What was Stonehenge’s purpose? Scholars have long assumed the site had religious significance, a theory supported by the absence of debris such as broken pottery. Quack theories proliferated until 1963, when the British astronomer Gerald Hawkins introduced what is now the most widely accepted explanation. Hawkins noted that when a person stands in the center of Stonehenge, certain celestial bodies appear over various stones with a regularity that defies coincidence. Hawkins recovered astronomical data from the time of Stonehenge’s construction and, with the help of a computer, confirmed a number of these astronomical alignments. Most spectacularly, during the summer solstice – an important date for an agricultural community- the sun seemed to rise directly over one of the larger stones. It seems as if Stonehenge functioned as a giant calendar and observatory, one of man’s first great efforts to keep track of time.
In the wake of this discovery lay unanswered questions. Some archeologists suggest that Stonehenge was also used to predict solar eclipses. Its social function, as opposed to its religious or calendar purposes, has yet to be fully understood. These mysteries may very well endure as long as the ponderous stone themselves. As Henry James remarked about the mysteries of Stonehenge,” you may put a hundred questions to these rough hewn giants….. But your curiosity falls dead in the vast sunny stillness that enshrouds them’.