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A Sacred LandscapeIt is believed Stonehenge had to have a religious and spiritual significance. We know little of the beliefs of the Stonehenge peoples; archaeologists have suggested for all we know they could have been born dead. We have their burial mounds, their grave goods and their stone circles. As farmers, the yearly cycle would have been vital to their survival and we think that the earth was seen as a living entity represented by a Goddess figure. A carving on one of the great trilithons, said to be the mother goddess, has been found. Carved four thousand years ago, before the sarsen stone was erected, this could be an indication of the religious purpose of the circle. Other carvings, of axe heads and the Mycenian type dagger, have also been found; these possibly date to the final stage which was completed by 1550 BC.
The DruidsStonehenge is not a Druid Temple, despite the popular myth. However, the Druids may have had the answer to the purpose of the stone circle. They were the Shamen of the people, the historians, the wise men, the genealogists, and their tradition was an oral one. The Druids were a caste rather than a priesthood, and initiates spent twenty years in forest sanctuaries and caverns learning the ancient lore, which is thought to have been in verse.
The factsMany Bluestones disappeared when early tourists stopped at the blacksmith’s shop at Amesbury to hire a hammer and chipped away their own souvenirs. Treasure hunters searching beneath the sarsen stones also contributed to the destruction. What do we really know about Stonehenge? We know where the stones came from, the people responsible for the building, possibly the methods used and, thanks to the radio carbon dating of the deer antlers found in the pits, the approximate dates. Where, who, when and how – these questions we can attempt to answer. What, however, is more difficult.

New TheoriesIn his book, The Stonehenge Solution, George Terence Meaden suggests that the monument was a pagan fertility Temple built on the site where Cosmic Consummation was commemorated. He says that the double horseshoe of Trilithons and bluestones represented the womb of the Mother Goddess, and the stone known as the altar stone, in effect the Goddess stone, stood on what was viewed as the centre of the world, the axis which united Heaven and Earth.
The legendsSo what really is this great temple of the plains? To the medieval peoples the stone circles were sometimes rumoured to be sinners who danced on the Sabbath and were turned to stone.
In the legends of King Arthur it is said his Druid magician Merlin magicked the stones from Ireland, some say by air, some by water and some that the Devil brought them, to place over the grave several hundred British nobles, slain in the fifth century by Hengist, a Saxon invader. The story goes that they were buried in a mass grave on Salisbury Plain.
AlignmentsThe most famous alignment at Stonehenge is the sunrise at the summer solstice, but it would appear to the worshippers that the important alignment was the midwinter sunset. The Avenue consists of two parallel banks, it was the Processional or Ceremonial Way, arcing through the gap in the trees to the north-east and into the monument beside the present Heel Stone, through the ceremonial gateway, with the sunrise alignment at the back of the worshippers. They would be facing the greatest Trilithon in the centre, which would frame the midwinter sunset through a portal made of stone. To a people who were attuned to the earth the days that followed the winter solstice would bring the sun back from its death throes to rebirth and renewal.
The BuildersThe period of the stone stage of construction at Stonehenge covered approximately 800 years - imagine how many generations lived and died before the final phase was complete. The round barrows arose at about the same time as the stone circle and these individual burial mounds are obvious in the landscape, even today. Whether the groupings are tribal or family we don't know. Archaeologists believe the mounds may also have been used as territorial markers, establishing continuity of lineage. The peoples of Stonehenge do not appear to have lived there; their settlements were elsewhere on the Plain and they gathered for festivals or rituals on the site at various times of the year. The debris found at the monument is the kind left from ceremonial feasting rather than everyday living.

The ConclusionThe final stage of Stonehenge was completed by 1 550 BC. The Bluestones had been reintroduced, a complete circle of Bluestones was placed between the outer sarsen circle and the inner sarsen horseshoe created by the five great Trilithons. Within this sarsen horseshoe yet another horseshoe, this time of nineteen Bluestones was added. In addition, the so called altar stone, a micaceous sandstone from Pembrokeshire, was placed inside the Bluestone horseshoe. The stone stood alone facing the sunrise at the heart of the sanctuary. Its name probably arose because, when one of the uprights and the lintel of the great trilithon toppled, they fell onto the micaceous sandstone and it now lies beneath them. Subsequent visitors who saw the micaceous sandstone prostrate on the ground assumed from their Christian heritage that they were looking at an altar. It was originally upright and not laying down as its present position suggests. More post-holes, known as the Y and Z holes, have been found, they were dug after the sarsen circle, and are outside it; their purpose is unknown.
The Sarsens (part two)When the sarsen stones arrived, pits were dug in the chalk with the antlers of red deer. Radio carbon dating only works on living matter, and the fragments of red deer antler found in the pits have been used to establish the time scale. The earth was carried away in the shoulder blades of cattle, and about two hundred men with the use of rollers, ramps, levers and ropes would have been needed as the stones were hauled upright until the centre of gravity tipped the uprights into place. The bases were then packed earth and discarded mauls; the sarsen stones allowed to settle and possibly left with a certain amount of movement to aid the workers align the stones more easily when the lintels were being placed in position.
The Sarsens (part one)Four thousand years ago, possibly as early as 2 300 BC, the great sarsen stones made their appearance on the site and Stonehenge began to emerge, as far before the birth of Christ as we are now after the event. The stones came from the Marlborough Downs twenty miles away. They are a type of sandstone and are also known as grey wethers. It is believed that the word “sarsen” is derived from “Saracen”. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Europe, during the Crusades, the Saracens were the strangers, the sarsen stones were the stranger stones.