English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites which bring the story of England to life.

One of the sites we look after is Stonehenge, perhaps the world's most famous prehistoric monument. It was built in several stages, with the Stone Circle erected in about 2500 BC.

2018 is a special year for Stonehenge, marking 100 years since the site was gifted to the nation. This marked a turning point in its history, beginning a centenary of care and conservation which continues to this day. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/stonehenge-100/

We're here with our Senior Properties Historian Susan Greaney and Senior Properties Curator Heather Sebire to answer any questions you might have about this special place.

Verification: https://twitter.com/EnglishHeritage/status/1039476227944456192

EDIT: We're signing off now, Reddit. Thank you so much for all your fantastic questions today and we're sorry we couldn't answer them all. We've really enjoyed doing this AMA and we'd love to do another one soon. Tweet @EnglishHeritage with your ideas for the next topic and we'll see what we can do!

Comments: 453 • Responses: 27  • Date: 

crapwittyname165 karma

Hi, and thanks for the AMA! I would love to visit Stonehenge, but I fear that tourists and noise would spoil the experience. I'd like to have a peaceful moment there where I could appreciate the history and meaning behind the circle. Is there a time of day/year where that would be possible?

E: thank you Reddit!

AskEnglishHeritage58 karma

Hi! It looks like you've had some great advice already but we'd definitely recommend the Stone Circle access tours, which give you a unique opportunity to see the monument up close. The tours take place outside usual opening hours, so you'll be at Stonehenge with almost nobody else - a pretty special experience! There's more information about these tours on our website: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/plan-your-visit/stone-circle-access-visits/

martinjefferies154 karma

Some of the stones are massive! How did they get there?

AskEnglishHeritage257 karma

The largest stones are called sarsens and they weigh up to 35 tonnes each! We don't have any direct evidence for how they were moved, but this predates the use of the wheel in the British Isles, so some sort of sledge and rollers is most likely. Some have suggested greased trackways. Oxen might have been used to help drag the stones but the more precise and delicate movements at the site must have been carried out by people. - Susan

japonica-rustica140 karma

Why is it so expensive to go to the stones? When I was a kid you could just park next to them and wander around. Last time I was there it was so expensive to get in I didn’t bother. Seems like it’s just to scam tourists.

AskEnglishHeritage190 karma

Thanks so much for your question!

English Heritage is a charity, so the income we receive from admissions and membership is really important. Stonehenge is one of more than 400 historic places across England that are in our care, and a visit contributes not only to the care of the ancient stones but to all the sites we look after, many of which are open free of charge all year round. Believe it or not, the expert care needed to maintain these irreplaceable buildings and monuments costs about £20 million a year! It's a huge amount of money and we're hugely grateful for the generous support of our members, visitors and donors.

It's worth adding that admission to Stonehenge doesn't just include a fantastic view of the stone circle. It also includes entry to our visitor centre and exhibition, as well as the Neolithic houses that allow you to imagine how people would have lived 4,500 years ago.

violenceandson95 karma

What is the biggest, ongoing challenge, in maintaining and caring for the site?

AskEnglishHeritage110 karma

The biggest challenge in looking after the site is balancing the needs of visitors with protecting the archaeology and the stones themselves. We have various management regimes in place but often the weather is a big factor. Close monitoring is the secret! - Heather

TheFiddlerSIN36 karma

I am very interested in Stonehenge. But As someone who has never been to see and knows fairly little about it , what would be the best starting point to learn about it ( a book , a website , a documentary ) ? What would you recommend for a Stonehenge newbie ?

AskEnglishHeritage76 karma

I'd recommend a book called Stonehenge Complete by Christopher Chippendale. It's a brilliant overview of the archaeology and history of Stonehenge, and it's constantly updated (now in its fourth edition). 'Stonehenge: The Story So Far' by Julian Richards is also very good, with a new edition published just this year. Our own guidebook is a really good place to start too!

shootthesound29 karma

Hi! Has any survey ever been done with sonar/X-ray to examine underneath the site? Also, did the recent heatwave reveal any features nearby like they did in various parts of the country ( via aerial photography ) ?

AskEnglishHeritage31 karma

Hello! There have been geophysical surveys carried out around the stones which are a great source of information. We did see some interesting parchment marks again this year, showing the positions of missing stones at the south side of the stone circle. This all adds to what we know about Stonehenge! - Heather

SorryImUncontrite28 karma

Hi Guys,

I read recently that stonehenge isn't actually a 'henge' as the classification goes. Are you able to clarify this? What is a henge? And surely shouldn't the namesake of the word actually be one?

Thanks for taking the time out.

