When Was Stonehenge Erected?
Until comparatively recent years, the date of Stonehenge was a subject
for speculation, and so fascinating did it prove that it attracted the
attention of a vast number of minor authorities, who in the face of no
definite data on which to base their theses, set the date of
Stonehenge at almost any period except that to which it has been
proved to belong.
Many decided definitely that it was of Roman origin
For the most
part, these speculations have not been based upon the tangible
evidence of the Stones, the Tools, and the Barrows, but rather upon
the records of early historians, whose evidence in those days was
probably not a question of first-hand information.
After all, the objects actually exhumed from the foundations of the
Stones, must of necessity be the evidence of greatest importance. What
are these objects? The following is a complete list taken from Mr.
Excavation I. (Seven feet deep.)--A Roman coin of Commodus and a
penny of George III. at eight inches below the turf.
A flint hammer-stone, and a splinter of deer's horn embedded in the
chalk, at a depth of two and a half feet (below datum line).
Excavation II. (Eight feet deep.)--Two, edged hammer-stones of
flint, and two rounded ones of the same material, at a depth of three
feet (below datum).
Excavation III. (Eight feet three inches.)--A halfpenny of George
I., just below the turf.
A Roman coin (sestertius of Antonia) ten inches below the turf, and a
pewter farthing of James II. at the same depth.
Below this, at a depth varying from two feet to four feet, were
twenty-six axes and hammer-stones of flint, two hammer-stones of
Sarsen, and a large maul of the same material weighing over sixty-four
A fourth excavation, known as Excavation Q, yielded at a depth of
three feet six inches to four feet six inches, ten flint axes, one
sandstone axe, nine edged flint hammer-stones, four rounded flint
hammer-stones, ten Sarsen hammers, and seven mauls, weighing from
thirty-six to fifty-eight and a half pounds. Large numbers of deer's
horn splinters were discovered in this excavation.
Excavation V. (Eight feet deep.)--Four axes of flint, one of Sarsen,
three edged hammer-stones of flint, one Sarsen and one Diabase
hammer-stone, were found at depths varying between two feet and four
One Sarsen hammer-stone was found under the base of the foreign
upright, which stands in front of the upright monolith of the Great
Trilithon, at a depth of six feet below datum.
In this last excavation, at a depth of about seven feet, the slab of
tooled Sarsen already referred to was discovered, and on it a very
small stain of copper carbonate. The depth at which this stone was
discovered precludes the possibility of metal being thus sunk by moles
This list, like the details of the foreign stones, may not be of
general interest, but it affords a very powerful argument for the date
of the structure.
To summarise the finds. The metal objects found consist of various
coins ranging from Roman to recent times, about half a dozen in
number, all coming from the surface, and none at a greater depth than
ten inches. In other words, they may be classed as superficial
finds, of very little value; the more so, as some of the more recent
coins were found at a greater depth than those of earlier date. The
only other trace of metal is the small green stain upon the slab of
Sarsen already alluded to. This stain can only have been caused by the
contact with the stone of a small fragment of copper, which appears to
have been entirely decomposed, as no traces of it could be found. It
must have been very minute, since had it exceeded one-eighth of an
inch, it could not have escaped the mesh of the sieve employed in
searching for it. Clearly, therefore, it could not have been an
implement; perhaps it was an ornament.
On the other hand, the Stone Implements discovered number one hundred
and fifteen, and were found scattered through the excavations at all
depths, and even under the foundations of one of the foreign stones.
Probably the entire area of Stonehenge, if opened up, would yield over
seven thousand examples.
The evidence of the Stone Implements goes far to give the date of the
building. Horn picks similar to those employed at Stonehenge have been
found in considerable numbers at Grimes Graves, where they were used
for excavating chalk in order to win flint for implement making. Other
picks have been found at Cissbury, near Worthing, where similar chalk
workings existed. This resemblance between the finds at Stonehenge,
Cissbury, and Grimes Graves, does not, however, end with the picks; it
is repeated in the similarity of the Implements of Stone, those at
Stonehenge being in some cases the counterpart of those found in the
The Cissbury Implements have been assigned to the Stone Age, or at
any rate to the Age of Flint manufacture by General Pitt Rivers, who
discovered and reported upon them. Canon Greenwell describes the
Implements from Grimes Graves as belonging to a period when both
metal and stone were in use.
It is obvious, therefore, that the similarity between the tools used
in the construction of Stonehenge, and those used in other parts of
England for similar purposes, and definitely assigned to their period
in the history of Man, demonstrates very clearly that the date of the
building of Stonehenge may fairly be placed at a time when the use of
stone was continuous with a partial use of bronze; and that if
Stonehenge is not a Neolithic structure, it must certainly belong to
the Early Bronze period. It might be urged that the roughness of the
Tools, coupled with the marked absence of bronze, indicates an even
earlier period than that already stated, but it must be remembered
that the form of the implement is not always a criterion of its age.
Moreover, bronze tools were not necessary for the dressing of the
Stones, though had they been plentiful, it is more than probable that
some might have been either lost or dropped during the work, and would
have come to light during the excavations.
Yet another sidelight upon the date of Stonehenge is to be found in
the presence of chippings of foreign stone found inside some of the
neighbouring Bronze Age barrows, which prove conclusively that the
barrows must have been built at a date later than the erection of
To many people, the mention of a period of culture, such as the Early
Bronze Age, may not convey very much. To give a date in years, on the
other hand, is not always easy. The march of culture in those days was
slow, and the gradation from the use of one material to another very
prolonged, often reaching into centuries. Consequently any date must
only be approximate and given under great reserve. The late Sir John
Evans has suggested that the Bronze Age in this country might be set
at 1400 B.C. Continental authorities set the age for countries in
Europe somewhat earlier, at about 2000 B.C. This is a perfectly
natural conclusion, for it is an ascertained fact that the flow of
civilisation was from East to West, as has always been the case, and
that, therefore, it is only to be expected that the Bronze Age of the
Continent would ante-date that of England by some centuries.
But, it is obvious from our present knowledge of Stonehenge that the
Bronze Age was hardly established in the sense as used by Sir John
Evans. Probably at the time of the building of Stonehenge bronze was
only known as a rare substance, whose very scarcity would make it
valuable as material for ornaments. It would not, therefore, be
inconsistent with existing evidence to set the date of Stonehenge
roughly at from 1700-1800 years B.C.