Stonehenge May Have Been Built Somewhere Else First, Then Moved

"Stonehenge is a second-hand monument."

Stonehenge may not look very portable, but scientists say part of the massive ancient monument may have been first built somewhere else before being moved hundreds of years later.

The new finding, published on Monday in the journal Antiquity, traces the bluestones -- or the smaller stones used at the 5,000-year-old monument -- to two quarries in Wales.

But while the mystery of where the stones came from may have been solved, a new one has just emerged: Those stones were pulled from the quarries some five centuries before Stonehenge itself was built in what is now Wiltshire, 140 miles away.

"It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view," Professor Mike Parker Pearson of UCL Institute of Archaeology and director the research team behind the study said in a news release. "It's more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire."

Stonehenge's large "sarsen" standing stones, which weigh about 25 tons each, are from a quarry relatively close to the the monument. Researchers have long believed the smaller two-ton bluestones came from the Preseli Hills in Wales, but the team of geologists and archaeologists behind the new study says they've found the exact locations in Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin.

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An excavation at Craig Rhos-y-felin in Wales, believed to be the source of some of the bluestones used in Stonehenge.
An excavation at Craig Rhos-y-felin in Wales, believed to be the source of some of the bluestones used in Stonehenge.
Credit: Adam Stanford/Aerial-Cam Ltd

The research team uncovered an ancient "loading bay" from which the stones were pulled as well as the remains of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry workers' campfires.

Radiocarbon dating on the hazelnuts and charcoal puts the Craig Rhos-y-felin quarry at 3400 BC and Carn Goedog at 3200 BC.

It's possible Stonehenge is simply hundreds of years older than previously estimated, but Parker Pearson told the Guardian he doesn't think that's the case.

"We think it's more likely that they were building their own monument [in Wales], that somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we’re seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument," he told the newspaper.

The research team has narrowed down the possible site of the original monument to a spot between the two Welsh quarries.

"We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot," Professor Kate Welham of Bournemouth University said in a news release. "The results are very promising -- we may find something big in 2016."

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