April 19, 2024 at 12:43 pm

An Explanation Of Henges, And Why People Built Them

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

The most famous henge in the world is, arguably, Stonehenge. In fact, many might not realize it’s not the only one.

What are they, though, and why were they built?

Read on if you’re curious!

The word “henge” comes from the Old English word for “hang.”

So, Stonehenge = “Hanging Stones.”

This presumably referred to the lintel stones placed across the standing columns. British Museum curator Thomas Kendrick was the first to coin the term in 1932 as a way to define what type of archaeological site was being curated.

Source: Shutterstock

He defined “henge” as a circular or oval prehistoric monument that used ditches and banks of soil to enclose sacred sites.

Funnily enough, Stonehenge’s main ditch is external to its main bank, so it’s technically a “proto-henge.”

Class I henges have only one entrance point, Class II henges have two, up to four ways into the earthwork. The ditches are thought to be too shallow to conclude the henges were used for defensive purposes.

A henge doesn’t have to have stones arranged at the center; some have timber posts, monoliths, pits, standing posts, coves, burials, central mounts, and stakeholes.

It is easy to confuse them with other prehistoric monuments like ring cairns, circular enclosed cemeteries, barrows, enclosed settlements, Roman signal stations, or amphitheaters.

They’re also sometimes confused with simple megalithic structures like stones standing in a circle.

There are also sub-henge types. One is “hengiform monuments,” which are mini-henges with an internal diameter of 49-66 feet or less.

Source: Shutterstock

Another is “henge enclosures,” which are larger than regular henges, around 980 feet in diameter.

All of this said, the classification for a “henge” is now hotly debated in academic circles.

Another hotly debated henge topic? Why they exist in the first place.

The monuments are surprisingly difficult to precisely date, with the earliest examples popping up around 3000 BCE but the larger ones not showing up until 2800-2200 BCE.

The earlier sites were abandoned as more were created into the Early Bronze Age.

Older standing stones could date back into the mid-Neolithic era, around 8000 BCE.

There is much speculation about the reasons they exist. There is no evidence the sites had anything to do with the Druids, which is a popular theory.

It is likely, however, that the sites were ceremonial spaces. One possibility is that the arrangements marked out specific areas for specific people or spirits.

Another thought is that they could have been the site of ritual practices like dancing, drinking, feasting, sacrifices, and funerals.

Source: Shutterstock

There is no evidence that they were there to assist with human sacrifices, though that theory has been raised as well.

Other ideas are that they could have served judiciary purposes or been trade sites or places to observe the heavens.

There are many henges across Britain and Ireland that were built during these periods, so you can visit and see what you think for yourself.

We’re always learning more, so expect the controversy to extend as far as the eye can see.

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