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Stonehenge built as a symbol of peace and unity, British researchers suggest

The creation of the mysterious monument and the culture built around it suggests Stonehenge was thought as a symbol of unity in late Neolithic Europe, British researchers say. 

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"This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solstitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else," he said. "Perhaps they saw this place as the center of the world." 

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Theories and mystery

These days, Stonehenge is nothing if not the center of speculation and mystery. The monument has inspired its fair share of myths, including that the wizard Merlin transported the stones from Ireland and that UFOs use the circle as a landing site.

Archaeologists have built some theories on firmer ground. Stonehenge's astronomical alignments suggest that it may have been a place for sun worship, or an ancient calendar. A nearby ancient settlement, Durrington Walls, shows evidence of more pork consumption during the midwinter, suggesting that perhaps ancient people made pilgrimages to Stonehenge for the winter solstice, Parker Pearson and his colleagues have found.

Stonehenge may have also been a burial ground, or a place of healing. Tombs and burials surround the site, and some skeletons found nearby hail from distant lands. For example, archaeologists reported in 2010 that they'd found the skeleton of a teenage boy wearing an amber necklace near Stonehenge. The boy died around 1550 B.C. An analysis of his teeth suggest he came from the Mediterranean. It's possible that ill or wounded people traveled to Stonehenge in search of healing, some archaeologists believe.

Other researchers have focused on the sounds of Stonehenge. The place seems to have "lecture-hall" acoustics, according to research released in May. One archaeologist even suggests that the setup of the stones was inspired by an acoustical effect in which two sounds from different sources seem to cancel each other out.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook Google+

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