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Stonehenge

 
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Open Daily 9.30am To 5pm
Last Entry At 3pm

 

ADDRESS
Near Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE

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Stonehenge

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Walk in the footsteps of your Neolithic ancestors at Stonehenge – one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. Explore the ancient landscape on foot and step inside the Neolithic Houses to discover the tools and objects of everyday Neolithic life. Visit the world-class exhibition and visitor centre with 250 ancient objects and come face to face with a 5,500 year-old man.

History of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument. It was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, built about 5,000 years ago, and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. In the early Bronze Age many burial mounds were built nearby. Today, along with Avebury, it forms the heart of a World Heritage Site, with a unique concentration of prehistoric monuments.

 

Before Stonehenge

The Greater, or Stonehenge, Cursus, a huge rectangular earthwork enclosure 1.7 miles long, seen from the air in 2000. The earliest structures known in the immediate area are four or five pits, three of which appear to have held large pine ‘totem-pole like’ posts erected in the Mesolithic period, between 8500 and 7000 BC.It is not known how these posts relate to the later monument of Stonehenge.

At this time, when much of the rest of southern England was largely covered by woodland, the chalk downland in the area of Stonehenge may have been an unusually open landscape. It is possible that this is why it became the site of an early Neolithic monument complex.

This complex included the causewayed enclosure at Robin Hood’s Ball, two cursus monuments or rectangular earthworks (the Greater, or Stonehenge, and Lesser Cursus), and several long barrows, all dating from the centuries around 3500 BC. The presence of these monuments probably influenced the later location of Stonehenge.



The Earliest Monument

It is possible that features such as the Heel Stone and the low mound known as the North Barrow were early components of Stonehenge, but the earliest known major event was the construction of a circular ditch with an inner and outer bank, built about 3000 BC. This enclosed an area about 100 metres in diameter, and had two entrances. It was an early form of henge monument.

Within the bank and ditch were possibly some timber structures and set just inside the bank were 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes. There has been much debate about what stood in these holes: the consensus for many years has been that they held upright timber posts, but recently the idea has re-emerged that some of them may have held stones.

Within and around the Aubrey Holes, and also in the ditch, people buried cremations. About 64 cremations have been found, and perhaps as many as 150 individuals were originally buried at Stonehenge, making it the largest late Neolithic cemetery in the British Isles.

The Stone Settings

In about 2500 BC the stones were set up in the centre of the monument. Two types of stone are used at Stonehenge – the larger sarsens and the smaller ‘bluestones’. The sarsens were erected in two concentric arrangements – an inner horseshoe and an outer circle – and the bluestones were set up between them in a double arc.

Probably at the same time that the stones were being set up in the centre of the monument, the sarsens close to the entrance were raised, together with the four Station Stones on the periphery.

About 200 or 300 years later the central bluestones were rearranged to form a circle and inner oval (which was again later altered to form a horseshoe). The earthwork Avenue was also built at this time, connecting Stonehenge with the river Avon.
One of the last prehistoric activities at Stonehenge was the digging around the stone settings of two rings of concentric pits, the so-called Y and Z holes, radiocarbon dated by antlers within them to between 1800 and 1500 BC. They may have been intended for a rearrangement of the stones that was never completed.



After Stonehenge Was Built

The stone settings at Stonehenge were built at a time of great change in prehistory, just as new styles of ‘Beaker’ pottery and the knowledge of metalworking, together with a transition to the burial of individuals with grave goods, were arriving from the Continent. From about 2400 BC, well-furnished Beaker graves such as that of the Amesbury Archer are found nearby.

In the early Bronze Age, one of the greatest concentrations of round barrows in Britain was built in the area around Stonehenge. Many barrow groups appear to have been deliberately located on hilltops visible from Stonehenge itself, such as those on King Barrow Ridge and the particularly rich burials at the Normanton Down cemetery.

Four of the sarsens at Stonehenge were adorned with hundreds of carvings depicting axe-heads and a few daggers. They appear to be bronze axes of the Arreton Down type, dating from about 1750–1500 BC. Perhaps these axes were a symbol of power or status within early Bronze Age society, or were related in some way to nearby round barrow burials.

Later History

A mid-14th-century manuscript illustration showing the wizard Merlin building Stonehenge. This idea, explained by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ in 1136, was widely accepted until as late as the 16th century © British Library Board (Egerton MS 3028 fol 30)From the middle Bronze Age, less communal effort went into the construction of ceremonial monuments such as Stonehenge and more on activities such as the creation of fields.

