Quarrying of Stonehenge ‘Bluestones’ Dated to 3000 BC

Stonehenge ‘bluestones’ provide new evidence of megalith quarrying 5,000 years ago (Carn Goedog 2016). (Image: UCL)
Stonehenge ‘bluestones’ provide new evidence of megalith quarrying 5,000 years ago (Carn Goedog 2016). (Image: UCL)

Excavations at two quarries in Wales, known to be the source of the Stonehenge “bluestones,” provide new evidence of megalith quarrying 5,000 years ago, according to a new UCL-led study. Geologists have long known that 42 of Stonehenge’s smaller stones, known as “bluestones,” came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

Now, a new study published in Antiquity pinpoints the exact locations of two of these quarries and reveals when and how the stones were quarried. The discovery has been made by a team of archaeologists and geologists from UCL, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, University of the Highlands, and Islands and National Museum of Wales, which have been investigating the sites for eight years.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Archaeology), leader of the team, said:

The largest quarry was found almost 180 miles away from Stonehenge on the outcrop of Carn Goedog, on the north slope of the Preseli Hills. Geologist D.r Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales) said:

In the valley below Carn Goedog, another outcrop at Craig Rhos-y-felin was identified by D.r Bevins and fellow geologist D.r Rob Ixer (UCL Archaeology) as the source of one of the types of rhyolite — another type of igneous rock — found at Stonehenge. According to the new study, the bluestone outcrops are formed of natural, vertical pillars. These could be eased off the rock face by opening up the vertical joints between each pillar.

Unlike stone quarries in ancient Egypt, where obelisks were carved out of the solid rock, the Welsh quarries were easier to exploit. Neolithic quarry workers needed only to insert wedges into the ready-made joints between pillars, then lower each pillar to the foot of the outcrop.

Although most of their equipment is likely to have consisted of perishable ropes and wooden wedges, mallets, and levers, they left behind other tools, such as hammer stones and stone wedges. Professor Parker Pearson said:

Archaeological excavations at the foot of both outcrops uncovered the remains of manmade stone and earth platforms, with each platform’s outer edge terminating in a vertical drop of about a meter. Professor Colin Richards (University of the Highlands and Islands), who has excavated Britain’s only other identified megalith quarry in the Orkney islands, off the north coast of Scotland said:

An important aim of Professor Parker Pearson’s team was to date megalith-quarrying at the two outcrops. In the soft sediment of a hollowed-out track leading from the loading bay at Craig Rhos-y-felin, and on the artificial platform at Carn Goedog, the team recovered pieces of charcoal dating to around 3000 B.C.

The team now thinks that Stonehenge was initially a circle of rough, unworked bluestone pillars set in pits known as the Aubrey Holes, near Stonehenge, and that the sarsens (sandstone blocks) were added some 500 years later.

The new discoveries also cast doubt on a popular theory that the bluestones were transported by sea to Stonehenge. Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) said:

Provided by: University College London [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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