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Stonehenges: Megalithic Europe “Megaliths” Carnac, France Newgrange, Ireland Avebury, England Stonehenge, England Meanings of the Stones *Photos Courtesy.

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Presentation on theme: "Stonehenges: Megalithic Europe “Megaliths” Carnac, France Newgrange, Ireland Avebury, England Stonehenge, England Meanings of the Stones *Photos Courtesy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Stonehenges: Megalithic Europe “Megaliths” Carnac, France Newgrange, Ireland Avebury, England Stonehenge, England Meanings of the Stones *Photos Courtesy of Windows to the Universe:,,,,

2 Megaliths A megalithic structure is a prehistoric monument made of large stones. Megalith comes from Greek; "mega" means big and "lithos" means stone. Megalithic structures can be found across Europe in Great Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Corsica, and Malta. These structures can also be found in Russia, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Even though separated by great distances, many of the structures look alike and can be separated into three categories: –Menhir structures-the upright or standing stones. Standing stones are often arranged in circles or lines. –Dolmens-three or more upright stones with a stone that balances on top. Dolmen structures acted as a burial ground. A Cairn is a dry-stone encasement of one or several burial chambers. –Tumulus is a mound of earth, grass, and stones that covers a tomb. Whereas the Dolmen and Cairn provide access to the burial chamber, a Tumulus is totally closed off by dirt.

3 Carnac The Carnac area has many different types of stones and ancient markings. Carnac may also be the site of the world's oldest megaliths, the earliest stones dating from around 4,500 B.C. The Carnac region contains many Menhir or upright stones. –The Menhir stones are sometimes found in a line and sometimes in a circle. –They can be anywhere from 0.8 meters high to 6.5 meters high and rows lined with stones can extend for distances of over a kilometer. –An enclosure of Menhirs is called a Cromleclh.

4 Standing Stones (Menhirs) from Carnac

5 Dolmens & Tumulus The area is also home to Dolmens, burial places formed out of large stones. Archeologists have found many bone fragments in these structures and so can be almost certain they were used as burial grounds. Dolmens would have a funeral chamber where people were buried and an access to that chamber. –They basically look like a stone fort. A Tumulus is a huge mound of earth and stones that covers a burial place. –It looks like a well-formed hill of dirt, now covered with grass. –A Tumulus didn't allow any access to the burial places. –It is thought that sometimes a Dolmen burial ground would be covered with a Tumulus.

6 Dolmen Structure Dolmen at Carnac

7 Tumulus Silbury Hill, Avebury, England

8 Newgrange, Ireland* The Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange was built about 3200 BC. The mound covers an area of over one acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art. The 19 meter long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. It is estimated that the construction of the Passage Tomb at Newgrange would have taken a work force of 300 at least 20 years. *Information and photos from

9 County Meath, Ireland

10 Newgrange site

11 Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb

12 Decorations The large stones surrounding and inside the Passage Tombs are decorated with Megalithic Art such as spirals, concentric circles, triangles, zigzags and images which have been interpreted as the sun, moon and the human face.

13 The winter solstice at the main entrance (top) illuminates the chamber within (bottom). Newgrange

14 Roofbox (Where winter solstice sun shines through)

15 Avebury, England Avebury is a composite construction that was added to and altered during several periods. As the site currently exists, the great circle consists of a grass-covered, chalk-stone bank that is 1,396 feet in diameter (427 meters) and 20 feet high (6 meters) with a deep inner ditch having four entrances at the cardinal compass points. Just inside the ditch, which was clearly not used for defensive purposes, lies a grand circle of massive and irregular sarsen stones enclosing approximately 28 acres of land. This circle, originally composed of at least 98 stones but now having only 27, itself encloses two smaller stone circles, each being about 340 feet (104 meters) in diameter.

16 Avebury, England

17 Construction of Avebury The two inner circles are believed to have been constructed first, around 2600 BC, while the large outer ring and earthwork dates from 2500 BC. The construction of the Avebury complex must have required enormous efforts on the part of the local inhabitants. The sarsen stones, ranging in height from nine to over twenty feet and weighing as much as 40 tons, were first hewn from bedrock and then dragged or sledded a distance of nearly two miles from their quarry site. These stones were then erected and anchored in the ground to depths between 6 and 24 inches. The excavation of the encircling ditch required an estimated 200,000 tons of rock to be chipped and scraped away with the crudest of stone tools and antler picks (there is some evidence that this ditch was once filled with water, thereby giving the inner stone rings the appearance of being set upon an island).

18 Overview of Averbury

19 Standing Stones The Swinden stone-marks the north Entrance. The Cove-stones in the inner circle.

20 Stonehenge, England Stonehenge, the most visited and well known of the British stone rings, is a composite structure built during three distinct periods. In Period I (radiocarbon-dated to 3100 BC), Stonehenge was a circular ditch with an internal bank. The circle, 320 feet in diameter, had a single entrance, 56 mysterious holes around its perimeter (with remains in them of human cremations), and a wooden sanctuary in the middle. The circle was aligned with the midsummer sunrise, the midwinter sunset, and the most southerly rising and northerly setting of the moon.

