TORONTO – British archaeologists may have uncovered new evidence on the origin of the iconic stone circle at Stonehenge.
Working in the Preseli Hills in West Wales, archaeologists have found the remains of what is now considered Britain’s third largest stone circle which they say has been dismantled and relocated to 280 kilometers to Salisbury Plain and rebuilt as Stonehenge.
The study, published in the February edition of the Antiquity Journal, names the discovered stone circle âWaun Mawn,â and found that it is the same diameter as the ditch surrounding Stonehenge, and a structure aligned with the sunrise. of the summer solstice sun, also like Stonehenge.
A plan of the currently excavated sections of Waun Mawn and Stonehenge 1, showing similarities in the two structures (Antiquity Journal / credit: K. Welham & I. de Luis)
The stone quarries that provided Stonehenge with its âblue stones,â which is the name of the site’s smallest stones, are located near the Waun Mawn – indicating a shared stone source for the two sites.
The blue stones of Stonehedges are believed to have been erected 5,000 years ago, centuries before the larger stones known as “sarsen stones” were brought to the site.
The research project, led by British prehistory professor Parker Pearson at University College London, previously excavated two bluestone quarries – and it was through this work that the Waun Mawn – Stonehenge connection was made.
“In 2008, our excavations of an Aubrey Hole (one of 56 pits in a circle at Stonehenge, dating from the start of the monument) confirmed my intuition that these Aubrey Holes had contained blue stones from the start in 3000-2900. BC, “Pearson said in an email to CTVNews.ca.
“I realized that in order to discover the origins of Stonehenge, we had to move our project from Stonehenge to the origin of the blue stones.”
During excavations at the new Waun Mawn site, scientific dating of charcoal and sediment in the stone holes confirmed that the Waun Mawn stone circle was erected around 3400 BC, years before the first stage. of Stonehenge built in 3000 BC.
“It seemed that for a lot of stones [excavated around Waun Mawn] there was a big time gap between extraction and erection at Stonehenge, âexplained Pearson. “One of Waun Mawn’s stone holes had stone chips and a cross section that can be compared to one of the blue stones at Stonehenge.”
As to how archaeologists found Waun Mawn in the first place, Parker claimed the location was “in a 100-year-old book.”
Archaeologists inspected the site during World War I and “cataloged it as a stone circle based on the arch of four surviving stones,” Parker explained, but said later generations of archaeologists ignored Waun Mawn or “doubted it was ever a circle.”
âIn 2011, we carried out geophysical surveys [at Waun Mawnâs location] but these gave nothing. Not realizing this was due to the unresponsive soil conditions, we figured it was just a stone arch and not an ancient circle, âParker said.
After six years of âunsuccessful searches,â a colleague suggested they try the location again. âIt turned out he was right,â Parker said, and the team dug up the stone circle.
The discovery of Waun Mawn is a new chapter in the lore and history surrounding Stonehenge, which has gone through many iterations over the centuries.
Wiliam Stukeley, the English antiquarian and ancestor of archeology who pioneered the Stonehenge investigation, âthought Stonehenge was a druid’s temple because it reminded him of the facades of Greco-Roman templesâ¦ he realized that it was prehistoric but only had Julius Caesar’s book on ancient Britain as a guide, and he mistakenly attributed it to the Iron Age Druids, âParker explained.
Stonehenge has often featured in the myths surrounding Merlin and other Druidic figures.
Parker said that a later study of the rubble left inside Stonehenge “shows that it was never a temple”, but is best understood as a type of “memorial style monument”.
And it was a fortuitous comment that gave Parker his initiative to research why Stonehenge was built.
In 1998, famous archaeologist Ramilisonina, originally from Madagascar and colleague of Parker, came to see Stonehenge and was “amazed that no one understood the evidence,” he said.
âIn Madagascar, people build with stone for their ancestors (tombs and standing stones) but build with wood for the living,â Parker explained in his email.
Ramilisonina’s âsimple observationâ ended up being the âdriving hypothesisâ in Parker’s research at Stonehenge.
âI had to find out if he was right – and 17 years later it looks like he was right,â Parker said. “We found many graves inside Stonehenge and many old wooden houses … just two miles from Stonehenge.”
Parker said most of those buried at Stonehenge were women, a finding that appears to be “the case with most of the many other circular burial enclosures across Britain.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker hopes to return to the Waun Mawn excavations later this year.