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Stonehenge - Wiltshire, England
Stone Circle and Henge
National Grid Reference: SU 123 422

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Stonehenge Phase III

Around 2,000 BC construction started on a large circle of sarsen stones all capped with lintels. This is the outer part of the structure that visitors see today. The lintels formed a continuous circle at a height of around 16 feet from the ground. The huge stones used to construct this circle were brought from the Marlborough Downs, around 20 miles north of Stonehenge. This is the same source of stone used for the construction of the circles at Avebury.

The transportation of stones up to 50 tonnes in weight, over a distance of 20 miles, is an incredible achievement. The most likely method for moving the stones is that they were tied on to wooden sledges and then pulled over a set of rollers.

Once at Stonehenge the sarsen stones were pounded into shape using stone hammers, some of which have been found on the site. Much thought went into the shaping of the stones. The uprights are gently tapered and the lintels are curved to fit into the circle. The lintels were not just dropped into place, joints were made. The top of each upright in the circle had two protrusions at the top which fitted into a cup carved at the end of each lintel, rather like a mortice and tenon joint in woodworking. Each lintel was also joined to its neighbour with a tongue and groove joint. These joints are more typical of woodworking than of masonry. Look closely at the top of the uprights at Stonehenge and you can still see the tenons.

One of the biggest debates about Stonehenge is just how the lintels were put into place on top of the uprights. One legend has the wizard Merlin levitating the stones in to position, others speak of giants lifting the stones. A more realistic theory is that wooden scaffolds were built around the uprights. The lintel was placed on the scaffold and was then gradually raised by levering the stone up and placing more timber underneath. Finally, when the scaffold and lintel reached the top of the upright stones the lintel could be levered into position.

Another idea is that a wooden ramp was built on one side of the uprights and the builders pulled the lintel up the ramp using ropes from the other side. Yet another theory is that once the upright stones were in place they were buried in earth. The lintel was then dragged up the earth mound and put into place. The earth would then be dug away leaving the lintel in place at the top. Personally I favour the scaffold theory mentioned above for raising the lintels into position.

Within the outer circle a horseshoe of 5 larger trilithons was erected. These stood separate from one another, unlike the great ring of trilithons surrounding them. A selection of the bluestones from phase II was stood in an oval within the trilithon horseshoe. Some of the bluestones were set up as trilithons, remains of the required joints can still be seen on some of the bluestones today.

Later, a double ring of stone holes was dug outside the great sarsen circle. These are known as the Y and Z holes. The intention seems to have been to stand the remaining bluestones in a double circle in these holes. However this project was abandoned.

Stonehenge Phase IV

Stonehenge was redesigned once more, around 1,500 BC. The oval setting of bluestones within the trilithon horseshoe was dismantled. Instead another horseshoe was erected using these stones within the U of trilithons, and the rest were set standing in a circle within the outer ring of sarsens. It is the ruins of this final structure that we can see today at Stonehenge.

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