Stonehenge May Have Come From a Different Monument 500 Years Earlier

Stonehenge may have been a Welsh monument from its very beginning. (Image: Averain via Compfight cc)
Stonehenge may have been a Welsh monument from its very beginning. (Image: Averain via Compfight cc)

If you are interested in Stonehenge, then you will want to know about this new discovery. It has now been suggested that Stonehenge’s “bluestones” may have been used for a local monument in Wales 500 years earlier.

A team led by the University College London (UCL) archaeologists and geologists have now confirmed the sources of Stonehenge’s “bluestones.” After the excavation of two quarries in Wales, researchers are able to shed a little light on how the stones were quarried and transported.

The findings have been published in the journal Antiquity. In the article, they provide detailed evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. It is this evidence that may hold some of the answers to longstanding questions as to when, why, and how Stonehenge was built.

Stonehenge is made up of two circles; the outer circle is made up of the larger stones and is “sarsen,” which is local sandstone. The inner circle is made up of smaller stones, known as “bluestones.” Since the 1920s, geologists have known the “bluestones” were from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now do we know the exact location of the actual quarries from which they came.

Excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin. (Image: Courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)

Excavations at Craig Rhos-y-Felin. (Image: Courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together.”

‘The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge’s stones were extracted,’

project director Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology) said in a statement.

The Stonehenge “bluestones” are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite. Dr. Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales) and Dr. Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s “spotted dolerite bluestones,” and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-Felin as a source for one of the “rhyolite bluestones,” according to a UCL statement.

“The two outcrops are really impressive — they may well have had special significance for prehistoric people. When we saw them for the first time, we knew immediately that we had found the source,” Professor Colin Richards, from the University of Manchester who is an expert in Neolithic quarries, said in the UCL statement.

Because the rock formation already forms a natural pillar at these outcrops, the prehistoric quarry-workers were able to separate each pillar without effort. Dr. Josh Pollard from the University of Southampton, who was involved in the study, explains:

“They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars, and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face; the quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”

Beneath the rocky outcrop, known as Crag Rhos-y-Felin, archaeologists excavated the remains of a Neolithic campsite; the researchers believe that it was left by the quarry-workers. Burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from campfires were radiocarbon-dated, revealing several occurrences of quarrying at the outcrops.

Interestingly, results show the ‘bluestones’ from Stonehenge where mined 500 years before the monument was erected.

Professor Pearson said: “We have dates of around 3,400 B.C. for Craig Rhos-y-Felin and 3,200 B.C. for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the “bluestones” didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2,900 B.C.

“It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

Professor Kate Welham from Bournemouth University believes that if the stones were from a dismantled monument, the ruins would most likely sit between the two quarries. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations, and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area, and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising — we may find something big in 2016.”

With the quarries sitting on the north side of the Preseli Hills, this challenges the earlier theories on how the “bluestones” were transported from the quarries to Stonehenge. One theory that is often told is that the “bluestones” had been taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven where they were then floated on boats or rafts, but this is highly unlikely with these new findings.

“The only logical direction for the “bluestones” to go was to the north, then either by sea around St. David’s Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40,” said Pearson.

“Personally, I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 — they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”

It is hoped that the new discoveries will help to understand Stonehenge and why it was built. The researchers believe the “bluestones” were raised at Stonehenge around 2,900 B.C., which is long before the giant “sarsens” that were erected around 2,500 B.C.

‘Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning.’

“If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built, and why some of its stones were brought so far,” said Professor Parker Pearson.

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