After Avebury, Silbury, and West Kennet, it seemed the only thing left to do was head for the best known ancient site in the world, Stonehenge. There are larger, older, and better preserved stone circles, but Stonehenge captures the imagination in ways that few other places can. It is set in the middle of a wide open plain that makes the sky a dramatic part of the scene, and the densely packed stones radiate a sense of concentrated power and mystery. And to be sure, there is mystery here.
Stonehenge’s smaller bluestones weigh several tons each and could only have been quarried in Wales, 150 miles away. How these stones were transported from so far away has not been definitively shown. Researchers have built prototype devices based on rolling logs, but none of them have worked well enough to cover the distance required. But the really interesting question is why Stonehenge’s builders felt the need to use these stones in the first place. What does it say about Stonehenge’s purpose and importance that its builders chose to use a particular kind of stone that required such a monumental effort, especially when other kinds of stone were much closer?
However the stones were transported, it’s likely that multiple generations of laborers were born, worked, and died without seeing the circle finished. The intense faith they must have felt that what they were doing was important only adds to the aura of the site.
Stonehenge is a time machine. Wander around to find your favorite view of the stones and you can almost see a distant human relative from 4000 years ago standing next to you, filled with the same sense of wonderment and awe. We cannot help but think of them when we gaze upon their work, and it seems they were also thinking of us, because whatever its purpose and however it was built, Stonehenge was designed to last. It seems unlikely that a human from any age would have devoted themselves to a project like this without giving a thought to those of us in the distant future who would enjoy the result of their labors. For all of its cold stone, Stonehenge is an intensely human place.