Speculation as to the monument's purpose -- ancient astronomical observatory, temple for ritual sacrifice, spiritual center -- has swirled around Stonehenge for centuries. Now researchers from five British universities said their study suggests it may have been built as a sign of peace between people from the east and west of the country after resolution of a period of warfare and regional differences.
Researchers say the stones, which were from locations as distant from each other as southern England and west Wales, may have been intended to represent the ancestors of some of Britain's earliest farming communities.
"When Stonehenge was built there was a growing island-wide culture -- the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast," University of Sheffield researcher Mike Parker Pearson said.
"This was very different to the regionalism of previous centuries. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labor of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them," he said in a Sheffield release.
"Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification."
Researches from the universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and University College London took part in the study.