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Bluestones dated to 12,000BC
(and could be from Ireland)

By Dean Talboys

In the 1920s the most extensive excavation and restoration on record was undertaken at Stonehenge offering the opportunity to answer many questions, none least of which was the origin of the so-called "Bluestones".

As petrographer to the Geological Survey, Dr. H. H. Thomas would have been aware of the distribution of the variety of stones foreign to Stonehenge (around Great Britain at least) and in 1923 placed their origin in the Prescelly Mountains, Pembrokeshire, Wales. In his opinion this location offers not only petrographically identical rocks but also representations of all varieties of the Stonehenge Bluestones in the immediate neighborhood. Thomas also points to the importance of the area as one of the richest collections of megalithic remains in Britain which was brought to his attention by the writings of the late Revd. W. Done Bushell who describes Prescelly as a 'pre-historic Westminster' and its southern slopes as 'a land of circles' where exist traces of at least eight stone circles. Even the sandstone used in the so-called "Altar Stone" at Stonehenge was traced to an area of coastline in Wales associated with the Prescelly-Stonehenge route. This is typical of the totally unscientific way in which the archeological interpretation of Stonehenge is reinforced.

Let's prove Prescelly was the source of the Bluestones by looking for the other foreign stones in the same place!

  • Who decided that all the stones had to come from one location in the first place, and why?

  • Are the dolerites unique to Prescelly and, if not, to what extent are they distributed across the country (or the European continent for that matter)?

  • Prescelly is not exactly 'on the way' to Stonehenge by any route, so is there evidence in favor of obtaining individual types of stone from more accessible sources?

  • Are there any other areas where the varieties occur in combination and, apart from Prescelly, where are the closest possible sources for (say) 75% of the stones?

  • To what extent was Thomas' conclusion influenced by prevailing opinion for the source was, as had been expected for 150 years, in the deposits of igneous rock lying to the west of Stonehenge (1)?

There are many more examples of such 'scientific license' in The Stonehenge Observatory, facts and features which have been overlooked in the ongoing effort to place Stonehenge in a very British Neolithic landscape. Yes, the spotted dolerites are almost certainly from Prescelly but in limiting the search for other stones to this area they may be missing other important connections.

More recently Professors Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright have undertaken a minor excavation of Stonehenge in an attempt to provide a date for the arrival of the Bluestones on site.

The Profs believe these particular stones were important in Neolithic times for their medicinal properties and, having mapped quarries in the Prescelly Mountains, claim that the dolerites (of which the inner oval of Bluestones at Stonehenge is comprised) derive almost wholly from a rocky outcrop at the summit of a broad ridge and the rhyolites and tuffs (which together with dolerites are found in the outer Bluestone circle) appear in the surrounding volcanic dykes. The petrology may be beyond doubt but the healing quality of these stones is not. In 25 years of studying the region, local expert and internationally published author, Robin Heath, has never come across any firm evidence to suggest that the Bluestones were revered in recorded history, let alone prehistory, as having healing properties any more than other wells across the British Isles and cites a local farmer in challenging Wainwright's 'extensive research' of the aforementioned dolerite outcrop (2). The Profs failed in the search for a date but did open the lid on another archeological oversight covered in The Stonehenge Observatory - the site has been subjected to major re-orderings in the past which casts doubt on its age.

If Prescelly is the source of the stones the next question must be,
"Why Stonehenge?"

Even if the 4 ton stones were imbued with magical powers it still does not answer the question why anyone would want to transport eighty of them over a distance of at least 140 miles when it is clear that the Prescelly 'land of circles' already offered extensive health facilities. Did they represent the spoils of war to invaders from Salisbury (a battle I would have lost willingly at the thought of taking the prize home)? A legend of stones having been erected in memory of soldiers fallen in battle is credited to Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century clergyman obsessed with the wizard, Merlin. These stones, originally from Africa, were brought by magic from their current location on Mount Killaraus in Ireland to Stonehenge. From his description of their size it would appear the author is referring to the massive Sarsen stones, however, he also claims that their original use was in curing ills (by bathing in water that had been poured over the stones) which ties in with the Bluestone's medicinal powers. Bluestone was also used extensively in the production of axe heads and battle axes, and dolerite in general was popular as far afield as Egypt where it was used to make tools, but if Bluestone was prized for anything more than this could we not expect to see more evidence of its use at other prehistoric sites? Stanton Drew in Somerset (on the route from Prescelly), The Rollrights in Oxfordshire, Lamorna in Cornwall and Arbor Low in Derbyshire are all (more or less) as close to the Prescelly Hills as Stonehenge yet contain only locally acquired granite, limestone and shale. Neither is there evidence of Bluestone having been used in the construction of neighboring Neolithic sites at Silbury, Avebury or Durrington Walls -- not even a token altar stone.

Whatever the reason for their presence the Bluestones serve as yet another feature to set Stonehenge apart from every other megalithic site.

