Another piece in Stonehenge rock source puzzle.

20 11 2013

Research to be published this month may bring us a step closer to understanding how bluestones from Pembrokeshire ended up at Stonehenge. A team of geologists have identified a hill in the Preseli Hills as the site from which 11 stones known as spotted dolerites were transported to Stonehenge

Scientists from Aberystwyth University, University College London and National Museum of Wales have located the specific outcrop, Carn Goedog, in the Preseli Mountains.

The chances of Stonehenge's spotted dolerites not coming from Carn Goedog are 'infinitesimally small'

The chances of Stonehenge’s spotted dolerites not coming from Carn Goedog are ‘infinitesimally small’

This is where the distinctive spotted dolerites originated.

The findings are to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Geologist Herbert Henry Thomas first proposed in 1923 that the rocks which form the giant inner ring were specifically quarried for Stonehenge by Neolithic man around 5,000 years ago, and were hauled to Wiltshire via land and sea.

However, other geologists theorise that they were carried east on an ice-age glacier 20,000 years ago.

“Trying to match the rocks at Stonehenge to a specific outcrop is considerably more complicated than looking for a needle in a haystack”

End Quote Dr Richard Bevins National Museum Wales

While the new discovery will not answer the debate, according to Dr Richard Bevins, of the National Museum Wales, it may eliminate some of the unknown variables.

“I’m not here to come down on one side of the argument or the other,” he explained.

“But our research is aimed at better informing the debate.”

Dr Bevins, keeper of natural sciences, added: “Trying to match the rocks at Stonehenge to a specific outcrop is considerably more complicated than looking for a needle in a haystack but the more we can trace them back to their original source, the closer archaeologists and geologists can hunt for clues to back-up their theories.

Rock sample The research has brought together archaeologists and geologists

“Archaeologists can now search an area of hundreds of metres rather than hundreds of kilometres for evidence of Neolithic quarrying.

“While geologists supporting the glacier theory know exactly where to hunt for the scarring they’d expect to find on the landscape if enormous chunks of the stone had indeed been swept east on a glacier.”

As the name suggests, the spotted dolerites have highly distinctive markings created by the elements contained within, cooling at different rates in the minutes after they were spewed out of an underwater volcano 450 million years ago.

In 2011, Dr Bevins’s team located the source of another of Stonehenge’s Pembrokeshire Bluestones – the rhyolites – 3km away from the spotted dolerites at Craig Rhos y Felin.

Although the relative proximity of the two discoveries offers evidence to both camps.

“Three kilometres is both closer and farther away than expected, depending on which theory you support.

“From a geologist’s point of view, 3km is nothing, and the rocks which ended up close to each other in Wiltshire could easily have been carried on the same glacier.

“However, for the archaeologists a distance of 3km between the potential quarries could be seen as evidence of planning and forethought, and a suggestion that the different types of stone were chosen for some specific purpose.”

‘Each piece of the puzzle’

Dr Bevins’s team are able to say so categorically that they have discovered the source of the spotted dolerites thanks to a range of laser mass spectrometry techniques which analyse both the chemical composition of the rock and the microbiology present when it was formed.

He says that the chance of them having originated anywhere other than Carn Goedog is “statistically-speaking, infinitesimally small”.

And while he is the first to admit that this discovery on its own gets us no closer to solving the riddle, he believes a definitive answer will come eventually.

“I’ve been studying the bluestones for over 30 years now, and I’m no closer to finding an answer which convinces me either way. But the one thing which I am increasingly sure of is that each piece of the puzzle we find brings us another step closer to the truth.

“We’ve located two of the sources, and there’s another five or possibly six to go.”

He added: “By the time we have identified those then I’m certain we’ll have an answer either way. Whether that happens in my career, or even my lifetime, who knows?”

By Neil Prior BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-25004282

Link:http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/origin-stonehenges-blue-stones-pinpointed-6317230

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Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonhenge News Blog





Stonehenge remains a mystery as scientists ask: was it a health spa, or a cemetery?

17 03 2013

Archaeologists back conflicting theories on Britain’s greatest prehistoric monument

It already attracts more than a million visitors a year. Yet these numbers could be dwarfed once Stonehenge, one of the world’s greatest prehistoric monuments, completes its radical facelift

Stonehenge, the prehistoric site whose purpose is still not fully understood by archaeologists. Photograph: Steve Allen/Getty Images

Stonehenge, the prehistoric site whose purpose is still not fully understood by archaeologists. Photograph: Steve Allen/Getty Images

Over the next year, the nearby A344 will be closed and grassed over. A new visitor centre will be built a mile and a half from the monument and tourists will be encouraged to explore the ancient landscape around the 5,000-year-old complex.

