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Stonehenge

stonehenge

Read the short article below on Stonehenge and answer the comprehension questions that follow.

Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated and only surviving prehistoric lintelled stone circle in the world. It is located on a chalky plain in the county of Wiltshire, in the south of England. Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over a period of about 10,000 years. However, the structure that we generally refer to as 'Stonehenge' was built around 4,500 years ago. It forms just one part of a massive, highly complex, ancient landscape of early Neolithic, late Neolithic and early Bronze Age sacred monuments.

The biggest of Stonehengeís stones, known as sarsens, are up to 9 meters tall with the largest of these stones weighing around 50 tons. It is believed that they were brought from the Marlborough Downs, a distance of 30 or more kilometres to the north. Archaeologists have estimated that it would have taken 500 men using ropes to pull one stone, with an additional 100 men needed to lay the huge rollers in front of the sledge.

The sarsen stones were dressed using sophisticated techniques and erected using precisely interlocking joints, unseen at any other prehistoric monument. They were erected in two concentric arrangements. The inner one is horseshoe of five trilithons (two vertical stones capped by a horizontal lintel). Around the horseshoe are the remains of the outer sarsen circle, capped with lintels. There were probably once 30 stones in this circle, but some have fallen and many of the lintels and a few uprights are missing from the site.


 

 

Smaller stones, referred to as 'bluestones' because they have a bluish tinge when wet, weigh up to 4 tons each and appear to originate from several different sites in the Preseli Hills of south-west of Wales, around 200 km away from Stonehenge. Itís not known how people in antiquity moved more than eighty of these bluestones that far. One theory is that they were dragged on rollers and sledges and then loaded on to rafts, transported along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, and then dragged overland again to the Stonehenge site. Some researchers have raised the possibility that during the last ice age glaciers carried these bluestones closer to the Stonehenge area and the monumentís makers didnít have to move them all the way from Wales.

During excavations over recent years sixty cremation burials have been uncovered at Stonehenge, with probably many more undiscovered in the unexcavated areas of the monument. Radiocarbon dating dates many of these cremations to  approximately between 3,000 BC and 2400 BC, which illustrates that cremation was still being practiced at Stonehenge long after the bluestones and sarsens had been erected. 

In addition to the cremations, numerous inhumation burials have been unearthed in or around monument. Most of these appear to date from the 2400 - 2150BC, which was the Early Bronze Age period. Perhaps the most interesting of these is that of a strongly-built man aged between 35 and 50 who had been shot at close range by at least six flint-tipped arrows, probably by two people, one shooting from the left the other from the right. Archaeologists have proposed that this could have been an execution or perhaps some form of ritual human sacrifice. Found buried with his skeleton were five 'Beaker' pots, which probably would have contained food or drink of some sort, sixteen flint arrowheads, boar's tusks, two sandstone archer's bracers (wristguards), gold hair ornaments, three small copper knives, metalworking tools, a flint-knapping kit, and a shale belt ring. Other items, which would have also been buried along with the body and made of wood, twine, leather and textile would have perished and disappeared over time. Whatever the reason for his death, the burial of such rich grave goods with the body indicates that he was a high-status individual and also probably one of the earliest metalworkers in north-west Europe.

The main axis of the stones is aligned upon the solstitial axis. At midsummer, the sun rises over the horizon to the north-east, and aligns with the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone. At midwinter, the sun sets in the south-west, in the gap between the two tallest trilithons. These times in the seasonal cycle were obviously important to the prehistoric people who built and used Stonehenge. However, many different theories have been put forward about who built it, when, and why.

Theories about its origin and purpose have included a coronation place for clan leaders or king like figures, a Druid temple, an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events, a place where ancestors were worshipped, a burial ground, a cult centre for healing and / or human sacrifice, and as a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun.

To build massive monuments such as Stonehenge, a settled population would have been needed. And a succession of powerful clan leaders or kings would have had to organise and oversee the project, as well as, farmers, serfs and slaves to work the land and erect the monuments.

Stonehenge has been a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1882 and is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage; with the surrounding land owned by the National Trust.

 

 

 

Comprehension Questions 

1 - How old is the main visible structure known as Stonehenge?

2 - What name is given to the largest stones that make up Stonehenge?

3 - How much does the heaviest of these stones weigh?

4 - How many stones are used in a trilithon?

5 - From where do the Bluestones originate?

6 - How many bluestones have been counted at Stonehenge? 

7 - Were cremation or inhumation burials most common in the earlier period of Stonehenge's use?

8 - What meat may the individual found buried have eaten during his lifetime? 

9 - Why do you think the body was buried with such an array of items?

10 -  Who owns Stonehenge?

 

 

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