Stonehenge Visitors Used To Be Handed Chisels to Take Home Souvenirs | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Break me of a piece of that monolith. (Angeles Mosquera)

Stonehenge Visitors Used To Be Handed Chisels to Take Home Souvenirs

Chisels were banned in the early 1900s, and in 1977, the stones were roped off so people couldn’t climb on them any longer

smithsonian.com

If you visit Stonehenge today, you'll find that it's roped off — keeping visitors from touching, or worse, taking bits of the nearly 5,000 year old monument. But the giant stone structure wasn’t always treated with such reverence. In fact, in the past, visitors to Stonehenge were handed chisels so that they could chip off a little piece to take home. 

According to the BBC, “the practice has been outlawed since 1900, when landowner Sir Edmund Antrobus decided the site needed protecting and introduced charges.” According to a 1999 meeting of the World Archaeological Congress:

Throughout the Victorian period Stonehenge was a popular location for picnics, and gatherings at public holidays. From the 1890s onward, with the recognition of the astronomical significance of the site, up to 3000 people would gather at midsummer morning each year to watch the sun rise over the Heelstone. However, with the recognition that the stones might be unstable Stonehenge was fenced, a policeman was installed, and a 1 shilling entrance fee was charged.

Eventually, Stonehenge was turned over to the nation, and visitors' access was restricted. As visitorship increased, the grass in the center of the stones died from being trampled by 815,000 people each year. In 1977, the stones were roped off so people couldn’t climb on them any longer. 

But that doesn’t keep people from trying. In 2008, vandals chipped off a piece of the Heel Stone in an act of vandalism that the BBC calls “the first of its kind in many years." That's pretty impressive, considering that, each year, about a million people visit Stonehenge. Although, last year, someone painted a smiley face on the monolith. And this is why we can’t have nice things. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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