The most impressive of over a thousand stone monuments in Britain and North West Europe, Stonehenge is on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Consisting of an inner horseshoe arrangement of stones surrounded by a circle of standing stones topped by horizontal lintels, some of the inner stones came from the Preseli Mountains in Wales.
Others, at over twenty tonnes, presented immense engineering difficulties for what were supposed to be a primitive people.
There is evidence of constant stone building at the site between 3500BC and 1100BC. A great deal of veneration seems to have been placed on Stonehenge. And in trying to understand just what this form of veneration was, we find an expression of one of the most enduring prehistoric mysteries.
In 1740 the clergyman Dr William Stukeley noted that Stonehenge seemed to be aligned to the rising sun at dawn on the summer solstice. This was later confirmed by British astronomer Sir Norman Lockyear. Beginning in the 1930s, Scottish engineer Alexander Thom spent forty years surveying some 600 similar sites and claimed to find astronomical alignments in many of them; a finding confirmed in 1965 through the computer analysis by astronomer Gerald S Hawkins.
Usually aligned to the rising and setting sun on key dates, many scholars disagree with the wider astronomical alignments, but today monuments the world over have been proved to align with the midsummer sun.
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