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Stonehenge ‘bluestone’ quarries confirmed in Wales

7 December 2015

Stonehenge (Courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)

Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a team of archaeologists and geologists, led by Mike Parker Pearson, has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’.

New research by the collaborative project team, published today in Antiquity, presents detailed evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, helping to answer long-standing questions about why, when and how Stonehenge was built.

The team of scientists includes researchers from UCL, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

According to Mike:

  • This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together. The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge’s stones were extracted.”
Excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin (Courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came as well as shedding light on how they were quarried and transported.

Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the ‘rhyolite’ bluestones. The research published today details excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin specifically.

Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops. Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.

The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Mike  and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2900 BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2500 BC.

As Mike indicates:

  • Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far.”

This research has been funded by National Geographic, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Archaeological Institute, the National Museum of Wales and the Cambrian Archaeological Association, with support from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Further excavations are planned for 2016.


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