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Origins of the sarsen stones is finally pinpointed.       Source: Alexey Fedorenko / Adobe Stock

Origin of Stonehenge’s Sarsen Stones is Finally Pinpointed

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After years of uncertainty, experts have now solved the mystery of exactly where most of the Stonehenge sarsen stones came from, made possible through the return of a missing fragment of one of the giant stones and breakthrough technology. Now researchers are better able to reconstruct the history of the world-famous prehistoric site and how it was built.

Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it dates back to the Neolithic period, around 2500 BC. It is located on Salisbury Plain and consists of a series of standing stones set in rings and it was once at the centre of a ceremonial landscape. Archaeologists believe that a number of large Stone Age settlements were adjacent to the monument. Now a team of British researchers have been able to investigate precisely the source of the massive stones.

The Enigma of the Sarsen Stones

The origins of the stones used in the structure have been debated for centuries. It has been known for a while that the 42 smaller so-called ‘bluestones’ came from Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales, a substantial distance away.  But the source of the massive blocks known as sarsens was still unknown. As the team of researchers wrote in Science Advances that, “the origins of the sarsen (silcrete) megaliths that form the primary architecture of Stonehenge remain unknown”.

Left, Plan of Stonehenge showing the area of the monument enclosed by earthworks plus numbered peripheral sarsen stones. Right, Detail of the main Stonehenge monument showing the remaining bluestones and numbered sarsen stones. (Image: David Nash, University of Brighton / Science Advances)

Left, Plan of Stonehenge showing the area of the monument enclosed by earthworks plus numbered peripheral sarsen stones. Right, Detail of the main Stonehenge monument showing the remaining bluestones and numbered sarsen stones. (Image: David Nash, University of Brighton / Science Advances )

David Nash, one of the study’s lead authors is quoted by Reuters as saying that, “The sarsen stones make up the iconic outer circle and central trilithon (two vertical stones supporting a horizontal stone) horseshoe at Stonehenge”. Some stand up to 30 feet (9.2 m) tall and weigh up to 30 tonnes. No one knows how they got to the site. Nash stated that, “Given the size of the stones, they must have either been dragged or moved on rollers to Stonehenge”.

Researchers told the Daily Mail , “It has long been assumed that the sandstone blocks came from Marlborough Downs, — but the theory had never been put to a rigorous test”.

To test the source of the stones, the experts used a non-destructive X-ray to understand the geochemical make-up of the sarsens and they found that 50 of them had the same chemical consistency and indicated that they came from a single area. For comparison, other sarsen stones, from other six sites, including, West Woods in Marlborough Downs were also tested.

Dr Jake Ciborowski analysing a sarsen lintel stone using a portable x ray fluorescence spectrometer. (Image:  Professor David Nash / University of Brighton)

Dr Jake Ciborowski analysing a sarsen lintel stone using a portable x ray fluorescence spectrometer. (Image:  Professor David Nash / University of Brighton )

Missing Key to the Sarsen Stones

Next, the team analysed the core of one of the sarsen stones, this had been missing until two years ago. It had been removed from a megalith, known as number 58 along, by a firm who were repairing damaged monuments with metal ties in the 1950s. An employee of the firm, Robert Phillips kept one of the cores and took it with him when he emigrated to America and it was only returned to England two years ago, after his death at the age of nearly 90.

Professor David Nash analysing the sarsen core extracted from Stone 58 at Stonehenge. (Image:  Sam Frost, English Heritage)

Professor David Nash analysing the sarsen core extracted from Stone 58 at Stonehenge. (Image:  Sam Frost, English Heritage )

The BBC quotes Prof Nash as saying that, “Each outcrop was found to have a different geochemical signature, but it was the chance to test the returned core that enabled us to determine the source area for the Stonehenge sarsens.” The fragment could be analysed using a destructive test, unlike the stones that form part of the prehistoric structure.

The data from the core was identical to samples taken from sarsens found at West Woods in Marlborough Downs, just 15 miles (26 km) from Salisbury Plain, where Stonehenge stands. The woods have many standing stones and a barrow and it has been suggested that it was once a sacred site.

Now experts are convinced this is where the majority of the stones originated. Historian Susan Greaney, who participated in the study, told the Daily Mail that “They wanted the biggest, most substantial stones they could find and it made sense to get them from as nearby as possible.”

A large sarsen stone at West Woods, the probable source of most of the sarsens used to construct Stonehenge. (Image: Katy A Whitaker / University of Reading)

A large sarsen stone at West Woods, the probable source of most of the sarsens used to construct Stonehenge. (Image: Katy A Whitaker / University of Reading )

The chemical analysis can also help to pinpoint the route of the stones to Salisbury Plain. The researchers wrote in Science Advances that, “Our results further help to constrain the most likely route along which the sarsens were transported to Stonehenge”. They have identified three potential routes from West Woods.

