The historic stone monument has been commonly associated with the annual celebration of summer but a researcher has suggested the winter festival was more important.
Mike Parker Pearson, professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, suggested the midwinter solstice was historically when people would kill their animals and was more significant than the midsummer solstice.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In a way, we can look at the midwinter solstice as being a kind of neolithic Christmas.
“People needed to draw together and concentrate their resources so in some senses, it’s quite easy to understand why the Midwinter was so important to them.”
He added: “It helps us to understand what Stonehenge is really all about.”
Around 14,500 people endured downpours this morning as they welcomed the sun during the dawn pagan tradition.
Every year, thousands descend upon the prehistoric monument on the longest day of the year but the weather afforded no respite from the soggy start to the season.
Heavy rain meant fewer visitors camped out compared to previous years, which have seen as many as 20,000 spend the night on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.
But despite the showers, the crowds watched the sun rise behind dark clouds at 4.52am and greeted it with loud cheers and applause.
Drummers inside the ancient stone circle kept up their beat throughout the poor weather, with pagans dancing along to the rhythm in the rain.
A spokesman for English Heritage said: “14,500 people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice this year.
“Heavy rain during the night meant this was one of the lowest attendances in recent years.
“However the rain did stop in time for the sunrise ceremonies and although clouds obscured the sun, loud cheers and applause rang out amongst the ancient stones.
“There was torrential rain at some points during the evening, but it stopped and although it was cloudy, it didn’t rain for sunrise.
“It has been the wettest and dare I say the muddiest in recent years.”
Police said there were 20 arrests for theft, drugs and alcohol-related offences but the event was largely peaceful.
The rain is expected to continue today after the Met Office issued a yellow weather warning for the West Midlands, East Midlands, east of England, south-west and south-east and London while parts of Scotland were also due to see outbreaks during the day.
The alert – which is the lowest of three levels of severity – is valid from 3pm today until noon tomorrow and warns of standing water on roads as well as the chance of localised flooding.
A thunderstorm is also forecast for 2pm, when the Queen is due to travel down the racecourse in a horse-drawn carriage procession at Royal Ascot.
Source | Image (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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