The makeover falls short of plans, since scrapped, that would have seen all major thoroughfares in the area diverted through tunnels. Nevertheless Stonehenge should be returned to something like its past glory, it is hoped, and then attract even greater numbers of visitors seeking to understand the purpose of this vast, enigmatic edifice.

For centuries, historians and archaeologists have speculated about the reason for the monument’s construction. Suggestions have ranged from the proposal that it was built by Merlin to commemorate knights slain in a battle against Saxon invaders to the idea that Stonehenge was a highly sophisticated astronomical observatory.

Earlier this month, the latest salvo in the debate was fired by archaeologists, led by Professor Michael Parker Pearson, of University College London, who published research indicating that the original Stonehenge was a graveyard for a community of elite families. “This was a place for the dead,” Parker Pearson said.

The notion – that Stonehenge is essentially a large funerary temple created between 3000 and 2500BC – does not find favour with every scientist, however. Indeed, the other main group of UK researchers investigating the site – archaeologists led by Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University – believe the place was an ancient Lourdes. The sick and wounded would come here for cures from the monument’s great bluestones, which had been dragged from Wales to Wiltshire because of their magical healing properties. “This was a place for the living,” Darvill said.

Such divergence of views would seem to suggest we are as far from understanding the purpose of Stonehenge as we have ever been. English Heritage historian Susan Greaney counselled caution, however. We should not place too much emphasis on our ignorance about the monument, she said. “We know who built it and when they built it and have a good idea how they built it. It is only its ultimate purpose that still remains unresolved,” she said.

Detailed radiocarbon dating of Stonehenge has shown that work on its construction probably began with the huge circular ditch that still surrounds the monument. Inside several dozen bluestones were erected along with various timber posts and other structures. It was a relatively modest construction by the standards of the remains we can see today. Then, around 2600BC, the site was transformed. A ring of giant upright stones called sarsens were erected and capped with huge rock lintels. Inside five huge trilithons – pairs of rock columns capped with a single slab – were erected and many of the magical bluestones from Wales that had been erected near the edge of the monument were moved inside this inner sanctum. Crucially, the rays of the setting midwinter sun and the rising midsummer sun would shine through the heart of the monument and down the avenue that leads into it.

Over succeeding centuries, the bluestones were rearranged for purposes that still mystify scientists. In short, Stonehenge is not one monument, built at one moment in history, but many built and rebuilt over many centuries. By that definition, it had no single purpose but had many. Even today it performs many functions – as a tourist attraction, a religious site (for Druids), and a place for scientific study, for example.

As to the identity of the builders of Stonehenge’s great rings of sarsens and trilithons, that appears to be far less of a mystery. Work at the nearby site of Durrington Walls indicates it was occupied by thousands of individuals at exactly the time the great stone rings of Stonehenge were being erected. The remains of the cattle they slaughtered have been studied and by careful analysis of the chemical makeup of their teeth, their place of origin in Britain has been determined. Remarkably, the animals appear to have been brought to Wiltshire from almost every part of the country. Even more intriguingly, most were killed during two peak periods: midwinter and midsummer.

“People were coming from all over the country at these times,” said Parker Pearson. “It was partly a religious festival and partly a construction site: a combination of Glastonbury and a motorway building camp. The crucial point is that this was the first and only time in British prehistory that the country was united in a common cultural activity.”

The issue is: what was that common cultural activity? Parker Pearson believes Stonehenge was erected as a monument to the ancestors of all Britons. The aim was to unify the different peoples of the British Isles by honouring all their dead. Stones were taken from west and east and erected together to solidify alliances that had been struck up between these different people. “Stone is eternal and was used to represent the dead,” said Parker Pearson. “That is the purpose of Stonehenge.

Darvill does not agree. “I think that very early on Stonehenge was a burial ground but after 2600BC these burials stop. So how can this be a place of the dead?” By contrast, Darvill points to the quarries in the Preseli Hills in Wales, the source of Stonehenge’s bluestones. “These are all associated with sacred springs today,” he said.

“That association is a very ancient one. These stones were brought to Stonehenge because they were thought to have healing properties. That is why all that effort went into its construction. It was a place where people thought their illnesses might be cured and their lives saved.”

AND THE OTHER THEORIES ARE…

According to the 12th-century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth, Stonehenge was built by Merlin to mark the place where knights, slain in the fight against Saxons, were buried.

