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After Stonehenge
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Although Stonehenge was effectively completed by 1600 BC, we have no evidence to show how long after this it continued in use. But even if Stonehenge remained the same, the surrounding landscape continued to change. More and more elaborate round barrows were built, continuing the emphasis on burial, but towards the end of the Bronze Age (about 1000 BC) there is increasing evidence of everyday life.

After Stonehenge

A manuscript illumination showing Merlin building Stonehenge, from a mid-XIV-century adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth

Boundary ditches divided up the landscape and small, regular arable fields spread across land that had formerly been used mainly as pasture. The banks of the Cursus, now more than 2000 years old, were used as field boundaries by Bronze-Age farmers who ploughed its interior. These farmers lived in the small settlements that appeared scattered across the landscape, each a cluster of circular houses of wood and thatch, set within their fields.

After Stonehenge

Stonehenge drawn by Lucas de Heere, a Dutch traveller, in 1574.

Before the Roman conquest of AD 43, Stonehenge had ceased to be a living temple but it appears to have had a new lease of life under the Roman invaders. Many finds of Roman date (coins, brooches and pottery) indicate more than just casual visiting and recent excavations have shown that bluestones were being removed, or even reset, at this time. Stonehenge may have become a Roman shrine.

In about AD 645, a man was buried at Stonehenge. He had been decapitated and may have been executed as a criminal. Sometime after this the name of Stonehenge emerged, formed from the words “stone” and “henge”, the latter meaning “hanging” and possibly referring to the resemblance of the stones to a gallows.

After Stonehenge

Stonehenge inspired generations of artists including J.M.W.Turner (1775 – 1851), who produced this painting (detail).

From medieval times onwards much energy was expended in trying to guess the date, the builders and the purpose of Stonehenge. The first written description, dating from about 1130, appeared in Henry of Huntingdon’s History of the English People, where he described “Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorway… no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raised aloft, or why they were built there”.

In 1136 Geoffrey of Monmouth explained in his History of the Kings of Britain that Stonehenge was a memorial to a great battle between Saxons and Britons. He suggested that the stones came from an Irish stone circle called the Giants’ Round, and had been transported to Salisbury Plain by the wizard Merlin. This idea proved popular and was widely accepted until as late as the XVI century.

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