Sample essay topic, essay writing: Stonehenge - 1890 words
There are few ancient structures in the world that captivate the imagination and the critical mind of both the scholarly and ordinary individual as Stonehenge. This intriguingly mysterious Neolithic monument is located near Amesbury in Wiltshire, England and draws thousands of spectators to its arena each year. The oldest part of Stonehenge, called Stonehenge I (constructed ca. 3100 BCE), consists of little more than a circular ditch dug in the soil of the Salisbury plain, with the excess soil piled up to make an embankment approximately six feet tall. This area is approximately three hundred thirty feet in diameter, and encompasses "Stonehenge proper" - the familiar circles of massive stones that once stood upright as well as the large horseshoe arrangement of standing stones near the center of Stonehenge. (Trefil 48)The outer ring of Stonehenge proper, also known as the "sarsen circle," consists of several upright sarsen (gray sandstone) stones.
According to the text of Art History, each stone in this circle weighs up to fifty tons and stands up to twenty feet tall, and was once "capped by a continuous lintel." To accomplish this architectural structure, the builders used the technique of mortise-and-tendon joints to join and ensure the security of the lintel sections. With this technique, a projecting pin (tenon) located on a lintel fits tightly into a hole designed for it (mortise) on an upright stone. (Stokstad 59)Inside the sarsen circle was once a ring of bluestones. These special stones consisted of various grades of bluish dolerite, which (many individuals conclude) were only found one hundred fifty miles away in the mountains of southern Wales. The inner horseshoe arrangement of five paired lintel-topped uprights, or trilithons, dominates the center of Stonehenge
These sandstone trilithons range in height of up to twenty-four feet, weigh up to forty-five tons, and radiate the mysterious majesty of the megalithic structure. (Stokstad 59)Whatever the method by which the stones arrived on Salisbury Plain, they were apparently set up in about 2800-2700 BCE in either the unfinished circle or the incomplete horseshoe open to the south-west. A century or so later, (ca. 2500 BCE) the great sarsen circle was constructed, and the bluestones were dragged from their holes only to be returned some centuries later to form the irregular circle and the elegant horseshoe inside the towering sarsens. (Burl 22)The purpose of erecting Stonehenge as well as the identity of the person(s) responsible for its creation is a mystery.
The "who's," "how's," and "why's" behind this majestic monument are based on many (usually conflicting) myths, guesstimates, and theories. As a result, we have no definite answers for the probing questions about Stonehenge's existence. However, each theory grants the Neolithic monument its character and mystique, as well as society's best guesses as to its true origin and purpose. Therefore, I shall proceed to discuss both the fantastical and probable theories behind the mystery of Stonehenge. In 1963, British astronomer Gerald Hawkins published an article in Nature, followed by a book, Stonehenge Decoded, and proposed a hypothesis for at least one purpose of this ancient monument. Standing in the center of Stonehenge, Hawkins recognized twenty-four lines of sight amongst the stones, and later discovered that these lines pointed to significant astronomical events.
The most famous of these are the alignments that point to the spot on the horizon on which the sun rises on the summer and winter solstices; but there were many lines pointing to the rising and setting of the full moon near to those dates as well. Hawkins discovered that Stonehenge was not only a religious site, but also an "astronomical observatory" and calendar. Stonehenge was a device by which the builders could tell, on an annual basis, when Earth arrived at a certain point in its orbit around the sun. (Trefil 50)Therefore, we do know that the actual motions of the sun and moon are reflected in the structure of Stonehenge, and we can reason how it may have been used to keep track of these cycles. According to author Bryan Brewer, the number of stones or holes in the ground in the various rings around Stonehenge represents a certain number of days or years in the cycles.
By moving markers (such as stones) around a ring time with the cycles, the positions of the sun and moon can be tracked. Ultimately, this tracking of astronomical cycles could serve as a practical calendar to mark holidays and seasonal festivals and to ensure the timely planting and harvesting of crops. (Brewer 46)A very popular fable that explains the purpose and origin of Stonehenge associates the stone circles with the legend of King Arthur. In his History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth recorded that the Saxon leader, Hengist, of the fifth-century CE slaughtered hundreds of British nobles at Salisbury. The wounded British war-leader, Aurelius Ambrosius, ordered a memorial to be erected on the site of the massacre. Ambrosius commissioned Merlin of Camelot, who directed the structure's removal from Ireland (where it had been built on Mount Killaraus by giants) to its present location in Wiltshire, England.
However, this fable is unique to Geoffrey. Earlier in the same century, Henry of Huntington declared, "No one has been able to discover by what mechanism such vast masses of stone were elevated, nor for what purpose they were designed." He did not mention Merlin, nor Wales. Three hundred years earlier the Welsh monk Nennius had written of the massacre but not of Merlin, Wales or Stonehenge. (Burl 20)Yet, even others suggest the structure of Stonehenge was inspired by the sexual anatomy of the female body. Anthony Perks, a professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and a doctor at the university's Woman's Hospital, based his belief of this theory on the outer texture of the stones as well as their physical arrangement on the Salisbury plain. Considering how estrogen causes a woman's skin to be smoother than a man's, this observation led Perks to further analyze the monument in anatomical terms.
He noticed how the inner stone trilithons were arranged in a more elliptical, egg-shaped, pattern rather than a true circle. Upon further comparison of the stone layout and the shape of female sexual organs, Perks believes the "labia majora could be represented by the outer stone circle and possibly the outer mound, with the inner circle serving as the labia minora, the altar stone as the clitoris and the empty geometric center outlined by bluestones representing the birth canal (Viegas 1)." (Viegas 1)Perks found support for his theory in the body of a sacrificial child that was found buried at the center of nearby Woodhenge's circles. Perks speculates both monuments follow similar layouts, and that a child's body might also lie buried at the center of Stonehenge. Overall, however, Perks' anatomical conjectures support his theory that Stonehenge was a representation of an "Earth Mother goddess." According to the discoveries of hundreds of European figurines that represent the idea of an Earth Mother, he explained that both western Neolithic cultures and the early Celts believed in such a goddess. These figures were created at a time when birth mortality was high, suggesting Stonehenge could have been used for fertility ceremonies. The idea that Stonehenge may have been a center for worship is a possible assumption for many Stonehenge enthusiasts. It is not difficult to imagine Neolithic people gathering at a "sacred place" at "sacred times" to reaffirm their religious beliefs through ritual practices. British antiquarian Dr.