England - Periods - Pre-history- Monument Building

Monument Building

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Stone Circles:

In pre-Roman times, people in Britain built large circles of standing stones, known as stone circles. These stone circles were built between the late Neolithic period and the early Bronze Age, around 3000-1500 BC. The most famous of these is Stonehenge, but there are many others throughout the British Isles.

The stones used to build the circles were often brought from a great distance, and the construction of these circles would have required a great deal of effort and organization. The function of the stone circles is not fully understood, but they are believed to have had ceremonial or religious significance, possibly related to the worship of the sun or moon.

Woodhenge:

Woodhenge is another pre-Roman monument that was built in Britain. It is located in Wiltshire, near Stonehenge. Instead of being made of stone, Woodhenge was made of wood. It consisted of six concentric rings of wooden posts, surrounded by a ditch and bank. The central area of the monument was left open.

Like the stone circles, the function of Woodhenge is not fully understood, but it is believed to have had a ceremonial or religious purpose.

Burial Mounds:

Another type of pre-Roman monument in Britain is the burial mound. These were built to house the remains of the dead. They are also known as barrows, and they come in various shapes and sizes.

The most common type of burial mound is the round barrow, which is a circular mound of earth or stone that covers a burial chamber. The burial chamber was usually made of wood, stone, or a combination of the two. The mound would have been built over the chamber, and then covered with soil or stones.

Burial mounds were often located in prominent positions, such as hilltops or ridge lines. This suggests that they were intended to be visible and perhaps to serve as a marker of the dead person's importance or status.

There were other pre-Roman monuments built in Britain. Some of them are:

Hillforts: Hillforts were defensive structures built on hilltops during the late Bronze and early Iron Ages (1200-400 BC). They were usually surrounded by earthen banks and ditches, and sometimes also had wooden or stone walls. Hillforts were likely used for protection from raiders and other enemies, as well as for storage of food and other resources.

Causewayed enclosures: Causewayed enclosures are circular or oval-shaped earthworks surrounded by several concentric ditches interrupted by causeways. They were built during the early Neolithic period (around 4000-3000 BC) and were likely used for communal gatherings or as ritual sites.

Henges: Henges are circular or oval-shaped earthworks surrounded by a ditch and bank. They usually have one or more entrances, and may also have standing stones or timber posts inside the enclosure. Henges were built during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Ages (around 3000-1500 BC) and were likely used for religious or ceremonial purposes.

Long barrows: Long barrows are large, rectangular-shaped mounds of earth or stone that cover a burial chamber. They were built during the early and middle Neolithic period (around 4000-3000 BC) and were likely used for communal burials.

Roundhouses: Roundhouses were circular or oval-shaped dwellings made of wood or stone, with thatched roofs. They were built during the Iron Age (around 800-43 BC) and were the most common type of dwelling at that time. Roundhouses were often grouped together in small villages or settlements.

The purpose of each pre-Roman monument in Britain is not fully understood, and different theories have been proposed based on archaeological evidence and historical context. Here are some possible purposes for each monument:

Stone circles: Stone circles, such as Stonehenge, were likely used for religious or ceremonial purposes. They may have been used for astronomical observations, as some of the stones align with the movements of the sun and moon. They may also have been used for rituals related to death, fertility, or the changing seasons.

Woodhenge: Woodhenge is believed to have had a similar purpose to stone circles, as a ceremonial or religious site. The wooden posts may have represented the spirits of ancestors or other supernatural beings, and the central area may have been used for rituals or gatherings.

Burial mounds: Burial mounds, also known as barrows, were built to house the remains of the dead. They may have also served as markers of the dead person's status or importance, as some of the mounds are larger and more elaborate than others.

Hillforts: Hillforts were likely used for protection and defense, as well as for storage of food and other resources. They may also have had social or political functions, such as the display of wealth or power.