The New Mystery

The team are grateful for the return of the missing core once on display in Mr Phillips office. According to the New Scientist , Prof Hill stated that “We didn’t expect we would ever find the original source area.” However, the returned core was critical and allowed them to identify the source of the sarsens.

However, while the researchers have solved one mystery, another mystery has emerged. Two of the sarsen stones did not originate from West Woods.  Prof Hill noted that they were “different to that main cluster, but also different to each other” says Nash according to the New Scientist . This suggests they have two separate origins. No one knows why the builders of Stonehenge did this. More research will no doubt be carried out in the future to solve this new mystery.

Top image: Origins of the sarsen stones is finally pinpointed.       Source: Alexey Fedorenko / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Pete Wagner's picture

Could the “experts” be ‘way off!’ about Stonehenge, and if so, would it be out of naivete or ...deception?  I say this in the presence of fact that there was once a neolithic culture of cave peoples all around the world, who vanished. They recently found (or revealed) remnants of a huge underground city in Turkey, with multiple verticle levels, capable of housing tens of thousands!  If ancient cultures could carve out cities from underground rock, what else could they have done?  People see Stonehenge as a monument, but it makes more sense that we are actually seeing just the remnants of the foundation rocks for a communal living house, with the rest of the above ground structure having been knocked down and carried away.  Rock from the oldest stone castles must be matched up with the rock from the foundation remnants and ring forts (which too seem to be foundation remnants of more complete structures).  Who is permitted to dig down to see what lies below?  Where there is more below, it is more likely then that the large stones on the surface would NOT have been transported from horizontal distances away, but straight up from below.  We know that they had to have had capability of lifting and stacking those stones.  Only conceivable way would be with elaborate pulley systems that balanced weight loads.  Is it yet time for the truth?

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Pete Wagner's picture

Might be best to doubt everything from the dawn of the Roman period to today (including the Bible).  Romans destroyed and replaced all the old cultures, essentially whitewashing the truth of the more ancient history.  Conspicuously missing is explanation of the underground cultures (i.e., the cave peoples of the stone age), and their fate.  Evidence of their existence is found on all continents, even though the real digging has yet to begin.    

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Hi Ed,

I have an idea about Stonehenge not the origins of where the stones came from more like the possibility of where The Idea of Stonehenge originates. I realize however, my idea won't be as popular, I'll say.

There is always splotches of something which comes along; that, often, reminds me of topics, made known in yes, The Bible.

Okay so here is where I'm going with this idea inspired by my understanding of The Bible?

When I took Ethnic Studies (I'm African American), I came to learn with Ethnic Studies that everybody has a Story it is the Study of Awareness and of course where does this Awareness fit with Stonehenge? Immigration.

Since I brought up the Bible this is basically Biblical immigration from the Bible okay how? In Ezekiel chapter 28 God is seemingly speaking about a King in Tyre (Turkey), but then when God describes this King of Tyre you learn that God is addressing The Power behind the King of Tyre. Lucifer!

The passage in Ezekiel chapter 28 God says that Lucifer had The Power too Walk through Some kind of Fire Stones; ah no I'm not saying that Stonehenge are those Fire Stones; what I'm saying, is that I think; it is a replica of those Fire Stones.

The Original Stonehenge in God's Country (meaning Heaven) is most likely more alive; therefore, likewise for example, when people immigrate from the place of their birth; too another, geographic area despite the fact they leave the Old World, behind they still bring that World, with them to a new place.

Revelation Chapter 12 talks about The War in Heaven and that Lucifer along with one-third of the Angels in Heaven were Cast Out for The Bible says there was found No Room for them in Heaven.

Chapter 12 points out that Lucifer and those Angels (one-third of the Cast Out Angels number 1,000 by the way), came to Earth, I think they were attempting too replicate The World that they had just been exiled from.

I think that Stonehenge was one of those Replications due to the fact Lucifer could walk through a specific type of Fire Stones way back in Heaven.

No I don't think those Stones will come alive I believe when the Great Flood in The Bible; occurred for the sake of argument, I think the Angels on God's side turned it off and took out what it could actually do. Therefore Stonehenge can be analyzed to our ever lasting delight.

So yeah that's what I think is going on with Stonehenge I think that it's a replica of the Original one in God's Country.

Naturally because where all different special unique people, I know that not everyone is going to accept this idea.

Great article thank you for sharing looking forward to reading more of your articles Ed Goodbye!

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