AskEnglishHeritage47 karma

Hello! The word henge comes from Stonehenge (probably hanging stones) but is now used by archaeologists to refer to a particular type of earthwork enclosure. True henges have a bank outside of a ditch but Stonehenge is actually the other way round - it has a ditch outside the bank. It's an early type of henge, or proto-henge. Even more complex is the fact that Stonehenge actually has a second bank outside the ditch, a counterscarp bank. We shouldn't get too hung up on terminally - henges are quite varied and enclose lots of different things. It's what happened there that counts! - Susan

Shaysdays18 karma

What kind of concerns do you have about earthquakes or acid rain changing the orientation/precision of the stones?

AskEnglishHeritage52 karma

Hi! Luckily we don't get particularly severe earthquakes in the UK and the stones are relatively hard and resistant to weathering. Many of the stones were set into concrete in restoration projects in the 1920s and 1950s so they should be fairly stable. However, we do monitor the site. A full laser survey of the site was undertaken in 2011 and we hope to repeat that in 2021. Comparing the two should allow us to check for any movement, weathering or erosion. - Susan

tpfw0116 karma

What’s something about the stonehenge that always surprises people?

AskEnglishHeritage41 karma

I think the distinctive rolling open landscape surrounding the site is quite surprising for most people. It's a Wiltshire thing! There are huge fields and great big open skies, skylarks and sheep. This is actually pretty much what the landscape looked like in prehistory too. People may have been attracted by the open landscape to build the first monuments here. - Susan

AskEnglishHeritage28 karma

I think people are always surprised at the size of the stones. Even though they know they're big, it's only when you get up close on the path that you realise just how big they are! - Heather

cheesewaster15 karma

This isn’t necessarily related to the site, but how did you end up becoming a curator/historian?

AskEnglishHeritage20 karma

I ended up being a curator because I've always been interested in the ancient world. Prehistory is so fragile and ephemeral it needs looking after, so I've been lucky enough to have made my career looking after ancient things! - Heather

AskEnglishHeritage17 karma

I wanted to be an archaeologist from the age of seven! I took part in archaeological digs as a teenager before studying archaeology and prehistory at Sheffield University. Then I did an MA in Professional Archaeology and a bit of work in commercial archaeology before I was lucky enough to get a temporary job with English Heritage 13 years ago! And this is basically the same job I do now, only a step up and more closely related to Stonehenge. - Susan

Swirrel12 karma

Do you also care for the 'sun mounds' that were used to trace the movement of the sun along the sky on certain days of the day? I remember them being equal distant to their left and right partner being about an angle of one sun hour away from each other.

What do you think about that stone age people all over the world (britian, russia, kazachstan, america) were building contraptions, 'shrines' and mountains of rocks and boulders in certain places just to check if their perception of the sun is right? or perhaps they didn't even have any theory before (tho I doubt that, there are quite a few old artifacts that depict the suns movement around the earth)

Do you think the Stonehenge also used things like the the Nebra Sky Disk for calibration or calculation?

AskEnglishHeritage10 karma

I think you might be referring to the early Bronze Age round barrows in the landscape. One of these is called the sun barrow as it lies on the midwinter solstice alignment. Generally though the barrows don't have any astronomical alignments. But Stonehenge clearly does! It is aligned on both the midsummer and midwinter solstices. And early in the history of the site it may have had lunar alignments; the cremations seem to cluster in the south east part of the site which aligns with the major lunar standstill. Clearly prehistoric people had a fascination with the sky in many different cultures and time periods across the world. The celestial bodies are a way of calculating time and the seasons so became really important, particularly in farming societies. It's interesting to speculate about whether those who built Stonehenge had small portable devices but we haven't found any yet! The Nebra sky disc is an amazing object - the focus and fascination with the sky continues into the middle Bronze Age all across Europe. - Susan

jakmano10 karma

Hi. Are there any other archaeological features that are contemporary to the stones?

Also how has UNESCO status affected the number of visitors you get to the site each year?

Thanks for doing really good to engage with the wider community on historical artefacts 😀

AskEnglishHeritage9 karma

Yes, there are some archaeological features at Stonehenge that are contemporary with the stones - a small ditch around the Heel Stone, for example, and the outlying Station Stones. We also know of a lot of pits and postholes, some of which might be a similar date (2500 BC). In the wider landscape, there are many other contemporary monuments such as Durrington Walls and Woodhenge. - Susan

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

Oh, and the question about World Heritage Site status is a bit trickier to answer! Certainly the fact the site is on a list makes it a destination for many people, although Stonehenge would no doubt attract many anyway! - Susan

xCharlotteR_8 karma

Hi Susan and Heather,

What are your favorite stories about "inexplicable" events that took place at Stonehenge?
Do you believe them? Did you experience anything out of the ordinary ever yourselves?

