Something Old. Something New. Something Borrowed. Something Blue. Stone.
What is a henge? All these blogs, but what does it mean? It’s just a pile of dirt and some rocks people arbitrarily stuck in the ground, right?
Let’s break down some of the buzz words.
A HENGE is a Neolithic earthwork. Neolithic means it’s part of the Stone Age, coming from the Greek words “neo “ meaning “new” and “lithic” meaning stone.
A henge has a ring bank and a ditch thought to be defensive. Attackers would need to climb up and out of the ditch as they advanced, slowing them down, and giving the defenders better vantage for counter attack. Henges are found in Britain and across Europe. The United States has related sites nearly as old as their European counterparts on the Eastern seaboard. They lack the henge construction but include the circle of stones, so they are excluded from the list of true henges even if one is called America’s Stonehenge.
Often within the henge is a CIRCLE OF STONES. When speaking about stone circles, there’s more than defensive opportunities involved. These places were not habituated. However, archaeological evidence indicates at Stonehenge and the Ring of Brodgar, for example, there were extensive habitations built up around the henges. The henge was the center of a complex civilization.
For a list of stone circles see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stone_circles
It’s often not known who built these henges . Was it aliens? An advanced and now extinct civilization? What about Merlin? Was it magic? Wild stories abound. Legends in the making. Future blogs will unveil some of these.
The CIRCLE OF STONES is a concentric circle again prehistoric. It is either circular or oval in arrangement. They will include standing stones, most recognizable at Stonehenge which is one of many such sites. In Stonehenge’s example, there are lintels, or horizontal stones that interlock the stones forming a tight circle. Not all stone circles have this feature. At other sites, the stones are spread farther apart. However, they are just as carefully placed. Height and general stone shape varies with the site.
It is believed places like Stonehenge were part of a ritual landscape. That is why people did not live in the henge, but they lived nearby. Today churches are a center of a community. A henge would serve similarly. These circles of stones were carefully arranged. The ancient engineers understood the movements of the sun and calculated the time of year making these stones monuments with an astronomical function. They had a good understanding of astronomy and geometry. The circle of stones became something of a giant sundial. This is grossly simplified, but for purposes of this blog, it is to be understood that the sites were complex, and were used as a means of recognizing key dates throughout the year. Other blogs will explore further functions.
Because the peoples who built these sites depending on farming, it was important to note when it was time sowing and harvesting. Successful agriculture ensured survival. These people marked the seasons with stones. The summer solstice or winter equinox were important dates. Celts recognized quarter days: Imbolc (February 2), Beltane (May 1), Lughnasedh (August 1), and Samhain (November 1). Being pagan people, these dates were significant to appease local dieties to ensure success with their planting or harvest.
Archaeologists who study these people utilize archaeoastronomy. The stones are so precisely placed that even today, with calculations accounting for earth movement over the centuries, these stones still accurately function. It would imply that, while prehistoric, the creators of henges and circles of stones had a good understanding of how the earth moved or how the stars and sun aligned in the sky at different points in the year.