A little while back, Victor Steinbok posted on Google+ a photo of a sunset in Manhattan, with the title Manhattanhenge. Based on Stonehenge, obviously, with an allusion to Stongehenge’s alignment to the position of the sun on the solstices. It turns out that there are a lot of X-henges — and, in fact, henge has been fully liberated as an independent word.

Background on Stonehenge: official website (rather chaotically organized, and oriented towards tourists) here, Wikipedia page (long and detailed) here. From Wikipedia:

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 2.0 miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks.

… Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion.

On the name, from OED2, cautiously:

< stone n.; the second element may have meant something ‘hanging’ or supported in the air: compare Old English hęnge-clif ‘præruptum’ ( Suppl. to Ælfric’s Glossary); in the compound the word was probably originally plural.

On to Manhattanhenge. Yes, there’s a Wikipedia page:

Manhattanhenge – sometimes referred to as the Manhattan Solstice – is a semiannual occurrence during which the setting sun aligns with the east–west streets of the main street grid in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The neologism is derived from Stonehenge, where the sun aligns with the stones on the solstices with a similarly dramatic effect. The word was popularized in 2002 by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History.

A photo:

(Looking west along 42nd Street at 8:23 p.m. on July 13, 2006. This photograph shows the sun lined up with the center line of 42nd Street.)

There’s also Chicagohenge, Torontohenge, Montrealhenge, and probably more, all with reference to the sun.

Then another set of X-henges, including Carhenge, a site in western Nebraska mimicking Stonehenge, but with cars:

And Baconhenge, Stonehenge in foodstuffs, to celebrate Beltane:

Let Baconhenge be the site of your seasonal celebration! Let bacon stand in for the sacrificed Year King, French toast for the Grain Goddess, the eggs in the frittata for the Cosmic Egg, and the vegetables for the bountiful Earth on which we live.

Plus an earnest Treehenge site in Australia —

Become a part of Australia’s fastest growing living memorial to life and sustainability. You can be an active contributor by dedicating a commemorative tree, sponsoring a planting in the sustainable forest, and sharing your hopes, thoughts and memories of people on their special Treehenge Tree Plaque.

and no doubt many other imitations of Stonehenge and (more widely) memorial sites.

Meanwhile, henge has taken on a life of its own, as an archaeological term:

There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside. Because of the defensive impracticalities of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch, henges are not considered to have served a defensive purpose (cf. circular rampart).

… The word henge is … from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire. 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. (link)

… Some of the finest and best-known henges are at: Avebury, about 20 miles (32 km) N. of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire; The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney; Thornborough Henges complex in Yorkshire; Knowlton Circles henge complex in Dorset; Maumbury Rings in Dorset (later reused as a Roman amphitheatre and then a Civil War fort); Mayburgh Henge in Cumbria.

Henge has an OED2 entry, with Yorkshire cites from before Kendrick’s archaeological use:

1740   W. Stukeley Stonehenge ii. 8   Pendulous rocks are now called henges in Yorkshire, and I have been informed of another place there called Stonehenge, being natural rocks. So that I doubt not, Stonehenge in Saxon signifies the hanging stones.
1742   Defoe’s Tour Great Brit. (ed. 3) I. 257   The present Name [sc. Stonehenge] is Saxon, tho’ the Work is beyond all Comparison older, signifying a hanging Rod or Pole, i.e. a Gallows, from the hanging Parts, Architraves, or rather Imposts; and pendulous Rocks are still in Yorkshire called Henges.
Quite a variety of X-henges and henges.

3 Responses to “henges”

  1. Victor Steinbok Says:

    Quite a number of “moonhenges”, in different contexts.


    Wiltshire gets another stone circle: Bluestonehenge, a.k.a. Bluehenge or Riverhenge, according to these guys

    Yorkshire gets one too–Thornborough Henges (three of them!)


    Here the title of the page is “Henge imitations”


    including Moonhenge, Bayhenge, Rilito River (Henge) Sun Circle (multiple hits for this in exactly this form), Blockhenge, Cathenge (!), Rockhenge, Seathenge, Kerbhenge, Peephenge (yes, with Peeps), Pezhenge, Bead Henge, Cheezehenge, Jenga Henge and Scrabble Henge, Toilet Henge (?!), Doghenge, Garden Henge (many of these in multiple independent iterations)

    More Riverhenge


    Of course, there has to be a SpongeBob Spongehenge


    Sand Henge


    The Daily Mail report of a newly found “wooden henge”


    A single rock as Averbury Henge


    Welly henge at a festival in Glastonbury


    What’s a “welly”? A shortening of “Wellington boot”, which is little more than a basic rain boot.

    Not only is there a flicker page devoted to Stonehenge imitations (see above), but there is a blog too!


  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Jens Fiederer on Google+: What angry birds have to do with Stonehenge.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Tim Evanson on Google+:

    D.C. has a similar “henge” down K Street NW. But, since the city is laid out in such a crazy-quilt of angles, there are numerous “henges” throughout the year all over the city. The one the media pays attention to is the K Street one…

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