Corner stones of history a `myth'
Wednesday 24 March 1999
For more than 70 years, the popular theory surrounding the building of Stonehenge has been that the key bluestones were transported by land and sea on a journey from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales to Wiltshire.
Geologists and archaeologists have long supported the 216-mile epic-trek theory, despite the Herculean effort that would have been involved in moving 80 stones, each weighing around four tons, with little more than muscle-power.
But according to a book being published next week by one of the foremost authorities on stone circles, the epic trek almost certainly never happened.
The stones may well have been taken from Wales to Wiltshire, but it was ice-age glaciers that carried the rock, rather than prehistoric man. The builders of Stonehenge, about 4,600 years ago, simply used what had become local stone.
Aubrey Burl, an archaeologist who has studied stone circles for more than 30 years, rejects the idea that the Welsh stones were chosen because of their magical powers, and says there is irrefutable evidence that the same kind of Welsh stone was on Salisbury Plain before Stonehenge was built. He also lists evidence in the Yale University Press book, Great Stone Circles, of glacial deposits - known as erratics - of the Welsh stone along a line between Presili and Wiltshire.
Stonehenge is made up of two types of stone, sarsens from the Avebury area 18 miles north of Stonehenge, and a mix of dolerites (bluestones) from the Preseli mountains. It was the geologist Herbert Thomas who in 1923 linked the bluestones with the Carn Meini ridge of the Preseli mountains. "Since that time it has been popularly accepted that the stones could only have reached Salisbury Plain by human effort,'' Mr Burl said.
But he added that research showed that prehistoric societies did not move massive blocks from any great distance. "When there was convenient stone they used stone. When there was not they used timber or earth,'' he said.
At Stonehenge, "the discoverers [of the stones] may have ambitiously planned a concentric circle for the 83 holes, but when the last bluestone was unearthed and the countryside scoured no more were found ... [and] the scheme was modified into a less impressive single circle of about 57 stones. Even in the golden age of prehistory there could be blunders, and Stonehenge was no exception.''
5 Great Stone Circles, published next week by Yale University Press, pounds 19.95.
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