Causewayed enclosures: Causewayed enclosures may have been used for communal gatherings or as ritual sites. They may have been centers of social, economic, or political activity, or may have been used for religious or spiritual purposes.

Henges: Henges were likely used for religious or ceremonial purposes, as well as for social gatherings or trading. The standing stones or timber posts inside the enclosure may have represented supernatural beings or ancestors, and the central area may have been used for rituals or feasts.

Long barrows: Long barrows were likely used for communal burials, and may have had social or religious significance. Some of the barrows contain elaborate burial chambers with multiple burials, suggesting that they were used by specific communities or families.

Roundhouses: Roundhouses were dwellings for Iron Age people, and were likely used for domestic purposes such as cooking, eating, sleeping, and storage. They may also have had social functions, such as the gathering of family or community members.

Overall, the purpose of each pre-Roman monument in Britain was likely multifaceted and varied depending on the specific context and community that built and used them.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England, and is one of the most famous and mysterious archaeological sites in the world. While the origins of Stonehenge remain unclear, scholars and researchers have made a number of discoveries and speculations about its construction, builders, and purpose.

Origins:

The construction of Stonehenge began around 3000 BCE, during the Neolithic period. The monument was built over the course of several centuries, with the first phase consisting of a circular ditch and bank, known as the henge, being dug out and formed. The first stones to be erected were the bluestones, which were transported from the Preseli Mountains in Wales over a distance of about 150 miles. Later, larger sarsen stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs, approximately 20 miles away.

Construction:

The transportation and erection of the stones at Stonehenge is a remarkable feat of engineering, and it is not fully understood how the builders accomplished it. The bluestones were transported over land, possibly using a system of rollers, sledges, and ropes. The sarsen stones, which weigh up to 50 tons, were transported on rafts along the River Avon.

Once the stones were in place, they were carefully aligned with astronomical events, such as the summer and winter solstices. The precise methods used to align the stones are not fully understood, but it is believed that the builders used sighting markers, such as posts or stones, to determine the position of the sun and moon.

Builders:

The identity of the builders of Stonehenge remains a mystery, but it is believed that the monument was built by a community of people over a period of several centuries. The builders were likely farmers and herders who lived in the surrounding area and used Stonehenge for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

Purpose:

The purpose of Stonehenge is not fully understood, but it is believed to have had ceremonial or religious significance. Some theories suggest that it was used for astronomical observations, while others suggest that it was a site for healing or ancestor worship. It may also have been used for seasonal festivals or other communal gatherings.

The material used to build Stonehenge came from two main sources: the bluestones, which were transported from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, and the larger sarsen stones, which were quarried from the Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away.

The bluestones are made of a type of volcanic rock called dolerite, which is not found naturally in the area around Stonehenge. It is believed that the builders of Stonehenge specifically chose the bluestones from Wales because of their supposed healing properties, or because they believed that the stones had supernatural qualities. It is also possible that the bluestones were chosen for their unique color and texture, which would have made them stand out from the surrounding landscape.

The sarsen stones, which are much larger and heavier than the bluestones, were quarried from the Marlborough Downs. The builders of Stonehenge chose sarsen stones for their size and durability, as they were able to withstand the elements and remain standing for centuries. The sarsen stones were transported to the site of Stonehenge using a combination of sledges, rollers, and ropes, and were carefully positioned and aligned to create the distinctive circular structure of the monument.

Overall, the materials used to build Stonehenge were likely chosen for a combination of practical and symbolic reasons. The bluestones may have been chosen for their supposed healing properties or unique qualities, while the sarsen stones were selected for their durability and size. Together, these materials were used to create one of the most remarkable and mysterious prehistoric monuments in the world.

In conclusion, Stonehenge is a remarkable prehistoric monument that continues to fascinate scholars and researchers around the world. While the origins, builders, and purpose of the monument remain a mystery, ongoing research and discoveries provide new insights and speculations about this iconic site.

If you have a suggestion regarding additional topics you would like to see included - please let us know

Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2023

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