Monday, February 15, 2021

The Origins of Stonehenge

It has long been believed that the smaller bluestones of Stonehenge were originally quarried in the Preseli Hills of west Wales. This means that the stones had to have been transported over 200km to the site of Stonehenge. Now new analysis of neolithic human bones found at Stonehenge has provided supporting evidence that over 5,000 years ago people transported stones weighting up to 5 tonnes over 200km from west Wales to the site of Stonehenge.

In the 1920's excavations at Stonehenge unearthed the created remains of a large number of neolithic people. These remains were reburied in 'Aubrey Hole 7'. The remains in Aubrey Hole 7 were excavated again in 2008. Analysis of these remains has identified bone fragments from at least 28 different individuals. By analyzing the strontium found in human bones it is possible to discover where they lived. The strontium isotope composition of bones is related to the composition of the food you eat. The strontium isotope composition of the food you eat is determined by the composition of the soil and the underlying geology. 

The British Geological Survey has mapped the strontium isotope domains of the whole of the United Kingdom. This means that they have a distribution map of the different isotope compositions that can be found across  Britain.You can therefore use this map to discover where an individual grew-up (where their bones were formed) based on the strontium composition of their bones.

You can explore for yourself the geological origins of the neolithic bones found at Stonehenge using the BGS's Biosphere Isotope Remains interactive map. If you enter the strontium isotope composition of an individual's bones into the map you can view a distribution map showing you where the underlying geology in Britain has the same composition - showing you the possible areas where the individual lived.

In the map at the top of this post you can see the results returned from mapping the isotope remains of sample 288 from the remains found in Aubrey Hole 7 (enter the number 0.7109 into the 'Strontium' query on the BGS map). The results show that the strontium isotope composition of sample 288 is very similar to the area of west Wales where the Preseli Hills are located. This individual (sample 288) may not have been involved in the actual transportation of the bluestones from west Wales to Stonehenge but the results of the strontium isotope composition analysis does suggest that in the neolithic era there was migration from Wales to the Stonehenge area and established contacts between Wessex (Stonehenge) and west Wales. 

The strontium isotope composition of sample 288 (0.17109) was taken from the paper by Snoeck, C., Pouncett, J., Claeys, P. et al. Strontium isotope analysis on cremated human remains from Stonehenge support links with west Wales. If you are interested in learning more about the origins of Stonehenge's bluestones then you might also enjoy the recent BBC documentary Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed (possibly UK only).

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