This does not seem to matter to archeologists who have decided the period in which Stonehenge belongs and again, as with every other feature unique to the site, all subsequent research has been directed to proving Neolithic Man capable of its construction, in this case, the transportation of Bluestones from Prescelly using the most rudimentary of vessels (again without success). According to Professor Olwen Williams-Thorpe there is little evidence to support the use of anything but local stone in the construction of megalithic structures (3). She supports the idea, originally put forward by Professor J. W. Judd in 1901, that the Bluestones were ripped from their beds and deposited by glaciers (4), however, it is a view widely disputed by geologists and archeologists. D. Q. Bowen, Professor of Earth Sciences at Cardiff University, used Chlorine-36 dating to show how at least one sample of igneous rock from Stonehenge was first exposed to the air 14,000 years ago (5). This contradicts heavily the retreat of glaciers from Salisbury Plain from which we could expect a date more in the region of 400,000 years. Thorpe and colleagues were quick to respond (6); Chlorine-36 dating gives an estimate of the length of time that a rock surface has been exposed to the atmosphere, by measuring the amount of Chlorine-36 produced by exposure of the rock to cosmic radiation. If the rock or surface has been covered or buried, the date obtained will reflect the reduced time of exposure to air. Thus a Chlorine-36 date may reflect either recent exposure of a surface due to processes such as frost shattering, or an original exposure date. Bowen also sampled the surfaces of outcrops at Carn Menyn, the 'known' source of dolerites in Prescelly, returning dates one thousand years before the Bluestones are supposed to have arrived at Stonehenge. What does this mean?

The lack of any activity at the Prescelly quarry before, during and after construction of Stonehenge combined with the very early date of a sample from the site is clear indication of the Bluestone’s use in another, much earlier setting.

[Left: Stonehenge Post and Stone Holes from The Stonehenge Observatory]
The rings of Q and R Holes at Stonehenge are further evidence that an initial stone structure had been relocated. The holes, set in two concentric circles within the larger Sarsen circle, originally held the Bluestones but this otherwise symmetrical design was never completed. The central axis of the design, like the later Sarsen setting, is aligned in the general direction of sunrise at the summer solstice and there are even examples on site of Bluestone Trilithons. It is inconceivable to presume anyone capable of designing and building such a structure would miscalculate the amount of stone required or simply abandon construction three-quarters of the way through in favor of a more ambitious design in local Stone, so something must have happened to change their minds; perhaps a cargo was lost, the journey became too perilous or the original site became inaccessible.

Still the question remains,
"Why Stonehenge?"

[Right: Aerial view of Dowth Site Q composed from Google Earth]
Location and distance are never obstacles when it comes to selecting material (7). The decision to use Bluestone and their source are irrelevant to the location of Stonehenge; its current orientation towards sunrise on the summer solstice and the relationship between Sun and Moon marked by the much later addition of four "Station Stones" equally so.

The site was chosen for its geographical similarity to the original location of the Bluestones at Dowth in Ireland. This henge, overlooked by every other author on the subject of Stonehenge, is also set on the northeast face of a gently sloping hill close to a river (the Boyne). Its bank remains intact at a width of 6m (20ft) and height of 3-4m (13ft), the same dimensions as the original bank at Stonehenge, and, like Stonehenge, is punctuated by an entrance at the northeast.

Perhaps there is an element of truth in the legend of Merlin and the Stones, after all, legends are usually corruptions of the truth over a long period of time, but did the stones originate from Africa? Well, only an archeologist would deny it outright without proof! Ironically, the Dowth henge is as close to Prescelly as is Stonehenge and on a route that can be traversed almost entirely by water. Another possible source of stone closer to Dowth and equally accessible by sea is Slieve Foye, a mountain of igneous outcrops behind the coastal town of Carlingford, 40km to the north. Has it been the subject of 'extensive research'?

Read the full explanation of why the Bluestones were moved from Dowth to Stonehenge over 13,000 years ago in the remarkable book,

The Stonehenge Observatory

Topology is not the only reason for choosing Stonehenge as a site for the relocated Bluestone structure. The most important factor restricted possible locations to within a zone no more than 1-2km (1 mile) north or south of the latitude of Dowth.

New! Stonehenge Stones Cast Serious Doubt over
Archeological 'Sequence of Construction'

The Stonehenge Observatory

  1. Chippindale, C., Stonehenge Complete, p185.


  3. THORPE, R.S. & O. WILLIAMS-THORPE. 1991. The myth of long-distance megalith transport, Antiquity 65: 64-73.

  4. Judd, J. W., Archaeologia Volume 58 p117

  5. Bowen 1994: 211; Hawkes 1994; British Archaeology News 1995.

  6. Jenkins, D. Graham; Jenkins, Judith; Watson, John S.; Williams-Thorpe, Olwen, Antiquity,
    December 1, 1995

  7. Talboys, D., The Stonehenge Observatory, p67.

Dean Talboys is a consultant systems analyst. His book, The Stonehenge Observatory, is available for immediate download in PDF format from the web site. The printed version is due for release in the coming months.

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