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The origin story of the millennia-old Stonehenge is lastly solidifying


The solar units behind Stonehenge simply after the winter solstice.

Gail Johnson/Getty Pictures

  • The mysterious Stonehenge monument is 5,000 years previous and consists of two semi-circles of stones.
  • A brand new examine exhibits it was in-built Wales first, then moved to England centuries later.
  • The analysis suggests Stonehenge is a burial floor that its builders erected after they migrated.
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Stonehenge’s origin has baffled archaeologists for hundreds of years. 

The mysterious rock association on England’s Salisbury Plain options two distinct forms of stone slabs in half circles. Researchers have traced the huge 9-metre boulders forming Stonehenge’s outer circle to close by woodlands, whereas the inside circle of smaller, 9-foot bluestone monoliths doubtless got here from a web site in Wales greater than 200km away.

Whereas Stonehenge’s builders left no indication of how the monument got here to be there or why they erected it, new analysis into the stones’ locations of origin are providing new perception into the monument’s objective.

A latest examine within the journal Antiquity means that Stonehenge’s bluestone circle was first constructed at a web site known as Waun Mawn in Wales, then moved to its ultimate resting place centuries later. When Stone Age farmers migrated east throughout the island, they introduced the 2- to 4-ton slabs stone circle with them piece by piece, the examine authors stated.

“One principle for why prehistoric individuals might need dismantled a stone circle in west Wales and transported all of it the best way to Salisbury Plain proposes that the stones have been the embodiment of these individuals’s ancestors,” Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at College Faculty London and co-author of the examine, wrote in The Dialog

Stonehenge was imported

Contained in the sarsen circle at Stonehenge.

James Davies/English Heritage

Arthurian legend claims that the wizard Merlin transported Stonehenge to England after stealing the stones from a monument constructed by Irish giants. The brand new examine suggests one a part of that narrative wasn’t fairly as far-fetched as archaeologists thought.

Researchers discovered in 2015 that Stonehenge’s 43 bluestones got here from two quarries in Wales’ Preseli Hills, however Pearson’s group confirmed that folks have been quarrying there about 400 years earlier than Stonehenge’s preliminary building began 5,000 years in the past.

The mismatched dates puzzled the examine authors: “Absolutely it could not have taken 400 years to haul newly quarried bluestones to Stonehenge?” Pearson wrote.

That led his group to look into the place the hewn bluestones went throughout these 4 centuries. At Waun Mawn, which is simply three miles from the Preseli Hills quarries, they discovered remnants of a stone circle courting to about 3,400 BCE – which matched the bluestones’ quarrying age. 

Distinct divots on the web site matched the dimensions and form of the bluestones at Stonehenge, and fragments of rock there matched the monument’s bluestones. This means the builders of that stone circle deconstructed it then rebuilt it as Stonehenge greater than 140 miles away.

Certainly, based on the examine authors, the Waun Mawn stone circle and the ditch surrounding Stonehenge are precisely the identical diameter: 361 ft (110 meters).

Stonehenge’s sarsen boulders got here from a distinct location

A big sarsen stone at West Woods, the realm the place most sarsens used to assemble Stonehenge got here from.

Katy Whitaker/Historic England/College of Studying

Whereas the bluestones have been imported, the supply of Stonehenge’s 25-ton sandstone boulders, known as sarsens, was a bit nearer to the present web site.

Stonehenge as soon as had 80 sarsens erected in square-shaped archways encircling its bluestones, however solely 52 stay. In response to a July examine, Stonehenge’s builders dragged a lot of the stones from a close-by space known as the West Woods. It is greater than 25 kilometers from the monument – “which is insane actually if you consider it,” David Nash, an archaeologist from the College of Brighton and co-author of that examine, beforehand informed Insider.

Nash stated Stonehenge’s builders doubtless used some type of curler or dragged the heavy sarsens on a slippery floor like vegetation or frosty floor.

“There is not any proof they used animals to do it, however we do not know,” he stated.

Nash added that the builders most likely raised the sarsens into their standing positions in Stonehenge’s rock circle on the identical time, round 4,500 years in the past, after transporting them en masse.

A burial floor or a celestial calendar

A druid at Stonehenge through the 2019 summer season solstice.

Concepts about what Stonehenge might need been used for run the gamut from a celestial calendar that tracked the solar to a sacred graveyard.

“Put merely, Stonehenge was the ceremonial centre of southern England,” Matt Leivers, an archaeologist with Wessex Archaeology in England, informed Insider.

The brand new examine lends credence to the concept it was erected as a burial floor: The researchers examined 25 individuals whose cremated stays had been buried on the web site 5,000 years in the past. By peeking on the chemical composition of these stays, Pearson’s group concluded that 4 of the cremated people had “lived the final many years of their lives” in Wales.

“It due to this fact appears extremely doubtless that folks got here with the bluestones – and stayed with them,” Pearson wrote, including, “burials counsel Stonehenge was a spot of the lifeless.” 

Leivers’ group just lately uncovered 4,500-year-old graves belonging to a child and younger lady lower than a mile from the monument, underscoring this principle. Each people have been a part of the Beaker tradition, a bunch who lived in Europe between 4,000 and 5,000 years in the past.

Stonehenge was additionally a spot of non secular and political energy, Leivers stated: “Consider Washington, DC, with a giant dollop of faith.”

Stonehenge’s primary entrance aligns with dawn on the summer season solstice – the longest day of the yr. This means the monument might have additionally served as a celestial calendar, or a web site for rituals that celebrated the altering seasons. The Waun Mawn stone circle had that very same alignment.

“It supplied an assurance that – regardless of how the seasons cycled and the skies darkened, regardless of how the times shortened – there was a sample and that folks knew what it was,” Leivers stated, including, “Stonehenge assured that the solar would at all times come again.

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