London - Cowboy builders botched Stonehenge and may have never even finished it, according to a leading historian.

Professor Ronald Hutton described the prehistoric wonder on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, as “a unique and possibly failed experiment – as much a triumph as a disaster” in a talk at the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival.

It is a triumph, he said, “because the darned thing’s still there and it’s the most famous prehistoric monument in the entire world” built by somebody who was “insane enough to want to try the experiment of working enormous stones as if they were wood”.

“They pulled it off but they had some bad times along the way,” said Professor Hutton, an expert on paganism from Bristol University.

“When they put up one of those great sandstone blocks in the outer circle, it slipped when it was being put in its hole, fell over and broke in half.

“If you were a decent bunch of builders what you’d do then is, after a great deal of screaming and complaining, chuck the two broken bits away and bring another one intact and do it properly. They didn’t. They put one broken bit on top of the other broken bit, jammed a lintel on top and hoped they’d stay together. They didn’t, they fell over quite soon after.

“So these people are working under pressure, they don’t have the resources or the time to get another stone. This is the heart of the disaster that Stonehenge ended up being.

“Because of shoddy or high-pressure, efficiency-gaining, new Stone Age engineering, we have lost the great engineering feat of Stonehenge.”

The avenue that leads into Stonehenge is aligned directly on the mid-summer sunrise so that two of the stones frame the sunrise “like the sights of a camera or gun”.

But Professor Hutton said the “even more stunning effect” at the mid-winter sunset was lost – because of another mistake by the builders.

He said they built a trilithon – two massive upright stones with a lintel on top – but one of the uprights was not rooted deeply enough in the ground.

“At some time, that stone skidded out,” said the professor. “It fell headlong across the altar stone, knocking the altar stone to the ground and breaking in half itself. That massive lintel tumbled down and still lies where it fell. They never tried to fix it.

“So Stonehenge was built by cowboys. It is on the one hand one of the greatest building successes in the story of the human race and from another point of view one of the greatest catastrophes.” - Daily Mail