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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Wiltshire’s world-famous stones have been attracting sightseers for thousands of years. Here, Mike Pitts tells the tourists’ story.

A group of Victorian tourists pose in front of Stonehenge, c1900. © Corbis

A group of Victorian tourists pose in front of Stonehenge, c1900. © Corbis

2500 BC: Stonehenge is the talk of prehistoric Europe

Visitors have always been part of Stonehenge, even the stones are foreigners: the small ones from Wales, the large ones probably from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles to the north.

Stonehenge was truly unique in Europe and so, at its height around 2500 BC, it must have been talked about across the continent.

Evidence of houses in the area suggests that far more people lived near to the stones than we would normally expect. Drawing labour and representatives from different tribes or groups, Stonehenge must have played a part in alliances that reached across Britain, and perhaps even beyond.

Tests on a man buried nearby around 2300 BC have revealed that he grew up in central Europe, was rich, but had a bad knee and a limp. Other men buried in the area originated at least as far away as Wales. Could these have been among Stonehenge’s first tourists?

Read the full story at History Extra

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Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried and transported.

New research by the team published this week detail evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, helping to answer long-standing questions about why, when and how Stonehenge was built.

The team of scientists includes researchers from UCL, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.

Director of the project, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: “This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together. The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge’s stones were extracted.”

The Stonehenge bluestones are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite. Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the ‘rhyolite’ bluestones. The research published today details excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin specifically.

Excavataions at Craig Rhos-y-felin

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). “The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”

Professor Colin Richards (University of Manchester), an expert in Neolithic quarries, said: “The two outcrops are really impressive – they may well have had special significance for prehistoric people. When we saw them for the first time, we knew immediately that we had found the source.”

Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops. Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view.  It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

Excavations at Carn-Goedog

Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) thinks that the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”

The megalith quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills, and this location undermines previous theories about how the bluestones were transported from Wales to Stonehenge.  Previous writers have often suggested that bluestones were taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts, but this now seems unlikely.

“The only logical direction for the bluestones to go was to the north then either by sea around St David’s Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40” said Professor Parker Pearson. “Personally I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 – they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”

Phil Bennett, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Culture and Heritage Manager, said: “This project is making a wonderful contribution to our knowledge of the National Park’s importance in prehistory.”

The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Parker Pearson and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2900 BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2500 BC.

“Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far”, said Professor Parker Pearson.

The project’s results are published this week in British Archaeology magazine.  It also features in our new book Stonehenge: making sense of a prehistoric mystery available from Oxbow Books. Further excavations are planned for 2016.

The new Stonehenge book's cover

Council for British Archaeology

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A unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Stonehenge, Salisbury and the Plain.

Binky.jpgFrom our Land Rover Discovery (As used on Safaris the world over) you will enjoy an on and off road experience, resulting in dramatic vantage points, unique plants and animals and visits to places around Salisbury and Stonehenge that your average tour bus just cannot match. In the company of our fully qualified and licensed drivers, you are sure to have a blast.

“A unique look at the dramatic landscapes, rich history and picturesque villages surrounding Stonehenge, Salisbury and the Plain”

Our Journey begins from Salisbury train station (local hotels or combined with our Stonehenge private tours or popular helicopter flights), this tour takes in Wiltshire’s delightful villages such as Wilton, Wishford, the Langfords and Stoford offering a picturesque view of Salisbury unavailable from the usual bus tours.

“Capture your memories at stunning locations. Down small roads and byways that are inaccessible by Coach, Bus or Car”

From here we take a short trip down the A303 before turning off at Yarnbury Castle. (the first view of the Plain is breathtaking we promise) Following some very rough byways (don’t worry we go slowly and our Land Rover is more than up to the job) we stop next to Parsonage Down Nature Reserve for more spectacular views and a short photo and refreshment break, before climbing back in and making the trip across the Plain as only a Land Rover can! We pop out just west of the tiny village of Shrewton and make our way via Larkhill (Home of the Royal Artillery and birthplace of the Royal Air force) to see an alternative view of Stonehenge (This view puts the stones in a real perspective, set in the landscape and seen as they would have been for thousands of years) One last off road trip will see us hit the roads again and make our way back to Salisbury for the end of the tour.

A 2 hour tour will cost £120 with a £10 supplement per person up to a maximum of 6 people. each tour can be tailored to suit your taste if needed.

Guests can be driven to Stonehenge visitors centre or perhaps Durrington Walls and collected at a pre-arranged time for ongoing travel at additional cost.

A four hour tour will cost £230 with a £10 supplement per person up to a maximum of 6 people and includes a more detailed glimpse at the monuments above with the opportunity to explore the area on foot with one of our guides and really get a sense of what the plain can offer.

All tours will include refreshments which include biscuits and a flask of tea or coffee.

