Through an in-depth analysis of various primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the different theories of how and when Stonehenge was built, what the site’s purpose may have been, and how it’s seen today, both by the British and by visitors from around the globe.
English / Language Arts
No one can work out how the stones were so skilfully lifted up to such a height or why they were erected.
Henry of Huntingdon, Archdeacon of Lincoln, Historia Anglorum, approx. 1130 CE
That year Merlin, not by force but by art, brought and erected the giants' round from Ireland, at Stonehenge near Amesbury
Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), approx. 1136 CE
… the Scheam also by which this work Stoneheng formed, was an Architectonicall Scheam used by the Romans.
John Webb / Inigo Jones, The Most Notable Antiquity of Great Britain, Vulgarly Called Stoneheng on Salisbury Plain, 1655
Monuments, we can scarce say, whether more wonderful in themselves, more observ’d, or less understood! among them, Stonehenge has been eminent from the remotest ages, tho’ ’tis not the greatest, most considerable, or most ancient. But ’tis my intent to begin my discourse from it, because the latest, and from thence proceed upwards in our inquiries, about the times and authors of these stupendous works, the temples of the Druids in our Island: for I cannot doubt that Stonehenge was such.
William Stukeley, Stonehenge, A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids 1740
Stonehenge… a celestial calendar built by ancient Celts… an ancient druid temple… an ancient burial ground… an ancient monument to the gods… an ancient Roman structure… an ancient structure built by Merlin the Magnificent to honor King Arthur… an ancient healing and pilgrimage site… an ancient site dedicated to the Cult of the Dead…
Different interpretations and different theories… very few facts. One term of agreement: ancient.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument consisting of a series of concentric rings of massive standing stones set within earthworks approximately 8 miles north of Salisbury and about 2 hours west of London in the countryside of Southern England. The site today is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most famous archaeological and cultural sites in the world, visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. It is one of the oldest man-made structures in the world, possibly going back over 5000 years.
It is also one of the least understood structures in the world, and always has been. Even today, in the modern age of the 21st century, with all of the scientific advances and enlightened discoveries of the last 300 years, Stonehenge remains a mystery that may never be unlocked, and yet, most people who visit don’t seem to mind the disagreements. Some come for the history, trying to understand how ancient people (whoever they might have been) moved such large and heavy rocks not native to the site on which they now sit. Others come for the science, trying to understand how ancient people set up these rocks so that, even today, they align with the Summer solstice and Winter solstice every year. Some come because they “feel” somehow connected to the area around Stonehenge. Others come just as tourists, because to visit England and not visit Stonehenge would somehow be akin to going to Egypt and failing to visit the pyramids, going to Rome and not visiting the Colosseum, or going to China and somehow missing the Forbidden City or the Great Wall. So many reasons to visit… so many stories… one Stonehenge.
Through an in-depth analysis of various primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the different theories of how and when Stonehenge was built, what the site’s purpose may have been, and how it is seen today, both by the British and by visitors from around the globe.
To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.
While on tour in Great Britain, students will visit Stonehenge, where they can see for themselves the great monolithic structure. Students and teachers alike can thus join the great conversation that has raged for eons as to who built it, why and when it was built, what it was used for and how it should be seen today. There may be no real answers to any of these questions, and yet Stonehenge remains an important part of our common history.
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