Stonehenge was part of a multi-monument complex. Here's how it fit together

Archaeologists are beginning to piece together the complex relationships between Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites on Salisbury Plain.

Snow cloaks the Salisbury Plain in England, dominated by its most celebrated monument. Built 4,500 years ago, the stone structures of Stonehenge form part of a complex late Neolithic landscape.
TOM MACKIE/AWL IMAGES

Massive and mysterious, Stonehenge has stood for 4,500 years on Salisbury Plain. Located some 90 miles southwest of London, England, the world’s most famous pre-historic monument forms just one piece of an intricate complex of ancient sites, many of which in 1986 were designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, traffic whizzes by on the nearby A303, but the megaliths’ presence makes it easy to step back thousands of years to a much slower time with much slower transportation.

Over the last two decades, archaeologists have made huge strides in piecing together these different elements of the landscape, their relationships to each other, and what they are revealing about the Neolithic people who built them. Armed with astronomical knowledge, engineering skills, and unmovable determination, their creations succeeded in capturing people’s imaginations for millennia. (Decision over Stonehenge Tunnel sparks controversy.)

Perhaps the most famous—and fantastic—explanation for Stonehenge’s creation harkens back to Arthurian legend. The wizard Merlin allegedly transported the stones from Ireland according to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century chronicle of British kings. Another 12th-century writer, Henry of Huntingdon, described the monument as “[s]tones of remarkable size, raised up like gates, in such a way that gates seem to be placed on top of gates. And no one can work out how the stones were so skillfully lifted up to such a height or why they were erected there.” The name Stonehenge was derived from the term Henry used to describe the monument: Stanenges, which is Anglo-Saxon for “stone gallows.”

Read This Next

How can the most endangered ecosystem in the world be saved?
Afghans look for new ways to share their culture far from home
670,000 flags in D.C. pay tribute to U.S. COVID-19 deaths

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet