At least some of the people buried at Stonehenge appear to have come from near the Preseli Hills in west Wales where the bluestones used to build the Neolithic monument were quarried, according to a report from The Guardian. Testing of strontium isotopes from the cremated skull fragments buried at the monument showed that at least 10 of 25 individuals represented had come from at least 100 miles away, including the area near the Preseli Hills. It’s not clear that the bones belonged to those who built the monument, but the earliest cremation dates—around 3000 B.C.—are close to when the bluestones that formed the first circle at Stonehenge were transported there. “The earliest dates are tantalizingly close to the date we believe the bluestones arrived, and though we cannot prove they are the bones of the people who brought them, there must at least be a relationship,” said archaeologist John Pouncett of the University of Oxford. “The range of dates raises the possibility that for centuries people could have been brought to Stonehenge for burial with the stones.” The pieces of skull were found in a circle of 56 pits outside the stone circle that also contained bluestone chips and may have held the original circle of bluestones, which were then rearranged over the succeeding centuries
The origins of the huge ‘sarsen’ stones which create Stonehenge’s distinctive profile have been revealed – with the help of a sample returned from the US. Tests done on the core of one of the stones, which was drilled during repair work at the Neolithic site in the 1950s, indicates the 20-tonne, seven-metre high megaliths were brought from West Woods, near Marlborough. The core was removed by a Basingstoke diamond-cutting business as part of measures to use metal rods to reinforce one of the upright stones in 1958 and company employee Robert Phillips kept it in pride of place in his office. He later took it with him when he emigrated to the US and its existence remained largely unknown for six decades, until he expressed a wish for it to be returned on the eve of his 90th birthday.
His sons brought it over and presented it in 2018 to English Heritage, which cares for the World Heritage site, and now it has helped solve the question of where the enormous stones of the world-famous monument are from.
Research has shown the monument’s smaller bluestones come from specific spots in the Preseli Hills in Wales, but where the ancient people who constructed Stonehenge quarried the sarsens from was unknown. It has long been assumed they came from Marlborough Downs, but that has never been rigorously tested, according to a study by a team of researchers published in the journal Science Advances. The team used a non-destructive X-ray technique to assess the make-up of all the remaining sarsen upright and lintel stones, which established that 50 of the 52 remaining megaliths shared a consistent chemistry. This led them to conclude they were sourced from a common area.
The core was cut up and sampled for its chemical composition, and compared with samples of sarsen boulders in 20 areas stretching from Devon to Norfolk, including six in the Marlborough Downs to the north of Stonehenge. The analysis concludes that stone 58 – which the core was taken from – and therefore the majority of the sarsens were mostly likely from West Woods, around 15 miles north of the stone circle on the edge of the downs. The experts said archaeological investigations and further detailed sampling of sarsens from West Woods and the surrounding areas are needed to more closely pinpoint the stone’s source and identify the prehistoric quarries. English Heritage senior properties historian Susan Greaney and one of the authors of the paper said it was a ‘real thrill’ to track down the area that the builders of Stonehenge sourced their materials in 2500 BC.
Now we can start to understand the route they might have travelled and add another piece to the puzzle. ‘While we had our suspicions that Stonehenge’s sarsens came from the Marlborough Downs, we didn’t know for sure, and with areas of sarsens across Wiltshire, the stones could have come from anywhere. ‘We can now say, when sourcing the sarsens, the over-riding objective was size – they wanted the biggest, most substantial stones they could find and it made sense to get them from as nearby as possible,’ she said. Professor David Nash, from the University of Brighton, who led the research, said: ‘It has been really exciting to harness 21st-century science to understand the Neolithic past, and finally answer a question that archaeologists have been debating for centuries.’