April 29, 2021

Darganfod-Discovery 2021: Prof Mike Parker Pearson

Prof Mike Parker Pearson of UCL Institute of Archaeology, on ‘The origins of Stonehenge: the bluestones and Preseli’. (CAA Research Fund project)

It is now a hundred years ago that geologists worked out that the smaller monoliths at Stonehenge came from the Preseli hills of North Pembrokeshire. Whilst Stonehenge’s much larger sarsens are likely to have come just 15 miles from north Wiltshire, the bluestones were brought around 180 miles. During the 20th century, archaeologists considered that these bluestone pillars, up to 4m long, were brought by sea from Milford Haven to the Bristol Avon and thence by land to Salisbury Plain. New research has refined the geological identification of the bluestones (divided into dolerite, spotted dolerite, volcanics, rhyolite and sandstone) and identified various of their sources. Two of these rock outcrops at Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog have been excavated, revealing stone tools and quarrying installations dating to 3400-3000 BC, shortly before Stonehenge was built around 3000 BC. Isotopic analysis of people buried at Stonehenge reveals that the earliest cremation burials there included individuals with Strontium isotope values consistent with living in the Preseli region of west Wales. Recent excavations near the bluestone quarries have produced evidence that the stones were first incorporated into one or more monuments in Pembrokeshire before being transported to Salisbury Plain. It now appears that the bluestones were more likely taken overland for most of their journey.

Further reading:

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Thomas. J., and Welham, K. 2015. Stonehenge: making sense of a prehistoric mystery. York, Council for British Archaeology.

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Welham, K., Casswell, C., Shaw, D., Simmons, E., Stanford, A., Bevins, R. E. and Ixer, R. A. 2019. Megalithic quarries for Stonehenge’s bluestones. Antiquity 93, 45–62.

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Welham, K., Kinnaird, T., Shaw, D., Simmons, E., Stanford, A., Bevins, R. E., Ixer, R. A., Ruggles, C., Rylatt, J. and Edinborough, K. 2021. The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli hills of west Wales. Antiquity 95.