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Megaliths are single large stones, or a group of “standing stones” usually arranged in a circular or semi-circular formation, and that archaeologists believe were religious temples or monuments. The earliest sites are thought to date back to the millenia. The word, “megalith” itself has Greek origins: “mega” meaning “great” and “lithos” meaning “stone”. Certain megalith sites, and there are thousands of them all around the world, were also known burial sites. England seems to have the greatest concentration of megaliths that carry names like Avebury, the Hurlers, the Merry Maidens, and the Rollright Stones. The most famous of these is, of course, Stonehenge.

The name “Stonehenge” means “hanging stones”. The circle itself consists mainly of two types of stone, one called “bluestone”, a kind of dolerite with a blue tint, and sarcen, a kind of granite. The bluestones are believed to have been quarried in Wales, about 130 miles away, and in an area known as Salisbury Plain. The sarcen was brought in from the Marlborough Downs. The exact time of construction has never been established, but it’s believed that Stonehenge went through a series of 3, perhaps 4, building phases beginning in the 8th or 9th millennium BC and concluding sometime in 1100 BC. It’s also believed that Stonehenge may have consisted of up to 60 stones in its heyday, however over time more than half have either fallen or been destroyed by erosion or human interference.

What gives Stonehenge its distinctiveness over many of the other megalith sites is its architecture. The huge stones are not only set in a precisely-spaced circular formation, they are also capped by thirty “lintels”, or equally mammoth stones set diagonally across the top. The final impression is one of huge doorways, which are called “trilithons”, and that lead to a second inner circle of stones. These, however, are not capped with lintels. Each of the stones in both the outer and inner formation weighs between 25 and 45 tons.

Over the centuries many noted builders, architects, archaeologists and scholars have studied and pondered Stonehenge’s sophisticated workmanship. To date they remain baffled as to how the stones could have been placed with such precision. Archaeologists agree that the
craftsmanship used to build Stonehenge does not coincide with the civilizations that are known to have existed during the various stages of its construction. The wheel hadn’t even been invented until long after Stonehenge was completed.

This fact alone led to many legends and stories about who might have built Stonehenge. For many years it was believed the Druids or the Romans were the architects but neither civilization was in that area of Britain until long after the last phase of Stonehenge’s construction. The tale most often told was that Merlin the Magician was responsible. Merlin claimed that an extinct race of Irish giants built Stonehenge from magic stones quarried in Africa, and that the circle had healing qualities. He later used his own sorcery to transport the megaliths from their original location in Ireland, and as a favor to an early British king named Aurelius Ambrosius, brother to Uther Pendragon. Ambrosius wished to use the magic circle as a monument to his fallen men, slain in a treacherous ambush.

This magical tale held for centuries until the time of King James I. Apparently fascinated by Stonehenge after a visit in 1620, he ordered the most notable architect of that time, Indigo Jones, to do a study. He concluded that only the Romans had the knowledge to construct such an ingenious site.

Since then there have been many other theories cited as to who built Stonehenge, and why. Some scholars believed it was the Egyptians. Others say people from Atlantis built it before their own island kingdom was inundated by the sea. Plato’s “Critias” lent credence to this theory since he described the Atlanteans as an advanced civilization with great technical skill. Their own great city was built in a similar circular style. Still other conjectures are that Stonehenge is the burial site for the great warrior queen, Boadicia, that it’s an early design of a computer used to predict lunar eclipses, or, most recently, one of many landing sites for extraterrestrials. There are even those who, taking the “magic” aspect of megaliths and stone circles one step further, believe that Stonehenge is a series of doorways that lead to alternate dimensions.

Whatever the case, Stonehenge continues to baffle and inspire awe and an aura of mystery in all those who stand before this great circle of stone.