Institute of Archaeology


Enigma of the Stonehenge Altar Stone

23 October 2023

Collaborative research involving Rob Ixer (Honorary Senior Research Fellow, UCL Institute of Archaeology) continues to investigate the source of the Stonehenge Altar Stone.

Stonehenge (Image copyright and courtesy of Aerial-Cam Ltd.)

The Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, approximately 180 miles west of the world heritage site in Wiltshire, is where we now know the majority of the bluestones have been sourced. However while historically, the Stonehenge Altar Stone has also been thought to come from Wales, along with the other bluestones, the exact location for this stone is not yet confirmed.

In a paper, published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the study – led by researchers at the Aberystwyth University, and involving expertise from Rob Ixer of the UCL Institute of Archaeology - indicates that more detailed analysis (petrographic examinations, portable XRF analyses, automated SEM-EDS investigations and preliminary Raman Spectroscopy) has failed to find a source for the altar stone in Wales or adjacent areas.

The authors feel that this stone should no longer be classed alongside the Welsh bluestones and will broaden their search for the Altar Stone source into northern Britain - both geographically and stratigraphically and also to consider continental sandstones of a younger age. Research continues.....

This study was an interdisciplinary collaboration between Aberystwyth University, University College London, University of South Wales, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Vicence Inc., Canada, and was funded by the Leverhulme Trust through award of an Emeritus Fellowship to lead author, Richard Bevins.

Paper citation: Richard E. Bevins, Nick J.G. Pearce, Rob A. Ixer, Duncan Pirrie, Sergio Andò, Stephen Hillier, Peter Turner, Matthew Power, The Stonehenge Altar Stone was probably not sourced from the Old Red Sandstone of the Anglo-Welsh Basin: Time to broaden our geographic and stratigraphic horizons?, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 51, 2023, 104215, ISSN 2352-409X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.104215.

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