A photograph of Stonehenge at sunset.

A timeline of Stonehenge: from hunter-gatherers to solstice alignment and beyond

Revisit our past exhibition:

Revisit our past exhibition:

The world of Stonehenge

Discover the rise, influence and decline of Stonehenge across 6,000 years of history.

Lying some 150km west of London in the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is perhaps the world's most awe-inspiring ancient stone circle. Older than the Great Pyramids and the Roman Empire, the origin of its story began some 9,000 years ago. 

A place of worship, meeting, burial and wonder, what Stonehenge represents has changed throughout its history. Transcending its landscape, Stonehenge stands for the generations of people who have made and found meaning from this enduring place in a changing world. Follow its story through time.

Stonehenge timeline

About 7000 BC

The first activity at Stonehenge

Deer antler headress made from the skull of a large stag.
Red deer skull and antler. Star Carr, North Yorkshire, about 9000 BC.
The first activity around Stonehenge happened over 9,000 years ago: three tree trunks were raised by hunter-gatherers close to where the stone monument would later be built. Like totem poles, they may have marked events that celebrated important people and places. Those living in Europe between the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago) and the first farmers (6,000 years ago) lived successful lives by hunting, gathering and fishing.

This period in history
At the end of the last Ice Age, Britain was connected to Europe via a landmass known today as Doggerland, until it flooded around 6500 BC due to rising sea levels. 

About 4100 BC

A feast at Stonehenge

A group of different coloured stone axe heads.
Highly polished stone axes and mace heads used between 4500 and 1500 BC.
Once farming spread from Europe to Britain around 4000 BC, communities in Britain and Ireland redefined their relationship with nature and the land. Farming, introduced by European migrant communities, replaced the old ways of hunting and gathering.

The remains of a feast held close to Stonehenge around 3900 BC, offer a rare glimpse of exchanges between hunter-gatherers and the first farmer communities. Those gathered ate farmed beef and hunted venison. Chemical analysis shows that the two groups came from different places and their meat was prepared in different ways. The area of Stonehenge served as an important meeting place and a turning point for society. As a coming together of worldviews, languages, customs and traditions, the remains of this shared meal mark the end of thousands of years of a hunter-gatherer way of life.

This period in history
Britain was a hunter-gatherer society until around 4100 BC when farming was introduced from the European continent.

About 3500 BC

The Stonehenge cursus

A aerial drawing of an imagined ancient event at Stonehenge with hundreds of people approaching and within it.
Reconstruction drawing of the causewayed enclosure at Stonehenge. Ian Dennis, Archaeological Illustrator, Cardiff University.
By 3500 BC, the wider landscape around Stonehenge was being used for religious devotion by farming communities. Observations of the sun played a role even at this early stage. A monument known as a cursus was built with glistening white chalk sides stretching for 3km east to west, enshrining processions and the sun’s passage. Discovered in 1723, this huge rectangular enclosure was first thought to be a Roman chariot racecourse – cursus meaning racecourse in Latin. Visible via its ditches and banks, the cursus is still a key aspect of the landscape today.

This period in history
The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae located in Orkney, Scotland, is thought to have been occupied from around 3200 BC.

About 3000 BC

The first stones arrive

The Folkton drums.
The Folkton Drums, Folkton, North Yorkshire, about 3000 BC.
Stonehenge has two types of stone: the larger sarsens and the smaller bluestones. 

The story of the circle at Stonehenge itself begins about 5,000 years ago. The monument’s builders marked out sacred ground by digging a ditch and throwing up rubble to form the outer encircling bank of the henge. Inside, they raised a circle of huge spotted dolerite 'bluestone' boulders, moved 350km from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales where they were quarried. This Stonehenge was a cemetery for the cremated remains of between 150 and 200 people. Chemical analysis suggests that the people represented in the remains lived and died in west Wales before they were interred within the monument​​​​​​.

This period in history
The Folkton Drums, three carefully carved chalk treasures, were buried alongside a small child around 3000 BC. Burials with grave goods were exceptionally rare throughout Britain during this period.
How was Stonehenge built?

Around 2500 BC

Celebrating the sun's course

An side view of Stonehenge in a green landscape.
Stonehenge © English Heritage.
The larger sarsen stones, which give Stonehenge its distinctive silhouette, were raised around 2500 BC. More than 80 massive sarsen stones, each requiring at least 1,000 people to transport, were brought from their source on Marlborough Downs, 40km to the north. This effort required unprecedented communal labour, patience and planning. It undoubtedly involved injuries and deaths, and took generations to complete. The finished monument of massive and finely dressed sarsens was unlike anything ever seen across Europe. The building of the Avenue (thought to be the processional route the monument was approached) about 4,400 years ago confirmed Stonehenge‘s sacred status.

