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The Henge
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A henge has two meanings; in the archaeological sense it is a bank and ditch enclosure, found only in Britain. The German word “hengen” means a gallows or a hanging place. In both of these contexts Stonehenge qualifies. The first stage, some five millenia ago was a bank and ditch enclosure, and the great Sarsen Circle, called in legend “The Giant's Dance” resembles a stone gallows. Sometime between 3 000 BC and 2 800 BC the first stage of the monument began. It was a great, circular bank, six feet high with an opening in the direction of the sunrise. The ditch, unique in a henge enclosure, was outside the bank. It may have had practical rather than ritual significance, and its purpose solely that of a quarry for the chalk mound.

Inside the bank was a circle of 56 post holes, with a diameter of 284 feet (86,7m). Some of these holes had cremations in them, added at a later date, but this was not their purpose. The cremations may have been a way of sanctifying the site, bringing the ancestors of the builders to the new religious enclosure.
56 is a number that equates very well with lunar or solar calculations. It is possible that the movements around the skies of the sun, the moon and the planets were plotted by placing markers in the post holes, having charted their orbits over the six-foot-high bank, which would have provided a false horizon. Accurate calculations over the real horizon would have been far more difficult.


The Henge

Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone.



These holes are called the Aubrey Holes after their discoverer, John Aubrey, who was commissioned by Charles II shortly after the Restoration to survey Stonehenge and Avebury. In 1666 he mentioned seeing cavities within the bank. Another theory is that they may have had a ritual significance. If so we can only speculate what it may have been; as with so much at Stonehenge the truth is shrouded in the mists of millenia of time.

The four station stones have in the past been placed at the first phase of the monument. The four points intersect at or very near the centre of Stonehenge. One line is aligned on the most southerly moonrise and another on the most northerly moonset.

The Heel Stone, or Sun Stone, (from the Greek Helios meaning Sun) has also been placed within the earliest phase of building but current archaeological thinking is that it is unlikely that just a few stones were on site a thousand years before the rest of the sarsens appeared. The first stage probably contained a wooden building in the centre of the henge, traces of timber were discovered during the most recent studies of the site in 1995.

In legend the Heel Stone is so called because it is said the Devil picked it up and threw it at a friar and it hit him on the heel, leaving a permanent mark.
The only unworked stone on the site stands 256 ft (78m) from the centre of Stonehenge, in isolation by the side of the road. Today it is leaning towards the monument; it was in the beginning upright – it weighs 35 tonnes and would have needed 250 people to transport and erect.

Traditionally the sunrise on the longest day, 21st June, is said to be directly over the Heel Stone. It isn't - it is slightly to one side. The Earth's axis has shifted since the monument's construction but this would have meant that the Summer Solstice sunrise would have been further to the west. It is possible that there were originally two of these stones, the socket of a second stone having recently been discovered, and that in prehistory the sun shone between them. The sun will rise directly over the Heel Stone in AD 3260 - in another incarnation you may see it but not for another twelve centuries.

A series of post-holes were discovered in an area near the opening the Henge Bank, close to the Slaughter Stone. They cannot be seen, but it is important that their presence be noted, because they represent six years worth of calculations five thousand years ago. Not Earth years, but lunar ones, and as each lunar year is 18,61 years, we are talking about 111 years of observations. Three to five generations at least would have passed before the research was completed. The manner of their alignment suggests they were annual markers to record the most northerly positions at which the full moon nearest to midwinter rose. This would have made it possible to discover the nineteen year orbit when the phases of the moon repeated themselves, the so called metonic cycle.

In the car park there are three circular marks running from east to west. These, together with an unmarked post-hole in the area of the pay kiosk are the oldest post-holes on the site. Around 8 500 BC there is evidence that these holes contained huge pine posts. Archaeologists believe that these could have been the totem poles of the hunter-gatherer people who roamed the landscape ten thousand years ago. Astronomers have suggested they could also have been used as far sighter alignments, one lining up on the summer solstice sunset and another on the moonset from the Heel Stone. The site would appear to have been in continuous use from the time the Henge Bank was built until its abandonment 1 500 years later.

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