Stonehenge is one of the most famous megalithic monuments located on the Salisbury Plain in Southern England. Its construction and purpose have been a constant source of mystery.
Stonehenge comprises thirty upright stones, which weigh in excess of 26 tonnes each, positioned in a circle, with thirty capstones of 6 tonnes each, placed horizontally atop the posts in a continuous circle. There is a single erect stone called the "Heel Stone" that forms an "entrance path" to the circle, which is set at a distance from the other stones. The stones were excavated from a quarry at Carn Menyn, high in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire. The stone was then carved and transported over 240 miles to Salisbury Plain; the method of transportation is unknown.
The heel stone is said to have been thrown by the Devil at a monk who was spying on him between the stones. The stone pinned the unfortunate clergyman to the ground by his heel.
It has been suggested by Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), a historian of the 12th century, who wrote a book titled The History and Topography of Ireland that Stonehenge was designed and engineered by Merlin. He said that Aurelius Ambrosius, King of the Britons, had Merlin bring the stones to Britain. However, the archaeological evidence at Stonehenge does not support an Arthurian date of construction. The evidence points to a date between 3,000BC and 1,000BC.
The construction and alignment of Stonehenge suggest a relationship with astronomy. In a recent book entitled "Stonehenge Decoded", Gerald Hawkins, a Professor of Astronomy, concluded that Stonehenge is a sophisticated astronomical observatory designed to predict eclipses. The positioning of the stones allows an observer to accurately predict every important lunar event for hundreds of years. The computer needs resetting about once every 300 years by advancing the stones by one space.
"Stonehenge was like a giant computer, a huge observatory capable extremely complex calculations based on the sun, moon and stars. The men that built it had proved that very feat that they were not primitive."
If the academics are right and Stonehenge (and other standing stones) were designed as astronomical observatories, it is likely that there was an intellectual elite within the primitive stone age farmers. An age when planetary alignments can be calculated, whilst at the same time, there is no form of written word.
Stonehenge is a place of annual pilgrimage for neo-druids and those following pagan or neo-pagan beliefs. The midsummer solstice began attracting modern visitors in the 1870s, with the first record of recreated Druidic practices dates back to 1905 when the Ancient Order of Druids enacted a ceremony.
In more recent years, the setting of the monument has been affected by the proximity of the A303 road between Amesbury and Winterbourne Stoke, and the A344. In early 2003, the Department for Transport announced that the A303 would be upgraded, including the construction of the Stonehenge road tunnel.