What are some important features of Stonehenge?

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are over seven hundred archaeological features in the entire Stonehenge World Heritage site. Stonehenge is a megalithic site, which means it is an ancient monument made of stone. The word 'henge' is defined as a prehistoric structure that consists of a circle of stone or wooden uprights. Stonehenge obviously fits that criteria.

There are two types of stone used. The larger stones are called sarsens and can reach heights of thirty feet. Sarsens, on average, weigh about 25 tonnes. The smaller stones of the complex are called blue stones and weigh about four tonnes. They are called blue stones because when freshly cut, or when they get wet, the stones have a bluish tint. It is believed that glacial movement brought these large stones into the region, but archaeologists have not ruled out the possibility that they were moved by the people of the era.

One of the interesting features of Stonehenge is the astrological alignment of the site. Stonehenge is aligned along the midwinter sunset, midsummer sunrise solstitial axis. This means that its alignment can be used to predict the midyear based on the way shadows are cast. Other monuments around Stonehenge have this arrangement or the opposite midsummer sunset alignment. This would have been important for agricultural purposes as well as ceremonial.

Holes that are dug around the complex seem to have two purposes. First, it was used as a cremation cemetery, with people burying the ashes of the deceased in the holes. Secondly, the holes may have been used to predict lunar eclipses, which would have been useful to priests or shamans. In general, with over 350 burial mounds, the Stonehenge ward was an important necropolis in ancient times.

The entire region around Stonehenge was considered sacred ground, probably because of the abundance of wild game. The Stonehenge monument itself is the most architecturally sophisticated henge structure built in prehistory.

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