Findings by researchers from the University of Oxford have shed new light on the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Published in the Scientific Reports journal, the study claims that at least 10 people buried at the Wiltshire site weren’t from the Salisbury Plain region of England.
According to archaeologists, these outsiders most likely helped transport the bluestones used during the early parts of the monument’s construction. Named so because of the bluish hue that forms when they are wet or broken, the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge were sourced from the Preseli Mountains in the western part of Wales.
The latest research – carried out in collaboration with teams from University College London, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris – entailed fresh analysis of human remains recovered from the Stonehenge site, using improved technologies of archaeological investigation.
As per lead author Christophe Snoeck, who conducted the research while pursuing his doctorate in archaeological science at Oxford, the findings offer a “rare insight into the large scale of contacts and exchanges in the Neolithic, as early as 5,000 years ago.”
Stonehenge: A Prehistoric Mystery That Continues To Baffle
Built over an estimated period of 1,500 years, the prehistoric monument consists of a ring of triliths or standing stones, each measuring around 13 feet in height, 7 feet in width and over 25 tons in weight. With all the major construction works taking place from circa 3000 BC to 2000 BC, it is believed that the first bluestones were erected sometime between 2400 BC and 2200 BC.
However, radiocarbon dating of the stones indicates that they might have been at the Wessex site much longer, probably going as far back as circa 3000 BC. Interestingly, the history of Stonehenge can be traced to around 8000 BC. In fact, archaeologists recently discovered several large Mesolithic postholes beneath an old tourist car park that was in use until 2013.
Read More: Massive Yet Mysterious Prehistoric Settlement Discovered Near The Stonehenge
Since its beginnings, the prehistoric monument has been associated with burials and even houses several hundred burial mounds. Between 1919 and 1926, archaeological excavations at the site helped unearth the remains of nearly 58 ancient individuals, “making Stonehenge one of the largest Late Neolithic burial sites known in Britain”, as per the researchers.
A majority of the skeletal remains were found inside the Aubrey Holes, a ring of 56 chalk pits at Stonehenge. Named after 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey, who is credited as being the first person to write about them, these pits were likely created in the early period of Stonehenge’s construction, from late 4000 BC to early 3000 BC. It is believed that the holes were refilled shortly afterward.
Post their discovery in the 1920s, the human remains were shifted to Aubrey Hole 7, which was later uncovered in 2008. As part of the new research, the archaeologists conducted fresh analysis of the bone fragments – of more than 25 people – recovered from Aubrey Hole 7. They first examined the strontium isotopes present in the bones. Isotopes are, essentially, variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number.
In this case, our bones absorb strontium from whatever food we consume. Keeping that in mind, the researchers compared the specific strontium isotopes found in the ancient skeletons to those present in plants, water and dentine (teeth) from different regions across the United Kingdom. The findings revealed that among the buried, only 60% spent their final years near Stonehenge, more specifically within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the prehistoric monument.
Of the remaining 40%, some had isotopes in similar concentrations as those found in Wales. These individuals might have been tasked with bringing the bluestones from western Wales to Salisbury Plain, stated Snoek. Radiocarbon dating, as part of the project, also revealed that these ancient people likely lived between 3180 BC and 2380 BC. Speaking about the findings, the study’s co-author Mike Parker Pearson, who is also an archaeologist at University College London, said –
What’s really fascinating is that this date of around 3000 BC coincides with our radiocarbon dates for quarrying at the bluestone outcrops in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire [in western Wales]. Some of the people buried at Stonehenge might have even been involved in moving the stones — a journey of more than 180 miles [290 km].
New Findings About The Cremation
Another interesting discovery made by the archaeologists pertains to the wood used in the cremation. According to them, the ancient people were cremated using wood from different types of trees. Analysis of the remains of trees found at the site revealed that a few of the deceased might have been cremated at a funeral pyre made from local wood.
Others, as per the researchers, were cremated using wood from trees that usually grow in dense woodlands, like the ones found in the western part of Wales. It could also be possible that some of these people were cremated elsewhere and only brought to Salisbury Plain to be buried at Stonehenge. Snoeck added –
The results emphasize the importance of inter-regional connections involving the movement of both materials and people in the construction and use of Stonehenge.
Shedding light on the importance of the research, Dr. Rick Schulting of Oxford University averred –
Our results highlight the importance of revisiting old collections. The cremated remains from Stonehenge were first excavated by Colonel William Hawley in the 1920s, and while they were not put into a museum, Col Hawley did have the foresight to rebury them in a known location on the site, so that it was possible for Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology) and his team to re-excavate them, allowing various analytical methods to be applied.
Image Credits: Archaeology News Network