The Many Phases of Stonehenge

Stonehenge was not constructed in one day, one year, or even 100 years. It was a continuous process that lasted over 500 years. Think of Stonehenge as a structure that was under a half-century long renovation project. Although dates vary from scholar to scholar, Stonehenge was thought to have been constructed in three major phases starting in 2900 BC and lasting through to 2400BC. Below is a concise description of the three major phases.

Diagram of stage one

Stage One

The construction of Stonehenge began around 2900 BC. The building started with the formation of a large circular ditch. This ditch would later prove to be the surrounding foundation of the Stonehenge we recognize today (Feder 2006). The ditch was dug using deer and oxen bones as well as antler picks. Lining the outside of the circular ditch are 56 pits called Aubrey Holes. The holes are named after John Aubrey, the 17th century antiquarian who first discovered them. Although there is no excavated evidence, it is widely accepted that the Aubrey Holes originally contained large standing timer posts. In many of these Aubrey Holes, cremation deposits were found, leading scholars to believe that Stonehenge was at one time used for funerary purposes (skepticworld.com).

Bluestones

Stage Two

In 2500 BC, Stonehenge underwent a renovation. A transportation of volcanic stones called bluestones was organized. The bluestones came from the Prescelli Mountains in South Wales. The five-ton stones were transported by way of the Avon River. It is unknown exactly how these ancient people were able to move these massive stones from the mountains to the river, but the primary theory circulated is that the ancients built a machine out of huge logs and rope and rolled the stones down to the river (english-heritage.org). The bluestones were arranged inside the large circular ditch in a double half-circle called the Q and R holes (witcombe.sbc.edu). However, the bluestones would not remain in this fashion for long.

Stage Three

Sarsen Stones

The bluestones had only been erected for 100 years when they were dug up and repositioned. In 2400 BC, from an area called Avebury located approximately 18 miles from the Stonehenge site, the transport of thirty massive stones was commenced. These stones, called sarsen stones, were 10 feet tall and weighed over 27 tons. These stones were erected concentrically inside of the original ditch. Atop of the sarsen stones, 30 lintels were connected using a mortise and tenon joinery. Additionally, the lintels were sculpted into a curve to match the shape of the arc of the circle. This was truly an innovative feat of engineering (Feder 2006).


Trilithon Set

After the Sarsen Circle was formed, the Trilithon Horseshoe was built. The Trilithon Horseshoe is five sets of stones arranged in a horseshoe shaped pattern. Two erected stones with a lintel top makeup a Trilithon set. These sets vary in height and weight. The largest set of stones is located in the center of the horseshoe, then the sets move out in descending order according to height (witcombe.sbc.edu). The Trilithon Stones are the largest and heaviest of the all the Stonehenge stones. The largest Trilithon stone weighs 50 tons and is topped with a 10 ton lintel (Feder 2006). The bluestones that were originally in the center of the Sarsen Circle were dug up and rearranged to form a circle around the Trilithon Horseshoe. Later, more bluestones were added to form an oval inside of the Trilithon Horseshoe (witcombe.sbc.edu).

Next, four Station Stones were erected within the circle of the Aubrey Holes. Ditches surround two of these Station Stones. The ditches are called burial barrows, although there is no evidence the burials ever took place at this time. In the northeast section of the monument is a large Slaughter Stone. This is regarded as the entrance of Stonehenge (skepticworld.com). At this time, a parallel set of ditches was also built. The ditches are called the Avenue. It runs northeast. Along the Avenue, the Heel Stone is located. A ditch similar to the ones surrounding the Station Stones surrounds the Heel Stone. Although the Heel Stone is not completely upright, it is thought that it used to stand fully erect and was one part of a pair. The last notable stone is called the Alter Stone. It is made of sandstone and is located inside the Trilithon Horseshoe (witcombe.sbc.edu).

Diagram of final project