Stonehenge, Theories of Its Purpose

In our last discussion in class we talked about Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a perfect topic for any class that deals with archaeology. It is also widely recognized and known about to the general public. Being human nature, people ask “What is its purpose?”, “Why was Stonehenge built?” both archaeologists and regular people wonder and ponder about Stonehenge’s function. Well why was it built? Though we may never know Stonehenge’s true purpose archaeologists can speculate as to why England’s ancient peoples designed and built this testament to ancient peoples’ ingenuity.

There are many theories about Stonehenge’s function and purpose from the rational to the irrational to the magical. These range from folklore to aliens to sacrifice to serving as a calendar.

The earliest theories about Stonehenge were of mythical proportions. Folklore explanations of Stonehenge involve Merlin, a wizard from the tales of King Arthur, using magic to construct Stonehenge. The story is that Merlin had a giant take stones from Ireland to England and then construct Stonehenge or that Merlin himself magically transported the stones. Folklore attributes the reason for this as Merlin making a burial place for Britain’s princes. Obviously this theory is impossible, magic is not real, and radiocarbon dating tells archaeologists that Stonehenge was built between 2400 to 2200 BCE.

Other theories have played with the ideal that Stonehenge is practically a giant calendar. There is scrutiny over whether Stonehenge being used as a calendar is for religious, agricultural, or social reasons. This much is true though the double circle can be used as a vantage point for constellation observation, and thus could measure seasonal changes and the coming and going of seasons. Hence the best time to harvest, plant crops, etc. The telling of seasonal changes could have also been for religious festivals and celebrations. All of this is highly debated.

Archaeologists also speculate whether Stonehenge was used for ritual reason, whether or not it is religious. Evidence can suggest that Stonehenge was used for funeral rituals. Supporting this theory is the fact that their are numerous burial mounds and sacred sites surrounding Stonehenge. Further supporting this claim is the comparison to other cultures and the placement of structures. Being located in a very sacred sanctuary Stonehenge is more likely a funerary structure for the burial of England’s ancient people.

Many, many more theories surround Stonehenge’s use and purpose. The ritual funerary theory is the most widely accepted theory of Stonehenge’s purpose, partly because evidence that Stonehenge’s astronomical alignment is more than a symbolic one is less than adequate.