Stonehenge – Source of Rock Uncovered

Finally, a major piece of the mystery of Stonehenge, British’s greatest national icon, has been solved: the place of origin for some of its most famous rock formations. According to researchers from the United Kingdom, the source is Craig Rhos-y-Felin in north Pembrokeshire, which is located more than 100 miles from the Stonehenge site. But such a discovery leads to the question of how and why this ancient culture carved and transported the stones over such a long distance. The debate is whether the smaller standing stones of Stonehenge were brought all the way there from Pembrokeshire by prehistoric humans or whether they had already been plucked out of ancient rock outcrops and carried all or part of the way to Wiltshire by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years earlier.

Stonehenge, Britain

Stonehenge, Britain [Photo courtesy of Jen Hunter]

The discovery by scientists from the Leicester University and National Museum of Wales did not help to solve the mystery of how Stonehenge’s Welsh-originating stones ended up in England, but it does potentially open up the possibility of finding archaeological evidence of quarrying activity that could indicate a human rather than a glacial explanation. Any lack of evidence would result in these scholars arguing otherwise. However, it is possible that numerous other rock outcrops in various parts of Pembrokeshire will be positively identified as sources of other stones used to build early versions of Stonehenge. Over past decades, the approximate area they came from has been identified – and the ongoing research will almost certainly succeed in pinpointing additional exact sources.

But although the stone fragments from Stonehenge will allow the scientists to track down where the material originally came from, those same fragments represent an altogether different mystery.  Thousands of fragments of rock have been found in or near Stonehenge over the years, and they appear to have been deliberately chipped off ancient monoliths at some stage in antiquity, most of them probably in the Neolithic.

However, most of them examined thus far are from rocks which were used for less than 10 percent of the early Stonehenge monoliths. They tend to be of a different geological nature to the majority of early Stonehenge standing stones. The rock type from Craig Rhos-y-Felin was probably used for just one of the Stonehenge monoliths. This means that there may have been other stone circles or other ‘standing stone’ monuments in the landscape which have now disappeared, but could in the future be found by other scientists.

The two scientists who discovered the Craig Rhos-y-Felin source looked at about 700 rocks, known as ‘foliated rhyolite’, and finally succeeded in tentatively locating the approximate area of north Pemborkeshire which they originated. “Many have asked the question over the years, how the stones got from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge,” said Dr. Richard Bevins, National Museum Wales. “Thanks to geological research, we now have a specific source for the rhyolite stones from which to work and an opportunity for archaeologists to answer the question that has been widely debated.”

If humans were responsible for this, then Stonehenge’s Neolithic designers were indeed very specific as to where they got their stones from. Other research had also shown that the stones may have had a particular ideological or magical significance. The builders may have regarded the rocks as extremely important and even possessing supernatural powers.

Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University told the BBC that being able to provenance any archaeologically significant rock so precisely is remarkable, and they are determined that they should uncover the origins of most of the Stonehenge bluestones.

The past two years had offered new research and discoveries at the Stonehenge site, including the recent announcement that the worshippers at the ancient monument had erected “sun worship” sites there.

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