An unsolved mystery. A historic treasure. What secrets shroud Stonehenge? What is its history? This article discusses the myth behind this monument and some possible answers to these questions.

Stonehenge is a place of mystery and intrigue. This majestic structure, which once radiated order and architectural precision, now lies in ruins, enshrouded in its own echoing legend. Each of its stones once had a place in a structure of perfect design, a place and purpose that the world has long forgotten or lost—and that we may never fully comprehend.

This mythical structure was the number-one item on my bucket list. When I visited England on an international study program, I knew that I could not leave without visiting it. I hoped to experience its mystery for myself.

Sunrise at Stonehenge

It was early on a chilly, gray morning in mid-June. The sun was just barely coming up over the chalky landscape when my group arrived. Since we were surrounded only by acres of dewy, windswept grass, I could see the stones from a quarter-mile away. They seemed unexpectedly small until we came to stand right next to them.

As I stood among those massive boulders, I felt a surge of curiosity. I wanted to know everything about Stonehenge—its true history. I wanted to meet the people who had labored to build this now weather-worn and crumbling monument and who may have worshipped here in years past. My overactive imagination filled my mind with images of cloaked druids meeting in worshipful reverence and of Roman soldiers milling around campfires or falling in line for drills.

Every tourist who had ever stood in the spot where I stood then flitted before my eyes like a historical montage: men and women of all ages, wearing everything from top hats to baseball caps, from petticoats to blue jeans. I wondered whether they, too, had pondered how much effort it would have taken to build such a structure and had speculated about its origin and purpose. Was it a market? A city of the dead? A pagan cathedral? A temple of the sun?

Of course, my musings didn’t reveal anything reliable, but my daydreams were fun and the experience inspired me to further explore the lore of Stonehenge. I wanted to discover if any of the myths had any basis in history.


Roman and Arthurian Legends

The story of Stonehenge began so long ago that its true beginnings were probably forgotten even by classical times. In the surviving Greek and Roman literature, Stonehenge is hardly mentioned. When Roman soldiers first invaded Britain around 55 BC, they likely paid it little reverence, content in the fact that Rome had her own temples. Yet even from this vantage point, the Romans obviously respected the enigmatic stone circle enough to leave it virtually intact.

But whatever the Greeks or Romans believed about Stonehenge, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages—with its increased cultural tendency to believe in superstition and mystery—that interest peaked in the mysterious stone structure. Along with such marveling came a desire to attribute a history to its stony features; as a result, many speculations began to surface.

Some writings likely originate from as early as the sixth century. These early writers told of giants who carried the stones to Ireland from the farthest ends of Africa, a myth that was among the earliest rumors of Stonehenge’s origins. Arthurian legends suggest that Merlin, with his mighty magic, whisked the stones from their place in Ireland and set them to rest in Wiltshire, England. Other stories claim that King Arthur and Merlin decreed the building of Stonehenge as a monument to fallen nobles in recent wars with the Saxons. Among other references to the great King Arthur, other writings whispered that Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, had been long ago buried at Stonehenge, along with the renowned Emperor Constantine. During the Dark Ages, these tales were among the most popular explanations of its origins.


Druids and Neolithics

By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Enlightenment scholars were debunking such fantastical stories. The story of Merlin became just a fable, and he become more of a legendary than a historical figure. During these centuries, and even continuing into modern times, plausible explanations were set forward by great minds around the world. Some claimed that the construction of Stonehenge should be attributed to the ancient Druids, a Celtic priesthood that flourished around the time of its construction. That myth of Druidic attribution still endures today. Along with it exists the idea that Stonehenge was a temple for the worship of ancient deities of the earth, complete with pagan rituals and bloody human sacrifices. Yet this theory is improbable, given that by the onset of the Druids’ popularity, the stones had already been standing for two thousand years and would have already experienced severe weathering and erosion. And anyways,  the Druids, who would have built Stonehenge as a temple or some other kind of sacred site, worshipped in forest temples and had no real need for stone structures.

Many other ancient civilizations have been credited with building Stonehenge, yet the evidence has not been compelling enough to offer any definite answers. The best supposition seems to be that the Stonehenge site was begun by the people of the late Neolithic period (approximately 3000 BC) and carried forward by people from a new economy arising at the time. Some think that these new Britons may have been immigrants from the continent, although that contention is not supported by archaeological evidence. It is more probable that they were an indigenous people using the technique of building with quarried stone in impressive new ways.

Make Your Own Discoveries

I have never been more awestruck by a man-made structure. Whoever built Stonehenge—and for whatever end—has left a timeless gift for the world to see. Everyone should personally discover the beauty and wonder that can come from man’s ingenuity.


-Heather Walker