Feb 23, 2020

Wordology, Henge

The word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire, England. A henge is a prehistoric enclosure in the form of a circle or circular arc defined by a raised circular bank, and a circular ditch usually running inside the bank, with one or more entrances leading into the enclosed open space. Henges were probably used for ritual purposes or for marking astronomical events, as solstices and equinoxes. Due to the poor defensive utility of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch, henges are not considered to have served a defensive purpose.

The alignment of henges is a contentious issue. Popular belief is that their entrances point towards certain heavenly bodies, but henge orientation is highly variable and may have been more determined by local topography than by desire for symbolic orientation.

Stonehenge is not a true henge as its ditch runs outside its bank, although there is a small extant external bank as well. The term was first coined in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick, who later became the Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum. Concentrations of henges occur over much of Britain.
Stonehenge was in private ownership until 1916, when it was bought on the spur of the moment by Sir Cecil Chubb, the owner of a local lunatic asylum, as a present for his wife. Three years later she gave the site to the nation. Over the centuries nearly half of Stonehenge has been quarried away for building stone. Before 1900, visitors to Stonehenge were handed chisels so that they could provide themselves with a souvenir.

Carhenge, which replicates Stonehenge, consists of the circle of cars, 3 standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones and includes a “Car Art Preserve” with sculptures made from cars and parts of cars. Located just north of Alliance, Nebraska, Carhenge is formed from vintage American automobiles, painted gray to replicate Stonehenge. Built by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, it was dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice.

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