I am not a history scholar, nor even a history major in college, so I will not pretend to be. However, Stonehenge is a fascinating historical landmark and it deserves a section on its long history, so I will distill what I have learned from the tour and my handy Pitkin Guide to Stonehenge.
Stonehenge went through four different phases of construction. The first began in 2800 B.C., the second in 2100 B.C., the third between 2000 B.C. and 1550 B.C., and the last, which was abandoned, in 1100 B.C. This dates the henge to a time long before Merlin, who is dated, at the earliest, to around 400 B.C. Sadly, this (and the fact that the rocks have been traced to north Pembrokeshire, Wales) means that Merlin did not magick the rocks into featherweights before transporting them from Ireland. According to my guidebook, the idea that druids such as Merlin built Stonehenge was a misconception spread by a William Stukeley in the 1700s.
The first phase was not the towering monument we see today, but rather a bank inside a ditch with 56 Aubrey holes, which are "small, steep-sided, round pits dug just inside the bank." The only stone of note was the Heel Stone, which now stands precariously close to the outer fence around Stonehenge, which stood just outside the entrance. It is the "only megalith to survive outside the ditch of the henge" and the closest possible source for the sarsen stone was over twenty miles away. Apparently there was a long period of abandonment after this phase.
Phase two began a mystery that was left unsolved until very recently, in terms of the monument's lifespan. Along with some alignment and avenue changes, and the introduction of "the four Station Stones...in a huge rectangle which has an undoubted astronomical significance," the bluestones arrived at Stonehenge. For thousands of years, it baffled the human mind how these stones, placed in two large circles, could have possibly made it to the middle of the Salisbury Plain. Who put them there? Why? Where in the world did they get them from? Certainly, some of those questions are still not definitively answered, but the last has been--the stones are from a crag in the Preseli Hills of North Pembrokeshire. From there, the stones were transported an enormous distance--by both wheeling and ferrying down rivers such as the Avon--of over 200 miles to get to their current location. I cannot imagine the back-breaking effort that it took to get the stones there with only the tools of 2100 B.C. to work with. Rolling immense stones up and down hills is not my idea of fun, which just leaves me more in awe of the people that did so. It really is just amazing.
Phase three gave Stonehenge the visage that citizens of the world know best. The guidebook says it best when they say "the Sarsens--natural sandstone blocks found on the Marlborough Downs to the north of Stonehenge--were worked to a precise shape with stone hammers. The geometry of the continuous lintel is truly amazing: it is accurately circular and precisely level despite the sloping site." That last part really got me, since I had not noticed it specifically before. They managed to carve these stones to the exact sizes to make them all perfectly level. What a feat. And really, what are the chances engineers would be able to do the same today without fancy instruments and computers?
The last phase involved extending the Avenue of Stonehenge but was largely abandoned, and this time, construction never recommenced.
I find it rather interesting to note that Stonehenge could be standing in its former glory today, rather than in ruins. Many think that the damage--some of which has been reversed by re-erection of the stones, was caused by natural forces. I thought that as well, until reading an interesting aside in my guidebook. It essentially says that the stones were all originally locked together like "woodwork" and were structurally sound, like other megaliths around Britain that have stood the test of time and are still standing. A vengeful person, perhaps a Roman general with a large army at his back, could have easily wreaked havoc on the monument in an attempt to douse the paganism of Britain. I find this theory very interesting and think that, given Britain's lack of hurricanes or other extreme weather such as tornadoes, it is indeed very "viable," as the guidebook says.
So that, in a nutshell, is Stonehenge's history. I find it extremely intriguing to delve into and think that it adds much to the site as a whole. Certainly, with my initial impression, I would not have been nearly as impressed if I hadn't thought of the thousands upon thousands of hours of work people put into creating the monument. With that thought in mind, you can really think this place is no less than a true wonder.