Since the 1920s it has been acknowledged that the bluestones of Stonehenge originated in the Preseli Mountains of Pembrokeshire but from exactly where, and how they got to Stonehenge, has remained a mystery.
Now, however, geologists have identified two quarries; Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-Felin as the source of the prehistoric monument which is located in Wiltshire, England.
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.
New research by the team, published 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.
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.
“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”
Previous theories of how the that bluestones were taken from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge have suggested they travelled southwards from the mountains to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts. However, now the actual quarries have been discovered it seems more likely that they were taken either by sea from St Davids Head or overland along the route of the present A40.
Professor Parker Pearson thinks the overland route is the most likely. “Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 – they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”
The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Parker Pearson 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.
“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”, said Professor Parker Pearson. Further excavations are planned for 2016.
Pembrokeshire is itself home to many megalithic standing stones or cromlechs; amongst which are the giant Pentre Ifan and The Hanging Stone at Sardis near Milford Haven.
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