Stonehenge

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Stonehenge

Stonehenge is not only the most famous stone circle in Britain, but also the best-known ancient monument in the World, with at least ½ a million visitors each year. Located on Salisbury Plain, north of Salisbury, England, it is famous for the debate, mystery, and speculation surrounding it. Stonehenge was not built all in one single step, but rather in four separate stages, dating from approximately 3100BC to 1500BC. The modern visitor to Stonehenge is viewing the ruins of the final phase of construction site. The monument itself consists of four concentric ranges of stones. The oldest part, called Stonehenge I, consists of little more than a circular ditch dug in the chalky soil of the Salisbury Plain, with the soil taken from the ditch piled up to make an enbankment about 6 ft tall. This part of the monument is about 320 ft across. Inside this large circle are the things that we normally think of as Stonhenge proper; circles of stones that once stood upright, and the most photogenic, the large horseshoe arrangements of standing stones at the center. These last, the so-called trillithons, consist of upright stones supporting horizontal lintels, and the largest of them weigh in around 45 tons. These massive stones have been placed in unison with these circles to create Stonehenge and along with that bring about the curiosity of why one would build such a structure as that of Stonehenge.

The location of Stonehenge was not simply a coincidental happening, for the latitude is very specific in its function. In the Northern Hemisphere there is only one latitude for which, at their extreme declinations, the sun and moon azimuths are separated by 90º, and Stonehenge happens to be only a few miles from that latitude. At the latitude of Stonehenge, this axis crosses the midwinter sunset/midsummer sunrise axis at right angles. Every year on the first day of summer, the Sun rises at a point that is farther north than on any other day of the year. At the ruins of Stonehenge in England, this solstice sunrise appears on the horizon in direct alignment with the massive heel stone.

This is the most outstanding feature of this ancient monument, built during the same era as the Great Pyramid of Egypt. There is little doubt that the builders of Stonehenge used it to mark this special day as the beginning of each year.

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