For centuries, the source of Stonehenge’s massive sarsen stones have been an open mystery.
Archaeologists and historians have long debated where the giant sarsen stones, used to create the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, could have come from.
The stone circle monument, built by Neolithic people, is largely made from two types of stone. There are the smaller slabs known as bluestones, which are known to have come from the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales.
“When Robert (the employee) decided to return the core last year, experts started piecing together a puzzle,” tweeted English Heritage.
A missing piece of Stonehenge returned after 60 years helped unlock secrets of the stones. Credit: English Heritage
The results finally found the best match in one location — West Woods, about a 40-minutes’ drive away.
West Woods is a picturesque forested area spanning nearly 390 hectares (960 acres). It’s popular for its cycling and walking trails, and for springtime flower blooms.
Bluebells blooming in West Woods, England, in April 2011. Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
There are still questions unanswered. For example, there are two stones that appear to have come from different source areas from the other Stonehenge sarsens.
“While this could be coincidental, one possibility is that their presence marks out the work of different builder communities who chose to source their materials from a different part of the landscape,” said the study.
It’s also unclear why the original Stonehenge builders chose to source their sarsen from West Woods, when there were so many other areas nearby dense with sarsen stones — but the study’s team theorized it could be because of the sheer size of the West Wood stones.
“We can now say, when sourcing the sarsens, the over-riding objective was size — they wanted the biggest, most substantial stones they could find and it made sense to get them from as nearby as possible,” said historian Susan Greaney, one of the study’s co-authors, in the English Heritage statement. “This is in stark contrast to the source of the bluestones, where something quite different — a sacred connection to these mountains perhaps — was at play.”
“Yet again this evidence highlights just how carefully considered and deliberate the building of this phase of Stonehenge was,” she added.
The discovery sheds light on where these Neolithic populations were based, and where they gathered their materials — but also helps narrow down the path to Stonehenge. Another long-standing mystery isn’t just where the stones came from, but how they were transported such far distances to the monument’s site.
“Our results further help to constrain the most likely route along which the sarsens were transported to Stonehenge,” said the study. For instance, researchers can now rule out previous theories that the stones traveled from the village Avebury south or southwest to Stonehenge.
The study added that further investigations are needed to narrow down the stones’ exact source location within West Woods, and to identify “prehistoric sarsen extraction pits.”
“To be able to pinpoint the area that Stonehenge’s builders used to source their materials around 2500 BC is a real thrill,” said Greaney in the statement. “Now we can start to understand the route they might have traveled and add another piece to the puzzle.”