Contextual Analysis of Stonehenge in England Research Paper

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Contextual Analysis of Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English countryside, in the county of Wiltshire around 13 miles north of the city of Salisbury. It is one of the most famous of the ancient sites, composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large, standing stones. Known as a view into the artistic, cultural, and technological understanding of Neolithic and Bronze Age culture, Stonehenge is the center of one of the most dense complex of monuments and burial mounds in present day England (Stonehenge - Megalithic Europe).

Besides the obvious inspired artistic views of the monument, intense archaeological study has been done in the area since World War II. There are actually several sections of the circular monument, making dating the initial building rather difficult. There are a number of theories about its origin, but it appears that at least the beginnings of some of the stones were erected at the site as early as 3000 BC. The area is part of the United Nation's list of World Heritage Sites and is a national protected monument in England, managed by the English Heritage Society with lands owned by the National Trust into perpituity (Stonehenge).

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Surrounding archaeological evidence found in 2008 shows that the area served as a burial ground from its inceptions. This was calculated using cremated remains buried between 3000-2400 years B.C. To put this in perspective within the context of the rest of the ancient world: Egypt, Sumer, and the Minoan Civilizations formally began between 3100-2800 BC; the Akkadian, Indus River Valley, and Chinese (Hgia) Civilizations between 2500-2200 BC; all within the timeframe of Stonehenge culture (Timeline of Ancient Civilizations)

TOPIC: Research Paper on Contextual Analysis of Stonehenge in England Assignment

Background History and Construction -- Research has found postholes with evidence of rotted wood that date to around 8000 BC, but the first section of monuments at Stonehenge date to about 3100 BC. Around 2600 BC builders stopped using so much timber on the monument and switched strictly to stone. From 2600-2400 BC, the Third Phase, 30 huge sarsen stones were brought to the site, dressed with mortise joints and erected in a 108-foot diameter circle of standing stones. Within the circle, there are 5 stones placed in a horseshoe shape. Continual construction and improvement of the area occurred from 2400-1600 BC during the Iron Age. While Roman coins have been found around the monument it remains unknown whether it was actually used for any astronomical or religious function much after 1600 BC (Hill).

Function and Folklore -- Bronze and Iron Age England were cultures that left artifacts, but no written records. The mystery of Stonehenge, then, surrounds the theories regarding the functional nature of the monument. There is little or no direct evidence for the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders. Over the years, various authors have suggested that supernatural or anachronistic methods were used, usually asserting that the stones were impossible to move otherwise. However, conventional techniques using Neolithic technology have been demonstrably effective at moving and placing stones of a similar size. Proposed functions for the site include usage as an astronomical observatory, or as a religious site (Johnson).

Recent theories suggest that Stonehenge was part of a ritual landscape jointing to Durrington Walls by their corresponding avenues and the River Avon. This theory also suggests that the area around Durrington was a place for the living, while Stonehenge was the domain of the dead. The journey along the Avon to reach Stonehenge was part of the ritual passage of life to death, to celebrate past ancestors and to visit the recently deceased (Brian). Another theory suggests that Stonehenge may be conceived of as a modern day Lourdes -- a place of spiritual and physical healing that attracted people from around the area to its magical aura. This theory is based on the notion that a disproportionate number of skeletons from the graves show evidence of trauma, deformity, or disease. The authors of this theory do also concede that the site was still a multifunctional burial site. In fact, some of the remains buried in the area were from other areas of Europe and what we would term Eastern Europe (Rincon).

Whatever burial or other magical, spiritual, or ritualistic functions; the design and placement of the stones at the monument was most certainly a celestial observatory which likely allowed the prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox, and other celestial events that were likely important to the culture of the time (Hawkins and White).

Artistic Analysis- It is obvious just looking at Stonehenge that it is aestheteically conceived architecture. The stones are worked more elaborately on the inner than outer faces; the lintels curve, and the center stone rise in height towards the middle, thought to compensate for the effects of perspective. Comments on the relationship of Stonehenge to the artistically pleasing Golden Mean, and the concentric circles emenating from the center in regular patterns were made in scholarly writings from the Middle Ages on. One visitor noted, "Such indeed is the general fascination imposed on all those who view Stonehenge… The Artists, on viewing these enormous masses, will wonder that art could thus rival nature in magnificence and picturesque effect" (Easton 76).

On the most external level, Stongehenge is notable for the precision, symmetry and unity of both the conception of the monument in its entiretly, as well as the technical abilities that were used to construct, despite the lack of metal tools at the time. It was also an organizational and technical feat of immense planning. Some estimates that it would have taken 1,000 men over five years to shift the stones using ropes, pullies, and wooden apparanti (Honour and Fleming 38-9). To the aerial observer, the artistic notion of the site is apparent. Note the way that there are two concentric circles (outer and inner) that encompass a horseshoe pattern on the inside of both megalith stones and smaller capstones (Figure 3). The proportions of the distane between the stones, and between the levels, is geometrical, and certainly implies movement. This movement has been noted for centuries as well, and one might actually define Stonehenge as "living art."

In this respect we must move from the practical to the more esoteric side of our analyzation. At different times of the year, during different times of the day, Stonehenge exhibits different characteristics, changing the nature of the monument, the visual impact, and thus the emotional and artistic meaning. One might think of this as a man-made Neolithic planatarium that allows the viewer to have different levels of experience during different seaons and positions of the night sky. For instance, in the 18th century British antiquarian explorers notice that the inner horsehoe portion of the great trillithons and the 19 bluestones opened up in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. On midsummer's morning the sun rises directly over the Hell Stone and the first rays show into the center of the monument between the open arms of the inner horseshoe arrangement. Besides the artistic and emotional beauty of this, one must understand that this arrangement could not have been accidental. "The sun rises in different directions in different geographical latitudes. For the alignment to be correct, it must have been calculated precisely for Stonehenge's latitude of 51° 11'. The alignment, therefore, must have been fundamental to the design and placement of Stonehenge" (Stonehenge England). The careful alignment also made it quite obvious that the builders of the site, over time, had not only an artistic sense of what was pleasing but at least some mathematical/astronomical knowledge of the paths of the moon and the sun. Prior to construction they would need to know where the sun rose at dawn on various important times of the year, too much effort and work to make the specifics work (Castleden).

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