There are many henges in Britain (though none elsewhere) – but Stonehenge isn’t one of them.
Archaeologists define a ‘henge’ as having a ditch on the inside and a bank on the outside; Stonehenge is the other way round. Having a ditch inside a bank is not a practical arrangement for defensive purposes, so henges are assumed to have had a ritual function. (The full definition is ‘a nearly circular or oval flat area over 65 feet across that is enclosed by a boundary earthwork that comprises a ditch with an external bank pierced by one, two, or four entrances’.) The most famous true henge in the UK is probably Avebury, about 20 miles north of Stonehenge.
Oddly enough, though, the word ‘henge’ is a back-formation from ‘Stonehenge’, coined by Thomas Kendrick, later Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum, in 1932. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘stone’ and ‘gallows’, implying that they thought it to be a place of execution (of course Stonehenge was already many centuries old in Anglo-Saxon times).
Stonehenge was in private ownership until 1916, when it was bought on the spur of the moment by Sir Cecil Chubb, the owner of a local lunatic asylum, as a present for his wife. Three years later she gave the site to the nation.
Stonehenge had nothing to do with druids, at least until ‘Druidical’ rituals began in 1905. We only make the association because it is considered a prehistoric religious site, and the druids are the only religious group of prehistoric Britain we know by name.
The American Stonehenge has carvings explaining what to do when 90% of Earth's population is wiped out.
Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge located near the city of Alliance, Nebraska, formed from vintage American automobiles, all covered with grey spray paint. Built by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, it was dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice.
Seahenge is a Bronze Age monument discovered in 1998 just off the coast of Norfolk at Holme-next-the-Sea, consisting of an outer ring comprising fifty-five small split oak trunks forming a roughly circular enclosure around a large inverted oak stump.
Woodhenge is a henge but it is not now made of wood. The postholes which held the (long-decayed) wooden posts are now filled with concrete and when you go there it definitely feels like you’re being conned.
Stones at stonehenge include the Altar Henge, the Heel Stone and the Slaughter Stone.
Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated pre-historic stone circle in the world.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1136) claimed that the stones were brought from Ireland by Merlin with the help of 15,000 knights to form a memorial for those who died in a battle against the Saxons.
By the 16th century it was said that it was impossible to accurately count the stones and that anyone who did would instantly die. Charles II personally disproved this in 1651; on his way into exile in France he took refuge near Stonehenge for a few nights and hid amongst the stones during the day.
Over the centuries nearly half of Stonehenge has been quarried away for building stone. In some cases fires were lit on the lintel stones to break them up. Visitors aware of the associations with Merlin would also chip pieces off the stones and throw them down wells to remove toads or used them to heal wounds. A hundred years ago the blacksmith in nearby Amesbury would hire out a hammer for chipping off bits of Stonehenge.
Following the 1921 publication of Alfred Watkins’ book The Old Straight Track, adherents to dowsing and New Age beliefs claimed Stonehenge stands on the intersection of numerous leys, lines connecting ancient sites which resonate a special ‘energy’.
To prove this is nonsense mathematician Matt Parker did a similar analysis using the locations of the 800 branches of Woolworths. He found that they could also be mapped onto precise geometrical patterns with the same level of accuracy. He claimed (tongue in cheek) that this pinpoint accuracy suggested that Woolworths managers positioned the stores as a form of ‘landmark satnav’ allowing travellers to find their nearest pick’n’mix outlet. He could also not rule out the possibility that alien help was required to position stores this precisely and to offer the Ladybird clothing range at such low prices.
The overall conclusion is that henges may have been used for rituals or astronomical observation but their alignment is highly variable and may have been more determined by local topology than by desire for symbolic orientation.
Stonehenge is sometimes also known as The Giant's Dance.
Before 1900, visitors to Stonehenge were handed chisels so that they could provide themselves with a souvenir.
As early as 10,500 years ago, three large pine posts were erected at the site.
Dozens of burial mounds have been discovered near Stonehenge indicating that thousands of people were buried there in ancient times.