s, burials, central mounds, and stakeholes ( [http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/mpp/mcd/sub/henges1.htm English Heritage definition] ).

Because of the defensive impracticalities of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch (rather than vice versa), henges are considered to have served a ritual, rather than a defensive, purpose.

Origin and distribution

Efforts to provide a direct lineage for the henge from earlier enclosures have not been conclusive; their chronological overlap with older structures making it difficult to see them as a coherent tradition. They seem to take the concept of creating a space separate from the outside world one step further than the causewayed enclosure and firmly focus attention on an internal point. In some cases, the construction of the bank and ditch was a stage that followed other activity on the site. Balfarg, North Mains and Cairnpapple earlier cremations and deliberate smashing of pottery predate the enclosure.

There are concentrations of henges over much of Britain. Orkney (Cunliffe 2001) and Wessex (Burl 1969) have both been suggested as the original provenance of the monument type. Neither seems likely (Barclay 2005). Unlike earlier enclosure monuments, they were not usually built on hilltops but on low-lying ground, often close to watercourses and good agricultural land.

Some scholars such as the editors of the 1982 version of the "Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology", have claimed that henges are unique to the British Isles and that similar, much earlier, circles on the Continent, such as Goseck circle (which has no bank in any case) and later ones such as Goloring are not proper "henges". However, "The Penguin Archaeological Guide", published in 2001, does not comment on geographical locations for henges.

Another such scholar is Julian Cope whose book, "The Megalithic European", proposes that the henge was a regional development from the Europe-wide causewayed enclosure, appearing following a cultural upheaval in around 3000 BC which inspired the peoples of Neolithic Europe to develop more independently. He mentions the 'rondel enclosures' of Bavaria's Isar Valley which according to investigations by the German archaeologist R. A. Maier "drew comparisons with the henge monuments and causewayed enclosures of the British Isles". Although still with a multiple-causewayed ditch and entrances at cardinal points, the roundels are described by John Hodgson as not being positioned with defensive aims in mind and the largest, at Kothingeichendorf, appeared to be "midway between a henge and a causewayed enclosure".

Alasdair Whittle also views the development of the henge as a regional variation within a European tradition that included a variety of ditched enclosures. He notes that henges and the grooved ware pottery often found at them are two examples of the British Neolithic not found on the Continent. Caroline Malone also states that henges did not occur in the rest of Western Europe but developed from a broader tradition of enclosure to become "a phenomenon of the British Isles, a native tradition with sophisticated architecture and calendrical functions".


Henges may be classified as follows:
* Class I henges have a single entrance created from a gap in the bank;
* Class II henges have two entrances, diametrically opposite each other;
* Class III henges which have four entrances, facing each other in pairs.Sub groups exist for these when two or three internal ditches are present rather than one. Henges are usually associated with the Late Neolithic, especially the grooved ware culture, the Peterborough culture and the beaker people. Sites such as Stonehenge also provide evidence of activity from the later Bronze Age Wessex culture.

Henges often contain evidence of a variety of internal features including timber or stone circles, pits or burials. They should not be confused with the stone circles which are sometimes present within them. Similarly shaped, but larger enclosures are known as Henge enclosures whilst smaller ones with other types of enclosing features are known as Hengiform monuments.The word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is not a true henge at all as its ditch runs outside its bank, although there is a small extant external bank as well. This is a modern distinction however, we do not know if ditch placement would have been a significant feature or not to the people who built the monuments. The term was first coined in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick who later became the Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum.

Some of the finest and best-known henges include:

* Avebury, about 20 miles (32 km) N. of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain;
* Durrington Walls near Woodhenge also on Salisbury Plain;
* Knowlton Circles henge complex in Dorset;
* Maumbury Rings in Dorset (later reused as a Roman amphitheatre and then a Civil War fort).
* Mayburgh Henge in Cumbria
* The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney;
* Thornborough Henge complex in Yorkshire;
* The Great Circle at Stanton Drew in Somerset.

Burials have been recorded at only a few henges, mostly as a result of secondary reuse. At Avebury at least two very disturbed inhumations were found in the central area. At King Arthur's Round Table, Cumbria, a cremation trench lay within the monument, while at Woodhenge a central burial of a child was interpreted by its excavators as a dedicatory offering. Phosphate surveys at Maxey henge suggested that burials may also have been present within this monument.

Stone circles are also found within a few henges, with at least six cases identified in England. At Arbor Low in Derbyshire, all the stones except one are laid flat and do not seem to have ever been erected as no stoneholes have been found. Elsewhere, often only the stone holes remain.


Henges may have been used for rituals or astronomical observation rather than day-to-day activity. That their ditches are located inside their banks indicates that they were not used for defense and that the barrier the earthworks provide was more likely symbolic than functional. Following arguments presented for Irish Iron Age enclosures, Barclay suggested that they are 'defensive': that the ditch and bank face something 'dangerous' inside the enclosure. He has also suggested that the considerable range of things surrounded by the earthworks, and the very long date range, are because henges were designed mainly to enclose pre-existing ceremonial sites that were seen as 'ritually charged' and so dangerous to people. It has been conjectured that whatever took place inside the enclosures was intended to be separate from the outside world and perhaps only known to select individuals or groups.

