Stonehenge is an iconic circle of standing stones located in the English county of Wiltshire. It is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world, attracting almost a million visitors each year from around the world.
'There was something challenging about taking a globally recognised World Heritage site, which is an historical 'stone' object, and recreating its iconic image across the face of a 'metal' coin. Although it is a tight crop and reproduced at small size it still retains a very familiar image.'
Designer Shane Greeves
Construction of Stongehenge
The construction and development of Stonehenge took place in several phases between 3,000 and 1,600 BC:
Phase One - Earthwork Enclosure C3000BC
The first monument at Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a circular bank and ditch enclosure, constructed between 3000 and 2920 BC.
At around the same time a ring of holes was created forming a circle about 284 feet in diameter. These holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms. They are known as the ‘Aubrey Holes’ after John Aubrey, who discovered them.
Excavations have revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were probably made, not for the purpose of graves, but to hold upright posts of timber or stone.
Phase Two - Wooden Structures C2900-2600BC
During this period, wooden structures were added to the earthwork enclosure. Excavations have revealed a complicated pattern of post holes in the centre of the henge as well as at the north-eastern entrance and southern entrances.
Nothing remains of the wooden posts and it is impossible to tell what they looked like or the function they served. Were they tribal markers, like totem poles, or were they supports for roofed buildings?
Phase Three - Stone Monument C2600-1600BC
The third phase of Stonehenge embraces a period of 1000 years and is marked by a change from building in wood to building in stone.
It can be divided into 3 stages:
- Around 2600BC blue stones from the Preseli mountains, in south-west Wales, were transported some 240km (150 miles) to the site and were erected inside the earthen bank of the henge to form a double crescent. At some point they were removed.
- In the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (about 2500BC), Sarsen stones, thought to be from the Marlborough Downs near Avebury, in north Wiltshire, were brought to the site. These were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels. Inside the circle, five trilithons (pairs of uprights with a lintel on top) were placed in a horseshoe arrangement.
- Finally the blue stones were reintroduced to eventually form a horseshoe and circle. The original number of stones in the blue stone circle was probably around 60 however these have long since been removed or broken up.
Today, much work goes on behind the scenes to ensure that Stonehenge and its unique prehistoric landscape are protected for future generations. English Heritage and the National Trust play a key role in this respect.
Although great strides have been made in our understanding of the original purpose of Stonehenge, we will probably never know its full significance. Ultimately this prehistoric monument remains a fascinating and enduring mystery.
Download the Stonehenge story card
Did you know?
- The age of Stonehenge is estimated at 5000 years.
- Stonehenge attracts around 900,000 paying visitors a year.
- The Stonehenge and Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986.
- The sarsen stone circle, with its huge shaped stones, its sophisticated joints and design, is unique within prehistoric Europe.