During the Neolithic Period (5000 – 1000 BCE), along the Atlantic coast of Europe and in the British Isles, local peoples built and maintained great stone circles and megaliths. This activity started about 5000 BCE and continued on to about 2500 BCE. One of the last monuments to be built, Stonehenge was constructed in three distinct phases over a 1,500 year period, starting in 3000 BCE. The process of building this monument included digging large ditches as well as erecting the more famous stones. In the case of Stonehenge, three different cultures added their particular refinements to this monument.
When discussing Stonehenge, people often forget to place this monument in a greater cultural context. Nearby Stonehenge is a similar stone monument at Avebury, which was built around 2500 BCE. Meanwhile, there are signs of a similar circle at Durrington Walls, which was believed to be built before Avebury. These megaliths, built by Neolithic peoples, had multiple uses. The purposes that archeologists believed that Stonehenge was used for included: worshipping the Ancestors, watching the heavens, and marking the cycles of the sun and other astronomical occurrences.
The building of Stonehenge can be regarded in the same light as the building of a Gothic cathedral. From the beginning of the project, the entire community is dedicated to seeing the building finished. Everyone involved understood that this construction project would take several generations to complete. Therefore, the entire community dedicated themselves to the process, and organized themselves accordingly. Some people regarded it as a fulfilling of their religious duties, while for others it was their community obligations. Though the specific vision may have been altered through the years, the newer residents of the community resolved to finish the original project.
The first group to shape Stonehenge into what we know today was the Windmill Hill People. Thought to be semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, these people also grew some crops. What archeologists noted about these people was their propensity to orient their burials and monuments in the east-west axis. These directions were important to them, perhaps because of the rising and setting of the sun.