In the Iron Age, probably about 700 BC, a major hillfort later known as Vespasian’s Camp was constructed 1¼ miles east of Stonehenge overlooking the river Avon.[12] Stonehenge appears to have been frequently visited in the Roman period (from AD 43), since many Roman objects have been found there. Recent excavations raised the possibility that it was a place of ritual importance to Romano-British people.

The small town of Amesbury is likely to have been established around the 6th century AD at a crossing point over the Avon. A decapitated man, possibly a criminal, was buried at Stonehenge in the Saxon period. From this time on, sheep husbandry dominated the open downland around Stonehenge. The earliest surviving written references to Stonehenge date from the medieval period, and from the 14th century onwards there are increasing references to Stonehenge and drawings and paintings of it.


Stonehenge in the 20th and 21st Centuries

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Since 1897, when the Ministry of Defence bought a vast tract of land on Salisbury Plain for army training exercises, the activities of the military have had an impact on the area. Barracks, firing ranges, field hospitals, airfields and light railways were established. Some of these, such as the First World War Stonehenge airfield, have long since been demolished, but others, such as the Larkhill airfield sheds, still stand and are important in the history of early military aviation.

Meanwhile, the introduction of turnpike roads and the railway to Salisbury brought many more visitors to Stonehenge. From the 1880s, various stones had been propped up with timber poles, but concern for the safety of visitors grew when an outer sarsen upright and its lintel fell in 1900. The then owner, Sir Edmund Antrobus, with the help of the Society of Antiquaries, organised the re-erection of the leaning tallest trilithon in 1901.This was the start of a sequence of campaigns to conserve and restore Stonehenge – the last stones were consolidated in 1964.

The monument remained in private ownership until 1918 when Cecil Chubb, a local man who had purchased Stonehenge from the Atrobus family at an auction three years previously, gave it to the nation. Thereafter, the duty to conserve the monument fell to the state, today a role performed on its behalf by English Heritage.

From 1927, the National Trust began to acquire the land around Stonehenge to preserve it and restore it to grassland. Large areas of the Stonehenge landscape are now in their ownership. More recent improvements to the landscape – including the removal of the old visitor facilities and the closure of the section of the old A344 that ran close to the stones – have begun the process of returning Stonehenge to an open grassland setting, but there is more that can be done. English Heritage welcomes government plans to invest in a tunnel, which would remove much of the busy A303 and help reconnect the monument to its ancient landscape.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Stone Circle

Iconic symbol of Britain, a walk around the Stone Circle is the centrepiece of any visit to the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.

 

With a history spanning 4,500 years Stonehenge has many different meanings to people today. It is a wonder of the world, a spiritual place and a source of inspiration.

 

The Stone Circle is a masterpiece of engineering, and building it would have taken huge effort from hundreds of well-organised people using only simple tools and technologies. Visit Stonehenge to find out more, and use our handy glossary to understand words such as trilithon, sarsen and henge.

Neolithic Houses

Wander around the Neolithic houses outside the visitor centre. Step inside to imagine how people lived 4,500 years ago.

 

Chat to our volunteers and discover how the houses were built using authentic materials and techniques, based on the evidence of dwellings found nearby.

 

Watch us demonstrate ancient domestic skills – flint knapping, making rope out of rushes, and grinding grain with a quern and a rider.

 

Stonehenge Exhibition

Discover the story of Stonehenge – the stones, the landscape, the people and its meaning – through a powerful combination of cutting-edge audio-visual experiences and incredible ancient objects.

 

Over 250 archaeological objects and treasures discovered in the landscape are displayed together at Stonehenge for the first time. Ranging from jewellery, pottery and tools to ancient human remains, many of these items are on loan from our museum partners, Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum.

 

Come and see the face of a man who was here 5,500 years ago – a forensic reconstruction based on his bones found near Stonehenge.

Prices and Opening Times for Stonehenge

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Advance Booking is recommended
Last admission time is 2 hours before the advertised closing time.

Entrance to Stonehenge is now managed through timed tickets and advance booking is the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice. By booking in advance you will also benefit from an advanced booking discount.
English Heritage and National Trust members must also book in advance for their FREE visit. (Free visits are applicable to English Heritage members and members of the National Trust in England or those who hold a National Trust Touring Pass only – this does not include National Trust Scotland, National Trust staff or other National Trust affiliated organisations). All members must show a valid membership card on arrival to be granted free parking and site access.

 

Prices and Opening Times for Stonehenge

Days

Timings

Monday

09:30 – 17:00

Tuesday

09:30 – 17:00

Wednesday

09:30 – 17:00

Thursday

09:30 – 17:00

Friday

09:30 – 17:00

Saturday

09:30 – 17:00

Sunday

09:30 – 17:00