فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Part seven

Stonehenge

A Prehistoric Monument

One of prehistory’s most amazing monuments is Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. This colossal monument is made of enormous blocks of stone, and their size is impressive - the largest stones weigh about 50 tons and measure more than 9 metres in length!

Thousands of years have passed since the first blocks of stone were brought to Salisbury Plain, but the origins and the meaning of Stonehenge remain a puzzling mystery. Through the centuries no one has ever been able to reveal the mysteries hidden in these gigantic blocks of stone. What are they and, more importantly, why was Stonehenge built? What was its true purpose?


The Construction

How old is Stonehenge? For centuries no one knew its exact age, but with the invention of radiocarbon dating, scientists were able to tell us that the oldest parts of Stonehenge were built around 5,000 years ago. This makes them older than the pyramids of Egypt.

Historians and archaeologists now think that Stonehenge was built in three main phases, between approximately 3000 BC and 1100 BC. They refer to these phases as Stonehenge I, II and III.

At the start of the first phase, in around 3000 BC, ancient people dug a large hole in the form of a circle. In the middle of the circle they made a small hill with the earth from the hole. In the seventeenth century, a historian discovered a ring of 56 smaller holes around the hill. Experts believe that wooden posts - long, straight pieces of wood - were once placed there. This means that Stonehenge was once made of wood instead of stones. But why was Stonehenge built? Some historians think that it was used as a cemetery because human bones have been found there.

The second phase of Stonehenge began in around 2100 BC - before the wheel was invented and over 2,000 years before the Romans came to Britain. Stonehenge was rebuilt using around 80 blocks of stone, each weighing about 4 tons. Archaeologists know that these stones (called ‘bluestones’) came from the mountains of South Wales, about 320 kilometres away.

One of the mysteries of Stonehenge is how people transported the bluestones to Salisbury Plain. Historians now believe that the stones were pulled down to the sea by a large group of people and moved up the River Avon on special rafts. Finally they were pulled over land to the site. In 2000 a group of people tried to recreate the journey up the river, but they found it impossible!

The third phase of Stonehenge began in around 2000 BC. For some mysterious reason, the early Bronze Age people decided to rearrange the bluestones to form the circle we see today. They added new, even larger stones to form structures called trilithons (two tall stones with a third across the top). The new stones weighed an incredible 50 tons each, and they were pulled to Stonehenge from an area over 30 kilometres away. No one knows exactly how many people were involved in this incredible journey, or how they built the trilithons.

Today about half of the original monument survives. Over the years some stones have fallen and others have been taken away and used for building.


A Mystery Explained?

Why did these primitive people devote so much time and energy to this colossal monument? There is no real answer. But archaeologists and historians agree that Stonehenge was a very important place and that it influenced the lives of the population.

What was its real purpose? What took place at Stonehenge? Was it a primitive astronomical observatory or was it connected with the ancient Celtic religion, Druidism? There have been many theories over the centuries.

The 12th-century writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, believed that Stonehenge was built by giants. An old local legend says that the huge stones were magically brought from Ireland by Merlin, the wizard at King Arthur’s court.

Today many experts believe that Stonehenge was built as an observatory or calendar. The British astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer first suggested this in 1901, but many scholars did not agree with him. In 1963 another astronomer, Gerald Hawkins, discovered that the important stones point to different positions of the sun or moon. He concluded that Stonehenge was an observatory and also a kind of primitive computer. He said that it predicted eclipses and the summer and winter solstices.

But there are still many uncertainties. How did the primitive people who built Stonehenge know where to put the stones? How could they calculate the movements of the sun and moon without the knowledge we have today?

Other people strongly believe that Stonehenge was a pagan temple. They think it was used by the Druids, the ancient Celtic priests, for religious worship, rituals and sacrifices. Today modern Druids have permission to meet at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer and winter solstices.

Some people even believe that aliens from another world were involved in the construction of Stonehenge.

Will anyone ever find the right answer to the mystery?

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