The Mysteries of Stonehenge

Which ancient monument is made of two types of stones, known as sarsen stones, and bluestones?

And the answer: Stonehenge.

Stonehenge is an enormous prehistoric monument in England, believed to have been constructed between 2000 and 3000 BC. The monument uses two types of stones: the large vertical stones are made of sarsen, a type of sandstone, and the smaller stones are known as bluestones, named as such because they appear to have a bluish tint when wet.

Efforts to identify the source of this ancient monument have been long pursued, but nearly all have ended without success. Up until last summer, archaeologists based their knowledge of the sarsen stones on some 400-year old calculations made by William Lambarde, a 16th century antiquarian. His accounts source the sarsens to the highest points of the Marlborough Downs, some 18 miles north of Stonehenge, yet Lambarde apparently came to such a conclusion based on the shared appearance of the rocks alone. David Nash, a geomorphologist at the University of Brighton, has since been working with rock samples and geological tracing technology to seek the truth about the sarsen rocks. According to new findings, Nash was able to pinpoint their exact source in the West Woods, 15 miles away.

As technology evolves, so too does our ability to identify essential information about this mysterious crop of rocks. While early knowledge came from folklore accounts dating back thousands of years, modern advancements in geochemical science have created ample opportunity to reconsider what we hold to be true about Stonehenge. Sourcing the rocks is just the first step in putting together a full picture of this sacred site.

Did you know?

The monument's stones are known as "ringing rocks". When struck they produce a loud clanging sound, a fact which likely explains why someone bothered to transport the bluestones over such a long distance (some 200 miles!) In certain ancient cultures, such rocks are believed to contain healing powers.

To read more about Nash's recent and past findings, read the New York Times article here. Or, check out this National Geographic article for more information.

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