Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, 2 miles (3 km) west of Amesbury. It consists of a ring of standing stones, with each standing stone around 13 feet (4.0 m) high, 7 feet (2.1 m) wide and weighing around 25 tons. The stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Agemonuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.
Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC,although they may have been at the site as early as 3000 BC.
One of the most famous landmarks in the United Kingdom, Stonehenge is regarded as a British cultural icon. It has been a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1882 when legislation to protect historic monuments was first successfully introduced in Britain. The site and its surroundings were added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sitesin 1986. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage; the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.
Stonehenge could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. Deposits containing human bone date from as early as 3000 BC, when the ditch and bank were first dug, and continued for at least another five hundred years.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites Ælfric‘s tenth-century glossary, in which henge-cliff is given the meaning “precipice”, or stone, thus the stanenges or Stanheng “not far from Salisbury” recorded by eleventh-century writers are “supported stones”. William Stukeley in 1740 notes, “Pendulous rocks are now called henges in Yorkshire…I doubt not, Stonehenge in Saxon signifies the hanging stones.”Christopher Chippindale‘s Stonehenge Complete gives the derivation of the name Stonehenge as coming from the Old English words stān meaning “stone”, and either hencg meaning “hinge” (because the stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or hen(c)en meaning “hang” or “gallows” or “instrument of torture” (though elsewhere in his book, Chippindale cites the “suspended stones” etymology). Like Stonehenge’s trilithons, medieval gallows consisted of two uprights with a lintel joining them, rather than the inverted L-shape more familiar today.
The “henge” portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. As often happens in archaeological terminology, this is a holdover from antiquarian use. Because its bank is inside its ditch, Stonehenge is not truly a henge site.
Despite being contemporary with true Neolithic henges and stone circles, Stonehenge is in many ways atypical—for example, at more than 7.3 metres (24 ft) tall, its extant trilithons’ lintels, held in place with mortise and tenon joints, make it unique.