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A megalithic monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Completed in several constructional phases from c.2950 bc, it is composed of a circle of sarsen stones surrounded by a bank and ditch and enclosing a circle of smaller bluestones. Within this inner circle is a horseshoe arrangement of five trilithons with the axis aligned on the midsummer sunrise, an orientation that was probably for ritual purposes.

Stonehenge is popularly associated with the Druids, although this connection is now generally rejected by scholars; the monument has also been attributed to the Phoenicians, Romans, Vikings, and visitors from other worlds. Geoffrey of Monmouth says that the main stones were brought from Ireland by the magic of Merlin.

The second element of the name may have meant something ‘hanging or supported in the air’. A spurious form Stanhengest is found in some (a.1500) Latin chronicles, with a story associating Stonehenge with a massacre of British nobles by the Saxon leader Hengist (see also night of the long knives).

Subjects: Archaeology.

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