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The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 24 BC, It has been a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1882 when legislation to protect historic monuments was first successfully introduced in Britain.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites Ælfric's tenth-century glossary, in which henge-cliff is given the meaning "precipice", or stone, thus the stanenges or Stanheng "not far from Salisbury" recorded by eleventh-century writers are "supported stones".
William Stukeley in 1740 notes, "Pendulous rocks are now called henges in Yorkshire...
The modern phasing most generally agreed to by archaeologists is detailed below.
Features mentioned in the text are numbered and shown on the plan, right.
Because its bank is inside its ditch, Stonehenge is not truly a henge site. Stones visible today are shown coloured Mike Parker Pearson, leader of the Stonehenge Riverside Project based at Durrington Walls, noted that Stonehenge appears to have been associated with burial from the earliest period of its existence: Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B. The cremation burial dating to Stonehenge's sarsen stones phase is likely just one of many from this later period of the monument's use and demonstrates that it was still very much a domain of the dead.
Despite being contemporary with true Neolithic henges and stone circles, Stonehenge is in many ways atypical—for example, at more than 7.3 metres (24 ft) tall, its extant trilithons supporting lintels held in place with mortise and tenon joints, make it unique. Stonehenge evolved in several construction phases spanning at least 1500 years.
Within the outer edge of the enclosed area is a circle of 56 pits, each about a metre (3 ft 3 in) in diameter, known as the Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, the seventeenth-century antiquarian who was thought to have first identified them.Three of the posts (and possibly four) were in an east-west alignment which may have had ritual significance.Another Mesolithic astronomical site in Britain is the Warren Field site in Aberdeenshire, which is considered the world's oldest Lunar calendar, corrected yearly by observing the midwinter solstice.I doubt not, Stonehenge in Saxon signifies the hanging stones." Christopher Chippindale's Stonehenge Complete gives the derivation of the name Stonehenge as coming from the Old English words stān meaning "stone", and either hencg meaning "hinge" (because the stone lintels hinge on the upright stones) or hen(c)en meaning "hang" or "gallows" or "instrument of torture" (though elsewhere in his book, Chippindale cites the "suspended stones" etymology).Like Stonehenge's trilithons, medieval gallows consisted of two uprights with a lintel joining them, rather than the inverted L-shape more familiar today.
The pits may have contained standing timbers creating a timber circle, although there is no excavated evidence of them.