SEAHA Centre for Doctoral Training


Stonehenge: using geochemical data to identify the origin of the sarsens


The sources of the stone used to construct Stonehenge around 2500 BCE have been debated for over four centuries. The smaller “bluestones” of the inner horseshoes of the monument have been traced to Wales, but the origins of the sarsen (silcrete) megaliths that form the primary architecture of Stonehenge have remained unknown until now.

In a recent British Academy – Leverhulme Trust- funded project, we used geochemical data to show that 50 of the 52 sarsens at the monument share a consistent chemistry and, by inference, originated from a common geological source area.

An in depth analysis of one of these 50 stones (Stone 58) yielded a wealth of archaeological data now held by the Archaeology Data Service. Using equivalent geochemical data collected from sarsen outcrops from across southern Britain, we were able to identify West Woods, Wiltshire (25 km North of Stonehenge) as the most probable geological source area for the majority of sarsens at the monument.

Two other sarsen stones at Stonehenge (stones 26 and 160) record a chemistry distinct from Stone 58 (and hence, the majority of the Stonehenge sarsens), indicating they are sourced from distinct outcrops that are currently unconstrained.

This work brings tangible benefits for heritage science and poses searching questions for heritage management.

Biography: Jake Ciborowski PhD 

Jake CiborowskiDr Jake Ciborowski is a Principal Lecturer in Geology at the University of Brighton. Jake’s research spans the fields of petrology, ore geology and archaeology where he uses geochemical techniques to understand the different processes of rock formation.

Jake has published widely on Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and continues to develop our understanding of how mantle processes operate to generate such important geological phenomena, how they relate to global tectonic processes, and the ways that they affect the biosphere.

Currently, Jake is adapting his study of petrology to understand the provenance of lithic archaeological artefacts. In a recent British Academy – Leverhulme Trust funded project, Jake and co-workers were able to determine exactly from where the large sarsen stones of Stonehenge were originally quarried. This work continues to pose questions related to Neolithic human development and ongoing heritage preservation.

Prior to working at the University of Brighton, Jake was a Lecturer in Geology at National University of Ireland, Galway, a Teaching Fellow at Cardiff University, and a professional geoscientist with a number of mining and exploration companies based in both Canada and the UK. Jake has a PhD in Geology from Cardiff University and an MSci degree in Geology from Imperial College London.