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Eva March Tappan

The Building of Stonehenge

[On Salisbury Plain in southern England stands one of the most impressive of all existing monuments of ancient man. Stonehenge, as it is called, was probably constructed during the Bronze Age in connection with the worship of the sun. It originally consisted of two concentric circles of immense stones, the outer one hundred feet in diameter, within which are two smaller rows in the form of a horseshoe. These inclose a block of blue marble fifteen feet long, known as the Altar Stone. The inner circle opens to the northeast, and from the arrangement of certain stones it is supposed that one use of the temple was to determine the time of the summer solstice.

No one knows just how or why this gigantic cromlech, or stone circle, was built, but the story from which the following selection is taken tells how it might  have been built.
The Editor. ]

NEXT morning the whole village was collected. Bermax informed them of the privilege which the Great King had conferred upon them—that of volunteering to help in building Stonehenge, and of offering sacrifices towards the great work.

The wretched people, looking even more glum and sallow than usual, broke out into enthusiastic thanksgiving. The king then indicated who would be allowed to volunteer, seeing that every one was anxious to go. Dunohox was one of them. He also selected from the flocks and herds of the villagers (not from his own animals) such offerings as he thought might satisfy the Great King. The unfortunate villagers expressed their sincere thanks for the privilege, and withdrew.

The future looked very black so far as Dunohox was concerned. The work at Stonehenge had been going on for years. Neither slave nor "volunteer" sent to labor on that great national memorial ever returned to his native village.

When he arrived with King Bermax's presents of slaves, animals, and provisions, his interview with the Great King was short.

"I like to see a strong young man like yourself coming of his own free will to serve his country's religion, but I am sure you wish to begin work at once. Take him to help with the great leaning-stone" (now the Friar's Heel).

This huge unworked boulder, twenty-nine feet long, had been brought to the edge of the pit intended to receive it. This pit had one side sloped, or inclined whilst the others were vertical. The end of the great stone was being carefully brought square to the edge of the pit. The levers were huge tree-trunks, with many ropes attached, each pulled by one man. Cables of twisted hide strips had been tied round the boulder, which was lying on large rounded tree-trunks (the rollers on which it had been brought). Hide ropes held by parties of ten men, each under an overseer, were attached to the great cables at various points, and, by pulling on these and by levers, it was being brought square and level with the edge of the pit. At one of the ropes a slave had fallen exhausted and half dead; the overseer stopped flogging him, and he was dragged aside and Dunohox put in his place.

Then came the exciting moment. The great boulder was dragged forward over the pit; the end began to sway downwards, and then toppled forward; it slid down the inclined plane or sloping side amidst intense excitement. The whips of the overseers descended freely, but at last it stopped—it had taken the position embedded in stones and gently leaning towards the temple in which it has remained ever since; that is, for some 4000, or at any rate 3588, years!

Dunohox had no hope now, for no distinction was made between the so-called free man and the slave. He had no rest from sunrise to sunset, except for the scanty meals of millet and barley bread, in which they were systematically swindled by their brutal overseers.

He next had to help in placing one of the great table-stones in position on the top of its two upright pillars. A sloping embankment of earth and stones had been built, leading up to the top of these two upright boulders. Up this the table-stone was dragged and pushed on carefully smoothed rollers. Two hundred men attached to the ropes made this quite an easy matter. When it had reached its destined place, where the guides on the top of the uprights projected through the surface of the embankment, it was hauled into position, and then the earth was carefully picked away until it settled down like the lintel of a giant's door on its two stone posts.

Then he was sent to the quarry at Frome, where the great altar-stone was approaching completion. It was a busy scene: at the edge of the quarry men were cutting out with flint adzes small wedge-shaped openings on the sandstone. These openings were arranged in lines following the outline of the block which it was intended to break out of the cliff. Then dry wooden wedges were hammered into the openings.

When these were all in place, water was poured on the wedges, which of course soaked it up, and the wood began to swell and expand. The result was to split the stone along the line of the wedges, and, if the operation was successful, a block of the required size was broken out.

It was by this method that Cleopatra's Needle and other Egyptian obelisks were wedged out of the hard syenite at Assouan, where one used to be able to see the holes cut by Egyptian masons thousands of years ago, and often a broken block lying beside them.

Over the great altar-stone three tree-trunks had been placed, forming a tripod. A heavy quartzite hammer, seventy pounds in weight, was hauled by ropes to the top of the tripod, and then let fall; it was guided by wooden handles and struck the sides of the altar-stone at the exact point required. Skilled masons with polished stone-hammers were trimming the sides of the block more exactly.

As time went on, Stonehenge was nearing completion. The strings of women and children, laden with baskets of earth and stones, had made a smooth road all the way from Frome to Stonehenge.

Then the altar-stone, cased in timber, and rolling on giant rollers, started on its journey. Forty teams of fifty men each tugging at the boulder made it travel as easily as a wheelbarrow.

The Great King himself, with his priests and musicians, as well as the animals for sacrifice, adorned with garlands and flowers, paced slowly along at the head of the solemn procession.

Days of feverish toil followed, for all embankments and all refuse had to be cleared away. The great avenue, with its ditches and embankments, had to be prepared, and the temple roofed in before the summer solstice. There was the great circular rampart and its ditch to be finished off, as well as the work necessary in clearing up (1) the outer stone circle; (2) the inner ring of diabase pillars; (3) the horseshoe of great tables or dolmens; (4) another ellipse of diabase pillars, as well as the great altar-stone itself.

At last all was ready. The central part of Stonehenge was entirely roofed over except for the narrow opening towards the east. All night long, prayers and invocations were being chanted in the interior, only lit by the sacred fire kept forever burning. The longest day of the year was about to begin.

The king was seated on his throne and looking east, whilst his most trusted nobles crouched on the ground, and all waited anxiously for the sunrise. The ancient priest, in his rich linen robes, whose skill in astronomy and architecture was responsible for the design and calculations, had perhaps more reason for fear than any one else. The great mass of people were lying prostrate in the outer ring with their faces on the earth.

But it was in the darkness and awful silence of the inner temple that the most horrible fear and dread filled every soul as hour after hour passed away and the sunrise approached. Then the small eastern doorway was outlined by a faint gray fairy-like light. Priests who were standing there raised a curtain. Immediately the sacred fire was extinguished, and again a dread mysterious darkness, more intense than before, descended on the people. But suddenly the curtain dropped—the sun had arisen. A clear and brilliant ray of sunlight struck across through the darkness from the eastern door, and shone full upon the forehead of the Great King, seated in his magnificent linen robes with his most ancient and venerable priests on either side of him.

The calculations were correct. Chants, invocations, sacrifices, and a general feast followed, which lasted for days together. All discipline was relaxed. The precious results of the vineyards, sedulously cultivated, but never very successful in England, were recklessly used up, and presents of wine were liberally bestowed on all the officials concerned. So overseers and headmen, courtiers and guards, were for the most part drunk, though this was a difficult achievement, seeing that it was British wine preserved with turpentine. But at any rate they had over-eaten themselves, and all were asleep. But Dunohox had fled.

by C. P. Scott Elliot