Sci­en­tists trace ori­gins of Stone­henge rocks to Wales

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - WORLD - By Ben Guar­ino

A team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists in the United King­dom says it has traced dozens of Stone­henge’s mas­sive rocks to two quar­ries in west Wales. The rocks were trans­ported 180 miles — dragged on wooden sleds, the sci­en­tists sug­gest, by teams of men. These stones, called blue­stones af­ter their bluish-gray hue, form the in­ner cir­cle of the mon­u­ment that tow­ers over the Sal­is­bury Plain.

Two blue­stone quar­ries, named Carn Goe­dog and Craig Rhos-y-fe­lin, were ex­ca­vated around 3000 B.C., ac­cord­ing to the au­thors of a study pub­lished in the jour­nal An­tiq­uity.

Ex­pe­di­tions at the quar­ries from 2014 to 2016 re­cov­ered an­cient char­coal and stone tools. In some places, the char­coal was mixed with dirt and stones to form flat plat­forms, which may have been used like load­ing bays to dis­trib­ute the mas­sive pil­lars, said Michael Parker Pear­son, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don and an au­thor of the new study.

Among the Welsh hills, blue­stones erupted from the ground. Here, mil­lions of years ago, sheets of magma slowly cooled into col­umns. Eons passed and softer rock around the magma eroded. Only the jagged blue­stones re­mained.

An­cient work­ers prob­a­bly ex­ploited nat­u­ral weak­nesses in these struc­tures, Parker Pear­son said.

“They’re nearly ver­ti­cal,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is get a lasso around each one and pull.”

With ropes and sim­ple tools, such as sand­stone wedges shoved into the out­crop’s joints, ex­ca­va­tors may have plucked out a pil­lar as cleanly as a loose tooth. Those on top of the out­crop could have care­fully slack­ened their ropes to con­trol the pil­lar’s de­scent to a plat­form be­low, the au­thors wrote.

From there, work­ers may have low­ered a stone, 6 feet long and weigh­ing 2 to 4 tons, onto a wooden sled to haul it away.

Blue­stones are big, but not so big that a “burly group of Stone Age men” couldn’t drag them across the coun­try­side, Pearce said.

These pil­lars are “the Ikea ver­sion of Ne­olithic mega­liths,” Parker Pear­son joked — the stones peeled off the out­crop as though from ready-to-use kits. Un­like the peo­ple who crafted Egypt’s obelisks from much larger rocks, Stone­henge’s builders did not need to re­work the blue­stone pil­lars.

The blue­stones, which are speck­led with fin­ger­nail-size de­posits of white min­er­als, form an in­ner horse­shoe and ring at Stone­henge. These rocks, though im­pres­sive, are not Stone­henge’s big­gest. The im­pos­ing sand­stone trilithons, the three-part struc­tures made of two ver­ti­cal stones and a hor­i­zon­tal top, are larger and more lo­cally sourced, though their ex­act ori­gins are un­known.

Pre­vi­ous chem­i­cal stud­ies linked the blue­stones to the Pre­seli Hills in Pem­brokeshire, Wales.

“That’s the only place you get that par­tic­u­lar rock type,” said Ni­cholas Pearce, a geo­chemist at Aberys­t­wyth Uni­ver­sity in Wales, who was not in­volved with the cur­rent study.

Hu­mans buried at Stone­henge prob­a­bly came from this re­gion of Wales too. Re­mains at the site con­tain iso­topes con­sis­tent with life near the quar­ries. A few miles sep­a­rate the two out­crops. Stand­ing on one quarry, it’s pos­si­ble to see the other, Pearce said.


Ar­chae­ol­o­gists traced the in­ner rocks at Stone­henge to blue­stone quar­ries Carn Goe­dog and Craig Rhos-y-fe­lin in Wales. The find­ings were pub­lished in the jour­nal An­tiq­uity.

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