WELSH quarries ransacked by ancient Britons while building Stonehenge 5,000 years ago have been identified by archaeologists.
At least two spots in west Wales were mined for enormous stones that still form part of the iconic monument today.
Neolithic humans dragged the monoliths more than 180 miles back to the site’s location in Wiltshire.
Experts think they used a rudimentary pulley system of logs and ropes to transport the stones, which weigh up to 30 tons each.
Archaeologists have long puzzled over Stonehenge’s “Bluestones” – rocks whose chemical makeup reveals they were dug up a long way from the site.
In 2015, boffins discovered that 42 of the Bluestones came from quarries in Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, west Wales.
Stonehenge is about 5,000 years old[/caption]
Forty-two of Stonehenge’s “Bluestones” are known to come from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, west Wales[/caption]
And in a new study, a team of British scientists tracked down the exact quarries used by Stonehenge’s constructors.
Team leader Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of University College London, said: “What’s really exciting about these discoveries is that they take us a step closer to unlocking Stonehenge’s greatest mystery – why its stones came from so far away.”
“Every other Neolithic monument in Europe was built of megaliths brought from no more than 10 miles away.
“We’re now looking to find out just what was so special about the Preseli hills 5,000 years ago, and whether there were any important stone circles here, built before the bluestones were moved to Stonehenge.”
Stonehenge has been used for various religious ceremonies for thousands of years. Pictured is an artist’s impression of a Neolithic ceremony at the site, before its stones were erected[/caption]
The team compared the chemical makeup of Stonehenge’s bluestones with that of rocks found at quarries across the Preseli hills.
The largest quarry was found almost 180 miles away from Stonehenge on the outcrop of Carn Goedog, on the north slope of the Preseli hills.
“At least five of Stonehenge’s bluestones, and probably more, came from Carn Goedog,” said Dr Richard Bevins, an expert at the National Museum of Wales.
Rhyolite – another type of igneous rock – found at Stonehenge came from a spot in the valley below Carn Goedog, researchers found.
What is Stonehenge?
What you need to know about Britain's most mysterious monument
- Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire
- It’s a ring of standing stones that measure around 13 feet high and seven feet wide
- Each stone weighs roughly 25 tons
- Experts say that the monument was constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC
- In 1882, it was legally protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument
- And in 1986, the site and surroundings became a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Stonehenge itself is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage
- But the land around Stonehenge is owned by the National Trust
- Part of what makes Stonehenge so mysterious is that it was produced by a culture with no written records
- Scientists regularly debate over how and why Stonehenge was built, and what it was used for
- One theory suggests Stonehenge was a sacred burial site
- Another proposes that it was used for celestial and astronomical alignments
- And some think it was an ancient place of healing
- It used to be believed that it was created as a Druid temple
- But we now know that Stonehenge predated the Druids by around 2000 years
As part of their study, the team also examined how prehistoric builders may have gathered and transported the bluestones.
The bluestone outcrops are formed of natural, vertical pillars that could have been eased off the rock face using wedges.
Ancient Britons would have inserted the wedges between rock pillars and then lowered them onto platforms at the foot of the outcrop.
Excavations by the the team even uncovered the remains of man-made stone and earth platforms at each location.
“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,” said team member Professor Colin Richards, from the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Finally, the researchers dated pieces of charcoal found at the quarrying sites to around 3,000 BC.
The team now thinks that Stonehenge was initially a circle of rough, unworked bluestone pillars set in pits known as the Aubrey Holes, near Stonehenge.
Sarsens, sandstone blocks quarried near the Wiltshire site, were added some 500 years later.
TOP STORIES IN SCIENCE
The new discoveries also cast doubt on a popular theory that the bluestones were transported by sea to Stonehenge.
“Some people think that the bluestones were taken southwards to Milford Haven and placed on rafts or slung between boats and then paddled up the Bristol Channel and along the Bristol Avon towards Salisbury Plain,” said Professor Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University.
“But these quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills so the megaliths could have simply gone overland all the way to Salisbury Plain.”
The research was published in the journal Antiquity.
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 782 4368 . We pay for videos too. Click here to upload yours.