Did the Druids or Celtis Build Stonehenge?
No, neither the druids nor the Celts built Stonehenge. Stonehenge was built long before the Celts arrived in Britain. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are the opinions of a number of experts.
“No stage of the building of Stonehenge is later than about 1200 B.C., and any connection with the Druids, who flourished a thousand years later, is purely conjectural” (Jacquetta Hawkes ed., Atlas of Ancient Archaeology. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1994. 33).
The early belief that the monument was built as a temple for sky worship has never been definitively proved. Even more fanciful was an earlier notion that Stonehenge was connected with the Druids, a caste of Celtic priests” (Compton’s Encyclopedia. )
[According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, a twelfth-century author, Stonehenge was built by giants.] “So far as Geoffrey’s giants have any reality, they are the pre-Celtic megalith-builders, imagined as huge because of the size of the stones” (Geoffrey Ashe “Stonehenge.” The Arthurian Encyclopedia. Ed. Norris J. Lacey. Peter Bedrick Books: New York, 1986. 529.
A Pocket History of Stonehenge
Stonehenge began as a Neolithic monument, built and re-built in several stages over a very long period time, culminating in a final building stage in the early bronze age. The first Stonehenge, called Stonehenge I, was a circular monument; radio-carbon dating dates it to 2180 B.C. E. A low ditch and bank system with a single entry way and a wooden building in the middle completed the first building stage. The ditch and low ridge of the bank are still visible today; just inside of them are 56 aubrey holes, named after the 17 century gentleman scholar, John Aubrey, who first rediscovered them.
At about 1800 B. C. E. two small circles of bluestones (from Prescelly in South Wales) were erected around the central area, and the entry way was altered to align with the parallel lines of the double ditches which run from Stonehenge to the horizon, and down to the river Avon, and which are usually called the Avenue.
At about 1550 B. C. E. the bluestone circles were moved so that the present sarsen stones and trilithons (the large outer ring of stones, and the smaller inner ring formed of three-stone structures made of two stones and a cap). The bluestones were then placed in their present position, as an inner horseshoe and a smaller circle.
Stonehenge is very much an architectural monument and a work of art. The large sarsen stones are tapered towards the top, and some are convexly curved, like the columns of Greek temples, to counteract the warping effect of perspective. The lintels are individually shaped and curved to fit the stones they top.
Stonehenge is also an astronomical computer; it is designed so that Midsummer sunrise and Midwinter moonrise fall within the horseshoe. Stonehenge could also be used to mark or calculate other astronomical events. (The preceding history of Stonehenge was paraphrased from Jacquetta Hawkes ed., Atlas of Ancient Archaeology. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1994. 32).
Stonehenge was already old when the Celts arrived in Britain
The early Hallstatt culture, the beginnings of an identifiable Celtic cultural group, emerges c. 700 B.C.E. Early La Tène culture emerges c. 500 B. C. E. Both of these are European continental phenomena; the first historic references to Celts settling in Britain are to migragrations c. 100 B. C. E. of Belgic tribes from the area between the Rhine, the Seine, and the Marne rivers in Europe. The archaeological record provides a bit more evidence, but even then, the earliest reference I can find to a Celtic-langauge speaking people in Britain is in c. 600 B.C.E. with the arrival of the so-called Iron-Age A peoples. Stonehenge was already finished, and had been for centuries, before they arrived. (Powell, The Celts. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1983; reprinted 1991. 52.)
Of course the Celts might have used Stonehenge; they certainly had to have known it was there. But there isn’t a lot of archaeological data to support heavy use in the later Bronze age. Stuart Piggott, one of the foremost archaeologists of Britain, writes “But it should be stressed that there is no evidence for Celtic religious observances having been associated with Stonehenge, nor with any similar monument of the second millennium B. C” (Stuart Piggott The Druids. Thames and Hudson: New York, 1975; repr. 1991. 63).
Pottery and an unusual bone point found at Stonehenge, dated to 1260-840 BC, imply that there was activity at Stonehenge during the time of the ancient Celts, though it was clearly not a religious or ceremonial center. Iron Age activity at Stonehenge is indicated by a burial of a young adult male into the terminal of the palisade ditch. His skeleton has been dated to 780-410 cal BC.
Here are a few Stonehenge web sites that are historical and archaeological in approach.
- Stonehenge. . . . The Truth?
- This site, which includes a photo gallery, contrasts common myths and historic fact about Stonehenge.
- Archaeometry And Stonehenge
- The Ancient Monuments Laboratory of English Heritage sponsored a geophysical survey and the scientific dating of Stonehenge and its environs. This site presents that data, along with technical details. Pay particular attention to the section on dating Stonehenge, using the most reliable and recent radiocarbon dating techniques.
- World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom
- This site presents a collection of Stonehenge related links.
- The Megalithic Portal
- Andy Burnham offers information, links and discussion about Stonehenge and a number of other megalithic sites in Europe, including Ireland.
- Megalithic Pages
- This is a very well done site by Jan Bily on megalighic sites all over Europe, including Stonehenge.
- A thoughtful site on the stone circles of Wessex, including panaramic views of Avebury and QuickTime VR of Stonehenge.