A construction of Stonehenge
In its day, the construction of Stonehenge was an impressive engineering feat, requiring commitment, time and vast amounts of manual labor. In its first phase, Stonehenge was a large earthwork; a bank and ditch arrangement called a henge, constructed approximately 5,000 years ago. It is believed that the ditch was dug with tools made from the antlers of red deer and, possibly, wood. The underlying chalk was loosened with picks and shoveled with the shoulderblades of cattle. It was then loaded into baskets and carried away. Modern experiments have shown that these tools were more than equal to the great task of earth digging and moving.
About 2,000BCE, the first stone circle (which is now the inner circle), comprised of small bluestones, was set up, but abandoned before completion.
The stones used in that first circle are believed to be from the Prescelly Mountains, located roughly 350 kilometers away, in southwest Wales. The bluestones weigh up to 4 tons each and about 80 stones were used, in all. Given the distance they had to travel, this presented quite a transportation problem.
Modern theories speculate that the stones were dragged by roller and sledge from the inland mountains to the headwaters of Milford Haven. There they were loaded onto rafts, barges or boats and sailed along the south coast of Wales, then up the Rivers Avon and Frome to a point near to what now is Frome in Somerset. From this point, so the theory goes, the stones were hauled overland, again, to a place near Warminster in Wiltshire, approximately 9 kilometers away. From there, it's back into the pool for a slow float down the River Wylye to Salisbury, then up the Salisbury Avon to West Amesbury, leaving only a short 3 kilometer drag from West Amesbury to the Stonehenge site.
Construction of the Outer Ring
The giant sarsen stones (which form the outer circle), weigh as much as 50 tons each. To transport them from the Marlborough Downs, roughly 20 miles to the north, is a problem of even greater magnitude than that of moving the bluestones. Most of the way, the going is relatively easy, but at the steepest part of the route, at Redhorn Hill, modern work studies estimate that at least 600 men would have been needed just to get each stone past this obstacle.
Once on site, a sarsen stone was prepared to accommodate stone lintels along its top surface. It was then dragged until the end was over the opening of the hole. Great levers were inserted under the stone and it was raised until gravity made it slide into the hole.
At this point, the stone stood on about a 30° angle from the ground. Ropes were attached to the top and teams of men pulled from the other side to raise it into the full upright position. It was secured by filling the hole at its base with small, round packing stones. At this point, the lintels were lowered into place and secured vertically by mortice and tenon joints and horizontally by tongue and groove joints. Stonehenge was probably finally completed around 1500BCE.
Who Built Stonehenge?
The question of who built Stonehenge is largely unanswered, even today. The monument's construction has been attributed to many ancient peoples throughout the years, but the most captivating and enduring attribution has been to the Druids.
This erroneous connection was first made around 3 centuries ago by the antiquary, John Aubrey. Julius Caesar and other Roman writers told of a Celtic priesthood who flourished around the time of their first conquest (55BCE). By this time, though, the stones had been standing for 2,000 years, and were, perhaps, already in a ruined condition. Besides, the Druids worshipped in forest temples and had no need for stone structures.
The best guess seems to be that the Stonehenge site was begun by the people of the late Neolithic period (around 3,000BCE) and carried forward by people from a new economy which was arising at this time. These "new" people, called Beaker Folk because of their use of pottery drinking vessels, began to use metal implements and to live in a more communal fashion than their ancestors. Some think that they may have been immigrants from the continent, but that contention is not supported by archaeological evidence. It is likely that they were indigenous people doing the same old things in new ways.