Stonehenge At Sunset

Pagans, Druids, and Travelers in the United Kingdom are demanding some respect, and it looks like they may be on their way to getting some.
Researchers studying the conflict over access to ancient sites such as Stonehenge, a circle of stones built around 2300 B.C., have concluded that "alternative site users" should be given a larger role in making decisions about how such monuments are used and managed.
"Contemporary Pagan interests are no less and no more valid than those of archaeologists, preservationists, or the general public," said Robert Wallis, an archaeologist at American University in London and co-author of the study.

Pagans Get Support in Battle Over Stonehenge

Pagans, Druids, and Travelers in the United Kingdom are demanding some respect, and it looks like they may be on their way to getting some.
Researchers studying the conflict over access to ancient sites such as Stonehenge, a circle of stones built around 2300 B.C., have concluded that “alternative site users” should be given a larger role in making decisions about how such monuments are used and managed.
“Contemporary Pagan interests are no less and no more valid than those of archaeologists, preservationists, or the general public,” said Robert Wallis, an archaeologist at American University in London and co-author of the study.

Adherents of Paganism, who include Druids, Wiccans, Witches, Heathens, and others, conjure up images of people in dark hooded robes performing scary rituals. But Pagans are a fast-growing sector of post-modern Britain and can be found throughout society, the researchers say [see sidebar].
“They come from all walks of life,” said Wallis. “There is tremendous diversity among the groups. Many of the beliefs and practices of today’s Druids and Pagans draw on the early indigenous religions of the British Isles.”
Celebration and Preservation
Stonehenge has been the most visible battleground in the clash over competing interests of various groups.
Archaeologists and conservationists regard Stonehenge and similar sites as archaeological treasures to be protected and preserved. Pagans, Druids, and other users like them view it differently.

But who build Stonehenge?

No one can say for sure who built the monument. Seventeenth century, English antiquarian, John Aubrey, implicated the Druids, a religious sect known to worship at modern day Stonehenge. But this theory is now considered implausible. The modern Druid, possibly formed from a Celtic priesthood, is believed to have come along 2,000 years after the stone monument had been built and perhaps was in ruin.

Phases in Stonehenge construction
From henge to the introduction of the stones, construction of Stonehenge took close to 2,000 years. Although individual theories regarding the sequence of building vary, the monument was believed to have been built in three phases, where a circle of landscape and some holes slowly evolved into a number of stone arrangements that are part of an enigma still being decoded today.

The first phase is believed to have started around 3000 BCE. It involved the construction of 56 pits called “Aubrey Holes” named after the person who first discovered them, English antiquary John Aubrey. These holes may have been used to hold timber or wooden posts, which later fell out of disuse. They may have also contained the cremated remains of humans at one time. A ditch and bank, or the henge part of the monument, was also dug out in a circle just outside the holes.

The “Avenue”, a laneway that runs through a break in the henge, was created on the northeast corner of the circle and was later extended to the River Avon, two kilometres away. A “Slaughter stone,” now fallen, was placed along the Avenue at the break in the henge inside the circle. A “Heel stone” was placed 27 metres outside the main monument along the Avenue. It weighs 35 tonnes and stands six metres tall. Four “Station Stones” were also erected in the shape of a rectangle within the henge.
The events of the second phase of building, starting around 2800 BCE, are the most uncertain. Some propose it was a time when the monument held great timber posts, which were later taken down. There were other timber structures being built at the time, such as Stanton Drew, a similar circle structure constructed out of wooden pillars close to Stonehenge. But others suggest a double horseshoe of bluestones, the small stones in the monument, were erected and then taken down later.

Phase three, starting around 2100 BCE, is a period during which most of the stones began to be introduced. A set of five sarsen stone, or sandstone, trilithons—consisting of two pillars and a top lintel stone-- were erected in the shape of a horseshoe. The tallest trilithon towers above the rest of the stone monument at more than 7 feet tall including the top stone, or lintel.

Thirty other upright sarsen stones were placed in a circle around the horseshoe. These stood four metres above ground, two metres wide and one metre thick. They were connected with lintels, stones laid across the upright rocks, that enclosed the horseshoe in a perfect circle.

In the final section of the third phase, between 2000 and 1500 BCE, a horseshoe of blustones was added within the inner sarsen horseshoe. About 60 other bluestones were placed between the sarsen circle and sarsen horseshoe. The last addition to the site, from about 1550 BCE to 1100 BCE, were the “Z” and “Y” holes found in two concentric circles around the outside of the larger sarsen stone circle. These may have been made to fit more bluestones but now stand empty.

“We see Stonehenge more as a temple than as a monument,” said Arthur Pendragon, a Druid leader. “Instead of wrapping it up in cotton wool, we see it as a living landscape, to be used to celebrate the seasons and quarter days [solstices and equinoxes]. Druids want to use sacred sites as they were originally intended.”

Ancient Tradition

The celebration of the summer solstice at Stonehenge is a particularly powerful draw among Pagans and has been a focal point of controversy in the past.
Celebrations were held there as long as 10,000 years ago. The site’s Stone Circle was erected around 2300 B.C. and is built so that the stones are aligned with the first rays of light from the solstice sunrise. Contemporary Pagans believe the summer solstice carries deep mystical and religious significance, and want to continue ancestral forms of celebration at what they consider to be a sacred site.

From 1972 until 1985, the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge were often raucous free festivals, rife with drugs, alcohol, and celebrants climbing and defacing the stones. English Heritage, the government entity responsible for the site, banned all solstice celebrations in 1985 after an inflammatory confrontation between celebrants and police that came to be known as the Battle of Beanfield, for the place where it occurred.
The 15-year ban was lifted in 2000 and open solstice celebrations have been held at the ancient monument for the last three years. Despite increasing numbers?English Heritage estimates that up to 20,000 celebrants attended the summer solstice this past June?the occasions have been peaceful, said Blain.
“A substantial amount of work has gone into making it that way, with many people within Pagan and Traveler communities acting as stewards, publicizing the reasons for ‘rules’ and so on,” she said.