Okay, maybe everyone wasn’t at Stonehenge yesterday.
If you’ve got any friends (or follow anyone on Instagram) in the UK, you might see that they hit Stonehenge around sunrise Thursday morning—but why were all those people gathered at a bunch of super old rocks?
To celebrate the Summer Solstice, of course.
What? Didn't you know that England’s oldest cemetery is also the hippest place to spend the longest day of the year? Didn't you know that Stonehenge might be a cemetery? No? We’ve got some things to teach you.
People gather to watch the sunrise through the Heel Stone, as it aligns perfectly—many believe that while the intention for the site has tons of theories behind it, one of the main reasons it was constructed could have been to mark the solstices. People from every walk of life come to Stonehenge, from tourists to Druids who celebrate the day as a religious holiday.
What else should I know about Stonehenge? Stonehenge is an endless series of riddles and brow-raising questions. The stones are massive, and some of them would be impossible to have transported to the site given what we know about the tools used in 3,000BC. Some of the bluestones that makeup the site originated as far as 150 miles away—how on Earth did they get so far?
There’s a lot to discover still about one of the world’s oldest monuments, but here are a few facts to keep in your back pocket and impress your friends.
- No one actually knows why, what, or how Stonehenge came to be Tons of theories are floating around out there, involved legends from Merlin the Wizard to UFO landing sites, but no one can really know for sure the origin. Stonehenge itself isn’t as unique as we might think—several ancient stone circles stand in the area, the largest being Avebury, but Stonehenge is the best preserved. In 2016, researchers were able to confirm that other stone circles on other isles lined up perfectly with solar and lunar paths, which gives us better insight into Stonehenge and other circles.
- Summer Solstice celebrations were actually banned for a time With New Age movements rising in the 70’s, Solstice celebrations were scaling massively at Stonehenge. Convoys of vehicles would spend hours making the trek, and in 1985 the local law enforcement decided to put a stop to it. It’s hard to know for sure what happened next (There’s 3 sides to every story!) but violence erupted between the festival goers and law enforcement. In the end, they allowed the festival to go on and haven’t banned it since.
- Stonehenge sold for auction for €6,600 in 1915 For centuries the land that Stonehenge is built upon was privately owned, starting in the Middle Ages—eventually, the heir to the land constructed fences and charged locals to see the stones. When the heir to the land died in World War I, the land was available for new ownership. Local resident, Cecil Chubb, purchased it and later donated it to the national government. In return for the good deed, the local government knighted him.
- Evidence suggests that Stonehenge is a cremation cemetery Traces of cremated human remains can be found in the ditches of Stonehenge, which may make it one of the earliest cremation burial grounds in the British Isles.
- Druids and spiritualists hold religious ceremonies during Solstices at Stonehenge Most of the year, the roped-off stones aren’t accessible to guests at Stonehenge. In the Summer, however, they remove the ropes and access is permitted for ritual use by druids and other groups. Druids concentrate on connecting with the Earth, and the Solstices are big holidays for them. One ritualencourages druids to bring a scrap of something holding them back and leave it—as the Solstices can represent death and rebirth.
Stonehenge holds all kinds of mysteries, and now you can tell all of your friends a few of the tales as you survive the Summer days over happy hour.
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