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Stonehenge News and Information

Although there was historically a Summer Fayre at Stonehenge held on traditional midsummer’s day of the 24th of June, it was only comparatively recently that the association between Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice Sunrise was realised.

Before Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the summer solstice had slipped out of sync with the old Julian calendar by 11 days. This meant that the Sun didn’t appear to rise from the Heelstone on 24th June. People somehow knew that they should be at Stonehenge on “midsummer’s day”, but the reason had long been forgotten.

Indeed, it was only in 1771 that the first link between the Heelstone and the Summer Solstice Sunrise was mentioned by Dr. John Smith, even though William Stukeley had identified that the Avenue lead off towards the solstice sunrise point some 30 years earlier. Smith churlishly didn’t even acknowledge Stukeley’s work in his…

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Stonehenge News and Information

From 1968 until 2013, the visitor facilities at Stonehenge amounted to a collection of brutalist concrete bunkers,  and a small car park almost opposite the monument alongside the old A344 road, with a subway below the road so that visitors could safely reach the stones. The old visitor centre was opened with much fanfare, and a ceremonial gold key.

subway opening 1968

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As visitor numbers increased year on year these facilities (latterly expanded by the addition of some portakabins) rapidly became overwhelmed, eventually being described as “a national disgrace” in Parliament.

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After endless consultations and arguments, with almost a dozen options being tabled and rejected, eventually a location was found over a mile and a half away to the west that was chosen for the new Visitor Centre. The A344 road past the monument was closed and grassed over, the old facilities and car park decommissioned and in December 2013 the new centre…

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SUN-seekers will be alarmed to know that the summer solstice is just around the corner. The pagan celebration falls in June every year. 

Even though the midsummer date is when we get the most daylight of the year, it also marks the time where the days start shortening ahead of winter.

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The summer solstice is considered to be the longest day of the year because it’s when we get the most daylight. Getty Images

Here’s everything you need to know about summer solstice 2017…

When is the summer solstice?

The midsummer date is set based on the planet’s rotational axis.

It’s decided based on the sun’s tilt towards the sun, which hits its maximum at 23° 26′ and falls between June 20 and June 22 in the northern hemisphere.

This year, the summer solstice will take place on Wednesday, June 21st
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The date is decided based on the angle of the Earth’s tilt. Getty Images

What is the summer solstice?

The ‘longest’ day of the year marks the middle of summer.

This is because the tilt of the Earth’s axis is most aligned with the sun, providing us with the most daylight of the year.

After June 21, the nights will began to close in as our planet rotates away from the sun.

The date where Earth is the furthest from the star is marked by the winter solstice.

What’s the summer solstice got to do with Stonehenge?

The day is celebrated by pagans and druids, with rituals of rebirth performed throughout history on the day.

One of the biggest celebrations in the UK occurs at Stonehenge with crowds gathering to watch the sunrise.

The tradition sees revellers waiting by the Wiltshire monument on midsummer, facing towards the north-easterly direction.

Crowds of devotees, often dressed for the occasion, regularly gather to watch the moment the sun rises above the Heel Stone.

It’s just one of the many pagan festivals, which include midwinter and imbolc – the day that traditionally marks the start of spring.

solstice-party

Revellers face the sun as they watch it rise up around the Wiltshire monument

How else is the summer solstice celebrated?Midsummer festivities are held across the world in many different cultures.

In many cases, the rituals are linked with themes of religion or fertility.

Wianki celebrations in Poland are similar to those held in Britain, as the day is largely considered a pagan religious event.

There are different traditions across Europe, with Estonia using the day to mark a shift in agricultural patterns.

In Russia and Ukraine, it’s tradition for revellers to jump over bonfires to test their courage and religious faith.

Article source: By Sophie Roberts The Sun News

Cross it off your bucket list this year and join our Stonehenge Summer Solstice Tour. Guided tours with luxury transport depart from Bath and London on 20th and 21st for sunset and sunrise.

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Stonehenge News and Information

Stonehenge is an ancient prehistoric site which has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of Summer Solstice for thousands of years.

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This important site is seen by many as a sacred site – if you are planning to visit for summer solstice we ask that you please respect the stones and each other.

English Heritage is pleased to provide free Managed Open Access to Stonehenge for Summer Solstice 2017 and ask that if you are planning to join us for this peaceful and special occasion that you follow these Conditions of Entry. These are written to ensure enjoyment and safety for everyone attending summer solstice at Stonehenge.

Please note to reduce risk to those attending and to the monument itself, alcohol is not allowed in the monument field during summer solstice.

DATES AND TIMES

TUESDAY 20th JUNE 2017
ACCESS TO MONUMENT FIELD 19:00hrs
SUNSET 21:26hrs

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Stonehenge – a name that evokes a great many emotions in a great many people. For some it is a place of pilgrimage, a place to connect with the ancestors and for others it is seen as a tourist trap or something to tick off the bucket list. For centuries it has captured our imagination; never has a heritage site been so controversial – something which continues to this day. In this post it is not my intention to give a full on thesis about Stonehenge, there are plenty of books/websites who do this already. Instead it is simply an overview of what is currently understood about the site, its surrounding landscape and my own personal thoughts.