21 Period I

22 Stonehenge The Heel Stone can be seen in the lower right. The view includes the circular bank, ditch, and counterscarp bank. A number of the Aubrey holes are also visible.

23 Stonehenge Period II Period II (2150 BC) saw the replacement of the wooden sanctuary with two circles of "bluestones" (dolerite stone with a bluish tint), the widening of the entrance, the construction of an entrance avenue marked by parallel ditches aligned to the midsummer sunrise, and the erection, outside the circle, of the thirty-five ton "Heel Stone". The eighty bluestones, some weighing as much as four tons, were transported from the Prescelly Mountains in Wales, 240 miles away.

24 Period II

25 Bluestones & Sarsens Bluestones Sarsen lintel

26 If the Bluestones were brought from the Preseli Mountains of Wales, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to boat the stones on rafts down the Bristol Channel, as some archaeologists have suggested. Dragging them on sleds over rough ground from the landing to the site would have been an even more demanding task.

27 Period III (2075-1100 BC) During Period III (2075 BC), the bluestones were taken down and the enormous "sarsen" stones - which still stand today - were erected. These stones, averaging eighteen feet in height and weighing twenty-five tons, were transported from near the Avebury stone rings twenty miles to the north. Sometime between 1500 and 1100 BC, approximately sixty of the bluestones were reset in a circle immediately inside the sarsen circle, and another nineteen were placed in a horseshoe pattern, also inside the circle. It has been estimated that the three phases of the construction required more than thirty million hours of labor. It is unlikely that Stonehenge was functioning much after 1100 BC.

28 Period III


30 Building Stages

31 Constructing the Monument This drawing shows how a pit was dug with three straight sides and one angled. These stones were slid into place on rollers, and eventually rocks were put around the base to hold it firmly.

32 Placing the lintel This illustration of the laborious process of raising and placing the lintel shows how the workers used platforms and crossed timbers to support the lintel as it was levered up inches at a time.

33 Meanings of the Stones Ancient Route Markers? Female Anatomy? Religious Centers? Astronomical Observatories?

34 Ancient Route Markers? Stones connected important sites across the landscape. Were used to signify territories and the areas occupied by “clans”. The Ley lines. Leys are straight tracks or paths which connect up ancient and sacred sites in straight lines which cover the countryside. These lines had been totally forgotten, and were only rediscovered in the 20th century. After it had been accepted that megalithic sites could form short alignments, the idea was extended dramatically by a retired amateur antiquarian called Alfred Watkins, in the 1920s.


36 Female Anatomy? Feb. 28, 2003 —The design of Stonehenge, the 4,800- year-old monument in southwestern England, was based on female sexual anatomy, according to a paper in the current Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Anthony Perks, a professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver noticed how the inner stone trilithons were arranged in a more elliptical, or egg-shaped, pattern than a true circle. Comparing the layout with the shape of female sexual organs showed surprising parallels. In support of the theory, the body of a sacrificial child was found buried at the center of the circles at nearby Woodhenge, suggesting both monuments followed similar layouts. Perks even speculates a child's body might lie buried at the center of Stonehenge.

37 An obstetrician sees the layout of the female reproducitive system when he looks at Stonehenge, seen up close in the above photograph. He theorizes that Stonehenge overall represents an Earth Mother goddess.

38 Religion? Megalithic mounds such as Newgrange entered Irish mythology as sídhe or fairy mounds. Newgrange was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love. In the seventeenth century, well before the development of archaeological dating methods and accurate historical research, the antiquarian John Aubrey surmised that Stonehenge and other megalithic structures were constructed by the Druids. While this idea (and a whole collection of related fanciful notions) has become deeply ingrained in the uneducated minds of popular culture from the seventeenth century to the present age, it is a matter of certain knowledge that the Druids had nothing whatsoever to do with the construction of the stone rings. The Celtic society in which the Druid priesthood flourished came into existence in Britain only after 300 BC, more than 1500 years after the last stone rings were constructed. Regardless, the stones obviously had ritual significance given the extent of the building and human cremations found in association with them.



41 Astronomical Observatory? We do know that many of the structures have an astronomical alignment. Some are oriented towards the solstice points on the horizon (points where the Sun rises or sets on the summer or winter solstice). Some structures point to certain stars or the Moon's rising or setting on special days. Others point to Venus. Still others are aligned with the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west. The alignment of megalithic structures is of prime concern to those who study the structures. Because alignment can be so complicated, structures must be taken case by case. Some alignments point to social and religious beliefs of the community, other alignments seem to suggest deliberate sky observing and astronomical activity.

42 Alignment at Stonehenge

43 Summer Solstice A diagram showing how the Sun moves through the sky on the Summer solstice.

44 Summer solstice at Stonehenge

45 Stonehenge Photograph of the sun rising over the heel stone. From inner circle to heel stone.

46 Astronomical Observations from Newgrange The winter solstice sunrise behind a standing stone, photographed from the entrance of the passage tomb at Newgrange.

47 A diagram showing how the Sun moves through the sky on the Winter solstice. Winter Solstice

48 Light through the roof box at Newgrange at Winter Solstice

49 The Enduring Mystery of the Megalithic sites Copyright © Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester.Clive Ruggles

50 America’s Stonehenge North Salem, New Hampshire

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