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Stonehenge was second-hand

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

The famous bluestones on Salisbury Plain turn out to have been ‘appropriated’ from an older Welsh monument.

Stonehenge is dominated today by its giant sarsen stones, but it was once encircled by several rings of smaller bluestones. It has long been known that these had been moved 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire – a stupendous feat of Late Neolithic engineering. But from where exactly?

Cardiff University’s Mike Parker Pearson has been researching Stonehenge for 20 years, but, he says, his latest discovery is ‘the most exciting thing we’ve ever found’. It is the answer to the question: were the bluestones quarried for Stonehenge, or had they, as ancient rumour implied, formed part of an existing monument?

The theory there was an earlier monument goes back centuries. The 12th century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth reports the wizard Merlin leading an expedition to seize a stone circle called the ‘Giants’ Dance’ and transplant it to England. Maybe, says Parker Pearson, there is a ‘tiny grain’ of truth in the story.

Parker Pearson and his teams of students and volunteers have combed the Preseli Hills for years looking for evidence for the Stonehenge bluestones’ original location. Finally, with their search becoming increasingly desperate, they found what they were looking for.

Four stones at Waun Mawm, one standing, three recumbent, were long reputed to be the remains of a stone circle. The excavation of a series of buried stone-holes has now confirmed an original circle 110 metres across. The dimensions of the holes match those of the Stonehenge bluestones; one hole even bears the impress of a stone of unusual form known at Stonehenge, fitting ‘like a key in a lock’.

The builders of Stonehenge did not quarry their own stone. They appropriated an existing magic circle, transferring its power from the Preseli Hills to Salisbury Plain. Merlin might not have been the name of the high priest in charge, but a process of immense ritual significance is surely represented.

Neil Faulkner reporting.

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