Other historians have argued that the Romans or Danes built it.

In more recent times, scientists have argued that Stonehenge’s alignment suggests it could have been used to calculate astronomical movements and to predict lunar eclipses. However, the feasibility of performing such measurements in prehistoric times has been questioned.

In 2003, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, University of British Columbia researcher Anthony Perks claimed the great stone circles were erected as a giant fertility symbol, constructed in the shape of the female sexual organ.

In 2008 the Telegraph columnist Oliver Pritchett argued, tongue-in-cheek, that Stonehenge was really built to house Britain’s first public inquiry.

Link soyrce: Robin McKie The Observer,

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonhenge News Blog  





Stonehenge may have been burial site for Stone Age elite, say archaeologists

9 03 2013

Dating cremated bone fragments of men, women and children found at site puts origin of first circle back 500 years to 3,000BC

Centuries before the first massive sarsen stone was hauled into place at Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument may have begun life as a giant burial ground, according to a theory disclosed on Saturday.

Theories of what Stonehenge was include a temple, observatory, calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting, or a centre for healing. Photograph: Eyebyte/Alamy

Theories of what Stonehenge was include a temple, observatory, calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting, or a centre for healing. Photograph: Eyebyte/Alamy

More than 50,000 cremated bone fragments, of 63 individuals buried at Stonehenge, have been excavated and studied for the first time by a team led by archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson, who has been working at the site and on nearby monuments for decades. He now believes the earliest burials long predate the monument in its current form.

The first bluestones, the smaller standing stones, were brought from Wales and placed as grave markers around 3,000BC, and it remained a giant circular graveyard for at least 200 years, with sporadic burials after that, he claims.

It had been thought that almost all the Stonehenge burials, many originally excavated almost a century ago, but discarded as unimportant, were of adult men. However, new techniques have revealed for the first time that they include almost equal numbers of men and women, and children including a newborn baby.

“At the moment the answer is no to extracting DNA, which might tell us more about these individuals and what the relationship was between them – but who knows in the future? Clearly these were special people in some way,” Parker Pearson said.

A mace head, a high-status object comparable to a sceptre, and a little bowl burnt on one side, which he believes may have held incense, suggest the dead could have been religious and political leaders and their immediate families.

The team included scientists from the universities of Southampton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Sheffield, London, York and Durham. Their work is revealed for the first time in a documentary on Channel 4 on Sunday night, Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons.

Archaeologists have argued for centuries about what Stonehenge really meant to the people who gave hundreds of thousands of hours to constructing circles of bluestones shipped from Wales, and sarsens the size of double-decker buses dragged across Salisbury plain. Druids and New Age followers still claim the site as their sacred place. Others have judged it a temple, an observatory, a solar calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting or – one of the most recent theories – a centre for healing, a sort of Stone Age Lourdes.

The latest theory is based on the first analysis of more than 50,000 fragments of cremated human remains from one of the Aubrey holes, a ring of pits from the earliest phase of the monument, which some have believed held wooden posts. Crushed chalk in the bottom of the pit was also revealed, suggesting it once supported the weight of one of the bluestones. Dating the bones has pushed back the date of earliest stone circle at the site from 2500BC to 3000BC.

Parker Pearson believes his earlier excavation at nearby Durrington Walls, which uncovered hut sites, tools, pots and mountains of animal bones – the largest Stone Age site in north-west Europe – is evidence of a seasonal work camp for the Stonehenge builders, who quarried, dragged and shaped more than 2,000 tons of stone to build the monument. Analysis of the animal bones shows some of them travelled huge distances – from as far as Scotland – and were slaughtered at Durrington in mid-summer and mid-winter: “Not so much bring a bottle as bring a cow or a pig,” Parker Pearson said.

Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, blogger and editor of the British Archaeology journal, who has excavated some of the cremated human remains from Stonehenge, says the new theory proves the need for more research and excavation at the site.

“I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge, and that some predate the earliest phase of the monument,” Pitts said. “The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial – but I believe that there are hundreds more burials to be found across the site, which will tell us more of the story.”

Almost all the prehistoric human remains come from the eastern side of the circle, and many had been excavated by earlier archaeologists including William Hawley in the 1920s, who regarding them as unimportant compared with the giant stones, reburied them jumbled together using one of the Aubrey holes as a convenient pit.

“There must be more, in the western quadrant, or buried outside the enclosure ditch. A new excavation could clinch it,” Pitts said.

