History News: Stonehenge Quarries

 

Reproduced from Posting 2/21/2019 by Atlas Obscura

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One of the Welsh quarries, Carn Goedog. Credit: University College, London

IN 1923, BRITISH GEOLOGIST HERBERT Henry Thomas published a now-infamous study on Stonehenge, in which he claimed to know the precise location where the prehistoric architects had quarried the stones used in the massive monument. Turns out he was way off.

In a recently released study published in Antiquity, a team of archaeologists and geologists have reported the exact location of two of these quarries in western Wales. Stonehenge is made up of several different types of rocks collectively called “bluestones,” which have long been known to have come from somewhere in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. However, the researchers (who have been excavating the area for eight years) now believe they know more precisely where this megalith quarrying took place 5,000 years ago, and how it was done.

 

The radiocarbon dates from charcoal from both quarries show that the stones were extracted around 3000 B.C., which lines up with the first stage of Stonehenge’s construction (when bluestones were erected in the Aubrey Holes) and with previously found dates for when people were buried near the Neolithic monument. Additionally, researchers found tools such as sharp hammer stones and stone wedges that appear to illustrate how the quarrying was performed. In a stroke of early engineering genius, the stone wedges were likely used to maneuver naturally occuring vertical pillars off of the parent rock by creating space between “joints.”

These quarries sit about 180 miles away from Stonehenge, which is much farther than initially reported by Thomas in 1923. Mike Parker Pearson, who studies British prehistory at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, and led the project, says that this “shows an unusual degree of connectivity and unity between different tribal groups in the west and east of southern Britain, uniting to build Stonehenge despite their geographical distance apart.” Previously, scientists flirted with the idea that the early builders may have transported the bluestones south to Milford Haven and then brought them to Stonehenge’s location by water. But now, since both quarries are located on the hills’ north side, Pearson and his team think that people probably carried them east over land instead. “It is making us think that this was part of a coordinated and unified operation that extended across southern Britain and that Stonehenge’s purpose was to unify the two cultures (east and west) of Neolithic Britain,” he says.

Richard Bevins of the National Museum of Wales is one of the two geologists involved in the study, and his work contributed greatly to pinning down the exact quarry locations. Based on his findings, he says, it’s likely that the “bluestones were first erected to form a henge by a Neolithic population in Pembrokeshire, and then as that population migrated to Salisbury Plain they literally took their henge with them.”

Romantic Suspense: The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

The Shadowy Horses

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tired of her job at the British Museum, archaeologist Verity Grey accepts a post in a small fishing village in Scotland. Peter Quinnell, legendary for his unusual theories, is searching for the campsite of a Roman legion that vanished without a trace around 117 AD. His evidence? The young grandson of his caretaker, known to have “second site”, routinely sees the ghost of a Roman sentinel parading about the grounds at night. Verity is charmed by Quinnell, and in spite of grave reservations, commits to helping him on the dig. Soon she begins having some eerie experiences of her own. During the course of the summer, Verity comes to know the big, handsome Scotsman David Fortune. As the dig progresses, she begins to fear that some malevolent, supernatural force may be preventing the dig from succeeding in its goals.

The best feature in this book is its atmospheric setting, which author Kearsley brings to life with evocative descriptions. The plot itself is simple, with a predictible ending. With respect to romance and suspense, both are present but minimal, and characters tend toward types (eccentric archaeologist, philandering smuggler, salt of the earth Scotsman).
Readers who enjoy the books of Mary Stewart or Nora Roberts are likely to enjoy this one. Those in search of something pithier must look elsewhere.

View all my reviews

Archaeology News Update: Stonehenge, Woodhenge, ….Seahenge?

From BBC News

A timber circle dating back 4,000 years which was found in the sea off the Norfolk coast is to return to the county in a permanent display.

Seahenge, with 55 oak posts and a central upturned stump dating from the Bronze Age, was found emerging from a beach at Holme-next-the-Sea in 1998. Timbers were studied at the Bronze Age Centre, Peterborough, then preserved at the Mary Rose Trust, Portsmouth. Next month Seahenge will go on display at the Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn.

After Seahenge was excavated, 3D laser scanning revealed the earliest metal tool marks on wood ever discovered in Britain

9/20/12 Update from Lynn Museum, which now houses and preserves Seahenge.