April 1, 2008
Digging For Absolute Answers at Stonehenge
Researchers began their two-week long excavation at Stonehenge on Monday in the first dig at the site since 1964.
Throughout history Stonehenge's great mystery has bred an abundance of theories of its origin. Some claim the site served ceremonial purposes while other, more eccentric beliefs link the monument to extraterrestrial life.
Stonehenge experts Tim Darvill, president of the Society of Antiquaries, and Geoff Wainwright, archaeology professor at Bournemouth University, intend to set the record straight. By using carbon dating techniques and analysis of soil pollen, they hope to be able to find definitive answers.
"If you want to find out why Stonehenge was built, you need to look 250 kilometers away to the Presili Hills in north Pembrokeshire, where the first bluestones that built Stonehenge come from," Wainwright said.
The ambiguous arrangement is composed of large sandstone blocks surrounded by smaller bluestones. Darvill and Wainwright hope that their research will affirm their thesis that Stonehenge served as a place of healing.
"This was a place of healing, for the soul and the body," said Darvill. "The Presili Hills is a magical place. The stones from there are regarded as having healing properties."
Recently uncovered evidence may support their claim. Many of the Neolithic remains found near the site show signs of skeletal trauma such as broken bones and evidence of operations to the skull.
The remains have been linked to people who had traveled long distances, possibly in order to seek supernatural cures from Stonehenge.
The original site consisted of about 80 bluestones, weighing between one and four tons each. They were transported from South Wales to the Salisbury Plain about 5,000 years ago. Almost two-thirds of the stones were either stolen or weathered over time.
"In the early 1900s there were signs in Amesbury (the nearest town to the site) offering the hire of a hammer so that people could come up here to chip off their own bit of bluestone," Darvill said.
In the 1990s, archaeologists attempted to date the first circle, and judged it to have been erected in 2,550BC.
The current excavation will give researchers a more precise dating of the Double Bluestone Circle, which was the first circle to be erected at the site. They plan to dig a 3.5m by 2.5m trench around the area in order to collect pieces of the original bluestone circle.
"This small excavation of a bluestone is the culmination of six years of research which Tim and I have conducted in the Preseli Hills of North Pembrokeshire and which has shed new light on the eternal question as to why Stonehenge was built," Wainwright said.
"We will be able to say not only why but when the first stone monument was built."
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