Stonehenge is a prehistoric circular monument on Salisbury Plain in southern England. It has been associated with ancient Celtic* religious rituals and with the Arthurian legends* of early Britain.
Constructed of ditches, earthen mounds, and immense blocks of stone, Stonehenge is now a protected archaeological site. Scientists have not unraveled the mysteries of its origins and purpose, but they do know that it was created in stages. Stonehenge probably began with a wooden structure sometime around 3000 B.C. , and the standing stones were set in place between 2100 and 1500 B.C. Construction ended long before the time of the Celtic priests called Druids, but these religious leaders may have used Stonehenge and other ancient monuments in their rituals.
ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern
archaeological referring to the study of past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins
For many centuries, Stonehenge has awed and puzzled visitors. Geoffrey of Monmouth, an English historian writing in the 1100s, accounted for the monument by calling it the work of Merlin, the wizard associated with King Arthur. According to legend, Merlin used magical powers to take apart a ring of standing stones in Ireland, ship them to England, and reassemble them on
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
Salisbury Plain. Over time the story grew more elaborate, until one version in the 1700s said that Merlin had harnessed the Devil to carry the stones to England in a single night. Other tales associated with Stonehenge explain that the stones were owned by a race of giants from Africa and had special healing powers.