Off to Stonehenge!

I was anxious to see Stonehenge.

It is the giddy sort of feeling only art teachers might understand.

As an art history teacher, this is among the first point of entry to the subject–Stonehenge, Lascaux cave paintings, Venus of WIllendorf and other prehistoric art. To finally be in England and the Stonehenge so nearby–I couldn’t pass it up.

Of course, I didn’t want to expect too much. I talked to a few people who have seen the Stonehenge already–half of them said Stonehenge has a life of its own, while the other half says it’s not worth seeing just a bunch of stones.

Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plain in Southern England. There are tons of Stonehenge tours offered with bus transfer. Tours often range £45 to £105 per person, and they may or may not include entrance fee and food. We chose a cheaper option and commute from London to Salisbury via train (1 hr 30 min) where Ejay’s friend, Eric, fetched us at the station and drove us to Stonehenge. stonehenge-salisbury-plain-museum Their official website states that advance booking is required, but we arrived at 1pm without booking and came in fine. As of 2015, their entrance fee is £14.50 and opening hours vary widely depending on the season. Be informed that the last admission is two hours before closing time. See more information on their site here.

We opted to see the Stonehenge Visitor Centre first instead of heading straight away to Stonehenge to learn more about it.The visitor centre holds a collection of prehistoric tools, weapons and artifacts, even jewelry and household items excavated in the area. It provides great insight on how the people lived during those times. The centre attempts to answer frequently asked questions about Stonehenge: Why was the Stonehenge made? How was it made? Who built the Stonehenge? What was its purpose? Why did Ylvis have to write a song about it? 360-degree-projection-visitor-centre-stonehenge The first room is a 360-degree projection of Stonehenge, gives us a pretty good idea on how massive the stones are in comparison. It gives a realistic projection of Stonehenge on certain times and dates of the year, e.g. rising and setting of the sun, winter and summer solstice.

Neolithic Skeleton and reconstructed face, found within the area
Neolithic Skeleton and reconstructed face, found within the area

Here stands the skeleton & face reconstruction of a man who lived in the Neolithic times. You’ll notice the short stature– the neolithic people averaged only from about 5″1 to 5″5! That’s the average height of a Filipino. If I could go back in time to the Neolithic era I’d probably hate it. It’s like high school and I’m-unable-to-find-a-date-because-I’m-taller-than-most-boys once again.

Despite the short stature handicap, our ancestors reconciled by working as a group. A man alone is helpless, but men together are formidable. Dangerous. Hence, how else could they have built the Stonehenge?

Interestingly, humans who lived pre-Neolithic times were much taller, averaging 5″6 to 5″10. It isn’t only until the 20th century that humans returned to the pre-Neolithic height averages. This was mostly due to the shift from the more balanced and healthy hunter-gatherer diet to the limiting agricultural diet. Neolithic people were found to have vitamin deficiencies and health issues. Hence, your cousin doing that Paleo diet is probably on to something.

neolithic-village-uk-united-kingdom-salisbury-stonehenge Outside, there is a reconstructed Neolithic village which got me all giddy again. This part was a significant to me, I remember chanting: I can’t believe I get to be in an actual neolithic hut and bed and fireplace and clothing! (albeit they were only reproductions, it was exciting nonetheless.)

The Neolithic Revolution marks the human development of agriculture and  animaldomestication, which led to a shift from hunting/gathering to a sedentary lifestyle. Food is now more available, and people can now settle in one area rather than continue to wander for food.

Because milk was now more available, mothers can raise a younger babe and older children concurrently–this was not possible before. The neolithic revolution also led to rapidly rising populations, deep social divisions, gender inequality and land disputes leading to the earliest wars. Why? Because we don’t need to constantly struggle against nature for survival anymore–humans learned to fight within themselves. Humans were now at the top of the food chain, after all.

Inside the huts you can see what the weapons, pottery, tools and pieces of clothing were like during the Neolithic era
Inside the huts you can see what the weapons, pottery, tools and pieces of clothing were like during the Neolithic era

I am amazed at how many of the earliest settlements look the same in all parts of the world–in Europe, South America, or wherever. The tepee-looking huts look like our very own Philippine nipa huts. How was knowledge shared to all parts of the world without present technology? Without Google providing answers to our ancestors ‘how to build a village’? Even their weapons, tools and pottery are almost the same across continents. Were they learned by different communities at roughly the same time, or where they shared from one generation to another and through constant human migrations? Or, aliens?

This stone is roughly 12 feet tall and weighs 5 tons!
This stone is roughly 12 feet tall and weighs 15 tons!

Another fact that dumbfounded everyone is the mysterious stones used to erect Stonehenge. They weren’t local to the area. The biggest stones called ‘sarsens‘ were around 30 feet tall and weighed 30 tons. They were transported from Marlborough Downs, some 32 km up north.

More interestingly, 80-something of the smaller stones were from Preswell Mountains in Western Wales (that’s 230 km away and from a different country. It’s not an easy feat of transporting it to the site–when I said ‘smaller stones’, I meant that they were 10-12 ft tall and weighed around 5 tons each! Until now, scholars are still arguing how the ancient people were able to transport the big stones, and why they had such the will to do so. stonehenge-beautiful-sunset-sky-blue-uk-england The Stonehenge’s site was built in Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau. The open landscape would’ve been an unusual contrast of the landscape of South England, most of which were dense woodlands back then. This is probably why it was the chosen site for the Neolithic monument.

In awe.
In awe.

Thousands flock to Stonehenge to celebrate the marking of the annual winter and summer solstice. The summer solstice is every June 21, what’s remarkable is that observers standing within the stone circle would see the sun rise in the exact alignment of the heel stone.

During winter solstice every December 21, observers can also see the perfect alignment of the sun setting. The Stonehenge is already 5,000 years old and it shows us how carefully the first humans watched the sun. They relied on such astronomical observations on their way of living–harvesting crops, hunting animals, marriage, commemoration and more.

stonehenge-salisbury-europe-england-uk
The real purpose of Stonehenge is still unknown. But, judging by the perfect alignment of the stones, it was probably used as an astronomical tool or a sun worshipping ritual. Whatever the purpose, it held a very important part of the ancient people’s lives.

Ejay's buddy from university, Eric. He's so photogenic.
Ejay’s buddy from university, Eric. He’s so photogenic.

By the way, because of the area’s vast openness, it was so windy that day. I never felt so cold in England than I did in Stonehenge. Prepare and bulk up in several layers! stonehenge-salisbury-plain-uk-england The Stonehenge was beautiful and massive. I left ‘in awe’; with a big smile on my face; and that’s an understatement. Happily, Stonehenge wasn’t just ‘a bunch of stones’ for me–it was a sight to behold.

I left Salisbury Plain with more questions about humanity and philosophy. There is poetry written in the stones, and it opened my eyes at how human faith could move mountains, if there need be.

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17 thoughts on “Off to Stonehenge!

  1. I was planning to visit The UK in my travel itinerary when I study in the netherlands next year. I’ll be sure to visit the stone henge, too. And thanks for writing about your travels. It’s very helpful and inspiring as a future traveller. 😃👍

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      1. Yes we did! It was amazing, first because we got to see something we’d only seen in pictures before, and then thinking about it, it was awe-inspiring how much effort people must have put into constructing it, like you’ve already mentioned some of the stones coming from Wales. And then we were there just the day after scientists discovered a new row of ~90 similar stones just a couple of miles away, so that added to the goosebumps.

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      2. Yay! I can’t wait to read on your blog post about it! And it’s amazing to see the Neolithic skeleton too, right? and how much shorter the ‘average Neolithic man’ was compared to us now!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel,

    My earliest recollection of the stonehenge were from reading books on witchcraft and the likes. I could imagine looking at your photos how some people would say it’s not worth it looking at stones and rocks. But that’s not the point. When you think about the origin of the stones and how the hell the people then were able to erect them, it is truly an astonishing feat. To date, no one has conclusively shown what they were for, right? The mystery and seeing them for yourselves, being there, touching them with your bare hands, I say that is quite an experience.

    AMAZING LIFE DAILY

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment, Robert. Indeed, the works made by fellow men still continue to mystify us, thousands of years after. Some even theorize these great works of art are made by aliens and not men, belittling on the power of what we can really do!

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  3. I have visited Stonehenge last year and I didn’t really expect much except from seeing some stones. However, I think they had a brilliant idea with giving the audio guide for no extra charge and I think I have spent about an hour and a half completing the circle around the stones and listening to the story. I have to say, I was not disappointed and I think I got a fair deal out of the £13.50 (if you book online)!

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  4. I have always had a fascination with Stonehenge since learning about its history when I was growing up. I had forgotten how amazed I was at these rocks and what they mean and what they did for people when the world was just beginning. It is is amazing to think they made this and knew they had to keep a record of their life. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. You reminded me that I wanted to see this in person one day.

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  5. I always wonder when I see the stones where they are used for. The fact that it is still unsure makes it even more interesting. How funny that the length of the humans back then were the same length as the average height of the Filippinos today. The pictures with the grass and blue sky is stunning. I totally loved this article, so close by in England and still I have never been there! Are you coming to Stockholm too? Please let me know!

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  6. I wasn’t a fan of history back when I was a student, but you have a great story line. Knowing about the history of Stonehenge gave me a deeper appreciation of it. And your captures are marvelous! What cam are you using? 🙂

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  7. Majestic! I remeber all those history and art lessons about Stonehenge, and mystery that follows it. It must be amazing to see it in person. I also learned a lot of new things today about Stonehenge, i really enjoyed your post 🙂

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  8. I live about one hour from Stonehenge and have never been!!! I didn’t realise it had such a good visitors centre either, so I will have to make the trip soon! And it was also nice to know that I’m about the height of a Neolithic person, well slightly shorter at 4ft 11 but I wouldn’t have been too out of place like I am now! Haha! Glad you had a wonderful time!

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  9. I wonder how near can you get to the stonehenge? I saw a fence. You are far from the stonehenge? Eric seems to be standing near them. I don’t know how I’d feel if I see them. But definitely not like the others who felt that it’s just stones.

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