In accordance with Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historical past of the Kings of Britain was written in 1136, the mysterious monoliths at Stonehenge have been first spirited there by the wizard Merlin, whose military stole them from a legendary Irish stone circle known as the Giants’ Dance.
Centuries earlier than the event of rudimentary geology, Geoffrey’s unique idea – that the stones at Stonehenge have been filched from a international discipline – has enveloped the 5,000 year-old website in yet one more layer of mystical intrigue. Now, it seems the medieval chronicler may need been on to one thing.
Although the stones have been moved by manpower not magic, and brought from Wales not stolen from Eire, our new analysis has revealed that Stonehenge may very well have first stood on a windswept hillside close to the Pembrokeshire coast, at a website known as Waun Mawn, earlier than 3000BC. Our findings have dramatic implications for our understanding of the UK’s best-known Stone Age website.
Stonehenge was in-built 5 constructional phases over 1,500 years, starting round 3000BC. Amongst its stones are the bluestones: smaller pillars of dolerite, rhyolite, volcanic ash and sandstone which we now have lengthy identified have been sourced from the Preseli Hills (Mynydd Preseli) in west Wales, greater than 140 miles (225km) away. Stonehenge is the one stone circle in Europe whose stones have been quarried greater than 20km away, making it very uncommon.
Our excavations at Stonehenge in 2008 produced proof that the Welsh bluestones had shaped the positioning’s first stone circle, set in a large ring often known as the “Aubrey Holes”. Then, not too long ago, geologists matched two of the sorts of dolerite and rhyolite current at Stonehenge to particular rock outcrops within the Preseli Hills known as Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin.
This led our staff to Preseli to dig on the outcrops, the place we recovered proof of quarrying instruments – stone wedges and hammerstones – which confirmed that the websites have been certainly Stone Age quarries. Most significantly, carbonised wooden and hazelnuts recognized by archaeobotanist Ellen Simmons offered proof that folks quarried at each websites from round 3400BC.
The early date of quarrying was puzzling. Certainly it couldn’t have taken 400 years to haul newly-quarried bluestones to Stonehenge? The stones from Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin should have stood elsewhere within the centuries earlier than they have been transported to Wiltshire. This may concur with the speculation of the eminent Welsh geologist Herbert Thomas, who in 1923 labored out that Stonehenge’s bluestones had been moved to Salisbury Plain by folks – not carried, as some had speculated, by Ice Age glaciers.
Thomas concluded that the bluestones initially shaped a “honored stone circle” someplace in Wales. To show this idea, we would have liked to search out that unique website. So we set about trying to find a Welsh stone circle that we might conclusively hyperlink to the stones on Salisbury Plain.
Stonehenge is not the one prehistoric monument that is been moved – but it surely’s nonetheless distinctive
We truly checked out Waun Mawn first. A frankly unimpressive arc of 4 stones situated simply three miles (5km) from the quarries, we dismissed the positioning after a quick survey. But after having no luck with different round monuments within the space, we returned to Waun Mawn for a remaining speculative dig.
To everybody’s delight, our dig supervisor Dave Shaw found two empty stoneholes, one on every finish of the arc of stones, the place lacking stones had as soon as stood. Subsequent digs unearthed additional stoneholes, organized in a circle with an an identical diameter to Stonehenge’s enclosing ditch.
Relationship the stoneholes – when the eliminated stones have been first positioned at Waun Mawn, and once they have been taken away – can be essential for establishing a hyperlink to Stonehenge. Their erection and dismantlement needed to have taken place earlier than 3000 BC: the date the primary stage of Stonehenge was erected.
We used a way known as optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) thus far the sediment contained within the stoneholes. OSL dates the time at which mineral grains within the sediment have been final uncovered to sunlight, instantly previous to deposition. Utilizing this technique, we dated the development of Waun Mawn within the center to latter a part of the fourth millennium BC. This implies it was constructed shortly earlier than the preliminary development of Stonehenge.
Most strikingly, we additionally found a stone chip in one of many stoneholes at Waun Mawn, which should have turn into indifferent from the bluestone pillar that initially stood there. It was confirmed as unspotted dolerite, a rock sort represented by three stones at Stonehenge.
The imprint left by the flat backside of this bluestone pillar occurred to be exceptionally clear. It confirmed that this stone had an uncommon pentagonal cross-section which may very well be matched by solely one of many 43 bluestones at Stonehenge. A computerised mannequin of the Waun Mawn imprint and Stone 62 at Stonehenge confirmed that they fitted collectively completely: like a key in a lock.
The proof linking Waun Mawn to Stonehenge is powerful. However one fascinating query stays: why did Neolithic folks transfer the bluestones? Scientific evaluation of the cremated stays of the folks buried at Stonehenge hundreds of years in the past would possibly present the reply.
A brand new approach for extracting strontium isotopes from cremated bone has helped us be taught extra in regards to the human stays interred inside Stonehenge, revealing that the folks buried there 5,000 years in the past got here from totally different geological areas of Britain. 4 of the people analysed had geological indicators in line with these folks having lived in west Wales. It due to this fact appears extremely probably that folks got here with the bluestones – and stayed with them.
One idea for why prehistoric folks may need dismantled a stone circle in west Wales and transported all of it the way in which to Salisbury Plain proposes that the stones have been the embodiment of these folks’s ancestors.
This speculation relies on Malagasy archaeologist Ramilisonina’s commentary that stone in Madagascar represents the ancestors as a result of it’s sturdy and everlasting, in distinction to wooden which is transient, just like the residing.
Our discoveries have aligned with Ramilisonina’s idea: burials counsel Stonehenge was a spot of the useless, whereas there’s proof of close by “woodhenges” at Durrington Partitions that have been surrounded by the homes of the residing. Maybe the Neolithic folks of Preseli, some 200 generations in the past, determined to relocate themselves to a different ceremonial advanced, uprooting and replanting the stones to present them ancestral authority over this new land.
If there’s any fact in Geoffrey’s legend, it may well solely be the tiniest grain. Tales handed down by phrase of mouth develop and mutate within the telling, and seemingly inexplicable phenomena akin to the massive monoliths at Stonehenge are sometimes attributed to magical forces. However, whereas the stones on Salisbury Plain little question proceed to enchant, our analysis has helped reply a few of the lingering questions surrounding the UK’s best-known archaeological website.
Mike Parker Pearson receives funding from the British Academy, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the Rust Household Basis, NERC, Nationwide Geographic Society, the Cambrian Archaeological Affiliation, the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Archaeological Institute and Nationwide Museums Wales.