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One of the most famous historic sites in Britain and one of its great mysteries

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Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in Britain, and one of its great mysteries. The unusual display of standing stones was erected around four and a half millennia ago, and yet, historians, scientists, and archaeologists alike have been unable to discover its purpose.

The ring of stones at Stonehenge
Photo garethwiscombe
The stones are surrounded by a circular ditch, neatly framing the display in the centre. This has led to suggestions that it may have been designed to tell time, using the sun. Other experts have thought it could be a religious monument, or perhaps a burial ground for the dead. The presence of Roman and medieval artefacts in the surrounding area offers further clues, but it is still unknown what they used the site for - and with a lack of firm evidence, it's difficult to draw a conclusion.

Sunrise over Stonehenge
Photo Andrew Dunn
Stonehenge isn't the only stone circle in the UK - others have been found, such as the Avebury Henge monument. However, it is the best remaining example, and certainly the most impressive. Today, there are 91 separate rock pieces, which reach up to 7.5m in length. The larger, outer stones weigh up to 50 tons, making the construction of the Henge a huge task.

Inside the ring of stones
Photo dannysullivan
One of the most remarkable known facts about Stonehenge is that since there were no suitable stones anywhere close to the site, they had to be brought in from other locations far away. Experts generally believe that they were transported from up to 240 miles away, an astonishing achievement for a prehistoric society. They would have had to load the huge rocks onto a system of rollers and sledges, before dragging them to the river. Here they would be transferred to rafts or barges, and taken as close as possible to the Stonehenge site. After that, they still had to be pulled upright, a task that made clever use of leverage, and gravity. It's estimated that the work was carried out by at least 600 men.

Some of the standing stones
Photo Kristian Resset
Inevitably, in the many years between that time and the present, there has been some damage to the monument - such as stones being eroded, or falling over altogether. But in the early 20th century, several major restoration projects took place, bringing the site back to what it might once have looked like.
However, in the modern day, Stonehenge has attracted some criticism. Two main roads are directly visible from the circle, somewhat taking away from the historical feel of the place. Thankfully, when it became a World Heritage Site, plans were put underway to reconstruct and divert the roads, as well as installing a brand new visitor's centre for the area. It is hoped that in the near future, visitors to the monument will be able to get an even better insight into what the place was like, before we had roads, before we had Kings and Queens, before the Romans came - before England was even a country.

A group of Druids, celebrating the sunrise at Stonehenge
Photo Andrew Dunn
At that time, society hadn't even developed a written language - and it's this lack of physical records, or any other solid evidence, that makes it so difficult for archaeological experts to solve the mystery of Stonehenge. To this day, they're still trying to develop firm theories about the use or purpose of the strange stone circle - but it's quite possible that we'll never know.
Visitor Information
Stonehenge (EH) is open daily from 9:30am to 6pm (shorter hours in Winter). Entry costs around £7 for adults, £4 children. Off A344 Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE. Tel: 0870 333 1181

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