The ongoing mystery and obsession with Stonehenge, along with speculation on its supposed purpose, should be credited to William Stukeley (1687 –1765), a harbinger of modern archeological study and a pioneer in the restoration and preservation of ancient monuments and sites. Stukeley, a friend and biographer of Isaac Newton (acknowledged with creating the “apple falling” story), was a fascinating character in his own right. An English gentleman, scholar, historian, physician, freemason, and druid, Stukeley surveyed Stonehenge in the 1720s and published his principal work on the ancient monument in 1740. Although Stukeley incorrectly theorized that the monument was part of the druidic religion, he was the first to recognize and describe the alignment of Stonehenge with the solstice. His meticulous observations and thorough survey remain significant and valuable in the history of the monument.
“Stonehenge stands not upon the very summit of a hill, but pretty near it, and
for more than three quarters of the circuit you ascend to it very gently from
lower ground. At half a mile distance, the appearance of it is stately and awful,
really august. As you advance nearer, especially up the avenue, which is
to the north-east of it, (which side is now most perfect) the greatness of its con-
tour fills the eye in an astonishing manner… Nothing in nature could be of a more
simple idea than this vast circle of stones, and its crown-work or corona at top ;
and yet its effect is truly majestic and venerable, which is the main requisite
in sacred structures. A single stone is a thing worthy of admiration… ”
- William Stukeley
A complete copy of Stukely's book is available here:
Stukeley, William. Stonehenge, a temple restor'd to the British druids. London : Printed for W. Innys and R. Manby, at the West End of St. Paul's, 1740.