Summer Solstice and the Henge

Tina Lernø, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
Stonehenge at the summer solstice
Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, 2023. Image courtesy of

Summer is here! Summer Reading is here!

Well, it's not official, official summer until June 20, which is the Estival or Summer Solstice and the Sun's most northerly point in Earth's sky, making for the longest daylight hours. Is that the same as an equinox, you may ask? No. Solstices are the change of the length of night and day, while equinoxes mark equal days to night ratio. So, the summer and winter solstices result in the longest and shortest day of the year, respectively, while the equinoxes result in an equal amount of daylight and darkness.

Wikipedia breaks it down nicely:

"The summer solstice occurs during the hemisphere's summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (20 or 21 June); in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (21 or 22 December). Since prehistory, the summer solstice has been a significant time of year in many cultures, marked by festivals and rituals. Traditionally, in temperate regions, the summer solstice is seen as the middle of summer and called midsummer. However, today, in some countries and the calendar, it is seen as the beginning of summer. Although the summer solstice is the longest day of the year for that hemisphere, the dates of the earliest sunrise and latest sunset vary by a few days. This is because Earth orbits the Sun in an ellipse, and its orbital speed varies slightly during the year."

So Equinoxes mark the beginning of spring and fall, and solstices mark the beginning of summer and winter. Got it... then what about Mid-Sommer? Mid-Sommer is the cool party held before, during, or after the Estival. Estival is the cool name for Summer you have just learned and can use at your next cool party. While researching all things solstice, I looked into where all the best solstice events occur. While many places jockeyed for the top spot, including Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, and Santa Barbara, everyone had Stonehenge on its list for both Solstices. And, throw in the Equinoxes for good measure while we're at it. It should be noted that while you can experience the Ssummersolstice from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, there are places such as Alaska and Norway where you have 20+ hours of daylight. [Here in Los Angeles, for's not that exciting]. Also, while not having as many hours of Sun as other places, Stonehenge has some pretty spectacular views of the rising Sun and some fairly extensive celebrations (Mid-Sommer!) happening, making it the premier place for the solstices. Not to mention a fun, deep dive into all things Stonehenge.

Let's go!

Sunrise at Stonehenge 2005
Sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, June 21, 2005

Stonehenge: The Facts

Stonehenge is a prehistoric "megalithic" structure on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. It comprises an outer ring of vertical sarsen stones and an inner ring of smaller (still huge) bluestones. Between those stones are free-standing trilithons. A trilithon is a structure consisting of two vertical stones with a horizontal stone on top. (It's also the name of a few metal bands.) The age of Stonehenge is set at around 3100 BCE, and from stone dating and other archeological business, it looks to have taken over 1400 years to construct (including innies and outies).

By the way, Megathlith was first used (in 1849) to describe Stonehenge. It's a word that means Great Stone. Okay, but what about Stonehenge? Are there other types of Henges? Woodhenge? Ironhenge? This is the part where you can use your newfound knowledge to win at trivia!

A Henge refers to Neolithic earthworks featuring a ring-shaped bank and ditch, with the ditch inside the bank. Henges can have between 1 and 4 entrances. Henges can be wood, stone, or other building materials! And...Stonehenge isn't even a real Henge because its ditch runs outside its bank! Well, well, well, this is getting interesting. The etymology of the word Henge comes from the Old English root words of either hencg, 'hinge,' or hen(c)en, 'to hang, to suspend.'

Because the trilithon structures hinge or hang, they are indeed a Henge! This is why this Neolithic structure was named Stonehenge. I know, right? There is so much information you didn't know you needed until now!

Also, side note: the trilithon at Stonehenge used tongue and groove and mortise and tenon joints. This helped keep the stones in place. Those were some pretty advanced building techniques for prehistoric folks. IMHO.

Other Henges, such as the Knowlton Circles, Maumbury Rings, Mayburgh Henge, The Ring of Brodgar, and the Thornborough Henges, are found around England. There are also Henge adjacent type structures worldwide, such as the Cromlech of the Almendres in Portugal and the Carahunge in Armenia. A cromlech is technically just a Neolithic stone circle. These structures may look similar to henges but are considered megalithic complexes and not henges. Though, to be fair, Stonehenge isn't technically a henge either on account of the ditch outside the bank thingy, as we just learned.

Stonehenge: In the Media

Stonehenge has been seen in artwork for centuries. Here are some examples of early artwork as well as early photography.

