Angie Kropf, UK Lehigh Alumna, shares her experience at Stonehenge


Angela Kropf, Lehigh MBA student and Sales Representative at Thermo Fisher Scientific, participated in the 2012 UK field experience in London and Nottingham. Angie decided to take advantage of her free time on Saturday to explore Stonehenge. Here is her story:

During the last day in London, I decided to take a bus trip to Stonehenge in the morning.  I chose to do this because the fellowship’s itinerary allowed me to visit all other attractions on other days.  If you enjoy learning about historical sites, visiting Stonehenge is perfect; otherwise, one may simply see rocks and nothing more.  Contrary to popular belief, Stonehenge is much more than the circle of rocks that exist today.  In fact, Stonehenge lies at the center of a landscape so rich in prehistoric remains that it is classified as a World Heritage Site.

The surrounding landscape includes other banks, ditches, henges, entrances, holes, and more than 300 barrows within a two-mile radius of Stonehenge.   Stonehenge has its own set of these features, as excavation revealed numerous sites associated with and paths leading to Stonehenge.  Carbon dating of animal bones aided archaeologists with aging Stonehenge.  It evolved from a circular ditch (5,000 years ago) to timber structures (2500 BC) to the sarsen stones and bluestones (2000 BC) that remain today.

During excavation of the ditch and bank that form an external circle around Stonehenge, archaeologists found the cremated remains of male bones buried in holes.  This is consistent with the first stage of Stonehenge, but similar findings correspond to each stage.  In addition to burial purposes, other findings revealed that Stonehenge was built as a temple for celebrating, healing, and guiding farmers.

The well-known structure is made of sarsen stones.  Numerous bluestones form another circle within the Sarsen circle.  Sarsen Trilithons and horseshoes made from Sarsens and bluestones line the innermost part of Stonehenge.  The Altar stone from the tallest Trilithon is still present, and the horseshoes point toward the entrance to Stonehenge.  The axis of the Altar stone and tallest Trilithon was aligned to reflect the annual movements of the sun—for the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.  The Slaughter stone was used for sacrifice.  Four station stones, also made of Sarsens, form a perfect rectangle around the central Trilithon and are exterior to all other stones; their purpose may have been to provide guidance for the original builders.  Two station stones are associated with barrows, typically tied to the wealthy.  The Avenue was the pathway for the ceremonial approach to Stonehenge; Stonehenge’s entrance path was flanked by the Heel Stone and its missing companion stone.  Other elements of Stonehenge are still unknown, because they lie below ground.

Part of the mystery of Stonehenge is how the large stones were transported to their location.  The closest source of sarsen stones is more than 19 miles north of Stonehenge, while the source for bluestones is 150 miles away.  Sarsen stones were transported most likely by dragging them on a wooden sledge with rails; this would require approximately 200 people.  Bluestones may have been transported by land or sea.

Once transported, the stones in the circle of Stonehenge were trimmed and shaped to form types of joints—both mortise-and-tenon and tongue-and-groove; this method is far more advanced than other stone structures from that era.  At that time, the new copper and bronze tools were too soft to shape the stones; only sarsen hammerstones, or mauls, could have been used.

Another mystery of Stonehenge is how the stones were placed into their existing positions; after all, Sarsens and bluestones weigh 40 and 5 tons, respectively.  Archaeologists’ excavations of fallen upright sarsen stones and their posts revealed holes that have one straight side and one that slopes.  This is possible by balancing the stone on a ramp and dragging smaller stones across, thereby causing the Sarsens weight to shift balance; the overbalance pivots the Sarsens on the ramp, allowing the stones to drop into the holes.  Ropes would be used to erect the stones upright; backfill material would ensure the stones will stay in place.

There are several theories for placement of bluestones, or lintels.  First, the stones could have been dragged sideways up a sloping ramp made of earth or timer.  Otherwise, the stones could have been raised on a platform of interlocking timbers; the stones would be raised further by a lever system, inserting additional timbers to add height.  Both options are possible, and neither would have left traces for archaeologists.

Overall, I thought this experience was amazing; I truly enjoyed my time at Stonehenge and learned so much!  The visitor center has a sample sarsen stone and bluestone outside the entrance; if you hold one hand slightly above each stone, the bluestone will always feel warmer than the Sarsen.


Coverage of the 2012 UK field experience

2012 Trip Itinerary

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