This period in history
2580–2560 BC the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was constructed.

Around 2500–2000 BC

Solstice alignment

Ancient tree stump surrounded by 54 wooden posts in a pool of sea water.
Seahenge at the time of excavation. © Wendy George. 
The sarsens enshrined an important solstice alignment within the fabric of the monument. The axis of the stones at its centre marked the position of the rising midsummer and setting midwinter sun. 

For hundreds of years, Stonehenge became a place where the sun’s course was observed and celebrated. It signalled the changing of the seasons, including the end of winter, a meaningful moment for farming communities. Large gatherings and celebrations were held here.

This period in history
Seahenge, a timber circle, was constructed around 2049 BC on the coast of Norfolk on a saltmarsh.
Watch 'Seahenge', a film by Rose Ferraby

Around 1900–1600 BC

Burying people at Stonehenge

A gold squared shaped item on a black background.
Bush Barrow, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, 1950–1700 BC. Wiltshire Museum/David Bukach.
From about 1900 BC, burying people with valued objects on sacred land became the dominant way of expressing cultural and spiritual meaning across Britain and Europe. At Stonehenge, hundreds of burial mounds were raised at this time for the illustrious dead, forming the densest concentration of burial mounds in Britain. The objects that mourners selected for the grave prepared souls for life beyond this world. They were markers of identity, ethnicity and success, but they also expressed hopes, desires, failed ambitions and long-distance pilgrimages.

This period in history
Around 2000 BC, new tools and weapons arrived from the continent ushering in Britain's Bronze Age.

About 1700 BC

Graffiti at Stonehenge

A slab of stone with carvings appearing to be daggers and axes.
Badbury Stone, Badbury Rings, Dorset, 2100–1500 BC. Found within a burial mound in Dorset, these carvings of daggers and axes provide the best parallels for the many carvings made on Stonehenge’s sarsens around the same time.
About 1700 BC, the continental European tradition of placing metal objects in hoards without bodies begins in southern England. The focus on monument building and then burial started to be replaced by the desire to possess and sacrifice bronze and gold objects. The sarsen stones were inscribed by people with carvings of these new, treasured, objects. This bold act may have bordered on iconoclasm, infusing the ancestral stone monuments with the social, economic and religious importance of valuable offerings. The carvings are still visible today.

About 1500 BC

Declining influence

Gold cup, body beaten out from single piece of metal, damaged rim is flaring.
About 1500 BC, the influence of the Stonehenge region began to wane. The stone circles still used in parts of Britain and Ireland no longer attracted large gatherings. The great acts of building and reimagining that had characterised Stonehenge ceased as offerings of metal valuables became the most popular way to contact spirits and gods in the natural world. The monument may have fallen into disrepair as expressions of cultural and religious authority began to shift. Power moved to long-distance connections with the continent and trade and exchange of metal and exotic materials.

This period in history
Mycenaean culture flourished in ancient Greece from about 1600 to 1100 BC.

About 1000 BC

The rise of the domestic world

A large brown cauldron with handles.
Bronze cauldron, River Thames, Battersea, London, 800–600 BC. 
By 1000 BC, monuments and burial mounds were rarely raised, while home and hearth took on new symbolic and political importance. Big ditches and banks expressed control over valuable pasture, livestock and the means of producing wealth. Defended villages and forts followed.

After 2,000 years of history and mythology surrounding Stonehenge dating back to 3000 BC, a new kind of monumentality had arrived.

This period in history
It’s believed the first Olympic Games in Ancient Greece were held in 776 BC.

About 1000–800 BC

The last of the light

Ornate, D-shaped gold pendant on display in the British Museum.
Gold bulla pendant, Shropshire, England, 1000–800 BC.
In a moment, 2,800 years ago, the pictured sun pendant was cast into the sky before it sank into the gloom of a pool dotted with water lilies. Due to the alternating directions in which the decoration was incised, the sun image gathers and shimmers with reflected light. These motifs had been used by over 60 generations of goldsmiths by the time it was made. The offering was a hard sacrifice perhaps made to confront uncertainties in a period of major environmental and social change.