Let’s learn about Stonehenge

Thousands of years after this ancient monument’s construction, its purpose remains a mystery

the stone circle of Stonehenge stands on a plain of green grass with the sun setting behind it

The ancient stone circle Stonehenge stands in southern England.

Captain Skyhigh/Moment/Getty Images

Though it’s one of the world’s most well-known monuments, surprisingly little is known about Stonehenge. It remains a mystery just who built this legendary stone circle in Southern England. It’s also unclear exactly why they built it. But science has been uncovering clues about the ancient structure’s origins and uses.

Work on Stonehenge is thought to have started around 5,000 years ago. Early builders used small bluestones from Wales. These rocks may have been repurposed from an earlier stone circle located some 280 kilometers (170 miles) away. But Stonehenge’s most massive sarsen boulders weren’t added for another 500 years. Those rocks probably came from only about 25 km (15 mi) away.

Human remains found at Stonehenge suggest that it was used as a cemetery. At least, for the first few hundred years of its existence. The site’s stones also align with the sun on the summer and winter solstices. This suggests the site had some astronomical use.

No one knows what, if any, ceremonies took place at the monument. But research hints that its arrangement of rocks would have enhanced the sounds of voices or music inside the stone circle.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Stonehenge enhanced voices and music within the stone ring Scientists built a ‘Stonehenge Lego’ model in a sound chamber to study how sound would have behaved in the ancient stone circle. (9/29/2020) Readability: 7.4

Underground mega-monument found near Stonehenge Archaeologists used high-tech tools to uncover ancient underground pits near Stonehenge. The find may offer insights into Britain’s Stone Age culture. (8/11/2020) Readability: 7.0

Cremated remains hint at who was buried at Stonehenge A chemical analysis shows that people carried bodies from far away to be buried at the mysterious ancient monument known as Stonehenge. (8/22/2018) Readability: 8.0

Many mysteries remain about Stonehenge, from who built it to why. That hasn’t stopped people from speculating.

Explore more

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Picture This: ‘Super-henge’ buried near Stonehenge

Building Stonehenge

Stonehenge may have had roots in a Welsh stone circle (from Science News)

50 years ago, Stonehenge’s purpose mystified scientists. It still does (from Science News)

Herders, not farmers, built Stonehenge (from Science News)


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Take an interactive virtual tour of Stonehenge! Get a full 360-degree view of the inside of the stone circle and click on hotspots to learn about different aspects of the monument and its history. 

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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