You would think that a monument that has been in plain sight, studied, poked, and prodded for millennia would have given up all its secrets long ago. Not so. Stonehenge, probably the most famous prehistoric monument in the world, continues to surprise the historians, archaeologists, and scientists who continue to investigate it.
Stonehenge is an arrangement of gigantic standing stones in southwestern England. The first stones may have been put up as early as 3,000 BC. Although many other theories for its use have been proposed, Stonehenge clearly had an observatory function, since the stones’ placement allows predictions of solstices and other astronomical events.
Archaeologists recently found support for the observatory function. They have found evidence of two huge pits connected to the stones’ astronomical alignment. The finders propose that the pits held large objects or even fires that would have marked a route for a ritual procession.
The stones themselves are also the subject of research. One recent discovery revealed exactly where some of them were quarried. Researchers had long suspected that the stones came from hills in western Wales. Now geologists have narrowed down the site to within 230 feet by matching the mineral content and textural relationships within the rock. The analysis raises a new question, though. Since rough terrain separates the new-found quarry site from the sea, from where the stones could be floated to the Stonehenge site, how did the people get the stones from the quarry to the coast?
Another study hints that Stonehenge had acoustical properties that could have enhanced its status as a sacred, or at least very special and unusual place. Using a replica of the monument in Washington State, specialists in acoustics determined that sound waves bounced around Stonehenge with a reverberation time of just less than one second—the rate that is preferred for a good lecture hall. The study’s director compared the effect to the feeling one gets when standing in a great cathedral.
Image credit: © Corbis
Take a virtual tour of Stonehenge at this official English Heritage site.
(Source: English Heritage; accessed May 31, 2012)
- Discoveries Provide Evidence of a Celestial Procession at Stonehenge
Scroll down for a podflash interview with Dr. Christopher Gaffney, lecturer in Archaeological Geophysics at the University of Bradford, on his recent discoveries at Stonehenge.
(Source: University of Birmingham, November 26, 2011)
- Stonehenge Rocks Pembrokeshire Link Confirmed
How did scientists learn where the stones came from? Find out here.
(Source: BBC News, December 19, 2011)
- Measuring the Acoustics of Stonehenge
Read the details of the acoustic research project.
(Source: University of Salford, Manchester; accessed May 31, 2012)