Geoffrey of Monmouth laid out a theory about the origin of Stonehenge way back in 1136 in his account, titled “The History of the Kings of Britain.”
Geoffrey said that Merlin, the wizard of the legend of King Arthur, used magic to move a ring of giant stones from Mount Killaraus in Ireland to a plateau in southern England, where Stonehenge is located.
But it turns out that the story is much more ordinary — the stones came from about 15 miles away, according to new research.
“Most of the hulking sandstone boulders — called sarsens — that make up the United Kingdom’s famous Stonehenge monument appear to share a common origin 25 kilometers away in West Woods, Wiltshire, according to an analysis of the stones’ chemical composition,” researchers say.
“Until recently we did not know it was possible to provenance a stone like sarsen,” David Nash, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “It has been really exciting to use 21st century science to understand the Neolithic past and answer a question that archaeologists have been debating for centuries.”
Radiocarbon dating of the site has indicated that the building of the monument began around the year 3100 BC and ended by 1600 BC. But no one has ever been exactly sure where the massive stones came from.
“Since technology for determining the origins of the enormous sarsens, which tower at up to 30 feet tall, weigh as much as 25 tons, and make up most of Stonehenge, did not exist until recently, most research has revolved around the monument’s smaller ‘bluestones’ — various types of rock that clearly were not gathered locally,” the statement said.
To learn where the behemoth boulders came from, Nash and colleagues used portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF) to initially characterize their chemical composition, then analyzed the data statistically to determine their degree of chemical variability. Next, the researchers performed inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and ICP-atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES) of samples from a core previously drilled through one sarsen stone and a range of sarsen boulders from across southern Britain. After comparing these signatures, Nash et al. were able to point to West Woods as the sarsens’ earliest home.
But mysteries remain. “The reason the monument’s builders selected this site remains a mystery, although the researchers suggest the size and quality of West Woods’ stones, and the ease with which the builders could access them, may have factored into the decision.”
In April, English Heritage Stonehenge, which oversees the famous site in southern England, said parts of the monument bear a resemblance to ancient “Lego.”
The group posted a photo on Twitter showing the top of one of the massive stones. “This is a rarely seen view of the top of one of the giant sarsen stones,” it said. “The protruding tenons are clearing visible and the corresponding horizontal lintel stone would have had mortise holes for them to slot into. A bit like early Lego!”
This is a rarely seen view of the top of one of the giant sarsen stones. The protruding tenons are clearing visible and the corresponding horizontal lintel stone would have had mortise holes for them to slot into. A bit like early Lego! pic.twitter.com/kPpRjIWJCp
— Stonehenge (@EH_Stonehenge) April 10, 2020
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