Stonehenge bluestone mystery revealed

28 November 2013

Carn Goedog, major source of Stonhenge bluestones

The exact origin of the Stonehenge bluestones appears to have been revealed according to newly-published research by Rob Ixer (Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Institute) and colleagues.

Two recent papers by Drs Rob Ixer (UCL Institute of Archaeology), Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru, National Museum Wales) and Prof Nick Pearce (University of Aberystwyth) continue their investigations into the geographical provenance for the bluestones of Stonehenge and the meaning, if any, of the debris/debitage that is found throughout the Stonehenge Landscape. 

The article entitled 'Carn Goedog is the likely major source of Stonehenge doleritic bluestones: evidence based on compatible element geochemistry and Principal Component Analysis' which has recently been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests that although there are at least two geographical sources in the Preseli Hills and perhaps more, Carn Goedog is the source of the numerically largest group of dolerite orthostats. Carn Menyn, for a long time the favourite site for the spotted dolerite bluestone quarry, was found not to be a match for any of the Stonehenge bluestones.

According to Dr Rob Ixer:

  • This initial step in the quest to determine the origins of the doleritic bluestone shows that the commonly held beliefs about their source(s) are incorrect and suggests that new, dedicated collecting of the Preseli Hills outcrops especially on their northern slopes together with a reanalysis of the Stonehenge orthostats could well ‘solve’ the mystery of who/what moved the stones and from where”.
A slice through spotted dolerite showing the characteristic white alteration spots

The second paper entitled 'Chips off the old block: the Stonehenge debitage dilemma' published in Archaeology in Wales, discusses the relative position of the standing stones and their debris within Stonehenge and its immediate environs. It is the first paper to discuss in any detail the loose lithic bluestone material and to try to relate the distribution of this abundant material to the standing/lying and buried orthostats. 

Debris from the Altar Stone and orthostats Stonehenge 48 and 38 (all above ground) have been recognised and found to be numerically very rare but widely distributed throughout the Stonehenge Landscape and not just close to their parent stone. However as most of the occurrences are in late and disturbed archaeological contexts it is not possible to say when they were separated, but they are very rare in prehistoric contexts. 

As Rob indicates:

  • The scattered debris/debitage within the Stonehenge Landscape has everything to tell us about the history of the stones once they reached Stonehenge. Careful plotting their distribution in time and space begins to narrate this story.” 
Debitage from orthostat SH48 found close to the Greater Stonehenge Cursus


  • Bevins, RE, Ixer, RA and NJG Pearce. 2013. Carn Goedog is the likely major source of Stonehenge doleritic bluestones: evidence based on compatible element geochemistry and Principal Component Analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science [available online 19 November 2013]
  • Ixer, RA and Bevins, RE. 2013. Chips off the old block: the Stonehenge debitage dilemma. Archaeology in Wales 52 11-22.

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