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Origins of Stonehenge Megaliths Pinpointed

Historical monument Stonehenge at night
jaroslava V/Shutterstock

While there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding the iconic ring of stone pillars in Salisbury, England, known as Stonehenge, there may now be one less after researchers have reported that the location of the stone from which the structure was built has been identified.

David Nash, a professor of physical geography at the University of Brighton and lead author of a study appearing in the journal, Science Advances, used a new approach to trying to solve at least one of Stonehenge’s puzzles. He and his team used a portable x-ray machine to analyze a core sample of the rocks in the ring. This revealed that they are 99% silica, with other trace elements.

“That showed us that most of the stones have a common chemistry, which led us to identify that we’re looking for one main source here,” said Nash.

Missing Core

Next, the team used mass spectrometry to analyze a core sample drilled from one of the stones during restoration work in 1958, which provides a much more detailed analysis of the stone’s composition. Incidentally, the core sample used had gone missing after the ’58 analysis (someone who worked on the restoration took it as a souvenir) and didn’t reappear until 2018 and 2019. 

The results of the spectrometry test were compared to stone samples from 20 likely nearby sites, and a match was found in West Woods in the town of Wiltshire. There’s a possibility that a philosopher named John Aubrey had linked West Woods to Stonehenge in the 17th century when he mentioned Overton Wood, which is believed to be an early name for West Woods.

Stone Factory

All but two of the megaliths held the same chemical signature, so Nash feels confident he’s found their source. Adding credence to the theory is the fact that West Woods saw a lot of activity in the Early Neolithic period, so it would make sense for such a site to have been the construction hub for the Stonehenge rock slabs. Archaeologists have found prehistoric cultivated fields, circular earthwork, a large ancient burial site, and something known as a polissor, a rock that would have been used to sharpen stone axes.

Nash says researchers can now try to conduct a reconstruction of the route the stones took from West Woods, which is about 15 miles north of Stonehenge, by searching for chips of the megaliths along likely pathways.