The oldest known depiction of Stonehenge, from the second quarter of the 14th century
The oldest known depiction of Stonehenge is from the second quarter of the 14th century. A giant helps Merlin build Stonehenge. From a manuscript of the Roman de Brut by Wace in the British Library (Egerton 3028)
The earliest-known realistic painting of Stonehenge, drawn on site with watercolors by Lucas de Heere between 1573 and 1575
The earliest-known realistic painting of Stonehenge, drawn on site with watercolors by Lucas de Heere between 1573 and 1575
Stonehenge photo from 1877
An early photograph of Stonehenge taken July 1877
Stonehenge As painted by John Constable, 1835
Stonehenge as painted by John Constable, 1835
J. M. W. Turner's depiction of Stonehenge
J. M. W. Turner's depiction of the monument (1825-1828)
Stonehenge from the air 1906
Stonehenge from the air. Taken by 2nd Lt Philip Henry Sharpe in the Summer of 1906 from a Royal Engineers' tethered balloon
 More details 17th-century depiction of Stonehenge from the Atlas van Loon
17th-century depiction of Stonehenge from the Atlas van Loon

Stonehenge is also a popular topic in the arts, featured in film, music, and books.

The band Black Sabbath immortalized Stonehenge with a song on the 1983 album, Born Again. When the band toured on that album, they created larger-than-life set pieces of Stonehenge, which they eventually had to schlep around on the tour. "We were in shock," wrote Iommi, "This stuff was coming in and in and in. It had all these huge columns in the back that were as wide as your average bedroom, the columns in front were about 13 feet high, and we had all the monitors, and the side fills as well as all this rock. It was made of fiberglass and wood and bloody heavy." The pieces were eventually abandoned. The props were then made fun of in the film This is Spinal Tap (1984), which is unarguably one of the best cinematic uses of the Henge.

Black Sabbath on tour
Stage set for the band Black Sabbath on tour in 1983

This is Spinal Tap (1984), is a hilarious mockumentary chronicling one of "Englands loudest bands." Directed by Rob Reiner with a screenplay by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer & Rob Reiner, this movie features a scene where a replica of one of the trilithons is to be used on stage, but is only 18 inches tall. Hilarity ensues.

gif from This is Spinal Tap
GIF of an excerpt from the movie, This is Spinal Tap (1984)

My personal favorite movie with Stonehenge is Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982). A stand-alone movie from the Halloween series that was itself supposed to be the first in a Halloween anthology; movies that take place on or about Halloween, but each have a different plot. H3 did so poorly at the box office and was so badly reviewed that they scraped the idea and just went back to making actual Halloween sequels. People have rediscovered H3 for the genius, unhinged nightmare masterpiece that it is. The subplot involving Stonehenge doesn't make a lot of sense. Somewhere at the beginning of the movie, we hear a TV report that one of the bluestones has been stolen. Near the end (no spoilers), the villain uses bits of the magically imbued stone for nefarious purposes.

gif from halloween3
GIF of an excerpt from the movie, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

Please enjoy this list of novels, nonfiction, and films to learn more about solstices and henges.

Here Comes the Sun Media List

Book cover of The Stonehenge letters : a novel
The Stonehenge Letters
Karlinsky, Harry

Book cover of The Bath conspiracy
The Bath Conspiracy
Dams, Jeanne M.

Book cover of Stonehenge, 2000 B.C. : a novel
Stonehenge, 2000 BC
Cornwell, Bernard

Book cover of Sarum : the novel of England
Sarum: The Novel of England
Rutherfurd, Edward

Book cover of Storyland : a new mythology of Britain
Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain
Jeffs, Amy

Book cover of A brief history of timekeeping : the science of marking time, from Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks
A Brief History of Timekeeping: The Science of Marking Time, From Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks
Orzel, Chad

Book cover of The memory code : the secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and other ancient monuments
The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments
Kelly, Lynne

Book cover of Stonehenge : the story of a sacred landscape
Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape
Pryor, Francis

Book cover of Megaliths : the ancient stone monuments of England and Wales
Megaliths: The Ancient Stone Monuments of England and Wales
Corio, David

Book cover of Sun, moon & Stonehenge : high culture in ancient Britain
Sun, Moon & Stonehenge: High Culture in Ancient Britain
Heath, Robin

Book cover of Celestial geometry : understanding the astronomical meanings of ancient sites
Celestial Geometry: Understanding the Astronomical Meanings of Ancient Sites
Taylor, Ken

Book cover of Megalith : studies in stone
Megalith: Studies in Stone

Book cover of Raven's gate
Raven's Gate
Horowitz, Anthony

Book cover of Where is Stonehenge?
Where is Stonehenge?
Kelley, True

Book cover of If stones could speak : unlocking the secrets of Stonehenge
If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge
Aronson, Marc

Book cover of Choose your own adventure.    [3], Forecast from Stonehenge.
Choose Your Own Adventure: Forecast From Stonehenge
Phillips, Stephanie

Book cover of This is Spinal Tap
This is Spinal Tap

Book cover of Halloween III : season of the witch
Halloween III: Season of the Witch

dvd cover
Ghosts of Stonehenge
Gillam-Smith, Nick