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Customised Private Tour Service
This 2 hour landrover experience can be booked separately or easily combined with our customised private tours with departures from London, Southampton, Salisbury, Bath or Oxford.

Contact us for a quote – it may be cheaper than you think: experts@stonehengetours.com

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From Neolithic stone circles to gothic cathedrals, history is all around us. So hit the road and get up close to the ancestors

Stonehenge
Stonehenge is an important stop on any tour of historic sites. Photograph: Getty Images

Early civilisation
Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, the basis of our modern democracy. Only four copies remain of the Great Charter, one of which is in Salisbury cathedral. Start your journey here and climb the country’s tallest spire. Walk out into the Meadows to gaze back at the cathedral as John Constable did when he painted Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows in 1831.

It’s a short drive out into the Wiltshire countryside to Stonehenge. The ancient stone circle has a new visitor centre, which explores the many theories surrounding its mysterious creation, possibly as long ago as 2500BC. Don’t miss the nearby village of Avebury, which is surrounded by three circles of standing stones, and the Neolithic chambered tomb of West Kennet Long Barrow, which dates from about 3650BC.

Drive on to Bath, your final stop, to see the Roman Baths and experience the healing geothermal waters for yourself at the fabulous Thermae Spa. Here you’ll find an open-air rooftop pool to contemplate it all from.

Hadrian's Wall

Visit the longest continuous section of Hadrian’s Wall still standing. Photograph: Getty Images

Along the wall
Carlisle has long been strategically important, close to the border with Scotland, and was once on the very outermost edge of the Roman Empire. As a result there is plenty of history here. See the city’s timber-framed Guildhall and visit the 12th century cathedral, one of England’s smallest, before taking a walk around Carlisle Castle, which has 1,000 years of military heritage and is also where Elizabeth I kept Mary, Queen of Scots, as her “guest” in 1568.

Drive out of the city on the A69, which hugs Hadrian’s Wall all the way to Newcastle upon Tyne. Stop first at Birdoswald Roman Fort, where you can see a model of the wall as it appeared when complete, as well as the longest continuous section of it still standing today. Next up is Vindolanda, home to the Vindolanda tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain, and a world-class museum of Roman objects.

From here, it’s just 45 minutes to Newcastle upon Tyne, with its 12th century castle keep and ancient cathedral. It is better known, though, for its vibrant cultural scene, so don’t miss Baltic, a contemporary art gallery housed in a converted flour mill.

Skara Brae

The ancient village of Skara Brae on Orkney. Photograph: Getty Images

Ancient treasures
History doesn’t get more potent than on Orkney, where a cluster of hugely important Neolithic sites stand against a dramatically beautiful landscape.

Pick up a car in Kirkwall and make the short drive out to Maeshowe, the most impressive Neolithic burial chamber in a landscape dotted with them. The guided tour is fascinating, with tales of 12th-century Viking raids (and graffiti) and the jaw-dropping explanation of how at the winter solstice the tomb is aligned perfectly to the rays of the sun.

The nearby lochs of Stenness and Harray are separated by promontories that once formed the heart of Orkney’s Neolithic ceremonial complex. Today the standing stones of Stenness remain, along with the Ring of Brodgar – originally 60 stones, now 27.

Drive on west to the Bay of Skaill and the amazingly well-preserved village of Skara Brae. This 5,000 year-old settlement was buried until a fierce storm uncovered it in 1850, revealing dwellings with everything from beds to fireplaces, cupboards to tables. Add a roof and you could happily live here.

Oxford's dreaming spires

Oxford is home to some of England’s finest architecture. Photograph: Getty Images

Spires and spies
Oxford is known for its “dreaming spires” and the university city is home to some of England’s finest architecture. Top pick is Christ Church College, where Christopher Wren’s imposing Tom Tower lords it over the city’s largest quad, surrounded by honey-hued stone buildings that are photogenic from any angle. Don’t miss seeing the Radcliffe Camera, an 18th-century rotunda that forms part of the Bodleian Library, the country’s largest after the British Library.

From Oxford, it’s an easy drive to Bletchley Park, once Britain’s best-kept secret and today home to the world’s largest collection of Enigma code-breaking machines. Explore the Second World War code-breaking huts and discover the life and work of pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing in the exhibition.

Drive on to Cambridge, where yet more spires and college quads await. The most imposing is King’s College, where the chapel represents the zenith of gothic architectural design, with four spiky turrets and copious stained-glass windows.

Article source: The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/enterprise-open-road/2014/nov/21/the-uk-top-historic-sites-itineraries-drive-history

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Now You Can Explore the Sights and Sounds of Stonehenge on Your iPhone 

Stonehenge has been mystifying people for quite a long time, but getting to the massive circle of standing stones could pose a problem for many. Happily, the Stonehenge Experience app for iOS tackles this problem with gusto, aiming to bring you the sights and even the sounds of Stonehenge regardless of where you may be.

The app was released earlier this month for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch by Ribui Ltd. Once activated, the app goes through several interactive vignettes explaining the arrangement of the stones, when they were erected, how we think the pillars were constructed, and so on. It’s sort of like a virtual tour of the site, being narrated by an unseen woman with a fabulous British accent.

Though the idea of a tour-in-your-pocket might sound disappointing, each “section” of the tour is interactive in some way. You can pinch and slide your view around all of the presentations, and scrub the slider back and forth to advance. In some cases, this moves time backward and forward on screen, causing stones to rise up out of the ground or the sun to move across the sky. You can also jump straight to a menu that allows you to access each segment at your leisure.

In addition to the stones themselves, the app also encompasses several nearby sites, including burials and earthworks. These are presented, Google Maps fashion, from the menu page. While light on information, the app lets you “excavate” some of these sites by swiping your finger across the screen. This is kind of silly, but does introduce the user to some of the region’s permanent residents.

By far, the most impressive feature of the app is a 360º view of the stones from within the circle. It’s designed to deliver an alternate-reality experience, where moving your phone or iPad around changes the view. That’s pretty neat, but the Stonehenge Experience goes a step further and uses your device’s built-in microphone to deliver what the app’s creators claim is the sensation of hearing what it’s like within the stones. One of the apps designers explains:

This is by far the most fun part of the app, which seems kind of silly since it’s just an audio filter. However, it adds a level of interaction that’s surprisingly fun

Having never been to Stonehenge, I can’t say if the app lives up to its claims of faithfully recreating the entire experience. However, I can say that I had an enjoyable time playing around with it. The actual educational content of the app seemed pretty on-mark, although I am far from an expert. That said, the $2.99 price point might seem a bit steep for a little toy like this, with limited re-use value.

If you’re looking to experience Stonehenge on a phone, I am not sure you can do much better.

(The Stonehenge Experience via New Scientist)
Mary Sue:  http://www.themarysue.com/stonehenge-app/

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer a free download of this app for all their customers.

Stonehenge Tour Guide

We are now taking bookings for December 2014.  We have our regular classic Christmas sightseeing coach tours and some new exclusive trips on offer this festive season. Some day tours are now including the fabulous Salisbury Christmas market and carols in Salisbury Cathedral this year.  Other tours include Bath, Windsor, The Cotswold’s and some include traditional pub lunches.  While the weather may be getting Snowhengecooler, London’s Christmas season is just warming up. England acquires a special sparkle around Christmas time. The weather is frosty and the Christmas lights are twinkling. England is a truly magical place to explore at Christmas

Stonehenge Sunrise Access Viewing Tour – December 19th 2014

We have arranged with English Heritage for you to experience a unique guided visit to this ancient sacred site – beyond the fences and after the crowds have gone home. Walk amongst the stones and experience the magical atmosphere within the inner circle. Include’s Bath and Lacock. Click here

Stonehenge Solstice Sunset Viewing Tour – December 21st 2014
The Winter Solstice is the most important day of the year at Stonehenge and a truly magical time to be there. Exprience the new English Heritage visitor centre and witness the sun setting plus Avebury Stone Circle and Salisbury Catthedral / Christmas Market. Click here

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Sunrise Access Tour – December 22nd 2014
The Winter Solstice is the most important day of the year at Stonehenge and a truly magical time to be there. Witness the sun rising from within the inner circle of Stonehenge at dawn. Click here

Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and the Roman Baths – Christmas Eve (24th)
See the ancient monoliths at Stonehenge, visit the magnificent Windsor Castle and the Georgian City of Bath, where we visit the Roman Baths. Click here

Stonehenge, Windsor and Bath with traditional pub lunch – Christmas Day
Luxury coach tour with professional guide
Explore the heart of England on Christmas day & see Royal Windsor, historic Stonehenge and Georgian Bath. Plus enjoy a festive lunch in a classic British country pub with Roast Turkey and all the trimmings! Includes festive pub lunch – Click here

Stonehenge and Bath with fish and chips pub lunch – Boxing day (26th) December 2014
With Champagne reception and lunch included
See Windsor, Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bath all in a day. Includes Champagne reception at Windsor, fast track entrance at Stonehenge and a classic country pub lunch. Fast track entrance at Stonehenge –Click here

Stonehenge, Windsor and Bath – NEW YEARS DAY (1st January 2015)
All entrance fees included
Prehistoric Stonehenge, Elegant Bath and Royal Windsor all lined up for a fabulous New Year! Includes Festive Lunch – Click here

27th – 31st December Tours

During this festive period between the 27th and 31st of December, we are pleased to provide our full range of tours whether its a London sightseeing tour or a visit to Stonehenge

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