Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Mystery Of Stonehenge Has Finally Been Solved

Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain is one of the most famous and enigmatic neolithic monuments on the planet. Standing in the shadow of the ancient igneous bluestone monoliths ejected from lost volcanoes is a powerful experience as it makes you realise just how solid, cold and old they are. The stones themselves are colossi. It seems almost impossible that the primitive cultures which inhabited prehistoric Britain could have built such a structure.

One theory points towards aliens, another, the remains of a bloody battle fought between primordial giants. Arthurian mythology has also been associated with the stones, with some historians believing that they mark the burial place of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Even the science fiction television show Doctor Who gets in on the act, suggesting that a mischievous time lord known as the Meddling Monk, with a penchant for muddling history, showed the ancient Britons how to use gravity negating devices to move the monoliths to their final resting place.

The stone circle has baffled some of the most respected archaeologists throughout the ages. Theories surrounding the monument's purpose as a temple, a calender, a clock, even an alien signaling device, could fill volumes of encyclopedic size. Yet a team composed of members from the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and University College, London believe they have the answer.

'When Stonehenge was built,' said Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, 'there was a growing island-wide culture, the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast. This was very different to the regionalism of previous centuries. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones.' The team looked at the origins of the stones. Some came from as far afield as South Wales, hundreds of miles away from Salisbury Plain. Others from the Marlborough Downs, further south. 

The summer solstice at Stonehenge
Next they looked at the location. Salisbury Plain is an unusual place: a vast flat expanse of grass in the middle of a hilly landscape built on the remains of the Cretaceous chalk sea. Yet the specific spot was of far greater significance to the prehistoric Britons. 

There are two large square arches on either side of the circle. As the sun rises behind one and sets behind the other, a central avenue aligns with the sun during the summer and winter solstices. The avenue itself sits between natural land forms, forming an axis between the directions of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, with alignments to astronomical star formations. Several other circles have been found close by which display similar design features.

The area has more cosmically aligned structures than anywhere on the planet. 'When we stumbled across this extraordinary natural arrangement of the sun's path being marked in the land,' Parker Pearson continued, 'we realized that prehistoric people selected this place to build Stonehenge because of its pre-ordained significance.' This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solstitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else. Perhaps they saw this place as the centre of the world.

Finally, the team looked at the social structure of the time. It turns out that the main stone construction phases occurred during a time of unification between the different British tribes, indicated by a change from varied forms of architecture to a more consistent format for everything from temples to houses. The team's final conclusion is that Stonehenge was built to mark the unification of the Britons around 4500 to 5000 years ago.

It is likely that the monument served as a major religious centre after this point. The central stone could have been an altar as a large number of pigs' teeth and bones found in the area suggest that sacrifices were performed. Swine were most commonly offered to gods by early and classical cultures. 'Stonehenge appears to have been the last gasp of this Stone Age culture, which was isolated from Europe and from the new technologies of metal tools and the wheel,' Parker Pearson concluded.

The stone circle, in my opinion, will always have an aura of mystery about it, despite our best theories. Its sheer size and orderly nature in relation to the sprawling chalk plain around make this so. Yet these conclusions allow us to see Stonehenge through the eyes of our ancestors and glimpse a culture far removed from our own. These timeless, towering stone colossi, standing proud on Salisbury Plain, is all what remains of them.