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STONEHENGE - A FINE EXAMPLE OF MONOLITHIC NEOLITHIC ENGINEERING

18 Jun 2019

This week sees the summer solstice (where is the year going?) when Druids come to worship at Stonehenge as the sun rises on midsummer’s day. It is a monument which has captured the imagination over the centuries, not least when we wonder how it was built without modern construction technology.

It is thought that the first stage of construction was 5000 years ago when what is now the outer circle was built using large sarsen stones and smaller bluestones. 300 years later an inner horseshoe of stones was added. The chalk earthworks forming an inner and outer bank were created by digging ditches with antler tools.

To fit the upright stones with the horizontal lintels, mortice holes and protruding tenons were created. The lintels were then slotted together using tongue and groove joints. That the ground slopes, but the lintels are horizontal, demonstrates great engineering skill. The tools our ancestors used to shape the stones have been named ‘hammerstones’ examples of which have been found at the site – sarsen and flint would have been used to flake and chip the larger stones, then to smooth the surfaces.

It is virtually impossible to imagine how such enormous stones could have been positioned as they were without the aid of high tech machinery, but modern simulations have surmised that the stones were hauled upright using plant fibre ropes and a wooden ‘A’ frame. Weights may have been used to help tip the stone upright which suggests that these early engineers had an understanding of the centre of gravity, even if they didn’t realise it at the time! The lintels were probably hauled up earth ramps to their positions on top of the uprights and the whole structure made secure by packing rubble around the bases of the stones.

No one will ever know how many construction workers came to grief under what The Bradshaw Foundation calls the ‘enormous three dimensional stone puzzle’ of megaliths (I suspect there were a few) but we can only be impressed by the prehistoric construction skills, if not the prehistoric attention to health and safety!


 

 
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