Stonehenge mystery could rest on ball bearings

Neolithic engineers may have used ball bearings in the construction of Stonehenge, it was claimed today.









The same technique that allows vehicles and machinery to run smoothly today could have been used to transport the monument's massive standing stones more than 4,000 years ago, according to a new theory.



Scientists showed how balls placed in grooved wooden tracks would have allowed the easy movement of stones weighing many tons.



No-one has yet successfully explained how the heavy slabs used to build Stonehenge were shifted from their quarries to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.



Some, the "bluestones", weighed four tons each and were brought a distance of 150 miles from Pembrokeshire, Wales.



Attempts to re-enact transporting the blocks on wooden rollers or floating them on the sea have not proved convincing.



The hard surfaces and trenches needed when using rollers would also have left their mark on the landscape, but are missing.



Experts hit on the new idea after examining mysterious stone balls found near Stonehenge-like monuments in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.



About the size of a cricket ball, they are precisely fashioned to be within a millimetre of the same size.



This suggests they were meant to be used together in some way rather than individually.



The Scottish stone circles are similar in form to Stonehenge, but contain some much larger stones.



To test the theory, researchers from the University of Exeter constructed a model in which wooden balls were inserted into grooves dug out of timber planks.



When heavy concrete slabs were placed on a platform above the balls, held in position by more grooved tracks, they could be moved with ease.



Archaeologist Andrew Young described the experiment in which he sat on top of the slabs to provide extra weight.



He said: "The true test was when a colleague used his index finger to move me forward - a mere push and the slabs and I shot forward.



"This proved the balls could move large heavy objects and could be a viable explanation of how giant stones were moved."



The team went on to carry out a life-size test funded by an American TV documentary maker.



To reduce costs, the scientists used relatively soft green wood rather than the hard oak that would have been plentiful in Neolithic times, when Britain was covered in forest.



This time, the researchers used hand-shaped granite spheres as well as wooden balls.



The results proved the technique would have made it possible to move very heavy weights long distances.



Professor Bruce Bradley, director of experimental archaeology at the University of Exeter, said: "The demonstration indicated that big stones could have been moved using this ball bearing system with roughly 10 oxen and may have been able to transport stones up to 10 miles per day.



"This method also has no lasting impact on the landscape, as the tracks with the ball bearings are moved along leap-frogging each other as the tracks get moved up the line."



Neolithic people were known to cut long timber planks, which they used as walkways across bogs, Prof Bradley pointed out.



Although the tests do not prove for certain that the ball bearing method was used, they show "the concept works", he said.



He added: "This is a radical new departure, because previous ideas were not particularly effective in transporting large stones and left unanswered questions about the archaeological record they would have left behind."



The next stage in the project is to provide mathematical evidence of how much force would be needed to keep a stone moving.



Ultimately, the scientists hope to conduct a full-scale experiment in Aberdeenshire using more authentic materials, stone balls and a team of oxen.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss