How Was Stonehenge Built? New Clues About Ancient Stones Unearthed in 5,000-Year-Old Mystery

Stonehenge Mystery
Researchers inspect dolerite pillars at Carn Goedog in the Preseli Hills, Wales. Adam Stanford/Antiquity

Scientists have shed new light on the mysterious origins of Great Britain's Stonehenge.

A team of researchers believe they have discovered how some of the ancient megaliths that make up the monument made their way from Wales to southwest England. The team found new evidence of 5,000-year-old quarrying at two sites in the Preseli Hills in West Wales, an area academics have linked to the monument's 42 "bluestones" for many years. They reported their results Tuesday in the journal Antiquity.

Researchers excavated two quarries at the Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin outcrops—sites geologists had matched with bluestones. Analyzing and dating charcoal from the sites in the lab, the team was able to build a picture of the ancient quarrying that yielded the stones now standing 180 miles away.

Pillars of rock rise naturally from these jagged outcrops, likely giving Neolithic quarriers a serious advantage. The ancient workers could have eased the large stones from their homes with the use of stone wedges that helped loosen them from their rocky neighbors.

Ancient mudstone wedges—likely used to prevent damage to the megaliths—and stone hammers have been found at the site. Quarry workers probably also used perishable items like ropes, wooden levers and mallets to extract and move the rocks.

After they loosened the rocks, these ancient workers would have lowered them to a platform area at the bottom of each outcrop. Researchers found evidence of platforms built of earth and stone, the end of each giving way to a 3-foot drop.

"Bluestone pillars could be eased down onto this platform, which acted as a loading bay for lowering them onto wooden sledges before dragging them away," researcher Colin Richards from the University of the Highlands and Islands said in a statement.

The fact that the stones came from more than one quarry in the Preseli Hills, University College London archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson told Newsweek, could indicate they were first used in one or more stone circles near the quarries before being moved all the way to their current home, Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

If true, Parker Pearson added, this supports the concept of Stonehenge as a "monument of unification." Ancient people may have transported existing monuments from "a major ceremonial center" in Wales before using them to create the first Stonehenge at an already significant Salisbury Plain ceremonial center, he explained.

Parker Pearson and others argue that Stonehenge—which also features large blocks of sandstone, earthworks and numerous burials—is part of a much larger ritual area. The monument itself evolved into the shape visible today over hundreds of years, as ancient people added new rocks and rearranged the site.

Previous research suggests that the monument is one-half of a larger complex that also features a village with timber circles, Parker Pearson told Newsweek. The village is seen as a place of the living, while Stonehenge is a place of the dead.

Whatever its origins, the stone circle continues to fascinate. Every year, modern pagans, druids and revelers visit the site to celebrate the summer and winter solstices. Even President Barack Obama took a trip to the mysterious monument after attending a NATO summit in 2014.