Detailed radiocarbon dating of Stonehenge has shown that work on its construction probably began with the huge circular ditch that still surrounds the monument. Inside several dozen bluestones were erected along with various timber posts and other structures. It was a relatively modest construction by the standards of the remains we can see today. Then, around 2600BC, the site was transformed. A ring of giant upright stones called sarsens were erected and capped with huge rock lintels. Inside five huge trilithons – pairs of rock columns capped with a single slab – were erected and many of the magical bluestones from Wales that had been erected near the edge of the monument were moved inside this inner sanctum. Crucially, the rays of the setting midwinter sun and the rising midsummer sun would shine through the heart of the monument and down the avenue that leads into it.
Over succeeding centuries, the bluestones were rearranged for purposes that still mystify scientists. In short, Stonehenge is not one monument, built at one moment in history, but many built and rebuilt over many centuries. By that definition, it had no single purpose but had many. Even today it performs many functions – as a tourist attraction, a religious site (for Druids), and a place for scientific study, for example.
Stonehenge might be like a cathedral that started out like a “barn”, and then became the Sistine Chapel. It could also be a monument to a “lost” episode in the British Isle’s cultural evolution.
As a result of the scientific analysis, they have concluded that the second Stonehenge was built slightly earlier than previously thought – 4,500 years ago rather than 4,300 years ago.
This gives a clue to the decline of Stonehenge, as it means it was built before the arrival of the “Beaker people”, who came to Britain from the continent around 4,300 years ago.
The Beaker people brought metal, the wheel and a less centralised political culture to Britain, bringing an end to the mass monument-building of the Ancient Britons.
I’m going with the theory, that it’s the world’s oldest public works project – for no purpose whatsoever. Hear that, Republicans?