Show anyone a picture of the British Archaeology Trust’s logo for RESCUE (seen below), and ask them to describe it, and 9 times out of ten the answer will be along the lines of “Stonehenge on a bulldozer”. And of course, that’s what the logo depicts, but being totally pedantic, it actually depicts just the stones of Stonehenge. The ‘henge‘ part tends to get forgotten. Why is that?
Probably because henges are among the least understood of the monuments left behind by our ancient ancestors, and are often not very visually stimulating, consisting of a circular bank, and inner ditch with one or more entrance causeways.
In fact, stone settings associated with henges are often very much in the minority. Stonehenge we’ve already mentioned of course, and Avebury (where the henge component of the monument is on a much larger scale) is similarly well known. A henge such as the Stripple Stones in Cornwall is much less well known and not nearly as accessible! Beyond that it becomes difficult to extend the list of henges with stones in the south. Knowlton Henge in Dorset is famous for its stones, but that’s because they are in the form of a Norman Church, set within the henge boundaries!
In the Midlands, the best known example of a henge with stones is probably Arbor Low in Derbyshire, where all of the stones are fallen, thus resembling a clock-face when viewed from above, as in the satellite image below, taken from Google Maps. Much further north, the Ring of Brodgar is well known, but again it is not considered a true henge by some, due to the complete lack of an external bank outside the rock-cut ditch. By comparison, the Thornborough Henges, a set of three large henges in Yorkshire, are completely stone free and meet the official definition well.
There are many more, much smaller henges to be found the length and breadth of Britain, many investigated to a greater or lesser extent, many known only from cropmarks identified via aerial or satellite photography. Sadly, many of these lesser henges are often ploughed out, almost to oblivion, such at the Weston Hill henge, near Baldock in Hertfordshire.
Finally, as the QI page on henges reminds us:
Oddly enough, though, the word ‘henge’ is a back-formation from ‘Stonehenge’, coined by Thomas Kendrick, later Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum, in 1932. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘stone’ and ‘gallows’, implying that they thought it to be a place of execution (of course Stonehenge was already many centuries old in Anglo-Saxon times).
Oh, and the Mirror? Looking at the brief definition of a henge given above, it actually excludes Stonehenge from being defined as a true henge as there, the bank is on the inside, making it a ‘reversed-henge’! …and don’t get me started on how many of the examples on the Clonehenge web site omit the henge altogether!!
- English Heritage: Prehistoric Henges and Circles (PDF)
- Monuments Protection Program Class Description
- Wikipedia article on henges