• Imagining History

Stonehenge – An Introduction for KS2:

With the British Museum opening their exciting new exhibition on the World of Stonehenge this year, we thought we’d honour the moment by giving you, our wonderful readers, a handy introduction to this amazing prehistoric monument.


What is Stonehenge?


Stonehenge is a prehistoric stone circle monument built on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The area is also an ancient burial site. Stonehenge is classed as a World Heritage site and its purpose for being built has been puzzling historians and archaeologists for thousands of years.


A diagram of Stonehenge by Anthony Johnson

What is a stone circle?


The clue is in the name – it is, very simply, a circle made out of individual standing stones. Stonehenge has rings featuring two types of stones – sarsens and bluestone. There is an inner horseshoe shaped ring in the centre of the stone circle constructed from sarsens that encircle an altar stone.


Stonehenge also features an outer circle of sarsen stones. This outer circle would have once had around 30 stones, though many are now missing. Among the sarsen stone circles is a bluestone circle – though very little of this shape remains today.


How heavy are the stones?


Each of the larger sarsen stones weighs around 25 tons, with the largest sarsen stone, called the Heel Stone, weighing in at a whopping 30 tons. That’s about the same weight as 5 elephants all glued together to make one ginormous elephant ball. Terrifying. And very heavy. The tallest sarsen stones reach about 7 metres in height. And that’s just the bit that’s above ground – experts believe there could be another metre or so of it buried underground to keep it from falling over.


The smaller bluestones can weigh up to 5 tons. That’s a little less than just one elephant from that weird elephant ball analogy I made earlier. Still pretty heavy.


A computer rendering of the Stonehenge site

When was Stonehenge built?


Stonehenge was built in approximately six different stages over thousands of years. The stone circle monument itself was put in place around 2500 BC in the Neolithic (or New Stone Age) period. But experts believe other structures may have been built in the area as early as 8500 BC in the Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age) period.


How Stonehenge would have looked when fully built - Courtesy of Allen Watkin

How was Stonehenge built?


One thing’s for certain, it must have taken hundreds of people to complete the back-breaking work of building Stonehenge.


Firstly, the stones were transported over many miles. The sarsen stones were transported 20 miles from the Marlborough Downs and the bluestones travelled even further, coming all the way from South-West Wales!


Then the stones were shaped using hammerstones to chip away at the rocks to create grooves and holes to fit them together.


Finally, the stones were lifted into place. Experts believe that a sloping hole would have been dug into the ground beneath the stone. Then they would have used wooden poles and ropes made from plant fibres to lift one end of the stones upright into the hole. They would then pack rubble and dirt around the bottom of the stone to keep it in place.


What was Stonehenge used for?


Nobody knows for certain why Stonehenge was built and debate still rages on amongst experts today as to what the site was used for.


Many people believe Stonehenge was an important religious site, perhaps even a Druid temple. The alignment of the stones could suggest it was used to observe the night sky or as a place to celebrate the winter or summer solstices. Others believe the site could have been a meeting place or a place of healing. Or it was just built by a powerful individual to show off their wealth. Alternatively, the nearby burial site could suggest that Stonehenge was built as a monument to the dead that were buried there.


What do you think? Take a look at the pictures, make a visit to the British Museum’s new exhibition or even head over to Stonehenge itself to try and work out what these skilled prehistoric people might have used it for.


Or check out some other amazing prehistoric sites here.