The place of origin of many of the megaliths that make up the Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, England, has been determined, thanks to a core sample that had been kept in the US for decades, scientists said on Wednesday.
Geochemical testing indicates that 50 of Stonehenge’s 52 pale-gray sandstone megaliths, known as sarsens, share a common origin about 25km away at a site called West Woods on the edge of Wiltshire’s Marlborough Downs, researchers said.
“The sarsen stones make up the iconic outer circle and central trilithon [two vertical stones supporting a horizontal stone] horseshoe at Stonehenge. They are enormous,” said University of Brighton geomorphologist David Nash, who led the study published in the journal Science Advances.
“Given the size of the stones, they must have either been dragged or moved on rollers to Stonehenge. We don’t know the exact route, but at least we now have a starting point and an end point,” Nash said.
Stonehenge’s smaller bluestones previously were traced to Pembrokeshire in Wales, 250km away, but the origin of the sarsens had defied identification.
A sarsen core sample, extracted during conservation work in the late 1950s when metal rods were inserted to stabilize a cracked megalith, provided crucial information. It was given as a souvenir to Robert Phillips who worked for the company involved in the conservation work.
Phillips took it with him with permission when he emigrated to the US in 1977, Nash said.
Phillips decided to return it to Britain for research in 2018. He died this year.
The researchers analyzed fragments of the sample — destructive testing being off limits for megaliths at the site — to establish the geochemical fingerprint of the sarsen from which it was taken. That fingerprint matched sandstone still at West Woods and all but two of the Stonehenge sarsens.
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