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Stonehenge has been called "the most important prehistoric monument in all of Britain." Recognized across the world, this stone circle continues to awe and amaze all who see it. Although it's not the only stone circle in this tiny country, it's definitely the most famous. In fact, the landscape for a few miles around Stonehenge contains more prehistoric remains than any other area of the same size in Britain.
It's only during the twentieth century that archaeological excavations have yielded reliable information about its age and its history. As with many later churches and temples, not all the structures we see today at Stonehenge were built at the same time. Scientists have determined three or four phases in the development.
The monument itself consists of two nested circles around two nested semi-circles. There is a large outer circle of thirty sandstone blocks called the sarsen stones. The tall sarsen stones are almost 14 feet high. A continuous circle of thirty stones called lentils run across the top of the sarsen stones. Four of the sarsen uprights have prehistoric carvings on their sides.
Stonehenge has often been associated with a group known as the Druids. It has been suggested this stone circle might have been a Druid temple, although today most experts disagree with this theory. What we know about the Druids was recorded by classical writers like Julius Caesar, who tell us they were a Celtic priesthood who flourished in Britain at the time of the Roman conquest and perhaps for a few centuries before. By then the stones of Stonehenge had already been standing for two thousands years and were probably in ruins.
The true function of Stonehenge is still a matter of conjecture. Astronomer Gerald S. Hawkins believed Stonehenge could have been used to predict the summer and winter solstices, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and eclipses of both the sun and moon. Thus the circle may have served as a form of a calendar. Others believe it was an ancient burial site and still others suggest space aliens were somehow involved!
Stonehenge is located on the Salisbury Plan in Wiltshire, England, about 80 miles from London. The site is open all year, with some variation on June 21, which is the summer solstice. A gate surrounds the stones to protect them from vandalism so you can get no closer than about fifty feet. Upon paying the admission fee, you'll be given audio headphones which explain the extraordinary stones at Stonehenge.
As a quirky sidenote, there are several "copies" of Stonehenge. In Texas, you can see Stonehenge II, a smaller replica. In Nebraska, some enterprising soul has produced Carhenge, a Stonehenge made up of cars!