Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous of all the henges, vast circular monuments constructed from wood or stone that litter the British countryside. The prehistoric monument was most likely erected in what is now England sometime between 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. and some of the stones were transported all the way from neighboring Wales — no small feat for a Stone Age civilization.
It must have surely been a gargantuan effort and it begs the question: Why on Earth did they bother? Why did Stone Age people build so many henges?
“The short answer is that I don’t know and neither does anyone else,” said Rosemary Hill, a historian and author of “Stonehenge” (Profile Books and Harvard University Press, 2008).
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that, technically speaking, Stonehenge isn’t even a henge. The word “henge” is in fact a relatively recent term, first defined by British archaeologist Thomas Kendrick in 1932 to mean a circular bank with a ditch inside it and one or more entrances protruding through the bank. “But Stonehenge is the other way around, it’s a bank inside a ditch,” Hill told Live Science.
Another fun fact: Even ignoring the reverse order of ditch and bank, most henges still wouldn’t have looked like Stonehenge because they were usually made from wood, which makes sense. Wood is everywhere, and is much easier to carve and transport, even if it isn’t as durable. It wasn’t until the 20th century that archaeologists realized that Britain once boasted a bounty of wood henges that have long since rotted away and vanished from sight.
“After the First World War, when people started flying over the country, they started to see where these constructions had been because they left traces on the ground with their mounds. People hadn’t really noticed until they got a bird’s-eye view,” Hill said. “They’re also pretty much unique to Britain.”
Researchers have proposed myriad ideas over the years, suggesting that monuments like Stonehenge were used as sacred hunting grounds, places of community gathering, astronomical calendars, structures for sound amplification, cemeteries or even havens for ancient healing. Excavations offer supporting evidence for some of these claims.
“They’ve found [human] remains at Stonehenge, so that’s strong evidence it was a burial site and it’s orientated to the sunset during the winter solstice,” Hill explained. “So I think you can say it’s to do with the dead and the solstices. It’s not unreasonable to think of it as a ritual site and there’s no evidence of people eating or living there.”