This autumn visitors to Stonehenge will see more interpretation of its complex history than ever before, when English Heritage finally opens its long-awaited visitor centre – originally planned to usher in the new millennium in 2000.

Link Source:  The Guardian

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Building Stonehenge: A New Timeline Revealed

3 12 2012

Ancient people probably assembled the massive sandstone horseshoe at Stonehenge more than 4,600 years ago, while the smaller bluestones were imported from Wales later, a new study suggests.

ulian Richards in 2008, excavating a previously unsuspected cremation burial close to the edge of Aubrey Hole 7. Carbon dating suggests this burial was almost certainly made before the main ditch circuit was dug

ulian Richards in 2008, excavating a previously unsuspected cremation burial close to the edge of Aubrey Hole 7. Carbon dating suggests this burial was almost certainly made before the main ditch circuit was dug

The conclusion, detailed in the December issue of the journal Antiquity, challenges earlier timelines that proposed the smaller stones were raised first.

“The sequence proposed for the site is really the wrong way around,” said study co-author Timothy Darvill, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England. “The original idea that it starts small and gets bigger is wrong. It starts big and stays big. The new scheme puts the big stones at the center at the site as the first stage.”

The new timeline, which relies on statistical methods to tighten the dates when the stones were put into place, overturns the notion that ancient societies spent hundreds of years building each area of Stonehenge. Instead, a few generations likely built each of the major elements of the site, said Robert Ixer, a researcher who discovered the origin of the bluestones, but who was not involved in the study.
“It’s a very timely paper and a very important paper,” Ixer said. “A lot of us have got to go back and rethink when the stones arrived.”

Mysterious monument

The Wiltshire, England, site of Stonehenge is one of the world’s most enduring mysteries. No one knows why prehistoric people built the enigmatic megaliths, although researchers over the years have argued the site was originally a sun calendar, a symbol of unity, or a burial monument.

Though only some of the stones remain, at the center of the site once sat an oval of bluestones, or igneous rocks (those formed from magma) that turn a bluish hue when wet or freshly cut. Surrounding the bluestones are five giant sandstone megaliths called trilithons, or two vertical standing slabs capped by a horizontal stone, arranged in the shape of a horseshoe.

Around the horseshoe, ancient builders erected a circular ring of bluestones. The sandstone boulders, or sarsens, can weigh up to 40 tons (36,287 kilograms), while the much smaller bluestones weigh a mere 4 tons (3,628 kg).

Past researchers believed the bluestone oval and circle were erected earlier than the massive sandstone horseshoe.

But when Darvill and his colleagues began excavations at the site in 2008, they found the previous chronology didn’t add up. The team estimated the age of new artifacts from the site, such as an antler-bone pick stuck within the stones. Combining the new information with dating from past excavations, the team created a new timeline for Stonehenge’s construction.

Like past researchers, the team believes that ancient people first used the site 5,000 years ago, when they dug a circular ditch and mound, or henge, about 361 feet (110 meters) in diameter.

But the new analysis suggests around 2600 B.C. the Neolithic people built the giant sandstone horseshoe, drawing the stone from nearby quarries. Only then did builders arrange the much smaller bluestones, which were probably imported from Wales. Those bluestones were then rearranged at various positions throughout the site over the next millennium, Darvill said.

“They sort out the local stuff first, and then they bring in the stones from Wales to add to the complexity of the structure,” Darvill told LiveScience.

The new dating allows the archaeologists to tie the structure to specific people who lived in the area at the time, Darvill said. The builders of the larger sandstone structures were pig farmers found only in the British Isles. In contrast, the bluestone builders would’ve been the Beaker people, sheep and cow herders who lived throughout Europe and are known for the distinctive, bell-shape pottery they left behind.

The new timeline “connects everything together, it gives us a good sequence of events outside, and it gives us a set of cultural associations with the different stages of construction,” Darvill said.

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
http://www.livescience.com/25157-stonehenge-megaliths-timeline-enigma.html
Date: 30 November 2012 Time: 01:23 PM ET

“Stonehenge remodelled”
Timothy Darvill, Peter Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson & Geoff Wainwright
ANTIQUITY 86 (2012): 1021–1040

What did Stonehenge look like? How did it begin?

The new Antiquity features an article by Tim Darvill, Pete Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson & Geoff Wainwright called “Stonehenge remodelled”. It’s designed to be the definitive summary of the current rethinking about the monument’s construction history. You can see an abstract here, though you need to subscribe to read the paper. There is a much fuller study published by English Heritage available online

Link: http://mikepitts.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/stonehenge-in-five-easy-stages-or-perhaps-six/

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