FACTBOX - Stonehenge hosts Summer solstice revellers

Sun Jun 20, 2010 8:59am IST

The sun sets behind Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England January 7, 2010. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty/Files

The sun sets behind Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England January 7, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kieran Doherty/Files

(Reuters Life!) - Thousands of revellers, spiritualists and tourists will gather at the Stonehenge on Monday to celebrate the summer solstice at one of Britain's ancient monuments.

Here are some key facts about Stonehenge:

* WHAT IS IT AND WHERE?

-- Stonehenge is an archaeological site built in prehistoric times. This monumental circular setting of towering megaliths, surrounded by an earthwork, is located on Salisbury Plain, west of London.

-- A World Heritage site spread over 2,600 hectares of land, the stone circle is surrounded by a landscape comprising more than 350 burial mounds. They include 10 Neolithic long barrows, the rest are Bronze Age round barrows. The key barrow cemeteries are Normanton Down, King Barrows, Cursus Barrows, Winterbourne Stoke, Wilsford and Lake Barrows.

* WHO BUILT IT AND HOW?

-- Stonehenge's history traces back to 3,100 BC when native Neolithic people started construction, their only tool to dig the earth being deer antlers. The stones used in the second phase of the construction, which was around 2,100 BC, were transported some 385 km. A century later, in the third phase, the lintel stones were erected.

-- There is no consensus among scholars on whether it was a temple, a burial ground or an astronomy site. Nobody knows for sure how the ancient people got the stones, the heaviest of them weighing about 45 tons, to stand upright.

-- While it is not the largest stone circle in the world, Stonehenge is the only one that has lintels around the top, making it unique. It was formerly owned by a local man, Sir Cecil Chubb, and he gave it to Britain in 1918 and it is now managed by English Heritage, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the British government's Department for Culture.

* SUMMER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE:

-- Stonehenge is a celebrated venue of festivities during the summer solstice - the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - and it attracts thousands of revellers, spiritualists and tourists.

-- Druids, a pagan religious order dating back to Celtic Britain, believe Stonehenge was a centre of spiritualism more than 2,000 years ago.

-- The site is open to the public throughout the year but the solstice allows visitors a rare opportunity to touch the stones and walk among them.

Sources: Reuters; www.britannica.com; www.english-heritage.org.uk;

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;)

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