The alignment of henges is a contentious issue. Popular belief is that their entrances point towards certain heavenly bodies. But henge orientation is highly variable and may have been more determined by local topology than by desire for symbolic orientation. Statistical analysis showed that Class I henges have a slight tendency to have an entrance set in the north or north-east quarter. Class II henges generally have their axes aligned approximately south-east to north-west or north-east to south-west.

It has been suggested that the stone and timber structures sometimes built inside henges were used as solar declinometers to measure the position of the rising or setting sun. These structures by no means appear in all henges and often considerably post-date the henges themselves. Thus they are not necessarily connected with the henge's original function. It has been conjectured that they could have been used to synchronize a calendar to the solar cycle for purposes of planting crops or timing religious rituals. Some henges have poles, stones or entrances that indicate the position of the rising or setting sun during the equinoxes and solstices, while others appear to frame certain constellations. Additionally, many are placed so that nearby hills either mark or do not interfere with such observations. Finally, some henges appear to be placed at particular latitudes. For example, a number are placed at a latitude of 55 degrees north, where the same two markers can indicate the rising and setting sun for both the spring and autumn equinoxes. But henges are present from the extreme north to the extreme south of Britain and so their latitude could not have been of great importance.

Formalisation is commonly attributed to henges; indications of the builders' concerns in controlling the arrival at, entrance to, and movement within the enclosures. This was achieved through placing flanking stones or avenues at entrances of some henges, or by dividing up the internal space using timber circles. While some were the first monuments to be built in their areas, others were added to already important landscapes, especially the larger examples.

The concentric nature of many of the internal features, such as the five rings of postholes at Balfarg or the six at Woodhenge, may represent a finer distinction than the inside-out differences suggested by henge earthworks. The ordering of space and the circular movement suggested by the sometimes densely-packed internal features indicates a sophisticated degree of spatial understanding.

Carhenge is either a modern parody or artistic tribute to the famous Stonehenge structure.

ee also

* astronomy
* calendar
* circular ditches
* dolmen
* European Megalithic Culture
* megalith
* menhir
* sundial


*R. J. C. Atkinson 1951. The henge monuments of Great Britain.
*Barclay, G J "The henge and hengiform in Scotland", in "Set in stone: new approaches to Neolithic monuments in Scotland", Cummings, V and Pannett, A, Oxbow, Oxford, 2005, pp81–94.
*Burl, A 1969 "Henges: internal features and regional groups", "Archaeological Journal", 126, pp1-28.
*Cunliffe, B "Facing the Ocean: the Atlantic and its Periphery 8000BC-AD1500", Oxford University Press, Oxford.
*Hodgson, J "Neolithic Enclosures in the Isar Valley, Bavaria" in "Enclosures and Defences in the Neolithic of Western Europe (Part ii)", Burgess, C, Topping, P, Mordant, C and Maddison, M, Oxbow, 2003 qtd in Cope, J, "The Megalithic European", Harper Collins, 2004, pp48-49.
*"The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology" Bray, W and Trump D (eds), Penguin London, 1982
*Malone, C "Neolithic Britain and Ireland", Tempus, Stroud, 2001
*Whittle, A "The Neolithic Period" in The Archaeology of Britain, Hunter, I and Ralston, J (eds), Routledge, London, 2005.
*Thomas, J, "Understanding the Neolithic", Routledge, London, 2004

External links

* [http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/mpp/mcd/sub/henges1.htm English Heritage website:] "henge" defined

* [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/search.php?query=&sitetype=11 Henge search results] from [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/ The Megalithic Portal]
*http://henges.no.sapo.pt New Henge Theory - Engineering in Prehistory
* [http://www.pretanicworld.com/Monuments.html Pretanic World - Chart of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Celtic Structures]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • henge — [henj] n. [< (STONE)HENGE] a Neolithic or Bronze Age monument of the British Isles, consisting of a circular bank or ditch enclosing, variously, stone or timber uprights, burial pits, etc …   English World dictionary

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  • henge — ► NOUN ▪ a prehistoric monument consisting of a circle of stone or wooden uprights. ORIGIN back formation from Stonehenge, such a monument in Wiltshire, from two Old English words meaning «stone» + «to hang» …   English terms dictionary

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  • henge — /henj/, n. Archaeol. a Neolithic monument of the British Isles, consisting of a circular area enclosed by a bank and ditch and often containing additional features including one or more circles of upright stone or wood pillars: probably used for… …   Universalium

  • henge — noun A prehistoric enclosure in the form of a circle or circular arc defined by a raised circular bank and a circular ditch usually running inside the bank, with one or more entrances leading into the enclosed open space …   Wiktionary

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  • henge — [hɛn(d)ʒ] noun a prehistoric monument consisting of a circle of stone or wooden uprights. Origin C18: back form. from the megalithic monument Stonehenge in Wiltshire, from OE stān stone + an element related to hengan to hang …   English new terms dictionary

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