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Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains, to the south is the busy A303, a main road between the south-west and London, and for many years the equally busy A344 ran alongside the site. This latter road was removed sometime ago to improve the visitors experience. Today there are ongoing discussions regarding the upgrading of the A303 and a proposed tunnel. It is a highly emotive subject, on one hand I understand the need to improve the road situation (ask anyone who is stuck in a traffic jam on the A303) but as an archaeologist I am also aware of the sensitive nature of the surrounding heritage landscape (and yes I am on the fence). Mike Pitts in his recent post discusses the pros and cons for those of you who are interested.

For the visitor today the focus is on the large stone circle with its trilithons, they marvel at how it could have been built by ‘primitive man’ often leading to suggestions of alien intervention and lost technologies.  But such thoughts only serve to belittle our ancestors and our past.  Others may ask why did our ancestors build Stonehenge?  Often the answers are unimaginative and simple – sun-worship; display of power; ancient computer; druid temple – once more when we look only for one answer to a what is obviously a complicated site of great longevity we belittle their achievements.  Instead if Stonehenge was understood in terms of the wider landscape and as a site whose history spanned several millenia we might come to some small understanding of how and why.

In today’s world of instant gratification where everything has a beginning and an end,  it is hard to imagine beginning a project knowing you might not see it finished but this was a reality for the builders of Stonehenge.  It has lead some to suggest that it was not the end product which was important but the doing, the act of building which was in fact the purpose.  Suggesting a cyclical thought pattern which can be seen in other aspects of prehistoric life – round houses, stone circles, round barrows.  in addition, time itself was most likely viewed in cycles, the phases of the moon and the movement of the seasons are all cyclical events which would have been of great importance to prehistoric people trying to make sense of their world.

“So was Stonehenge ever ‘finished’?  The answer to that has to be no, because completion was never the intention of the people who created it.” (Pryor F. 2016 ‘Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape).

It is well known that Stonehenge itself had many incarnations, perhaps meaning new and different things with each alteration or rebuild.  To understand Stonehenge it is important to consider it in the wider context of the surrounding landscape (there are literally hundreds of prehistoric monuments around it) in all the different phases.

The Mesolithic Story

The story of the Stonehenge landscape begins back in the Mesolithic, ongoing recent excavations at Blickmead are providing archaeologists with tantalising clues as to why this area was important to our ancestors.  The site is situated near a spring by the River Avon, excavations began in 2005 and almost immediately were fruitful.  Basically, the deposits consisted of an array of Mesolithic settlement debris, mostly flint fragments (tens of thousands) but also a great number of animal bones.  Interestingly, the site also yielded the largest collection of auroch bones ever found on a Mesolithic site in Britain so far.  Other animals which were hunted and consumed included red deer, wild boar and salmon – this has led archaeologists to suggest that feasting was a common occurence around the spring.  The spring itself is quite unusual as it has the tendency to stain flints and other materials a bright magenta pink – the importance of springs in later prehistory is well attested to.

In 1966 row of four large pit like features were found during upgrades to the old carpark close by Stonehenge.  When excavated one was found to be a the root-hole of a tree and the other three were holes dugs to hold large poles.   Examination of the material from these features gave a date range from between 8500 and 7000BC.  The posts would have been approximately 75cm in diameter and were from pine trees.  Later in 1988 another post-hole was discovered south and east of the original pits but it was contemporary.

So here we have a landscape already well populated by hunter-gatherer communities who revered certain natural features long before Stonehenge makes an appearance.  A landscape which had meaning to the people who inhabit it; who had traditions and memories of place.

At around 3500BC (Neolithic) with the arrival of farming these communities and their traditions had evolved and more permenant features began to make an appearance on the landscape.   Long barrows such as those at East and West Kennet or Winterbourne Stoke were the first to appear and by 3400BC the Stonehenge Cursus and Lesser Cursus was under construction.

3000BC – The first official phase of construction

In many parts of Britian at this time a new type of monument was being constructed, these were earthwork enclosures which are referred to as henges.  They consist of irregular cut ditches encircling a defined area with corresponding banks.  Stonehenge’s earliest phase was one such earthwork.  Here there were two entrances one faced north-east and the other faced south.  The north-easterly entrance remained in use for much of the sites lifetime and appears to be important to its function.  The entrance is aligned along a line of natural gullies which face towards the midsummer sunrise in one direction and the midwinter sunset in the other.

These natural gullies would have been visible to the people of the Mesolithic and may have been why the large pine posts were erected where they were – the midsummer and midwinter solstices were just as important then as they were to the later prehistoric communities.

