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Sometime around 3,300 BC, Neolithic people in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, Wales, erected a circle of bluestone monoliths, mined from a nearby quarry. They buried them upright to align with the midsummer solstice sunrise at a site known as Waun Mawn, in a configuration much like that of the better-known Stonehenge, some 150 miles (240 km) away.
Now, researchers think that the descendants of those builders may have dismantled parts of the Waun Mawn monument and used the stones in the construction of Stonehenge several centuries later -- possibly when the inhabitants of the Preseli region migrated south to present-day Wiltshire, England, and took the bluestones with them as a reminder of their ancestral identity.
Exploring the mystery of Stonehenge:
- Archaeologists say this theory could explain why the bluestones, thought to be the first monoliths erected at Stonehenge, were brought from so far away. Most stone circles were constructed a short distance from their quarries.
- A series of stone-holes in the Waun Mawn circle’s 360-foot (110-m) outline matches Stonehenge’s construction. One bears an imprint that matches the unusual cross-section of a Stonehenge bluestone “like a key in a lock,” the archaeologists said.
- The link may give some credence to an ancient myth in which the wizard Merlin led men into Ireland to capture a stone circle called the Giants’ Dance and rebuilt it in England. The Waun Mawn circle would have been considered part of Ireland back then.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much has Stonehenge changed since it was first constructed?
Stonehenge has undergone significant changes since its initial construction around 3000 BC. According to English Heritage, the monument was built in several stages, with the final form being completed around 1500 BC. Over the millennia, stones have fallen or been removed, and the site has been restored multiple times, most notably in the 20th century. Erosion and human activity have also contributed to its change, but the site's core layout remains largely intact.
What restoration efforts have been made to preserve Stonehenge?
Restoration efforts at Stonehenge have been ongoing since the early 20th century. The most extensive work was carried out between 1901 and 1964, including re-erecting fallen stones and stabilizing the bases of others. English Heritage, which manages the site, continues to monitor and conserve the monument, ensuring its stability and longevity. These efforts help to maintain the site for future generations while respecting its historical integrity.
Are there any parts of Stonehenge that are original to its first construction phase?
Some parts of Stonehenge are indeed original to its first construction phase, which began around 3000 BC. The circular earthwork enclosure, which is the earliest element of the complex, still exists today. However, the stone settings visible now were erected in subsequent phases, with the largest sarsen stones being placed around 2500 BC. Despite restorations and alterations, many of the stones are in their original positions from thousands of years ago.
How do weather and environmental factors affect Stonehenge?
Weather and environmental factors have a significant impact on Stonehenge. The stones are subject to weathering from wind, rain, and temperature fluctuations, which can cause erosion and cracks. Additionally, lichens and mosses grow on the stones, which, while not damaging in themselves, can retain moisture and contribute to stone decay. English Heritage actively monitors these effects to ensure appropriate conservation measures are in place to protect the site.
Can visitors still get close to the stones at Stonehenge?
Visitor access to Stonehenge has changed over time to protect the site. Currently, during regular visiting hours, guests cannot walk among the stones; they are restricted to a path around the monument for a distant view. However, English Heritage does offer special access visits, known as Stone Circle Experiences, outside of regular hours, allowing visitors to enter the stone circle itself. These visits are limited and must be booked in advance to minimize impact on the stones.