The Stone Age

Last February we visited Stonehenge. The sun was lurking behind the clouds creating an atmospheric experience. 

The large Heelstone

On the Wiltshire plains surrounding Stonehenge ancient Barrows can be seen in the far distance (burial mounds).

courtesy Andrew Dunn via wikipedia

Neolithic man has left his mark all across the UK from the far south in Cornwall to the distant isles in northern Scotland. We live with our ancestors brooding presence, great megalith solitary stones, many weighing as much as 20 – 30 tons and much more.

courtesy Canadian Girl Scout via wikipedia

Standing stone from the Ring of Brodgar in Stenness, Orkney

Others are in groups, often in circular, oval, henge or horseshoe formation.

Geologists and Archaeologists now know that the stones at Stonehenge came from about 240 miles away in Pembrokeshire, Wales, to Wiltshire. How did they travel such a great distance 5000 years ago? We would be hard pressed to move such enormous stones today with all of our modern equipment. When the stones arrived, just to make things even more complex, they were lifted up on top of each other. There are many theories to explain them, but do we really know? It is thought these circles were for ancient religious ceremonies, sometimes containing burial chambers. Stonehenge is aligned northeast–southwest, and it has been suggested that particular significance was placed by its builders on the solstice and equinox points, so for example, on a midsummers  morning, the sun rose close to the Heelstone, and the sun’s first rays went directly into the center of the monument between the horseshoe arrangement. It is unlikely that such an alignment is merely accidental. 

For 5000 years these stones have borne silent witness to storms, tempests, floods, war, and man’s inhumanity to man.

Let us also not forget the many prehistoric mounds, and in particular Silbury Hill. At 40 metres (131ft) high it is the tallest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe and one of the largest in the world; it is similar in size to some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids at Giza. Its original purpose is still highly debated; it is made of chalk and it is estimated that it took 18 million man-hours, or 500 men working for 15 years to make.

Silbury Hill courtesy Greg O’Beorme via wikipedia

Stonehenge was erected a few years after the Great Pyramids in Egypt, but recently a new complex has been found in Orkney that pre-dates Stonehenge and the Pyramids by 750 years, and it is altering our understanding of our ancestors.

Experts believe the site known as the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney was used for spiritual ceremonies. It had a 10ft wall surrounding a site which was the size of five football pitches. About 100 buildings made up the complex. They had thick stone walls, decorated with carvings and paintings and the roofs were made of stone tiles.

The discovery has turned our understanding of Neolithic man on its head, and it will take a long time to fully understand this new site.

Excavation at Ness of Brodgar

courtesy genevieveromier via wikipedia

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4 comments

  1. I love it when history makes us look in another direction!

    1. Glad you enjoyed looking in another direction Tom – sometimes we tend to take these wonderful monuments on our doorstep for granted.

  2. Lovely virtual visit to Stonehenge, Rosemary. It’s such an imposing site up there on that Wiltshire hill…

    1. It is certainly an awe inspiring site to visit Kate.

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