Henge


A henge is a roughly circular or oval-shaped flat area over 20m in diameter which is enclosed and delimited by a boundary earthwork that usually comprises a ditch with an external bank. Access to the interior is obtained by way of one, two, or four entrances through the earthwork. Internal components may include portal settings, timber circles, post rings, stone circles, four-stone settings, monoliths, standing posts, pits, coves, post alignments, stone alignments, burials, central mounds, and stakeholes.

Given the defensive impracticalities of an enclosure with an external bank and internal ditch (rather than vice versa), henges are considered to have served a ritual purpose, perhaps built with intention of shielding what went on inside the enclosure from the outside world.

British enthusiasts, such as the editors of the Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology, claim that henges are unique to the British Isles and that similar, much earlier, circles on the Continent, such as Goseck circle are not proper "henges".

Another such enthusiast is Julian Cope whose book, The Megalithic European, proposes that the henge was a regional development from the Europe-wide causewayed enclosure, appearing following a cultural upheaval in around 3000 BC which inspired the peoples of Neolithic Europe to develop more independently.

He mentions the 'rondel enclosures' of Bavaria's Isar Valley which according to investigations by the German archaeologist RA Maier "drew comparisons with the henge monuments and causewayed enclosures of the British Isles". Although still with a multiply-causewayed ditch and entrances at cardinal points, the roundels are described by John Hodgson as not being positioned with defensive aims in mind and the largest, at Kothingeichendorf, appeared to be "midway between a henge and a causewayed enclosure".

Alasdair Whittle also views the development of the henge as a regional variation within a European tradition that included a variety of ditched enclosures. He notes that henges and the grooved ware pottery often found at them are two examples of the British Neolithic not found on the Continent.

Caroline Malone also states that henges did not occur in the rest of Western Europe but developed from a broader tradition of enclosure to become a phenomenon of the British Isles, a native tradition with sophisticated architecture and calendrical functions.

Efforts to provide a direct lineage for the henge from earlier enclosures have not been entirely conclusive; their chronological overlap with older structures making it difficult to see them as a coherent tradition. They seem to take the concept of creating a space separate from the outside world one step further than the causewayed enclosure and firmly focus attention on an internal point.

In some cases, the construction of the bank and ditch was a stage that followed other activity on the site. Balfarg, North Mains and Cairnpapple earlier cremations and deliberate smashing of pottery predate the enclosure.

Henges are concentrated in southern England although they are also found all over the British Isles and Orkney is sometimes suggested as the original provenance of the monument type. Unlike earlier enclosure monuments they were not built on hilltops but on low-lying ground often close to watercourses and good agricultural land.




Forms

They are classified as Class I henges which have a single entrance created from a gap in the bank; Class II henges, which have two entrances, opposite each other; and Class III henges which have four entrances, facing each other in pairs. Sub groups exist for these when two or three internal ditches are present rather than one. Henges are usually associated with the Late Neolithic, especially the grooved ware culture, the Peterborough culture and the beaker people. Sites such as Stonehenge also provide evidence of activity from the later Bronze Age Wessex culture.

Henges often contain evidence of a variety of internal features including timber or stone circles, pits or burials. They should not be confused with the stone circles which are sometimes present within them. Similarly shaped, but larger enclosures are known as Henge enclosures whilst smaller ones with other types of enclosing features are known as Hengiform monuments.

The word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is not a true henge at all as its ditch runs outside its bank, although there is a small extant external bank as well. This is a modern distinction however, we do not know if ditch placement would have been a significant feature or not to the people who built the monuments. The term to was first coined in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick who later became the Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum.

Some of the finest and best-known henges include:

Burials have been recorded at only a few henges, mostly as a result of secondary reuse. At Avebury at least two very disturbed inhumations were found in the central area.

At King Arthur's Round Table, Cumbria, a cremation trench lay within the monument, while at Woodhenge a central burial of a child was interpreted by its excavators as a dedicatory offering. Phosphate surveys at Maxey henge suggested that burials may also have been present within this monument.

Stone circles are also found within a few henges, with at least six cases identified in England.

At Arbor Low in Derbyshire, the stones do not seem to have been set up to judge from the fact that no stoneholes have been found. Elsewhere, often only the stone holes remain.




Theories About Henges

Henges may have been used for rituals, or astronomical observation rather than being areas of day-to-day activity. The fact that their ditches are located inside their banks indicates that they would not have been used in a defensive function and that the barrier the earthworks provide is more likely to have been symbolic rather than functional. It has been conjectured that whatever took place inside the enclosures was intended to be separate from the outside world and perhaps only known to select individuals or groups.

The alignment of henges is a contentious issue. Popular belief is that their entrances point towards certain heavenly bodies. In fact, henge orientation is highly variable and may have been more determined by local topology rather than any desire for symbolic orientation. A slight tendency for Class I henges having an entrance set in the north or north-east quarter has been identified following statistical analysis while Class II henges generally have their axes aligned approximately south east to north west or north east to south west.

It has been suggested that the stone and timber structures sometimes built inside henges were used as solar declinometers, used to measure the position of the rising or setting sun. These structures by no means appear in all henges and often considerably post-date the henges themselves. They therefore are not necessarily connected with the henge's original function. It has been conjectured that they could have been used to synchronize a calendar to the solar cycle for purposes of planting crops or timing religious rituals.

Some henges have poles, stones or entrances that would indicate the position of the rising or setting sun during the equinoxes and solstices whilst others appear to frame certain constellations. Additionally, many are placed so that nearby hills either mark or do not interfere with such observations.

Finally, some henges appear to be placed at particular latitudes. For example, a number are placed at a latitude of 55 degrees north, where the same two markers can indicate the rising and setting sun for both the spring and autumn equinoxes. Henges are present from the extreme north to the extreme south of Britain however and so their latitude could not have been of great importance.

Formalization is commonly attributed to henges; indications of the builders' concerns in controlling the arrival at, entrance to and movement within the enclosures. This was achieved through placing flanking stones or avenues at entrances of some henges or by dividing up the internal space using timber circles. While some were the first monuments to be built in their areas, others were added to already important landscapes, especially the larger examples.

The concentric nature of many of the internal features, such as the five rings of postholes at Balfarg or the six at Woodhenge, may in fact represent a finer distinction than the inside-out differences suggested by henge earthworks The ordering of space and suggestion of circular movement suggested by the sometimes densely-packed internal features indicates a sophisticated degree of spatial understanding.

Carhenge is either a modern parody or artistic tribute to the famous Stonehenge structure.

Henges Wikipedia

  Henges   Google Videos




In the News ...



  Archaeologists unearth Neolithic henge at Stonehenge   BBC - July 22, 2010

Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years.


Wooden "Stonehenge" Emerges From Prehistoric Ohio   National Geographic - July 21, 2010
It appears to be a 2,000-year-old ceremonial site.


English archaeologists find new prehistoric site   PhysOrg - October 3, 2009





MEGALITHIC SITES


SACRED STONE CIRCLES


SACRED PLACES INDEX


ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS INDEX


ALPHABETICAL INDEX OF ALL FILES


CRYSTALINKS HOME PAGE


PSYCHIC READING WITH ELLIE


2012 THE ALCHEMY OF TIME