Inside the earthwork enclosure around the inner edge of the bank were fifty-six regularly spaced pits – these are now known as the Aubrey Holes.  There is some discussion as to what they were or what they contained – small stone uprights or wooden posts?  However, what is known is that eventually they did contain cremated human remains.  Similar deposits have been found in the partly filled ditch and cut into the bank suggesting that at this stage in its history Stonehenge was used as a cemetary, among other things.
Read the full story (article source) here: Toni-maree Rowe – Write

Further Reading

Pryor F (2016) Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape

Parker-Pearson M  et al (2015) Stonehenge: Making Sense of Prehistoric Mystery

Parker Pearson M (2013) Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery

Bowden M et al (2015) The Stonehenge Landscape: Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

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Stonehenge News and Information

Most people are unaware of the underground chamber that lies beneath Stonehenge.

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The six entrances to it are clearly visible in the recent geophysical survey, arranged as a squashed hexagon with linking corridors between them, leading to the antechamber located below the North Barrow and the main room directly below the stone circle.

Col. William Hawley’s excavations of 1926 revealed the existence of the entrances and corridors, but he didn’t investigate further as he was already in his mid-70s and had been abandoned by the workers assigned to assist him.

The records of this discovery existed only in Hawley’s personal notebooks, which lay unexamined until the mid 1950s.

In 1958, under the pretext of re-erecting a collapsed Trilithon, Richard Atkinson’s team made extensive excavations in the centre of the circle in an attempt to break through to the main room after the route via the antechamber was discovered to…

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Why does Stonehenge exist? We explore the pick of the theories, which are all totally sane and reasonable.

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From archaeologists to modern-day pagans to Spinal Tap fans, Stonehenge is truly a place of wonder where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well. The prehistoric monument has been the source of a great deal of speculation over its meaning, purpose and construction. Here are some of the theories surrounding those ancient stones.

Merlin did it

Not as popular a theory among historians as it once was, the Merlin Hypothesis suggests that King Arthur’s pet wizard had Stonehenge constucted with the help of a local giant, the Devil or his own mysterious magic. Notable fabulist Geoffrey of Monmouth was a big supporter of this theory, which was pretty popular into the 14th century.

From archaeologists to modern-day pagans to Spinal Tap fans, Stonehenge is truly a place of wonder where the demons dwell, where the banshees live and they do live well. The prehistoric monument has been the source of a great deal of speculation over its meaning, purpose and construction. Here are some of the theories surrounding those ancient stones.

Merlin did it

Not as popular a theory among historians as it once was, the Merlin Hypothesis suggests that King Arthur’s pet wizard had Stonehenge constucted with the help of a local giant, the Devil or his own mysterious magic. Notable fabulist Geoffrey of Monmouth was a big supporter of this theory, which was pretty popular into the 14th century.

It was a very fancy cemetery

Over the years, the remains of 63 different people have been exhumed from the site – in the form of more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments. Apparently the burials occured way back around 3000BC, roughly 100 years after the first stones were placed on the site. Given those rubbery figures, its possible the initial structure was designed as an over-the-top headstone arrangement.

It was designed for healing and pilgrimage

There’s another theory about why those remains were found there, and it’s based on the fact that a lot of them appear to have suffered from illness or injury. This suggests that people saw Stonehenge as a place to travel when you weren’t well, in the hope of getting magical first aid. Further investigation revealed fragments of the first stones had been chipped away, which could have been so people could craft them into healing talismans. (Or they were just touristy vandals.)

Aliens did it

There was once a strong school of thought that held that ancient people were idiots who couldn’t build anything as amazing as the wonders still standing among us today, so they must have had help. Obviously Merlin and his fairy minions are ridiculous, but aliens – well, it makes sense that they would pop down and help our forebears construct monolithic calculators. All you have to do is squint, fudge a few measurements, take liberties in the interpretation of ancient artworks and/or Bible passages, and it makes perfect sense.

Druids used it as a measuring instrument

If you want to know exactly when the Winter Solstice is coming, Stonehenge can help you calculate that. The avenue connecting Stonehenge to the River Avon aligns with the sun that day. Apparently there are key points around the complex that could have been used to predict eclipses, too, which is pretty cool if true. By the way, the “Druids did it” theory began in 1640 but has been pretty well debunked. Sorry.

It was a feel-good collaboration to celebrate unity

And by “unity”, we mean “you’ve all been conquered, now help us build a stone circle so you’ll never forget it”. Everyone except the alien and fairy enthusiasts agree the work of bringing these stones to the site and erecting them in a circle would have required the efforts of many people working together. Under this theory, the Neolithic locals spontaneously banded together to create the ancient equivalent of the Statue of Liberty.

It’s monolithic porn

Look, it seems unlikely, but in 2003 one researcher claimed Stonehenge looked like female genitalia and was meant to celebrate the Earth Mother. This theory requires even more squinting than the alien one.
By Shane Cubis SBS

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