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New Discovery in Stonehenge Bluestone Mystery

The source of the bluestones at Stonehenge has long been a subject of fascination and considerable controversy. One type of bluestone, the so-called ‘spotted dolerite’, was convincingly traced to the Mynydd Preseli area in north Pembrokeshire in the early 1920s.

However, the sources of the other bluestones - chiefly rhyolites (a type of rock) and the rare sandstones remained, until recently, unknown. Now geologists at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales have further identified the sources of one of the rhyolite types, which also provides the opportunity for new thoughts on how the stones might have been transported to the Stonehenge area.

Their findings are published in the March 2011 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology at Amgueddfa Cymru, in partnership with Dr Rob Ixer, University of Leicester and Dr Nick Pearce of Aberystwyth University, have been working on the rhyolite component of the bluestones, which leads them to believe it is of Welsh origin.

Through standard petrographical techniques combined with sophisticated chemical analysis of samples from Stonehenge and north Pembrokeshire using laser ablation induction coupled mass spectrometry at Aberystwyth University, they have matched one particular rhyolite to an area north of the Mynydd Preseli range, in the vicinity of Pont Saeson.

The Bluestones are a distinctive set of stones that form the inner circle and inner horseshoe of Stonehenge. Much of the archaeology in recent years has been based upon the assumption that Neolithic Age man had a reason for transporting bluestones all the way from west Wales to Stonehenge and the technical capacity to do it.

Richard Bevins said:

"This recent discovery is very significant as it potentially provides us with new clues for understanding how and possibly why the Welsh bluestones were transported to the Stonehenge area.

"It has been argued that humans transported the spotted dolerites from the high ground of Mynydd Preseli down to the coast at Milford Haven and then rafted them up the Bristol Channel and up the River Avon to the Stonehenge area. However, the outcome of our research questions that route, as it is unlikely that they would have transported the Pont Saeson stones up slope and over Mynydd Preseli to Milford Haven. If humans were responsible then an alternative route might need to be considered. However, some believe that the stones were transported by the actions of glacier sheets during the last glaciation and so the Pont Season discovery will need appraising in the context of this hypothesis.

"Matching up the rock from Stonehenge with a rock outcrop in Pembrokeshire has been a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack but I’ve looked at many if not most outcrops in the Mynydd Preseli area. We are however, confident that we have found the source of one of the rhyolites from Stonehenge because we’ve been able to make the match on a range of features not just a single characteristic. Now we are looking for the sources of the other Stonehenge volcanic and sandstone rocks".

Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at Sheffield University, added: "This is a hugely significant discovery which will fascinate everyone interested in Stonehenge. It forces us to re-think the route taken by the bluestones to Stonehenge and opens up the possibility of finding many of the quarries from which they came. It’s a further step towards revealing why these mysterious stones were so special to the people of the Neolithic."

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates seven museums across Wales National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

Entry to each Museum is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Assembly Government.

- Ends -

For more information, please contact Lleucu Cooke, Communications Officer, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales on 029 2057 3175 or e-mail: lleucu.cooke@museumwales.ac.uk

Arthur Dafis, Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Aberystwyth University 01970 621763 / 07841 979 452 / aid@aber.ac.uk

Notes for the Editor:

The paper Stonehenge rhyolitic bluestone sources and the application of zircon chemistry as a new tool for provenancing rhyolitic lithics is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 38, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 605-622.

http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/622854/description#description

Date: 22 February 2011
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