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History of the Stonehenge Landscape

Three grassy mounds Stonehenge Landscape
Mounds at Stonehenge Lanscape | © National Trust Images/Abby George

Known for the iconic stone circle monument that lies at its heart, the Stonehenge Landscape boasts an intricate complex of historic ceremonial features of avenues, barrows and stone circles. While only traces in the landscape survive today, these lumps and bumps that look like grassy mounds give tantalising hints of the thousands of people who worked, loved and worshipped here over 4,000 years ago.

Hidden archaeology

The mounds in the landscape are actually a Bronze Age cemetery and are a reminder of the ancient people who once populated this landscape.

So much of the archaeology is hard to spot or lies underground and it’s not always apparent just how rich the area is in ancient features. An artist's impression of the landscape helps show its main features.

An artist's impression of the Stonehenge landscape and its many key features, Wiltshire
The key features of the Stonehenge Landscape | © National Trust / Tony Kerins

History of the stone circle

The Stonehenge circle was built over a long period of time around 4,500 years ago. At that time, thousands of people would have made the long journey to gather in the area.

It's thought that a natural geological feature and Ice Age remnant aligned by chance to the Solstice sunrise. This is what first brought people to regard this part of Britain as significant.

A long walk from Europe

The people who first left their mark on this landscape lived at a time before Europe was separated by the English Channel. This meant people could still make the long journey and walk to and from Europe.

Mesolithic post holes bear witness to the massive timbers that once loomed over the landscape and many of the people's flint tools have been discovered.

Stonehenge celebrations

People continued to build monuments throughout the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, such as ceremonial routeways, henges and stone circles. They created villages and buried their dead here until the vast landscape became a palimpsest of our past.

People travelled long distances to celebrate in huge gatherings at monuments and settlements across Britain and Europe. As they travelled they brought their knowledge and skills with them. Feeding and sheltering such vast numbers of people would have been a remarkable feat. The Stonehenge Circle is the most famous of these monuments.

The Stonehenge Avenue

Running 1.5 miles through the landscape, the Stonehenge Avenue is thought to continue or commemorate the geological features aligning with the Solstice sunrise, leading people into the stone circle.

A person silhouetted against orange sun at Cursus Barrows, Stonehenge Landscape
Sunrise at Cursus Barrows | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The Cursus and Durrington Walls

The Cursus is a linear earthwork that's more than 1.8 miles long and actually predates the stone circle by hundreds of years. Durrington Walls is a massive henge. By making use of the nature features in the landscape, a large bank and ditch were dug to make a circular earthwork 500m across.

Recent excavations and geophysics have discovered massive post holes around part of the ditch and the remains of houses.

First World War at Stonehenge

Lesser known is the significance of the Stonehenge Landscape during the First World War. The nearby Stonehenge Airfield was a crucial training ground for the world’s earliest wartime aviators.

Trainee pilots would have perfected their flying skills across the skies here before being posted to the front line. Training was essential, because air travel in the early 1900s was extremely dangerous, even before coming under attack from enemy fire.

Three visitors exploring Stonehenge Landscape and viewing stones from afar

Discover more at Stonehenge Landscape

Find out how to get to Stonehenge Landscape, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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