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New geological discovery paves the way for further insight into the transport of Stonehenge rocks

A new paper in Archaeology in Wales, produced by Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University and Dr Richard Bevins of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales confirms, for the first time, the exact origin of some the rhyolite debitage found at Stonehenge. This work could now lead to important conclusions about how stones were transported from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge.

Over a period of nine months, Bevins and Ixer have been carefully collecting and identifying samples from rock outcrops in Pembrokeshire to try and locate the provenance of rocks that can be found at what is today, one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites.
Their recent discovery confirms that the Stonehenge rhyolite debitage originates from a specific 70m long area namely Craig Rhos-y-felin near Pont Saeson. Using petrographical techniques, Ixer and Bevins found that 99% of these rhyolites could be matched to rocks found in this particular set of outcrops. Rhyolitic rocks at Rhos-y-felin are distinctly different from all others in South Wales, which gives almost all of Stonehenge rhyolites a provenance of just hundreds of square metres.   
Yet, the story progresses. Along the Rhos-y-felin crags, the rhyolites are distinctly different on a scale of metres or tens of metres. This has enabled Bevins and Ixer to match some Stonehenge debitage samples to an even more precise locality at the extreme northeastern end of the area.
What this means is that the area is now small enough for archaeologists to excavate to try and uncover evidence for associated human activity so providing another strand of the story of how the stones from Pembrokeshire reached Stonehenge.
Dr Richard Bevins of Amgueddfa Cymru said:
“Many have asked the question over the years, how the stones got from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge. Was it human transport? Was it due to ice transport? Thanks to geological research, we now have a specific source for the rhyolite stones from which to work and an opportunity for archaeologists to answer the question that has been widely debated. It is important now that the research continues.”
In addition the level of work carried out at Rhos-y-felin confirms that the four remaining above surface rhyolite and dacite orthostats at Stonehenge do not come from Rhos-y-felin and work is in hand to determine if their source can be identified.
Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University added:
“Being able to provenance any archaeologically significant rock so precisely is remarkable, to do it for Stonehenge was quite unexpected and exciting. However, given continued perseverance, we are determined that we shall uncover the origins of most, if not all of the Stonehenge bluestones so allowing archaeologists to continue their speculations well into a third century.”

Date: 19 December 2011
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