Thanks for doing this AMA, hope to visit Stonehenge one day!

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

I've heard some really interesting stories, particularly from our stalwart security staff, some of whom have been here for many years! There used to be a floodlight array which would light up when it detected motion and apparently on occasion it would strangely light up with no one to be seen! I've never experienced anything inexplicable but it's always a magical and unique experience to walk among the stones, particularly in the early morning. - Susan

Blazed-Khaleesi5 karma

Hello, local here! What's the craziest theory you've heard about the stones?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

Hello! The craziest theory I ever heard was that Stonehenge was a house with a wooden beamed thatched roof! There's no evidence for that! - Heather

KiltedLady4 karma

I have a question for both of you - if you were given the opportunity, what other archaeological site (UK or worldwide) would you be most interested in working with and why?

AskEnglishHeritage6 karma

Hi! I would have loved to have worked at Catal Huyuk in Turkey. It's an amazing neolithic site with houses made from layers of mud and plaster with rooftop entrances. The survival is phenomenal! It's a very atmospheric site that I was lucky to visit with the excavator a few years ago. Fantastic! - Heather

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

I'd love to work on Orkney or perhaps in Brú na Bóinne in Ireland. Both areas have fantastic Neolithic monuments and brilliant new research discoveries! - Susan

bgronnie3 karma

Hi! How many stones are there at Stonehenge? And do either of you have a favourite one?

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

There are over 80 stones visible today although some are barely visible and almost buried. My favourite is Number 56 (the tallest) as it has a beautiful slender shape. - Heather

AskEnglishHeritage7 karma

Hello! There are about 60 bluestones (the smaller stones brought from Wales). The inner horseshoe is made up of 15 sarsens and originally there were 30 uprights and 30 lintels in the outer circle, although lots of those are now missing. And then there are four outer station stones and the outlying Heel Stone. And the central Altar Stone. So well over 120 in total! My favourite is Stone 16 at the back - it has some really good areas where the original working/shaping can be seen. It looks like orange peel but it's actually the marks of people bashing off the stone with hammerstones to shape the stone. Amazing! - Susan

cfryant3 karma

Can you talk a little about the structures found underground? Is it just more of what's visible above ground or could it possibly have another function?

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

Hi! Excavations have revealed a number of stoneholes and postholes underground which show us the previous phases of Stonehenge. For example, there's a double bluestone arc which is where they stood before they were moved into their current positions. Cremation burials have also been found in the surrounding ditch and some pits we call Aubrey Holes which show that the early phase (3000-2500 BC) was a cremation cemetery. Up to 150 people were buried at the site, largely before the stones were raised in the centre of the site. - Susan

Jdogy20023 karma

What’s it like having the most British job of all time?

AskEnglishHeritage9 karma

Ha! I remember when Barack Obama came to visit and he met our colleague who introduced herself as the General Manager of Stonehenge. The president said, "You have the coolest job title in the world!" We replied, "But you're the Leader of the Free World!" - Susan

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

Hi! As a curator, each day is different. It might be showing visitors around the stones or meeting with colleagues to discuss conservation or keeping up to date with the latest research. Definitely never a dull moment! - Heather

lsp20053 karma

Assuming archeological digs have been performed nearby, what is the strangest thing found buried underground nearby?

AskEnglishHeritage3 karma

Hello! The strangest thing that we've found at Stonehenge is a little pottery dish. We don't know what it was used for but it seems to have signs of burning and little notches round the edge where it could have been suspended. It was found with a cremation so some have suggested it was used for lighting the cremation pyre or perhaps for burning herbs or oils as part of ceremonies. Other examples have also been found at late Neolithic cremation cemeteries such as Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. - Susan

AskEnglishHeritage5 karma

Another good one is the bottle of port left under the Slaughter Stone by William Cunnington in the 19th century! It was found by Atkinson in the 1960s but apparently the cork had perished and the contents emptied out! - Susan

skylight452 karma

I visited Stonehenge in August of 2017 - Loved it. My partner and I took a hike around the surrounding area - to put it in California terms, he said that he got “good vibes” from the landscape. What sort of spiritual significance does the actual site have? I mean, does the actual location have a certain specific meaning, or purpose, in terms of spirituality / beliefs?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

Hello and thanks for your question! The site of Stonehenge is very spiritual. We know people were not living there but burying their dead and very likely performing ceremonies of some sort. I think they were probably as spiritual as we are but in different ways. The area definitely feels very special, so lots of vibes! - Heather