Stonehenge mystery solved?

As old as the pyramids in Egypt, Britain’s most famous ancient site has long been the subject of passionate debate. Was the great stone circle of Stonehenge originally a place of sun worship? A huge astronomical calendar tuned to the summer solstice and position of the stars? A sacred, mysterious shrine where the living meet the dead? A landing pad for alien spacecraft?

A team of British archeologists say they may have discovered the answer.

Following the first excavation of the site in more than 40 years, Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University said that Stonehenge may have originally served as a pilgrimage site for the chronically sick and injured from across Europe.

Central to this theory of Stonehenge as a sort of primeval Lourdes are the monument’s double circle of 6 foot bluestones — stones which were believed to have powerful healing properties. Known to geologists as ‘spotted dolomite’, this rare rock is located at the site’s centre.

“We found several reasons to believe that the stones were built as part of a belief in a healing process,” Wainwright said at a news conference at London’s Society of Antiquaries.

Chippings from the bluestones were found all over the Stonehenge site, he said, indicating that people were taking bits of the healing stone home with them to sustain their supposed powers.

And further evidence that Stonehenge was once used as a gathering place for the sick is found not only in the stones, but in the bones. An “abnormal number” of the corpses found in tombs nearby Stonehenge display signs of serious physical injury and disease, the archeologists said.

And analysis of teeth recovered from graves show that around half of the corpses were from people not native to the Stonehenge area.

Stonehenge older than previously thought

Not only has Stonehenge been given a new purpose, but also a new age.

Radio-carbon dating put the construction of the circle of bluestones at between 2,400 B.C. and 2,200 B.C., a few centuries later than originally thought, the archeologists said. But they also found fragments of charcoal dating from before 7,000 B.C., indicating humans were active in the area much earlier than previously thought.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, told the BBC: “This is a great result — a very important one.

“The date of Stonehenge had been blowing in the wind. But this anchors it. It helps us to be secure about the chronology of events.

“The theory that it was a centre of healing is certainly a plausible one, but I don’t think we can rule out the other main competing theory — that the temple was a meeting point between the land of the living and the dead.”


A popular tourist destination

Stonehenge attracts nearly one million visitors per year, with many reporting a strong sense of mystery and spiritual energy at the site. One of the wonders of the world, Stonehenge consists of a series of stone circles built on Salisbury Plain about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of London. It is surrounded by 1,500 acres of land and extensive walkways.

It is thought that native Neolithic people of England began construction of the Stonehenge monument by digging a circular ditch using deer antlers as picks. The circle is 320 feet in diameter, and the ditch itself was 20 feet wide and 7 feet deep.

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