What is a Henge?
A “Henge” is an oval or circular earthwork structure built during the Neolithic Period, often in the form of a rock circle or monument. Not all henges are rock monuments like Stonehenge, but most henges are located in England.
In England, the Neolithic Period occurred circa 7000—1700 BC. During this time, groups of 50-100 mobile cattle herders moved across the countryside, leaving behind henges. The plethora of stone circles created during the Neolithic Period may be one reason this time period is also called the “New Stone Age.”
A henge is characterized by a circular bank with a ditch on the inside of the bank and a center at least 20 meters in diameter. It may or may not contain a rock circle. Henges are thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes, and many henges are astronomically aligned, doubling as sundials with certain poles or rocks that align with the sun on the solstice and/or equinox.
The most well-known henge, the infamous Stonehenge, is located in Wiltshire County, England. It is a multi-circle henge used as a burial ground that was built in phases from 3100—1600 BC. Stonehenge is not actually a true henge because its ditch is outside the circular bank (the ditch is inside the bank of a true henge), yet the general term “henge” is derived from Stonehenge’s name.
Archeologists believe that Stonehenge was once a whole, complete monument, but this remains unproven. The monument was built in phases as follows:
- 3100 BC: the circular bank and ditch enclosure was constructed. This became the outer perimeter of the monument.
- 3000 BC: a timber structure was erected inside the circular bank. It is no longer there and was likely removed before the next phase, but it was probably used for cremation.
- 2600 BC: stone monoliths were erected in place of the timber structure.
- 2400 BC: an enclosed stone circle consisting of stone monoliths with stones resting on top was erected.
- 2300-1900 BC: the stone monoliths were rearranged and/or removed.
- 1900-1600 BC: part of the stone monolith circle was removed, making it into a horseshoe.
Stonehenge Breaking News
A second sister henge has just been discovered 900 meters from the Stonehenge monument. It is a circular ditch surrounding a burial mound. Underground are 24 wooden posts that align with the stone monolith circle 900 metes away. The sister henge is thought to be 4500 years old, dating back to 2500 BC.
As mentioned, there are henges all over England. Some examples include the Avebury Henge, the largest stone circle in England; the Stanton Drew Stone Circles, which contain the second largest stone circle in England; and the Thornborough Henges, which contain no inner stone structures and are simply a series of circular banks and ditches.
The Maryhill Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington was built by Sam Hill from 1918-1929 to honor locals killed in WWI. It is a full-scale replica of Stonehenge that was originally constructed in the center of Maryhill, which burned down, leaving only the stone monument standing. The replica is astronomically aligned, so the alter stone aligns with the sun at sunrise on the Summer Soltice.
Carhenge, located outside Alliance, Nebraska, is a Stonehenge replica roadside attraction made from vintage American cars painted with gray spray paint. Jim Reinders built Carhenge as a tribute to his father in 1987, and dedicated the attraction on its Summer Solstice opening. It originally consisted of a 38-automobile circle arranged similarly to Stonehenge, but Reinders later added additional car sculptures. Currently, three foreign cars are also buried there.
Formerly called “Mystery Hill,” the American version of Stonehenge is nothing like its English counterpart. It is an archeological site in Salem, New Hampshire that consists of 30 acres of large rocks, rock structures, and human artifacts. The site’s origins are controversial and undetermined, although a wide-range of theories have been offered. The site is supposed to double as an astronomically aligned calendar, but theories of who built it range from Irish Monks to New England farmers.
Built by Mark Cline and located in Natural Bridge, Virginia, Foamhenge is the only exact replica of Stonehenge is the United States, with the same size, layout, and astronomical alignment as the original Stonehenge. Although the fiber-glass artist pre-carved and painted his foam stones, it took him only one day to set them up. The foam blocks are anchored to cement so they stay put. Since it was erected, Foamhenge has become a well-known work of public art and roadside attraction.
“Stonefridge” was built outside Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1996 as a public art commentary about consumption, waste, and environmental conditions. Ironically, in 2007 the installation itself was deemed an environmental hazard and subsequently torn down, but while standing it was atop a landfill and astronomically-aligned with Los Alamos National Laboratories.
More About Henges from comedian Eddie Izzard