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Stonehenge is a Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monument located near Amesbury in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. It is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones and is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. Archaeologists think that the standing stones were erected around 3200 BC and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury henge monument, and it is also a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge itself is owned and managed by English Heritage while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.

It is given the derivation of Stonehenge as coming from the Old English words "stan" meaning "stone", and either "hencg" meaning "hinge" (because the stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or "hen(c)en" meaning "gallows" or "instrument of torture". Stonehenge is a "henge monument" meaning that it consists of menhirs (large rocks) in a circular formation. Medieval gallows consisted of two uprights with a lintel joining them, resembling Stonehenge's trilithons, rather than looking like the inverted L-shape more familiar today.

The "henge" portion has given its name to a class of monuments known as henges. Archaeologists define henges as earthworks consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. As often happens in archaeological terminology, this is a holdover from antiquarian usage, and Stonehenge cannot in fact be truly classified as a henge site as its bank is inside its ditch. Despite being contemporary with true Neolithic henges and stone circles, Stonehenge is in many ways atypical. For example, its extant trilithons make it unique. Stonehenge is only distantly related to the other stones circles in the British Isles, such as the Ring of Brodgar.

Development of Stonehenge

The Stonehenge complex was built in several construction phases spanning 3,000 years, although there is evidence for activity both before and afterwards on the site.

Dating and understanding the various phases of activity at Stonehenge is not a simple task; it is complicated by poorly-kept early excavation records, surprisingly few accurate scientific dates and the disturbance of the natural chalk by periglacial effects and animal burrowing. The modern phasing most generally agreed by archaeologists is detailed below. Features mentioned in the text are numbered and shown on the plan, right, which illustrates the site as of 2004. The plan omits the trilithon lintels for clarity. Holes that no longer, or never, contained stones are shown as open circles and stones visible today are shown coloured.

Before the monument (8000 BC forward)

Archaeologists have found four (or possibly five, although one may have been a natural tree throw) large Mesolithic postholes which date to around 8000 BC nearby, beneath the modern tourist car-park. These held pine posts around 0.75 m (2.4ft) in diameter which were erected and left to rot in situ. Three of the posts (and possibly four) were in an east-west alignment and may have had ritual significance; no parallels are known from Britain at the time but similar sites have been found in Scandinavia. At this time, Salisbury Plain was still wooded but four thousand years later, during the earlier Neolithic, a cursus monument was built 600 m north of the site as the first farmers began to clear the forest and exploit the area. Several other early Neolithic sites, a causewayed enclosure at Robin Hood's Ball and long barrow tombs were built in the surrounding landscape.

Stonehenge 1 (ca. 3100 BC)

The first monument consisted of a circular bank and ditch enclosure measuring around 110 m (360 feet) in diameter with a large entrance to the north east and a smaller one to

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Gabriela Laslau