Scientists solve mystery of the origin of Stonehenge’s megaliths
UNTV News • July 30, 2020 • 65
With the help of a core sample that had been kept in the United States, scientists have solved an enduring mystery about Stonehenge, determining the place of origin of many of the megaliths that make up the famed monument in Wiltshire, England.
Geochemical testing indicates that 50 of Stonehenge’s 52 pale-gray sandstone megaliths, known as sarsens, share a common origin about 15 miles (25 km) away at a site called West Woods on the edge of Wiltshire’s Marlborough Downs, researchers said on Wednesday (July 29).
“Really excitingly we’ve got an answer to a question that has been bugging archaeologists for best part of 400 years really, which is where do the large stones here, the sarsen stones, come from,” Dr. Susan Greaney, Senior Historian with English Heritage told Reuters.
“We’ve had for many years people saying probably from the Marlborough Downs which is about 20 miles to the north of here where there are natural sarsen scatters but we’ve never before now been able to say exactly where we think they’re from,” Greaney said.
The sarsens, which form the iconic outer circle, were erected at Stonehenge around 2500 BC.
“Each of these sarsen stones weighs an average of about 20 tons, some of them up to 30 tons, and the longest is about 9 metres long. So these are enormous stones,” Greaney said.
“The process of extracting them from the ground, putting them probably on wooden sledges, dragging them 15 miles (25 km) over a valley, over hills, over slopes and bogs and all kinds of different land surfaces was a massive, massive achievement and that’s just for one stone. If you think about the fact that there were roughly 80 sarsen stones brough to this site. That’s a massive project.”
Stonehenge’s smaller bluestones previously were traced to Pembrokeshire in Wales 150 miles (250 km) away, but the origin of the sarsens had defied identification until a stroke of luck saw a rare piece of Stonehenge return to the UK.
A sarsen core sample, extracted during conservation work in the late 1950s when metal rods were inserted to stabilize a cracked megalith, provided crucial information.
It was given as a souvenir to a man named Robert Phillips who worked for the company involved in the conservation work and was on-site during drilling.
Phillips took it with him with permission when he emigrated to the United States in 1977, living in New York, Illinois, California and finally Florida.
Phillips decided to return it to Britain for research in 2018. He died this year.
The researchers analysed fragments of a rare sample, destructive testing off limits for megaliths at the site, to establish the geochemical fingerprint of the sarsen from which it was taken.
That fingerprint matched sandstone still at West Woods and all but two of the Stonehenge sarsens.
“The science behind it is fairly straight forward in one sense because what we’re doing is a simple case of finger-printing. We’re taking some stones at Stonehenge itself and we’re working out the geochemistry of them. For that we measure all the little trace elements which are in the stone. Now, sarsens are really difficult stone to work with because it’s 99 percent silica and silica is a pretty ubiquitous mineral,” said archaeologist, Professor Tim Darvill from Bournemouth University, who was a co-author of the study published in the journal Science Advances.
Among Britain’s most recognisable landmarks, the standing stones draw tourists from around the world as well as people searching for spiritual connections with the past. Their exact purpose remains unknown to scientists.
“Working out where the stones come from isn’t necessarily the same as working out the great mystery of Stonehenge and maybe that’s something which will never be solved but it certainly takes us another step down the road,” added Darvill. (Reuters)
Authorities in Bournemouth, a popular coastal town in southern England, declared a “major incident” on Thursday (June 25) over what they called the irresponsible behavior of crowds who had ignored public health guidance on coronavirus and badly overstretched local services.
The declaration came after visitors arrived in huge numbers in a spell of hot weather, resulting in gridlock on the roads, illegal overnight camping, excessive waste, anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled fights.
Social distancing measures have been in place in Britain since March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, although the rules are due to be significantly relaxed from July 4.
With pubs still closed, many people have been heading to parks and beaches to meet friends and drink alcohol, in some cases ignoring advice to keep two metres apart.
In Bournemouth, roads were obstructed by illegal parking, crews were abused as they attempted to empty overflowing bins and 33 tonnes of waste had to be removed from the stretch of coastline in and around the town on Thursday morning.
The emergency response will involve extra police patrols, security to protect rubbish collectors, additional parking enforcement, evictions of unauthorized campers and signage on approach roads warning people not to come. (Reuters)
Storm Ciara brought severe flooding and heavy winds to areas across England on Monday (February 10).
Homes and businesses were flooded in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, after more than 200 flood warnings were given across Britain on Sunday (February 9).
Authorities had on Sunday issued a severe flood warning for Yorkshire, as it was feared that water would overflow flood defences and potentially threaten lives.
The weather also caused disruption in Chepstow in the South West, where a falling pylon crushed a lorry on the Severn bridge, forcing emergency services to close the crossing.
Storm Ciara, or Sabine as it is known in France, has brought with it wind speeds that reached more than 90 miles an hour (145 kph) as well as heavy rain which has affected much of North West Europe. (Reuters)
U.S. endurance swimmer Sarah Thomas became the first person to swim across the English Channel four times without stopping on Tuesday (September 17), refueling only on a liquid formula during her 54-hour feat.
The 37-year-old woman from Colorado performed her record-breaking swim a year after receiving treatment for breast cancer, and dedicated her achievement to fellow cancer survivors.
She came ashore on a beach near Dover, on the south coast of England, exhausted and with a sore throat from all the salt water.
In theory, the route that Thomas swam should have been 80 miles (130 km) long, but due to strong currents in the Channel she in fact swam 130 miles (210 km).
She said she saw lots of fish and jellyfish along the way. Previously, four swimmers had crossed the water between England and France three times without stopping. (REUTERS)
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