Why Do People Stack Rocks?
It’s one of the most enigmatic mysteries that has ever been considered in science – exactly how, and exactly why did such a prehistoric people build Stonehenge? And what did they even use it for? People have stacked rocks for thousands of years, but sometimes it can be impossible to know why, because they aren’t around to tell us anymore.
From Druids worshippers, to aliens from outerspace, to it being sacred religious site, or even possibly an ancient burial ground or cemetary, stories and theories abound for what Stonehenge was actually used for. It is, however, evidence that the desire to stack stones in a certain way, with a method, has been very important in human history.
Some believe it was just a part of a much larger, Neolithic ritual landscape that is made up of two other sites. One of those sites is called Avebury and the other one is called Marden Henge.
Recently a Bronze Age skeleton was found near Marden Henge, which is in Wiltshire. Marden Henge is even larger than the other more famous henge that every knows about, Stone Henge that is near Salisbury. The 4,000 year old teenager was burried along with an amber necklace and near by to the body were numerous other artefacts, like blades fro knives, pottery for eating and storing things, and jewellry showing it was a technological society, for the time.
Maybe this find will give researchers a clue into the life of those who actually built these sacred sites. Dental examinations may be able to reveal the diet that they survived on, and these artefacts could hint at what their culture might have been like, and who was it that stacked the stones and built such massive monuments.
The University of Reading headed the dig at Mardon Henge, which researchers had hoped would shed some light on the mysteries of Stonehenge. One of the researchers wonders whether Stonehenge, Marden Henge, and Avebury “competed against each other or were used for different rituals by the people who lived near them”.
So, as scientists are working out Marden Henge, what do we even know about Stonehenge?
Stonehenge was probably named that in the anglo-saxon times. It is translated to roughly, “hanging stones”. But the name has taken on a life of its own. Other archaeological features are now called “henges” as well. The term “henge” now refers to any earthwork where there’s a small ditch inside or outside of an embankment.
The ground that the site is built on was probably used as a burial site which can be dated as far back as 3000 BCE. Over the centuries the site went through a few different iterations, some of the earliest involving earthenworks like long ditches.
But it was consistently used as a site of cremation.
Mike Parker Pearson is quoted has having said, “It’s now abundently obvious to all of those people who are studying Stonehenge that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all of its important and significant stages.” Pearson is a professor of archaeology at the University of Sheffield in England. Some of the oldest parts of the monument include 56 fire pits, most of which contain a lot of evidence of cremation.
The ritual site that we know today, stones and all, was probably erected in around 2600 BCE and work continued on the site for a millennium.
The stones form concentric rings. The outer ring is made up of huge sandstone blocks, that weigh up to 30-tons, and then there is an inner ring and horseshoe are made of 3- to 5-ton volcanic bluestone blocks.
While the big stones have been studied and found to be from a local quarry, it seems odd to find those smaller blue stones in the middle of field in the middle of England. It’s a bit of mystery of where they came from.
For nearly a century people thought the blue stones came from the Preseli Hills which are in Wales, nearly 155 miles (250 km) away. But, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science found that these stones were from Carn Goedog in Pembrokeshire, a few miles away from the Preseli Hills.
And some researchers even think that these stones were the real draw for the prehistoric people that were visiting the site, not the large ones that we all seem to be in awe of. Perhaps the blue stones were thought to have healing power?.
But how did they get there? How were prehitoric people able to move such large stones over such a long distace? No one knows, even with all of the studies that have been done, no one has figured it out for certain.
One hypothesis suggests that maybe they came there by way of glacier moving over the landscape tens of thousands of years ago, another idea includes them having used massive amounts of man power and a little float down a river.
As for what went on there, well we might never know. It does seem like it was part of a much large ritual landscape where a long procession might have taken place. Near the site lies the Stonehenge Cursus or the Greater Cursus. This is a two mile track of ditches that are angled with the sun and with pits that line up during the midsummer solstice.
It seems the whole thing had some ritual purpose – something to do with the sun and maybe Stonehenge – as well as being a place of burial.
The rituals performed during the solstice might have been grand processions with many, many people walking for miles so that they could be a part of an elaborate ceremony. There are a series of graves near the site, and they seem to be aligned in a way that tracks the movements of the sun on the solstice.
So, the participants might have walked around the site and across to each of the sites. But that’s just one idea.
Other researchers believe the stone site was erected as monument to the unification of people from around what we call Britain. Just the hauling and shape of the stones and the process of stacking the stones, would have been an act of unification because it was such a huge undertaking that everyone had to pitch in.
The building also coincided with a time when a similar culture spread throughout the island. Houses and tools started to look the same and made from the same materials.
No matter the story, it’s’ clear that Stonehenge was part of a constantly changing sacred landscape that remained significant for thousands of years. Will the site ever reveal its mysteries? Probably not, but that won’t stop us from wondering and searching for answers.