Stonehenge may include recycled stones from another ancient circle
Archeologists from University College London (UCL) have found the remains of a stone circle in west Wales, which indicate that part of Stonehenge was made from recycled stones. Excavations at Waun Mawn suggest that bluestones from the Welsh circle were moved 140 miles (225 km) away, about 5,000 years ago.
The popular image of Stonehenge revolves around the great rings of megaliths, but there's much more to the ancient monument than that. Stonehenge is actually the centerpiece of a vast ritual complex that spreads out for miles across Salisbury Plain – it dates back thousands of years, with the earliest parts dating to perhaps 10,000 years ago.
The complex includes barrows, avenues, cursus monuments, and even a long-rotted-away henge made out of wood. Stonehenge itself dates back to about 5,100 years ago, when the ditch that encircles the area where the giant megaliths would be erected was first dug. Construction continued for about 3,500 years as stones were added, removed, replaced, rearranged, and laid out in what we now know to be an immense astronomical computer that is aligned with the heavens – and capable of predicting eclipses.
Around 2,600 BCE, the earlier wooden structures were replaced by stone. Along with the megaliths were 80 bluestones. The megaliths were sourced locally from a quarry about 15 miles (24 km) away, but the bluestones came from the Preseli Hills of Wales, 140 miles (225 km) away. The question is, why did ancient people – who hadn't even come up with the wheel yet – go through all the trouble of moving stones weighing up to 5 tonnes (5.5 US tons) across such a distance?
UCL's Stones of Stonehenge team, led by Mike Parker Pearson, has found evidence to suggest that the answer lies in the bluestone circle at Waun Mawn in the Preseli Hills. Today, there are only four bluestones left at that location. However, the stone holes that have been excavated show that in its day, the circle was as wide as Stonehenge – it also has the same alignment to the Summer Solstice sunrise.
Additionally, radiocarbon dating and stone hole stratigraphy show that the Welsh circle predates the bluestone circles at Stonehenge, having been built in about 3,400 BCE. Analysis of the bluestones from both sites show that one Stonehenge stone has the same cross section as one of the holes at Waun Mawn, and stone chips found at the Welsh site are of the same rock type as Stonehenge.
As to why the stones were moved, it appears to be part of a mass migration in which the population moved from Preseli to Gloucestershire after 3,000 BCE, when all activity ceased at the former. When they did so, they brought their sacred stones with them. This is bolstered by isotopic analysis of the first buried human remains at Stonehenge, which show that they came from western Britain.
It is also possible that the merging of Waun Mawn and Stonehenge may not be unique.
"With an estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge, my guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge," says Pearson. "Maybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone might be lucky enough to find them."
A paper on the research has been published in the journal Antiquity.