Saturday 18 August 2018

English landmark Stonehenge 'built by Welsh'

Stonehenge draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Picture: PA
Stonehenge draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Picture: PA

Sarah Knapton

It is perhaps the most English of English monuments.

But a new study by Oxford University and University College London (UCL) suggests that Stonehenge was actually built by the Welsh.

Although it was known the bluestones of the megalithic monument had been sourced from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, it was generally thought the builders travelled there from modern-day Wiltshire to get them. However, isotope analysis of the skulls of people buried at the 5,000-year-old Neolithic monument show unmistakable Welsh origins.

Isotopes of elements occur everywhere in the environment, and those in the food we eat or the water we drink become incorporated into our tissue and bone. By looking at the different ratios it is possible to work out where and when a person lived based on their isotope make up.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of UCL, who believes the whole monument may have once stood in Wales, said: "This is a really exciting discovery because it shows how far some of the Stonehenge people travelled. But what's really fascinating is that this date of around 3,000BC coincides with our radiocarbon dates for quarrying at the bluestone outcrops in the Preseli hills of Pembrokeshire.

"Some of the people buried at Stonehenge might have even been involved in moving the stones - a journey of more than 180 miles (290km)."

Little is known about the people buried at Stonehenge and archaeological analysis has largely focused on what the megalithic monument was used for rather than who built it.

One of the problems is that many of the human remains were cremated, so it was thought isotope analysis would be impossible.

However, new developments in archaeological analysis, pioneered by lead author Christophe Snoeck during his doctoral research at Oxford, showed cremated bone does still hold crucial information. Dr Snoeck said: 'The recent discovery that some biological information survives the high temperatures reached during cremation (up to 1,000C) offered us the exciting possibility to finally study the origin of those buried at Stonehenge."

With permission from Historic England and English Heritage, the team analysed skull fragments from 25 individuals which were originally excavated in the 1920s from 56 pits inside Stonehenge, known as 'Aubrey Holes', which were named after the 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey, who first spotted them. The research was published in the journal 'Nature Scientific Reports'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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