain that it is highly unlikely that the people of that time had such a sophisticated understanding of astronomical dynamics. Others point out that the dense clouds of the area would likely have obscured the stars and hindered astronomical knowledge.
Many of the human remains found around the sight exhibited serious injuries. This has led some experts to speculate that Stonehenge was considered a place of healing.
The One Certain Purpose of Stonehenge
Recent excavations of the site and the areas nearby reveal indisputably that Stonehenge was long used as a burial site. Many cremated bodies were found, almost all with signs of ritual and ceremonial burial.
A good many of the remains can be found at the Cursus Barrows, which is around the cemetery placed south of Stonehenge. These graves predated the main structure of Stonehenge by 300-600 years or so. They may indicate that this was seen as an area of traditional burial and therefore associated with commemorating the dead.
A mile away from Stonehenge, archaeologists found a site known as “Bluestonehenge”, as a reference to the 25 Welsh bluestones which were the focal point of that site. This area too was used for burials and ceremonies.
Therefore, we know for certain that one of the main purposes of the structure was to serve as a burial site for people of the local religious tradition. It may therefore have been a temple of the dead or a memorial dedicated to the deceased. The ceremonies held there may therefore have been memorials for the departed. However, this part of the theory is speculative.
Over 800,000 tourists visit Stonehenge today, drawn by its aura of mystery and magnificence. It seems the mystery of the true purpose of Stonehenge will never be resolved, adding to its attractiveness to visitors.