Few sites in the world are as iconic as the few dozen pillars of sarsen stone that stand upon the rolling landscape of Salisbury plain. Their function has, for thousands of years, been lost to us, but philosophers, esoterics, religions and scientists alike have all used them as a touchstone to understanding out past.
Stonehenge is actually rather more than just the stones, consisting as it does of a complex set of ancient earthworks, with the stones at the centre. These earthworks contain one of the densest collections of burial mounds in England - with hundreds of Bronze Age and Neolithic burials recorded around the site.
The earliest widely agreed date for the origins of the site is 3100BC, when the initial ditch and earth bank were first dug. Development of the site then carried on over hundreds - possibly thousands - of years as new burial mounds were raised and, eventually, the stones themselves. The date on which they were raised remains uncertain: dates for anywhere between 3000 and 2200BC have been advanced, and the site was in a state of continual development over the course of centuries.
If that dates are mysterious, the motivations are even less certain. Early postulations spoke of blood rituals - even sacrifices. More recent explanations are more likely to point to the obvious links with solar and lunar cycles, suggesting more commonplace rituals to do with the seasons.
Certainly in this early phase of agragrian life, populations lived and died by the seasons and the rhythms of human life were intensely bound up with those of the world itself, and it would be little wonder to find that prayers, offerings and rituals were part of some long-forgotten Earth religion.
Photo courtesy of Mactographer. via Wikipedia