Mysteries of Stonehenge coming to light

Stonehenge: A 19th Century engraving of the mysterious monument.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The first archaeological dig in 40 years at Stonehenge is revealing new insights into the origins of the mysterious ancient rock garden.

Scientists there have unearthed some of the sockets that once held the bluestones believed to have formed the original structure.

"We have broken through to these key features," said Professor Geoff Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries, and one of the dig's leaders.

The bluestones could help reveal the 4500 year-old structure's origins. These smaller stones are thought to have been hauled to the Salisbury Plain site in southwest England from the Preseli Hills in Wales, more than 150 miles away. They were placed in a circle in the ground, the outline of which can still be seen by the holes and remaining stones left behind. The huge Sarsen stones making up the horseshoe of massive "pi" symbols for which Stonehenge is so well-known, are believed to have come much later from a quarry about 12 miles away.

The archaeologists hope to be able to date the location more precisely by analyzing organic material found in and surrounding the leftover bluestones and sockets.

Wainwright believes the monument may have served as a sanctuary for healing - a prehistoric Lourdes of sorts. Just as some people today believe in the healing powers of certain stones and crystals, the ancients who built the original structure believed the bluestones could heal whatever ailed them.

Bluestone is an intrusive igneous rock known in England as dolerite. Here in the states it's called diabase. (Those of us in Minnesota will recognize it as a common volcanic rock found along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Split Rock Lighthouse sets upon a huge block of diabase.)

The Stonehenge dig is being filmed for a program that will air on the BBC next autumn, and should make for an interesting documentary. For now you can view some video clips at the BBC website.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

mdr's picture
mdr says:

Stephen Robinson, a researcher for the Smithsonian Channel (which is partnering with the BBC on a documentary about the excavation at Stonehenge) alerted us to some very cool additional links about the on-going dig.

The Smithsonian Channel website contains daily video updates from the dig site, and tons of other information.

Smithsonian Channel's David Royle's Blog reflects on the significance and excitement of the excavation.

David Royle's excavation photos on FLICKR.

Thanks Stephen! Please add comments about any future developments or links that come your way.

posted on Wed, 04/16/2008 - 11:51am

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