A huge yet ancient stone circle in southwestern England, Stonehenge has inspired more questions than answers. As such, archaeologists, scientists, and pseudoscientists have put forward theories over the centuries to explain how and why Stonehenge was constructed.
Built between 3000 and 2000 BCE, Stonehenge is an engineering marvel of Neolithic Britain. Pulley systems hadn’t been invented yet, and Britons in this period didn’t have wheels to help move the large monoliths that make up the structure. Adding to this ancient mystery is the fact that some of Stonehenge’s stones - so-called “bluestones” - weren’t locally sourced. Neolithic Britons moved them from modern-day Wales to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, a distance of about 180 miles. Some believe Stonehenge’s form follows its function, and the structure could have been built for anything from wild rituals to proto-scientific pursuits in the prehistoric world.
How, then, did prehistoric Britons build this site - and why did they go through all that trouble to construct it? The world may never know for sure, but plenty of theories - ranging from the scientifically sound to the highly speculative - attempt to answer those very questions.
In the 1960s, astronomer Gerald Hawkins posited a new theory about Stonehenge: it was a calendar to the stars. According to this theory, the structure was a physical map that corresponds to celestial events. For example, the monoliths at Stonehenge align with the sun during the summer solstice. Neolithic people may have used Stonehenge to mark the passage of time.
Construction workers know better than anyone how difficult it would have been to build a stone structure like Stonehenge, especially without the help of modern tools. Wally Wallington, a former construction worker, has proposed ancient Britons relied on a system of weights and levers to erect the stone circle.
Wallington believes Britons used simple methods of construction that largely relied on gravitational forces to get the job done. To prove his theory, he actually started work on his own Stonehenge to test the Bronze Age equipment he made himself.
One thing Neolithic Britons had in abundance was timber - trees covered the area that is now England and Wales. Some researchers believe prehistoric Britons used all that timber to create sledges. Workers then pulled the sledges - either manually or with the help of oxen - south to the sea.
The sledges could have been then loaded up into wooden rafts that floated across seas and rivers before being brought ashore and pulled overland again to Stonehenge’s final destination on Salisbury Plain.
Since at least the 17th century, many Britons have believed Stonehenge was a theater that staged Druid rituals. Scientific testing quieted these beliefs, though, since it turned out the stone structure was about two millennia older than the Celtic Druids.
Despite this, recent archaeological discoveries appear to support the theory that Neolithic people regarded Stonehenge as a sacred site. The excavation of an ancient temple near Stonehenge suggests the area had religious connections. Some experts even believe that Stonehenge’s low monoliths may have been erected to conceal rituals.