The ability to excavate at the world-famous Stonehenge archaeological site is a privilege. Not everyone has gained special access to explore the megaliths with the closest detail. Thus, those who have had the chance to dig into the mystery of Stonehenge have the ear of others when they tell of their discoveries. Now, an archaeologist named Mike Pitts has decided to provide his explanation why the Stonehenge location was chosen.
The answer, Pitts explained in a special Stonehenge edition of the journal British Archaeology, is evident through the analysis of two stones. A thorough examination of the Heel Stone and Stone 16 and the area around these two megaliths shows oft-overlooked aspects – simplicity and pits.
Stonehenge Heel Stone. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
These two stones stand apart from others because they have not been modified – no carving or shaping is apparent on the huge rocks. Pitts told The Times ,
“The assumption used to be that all the sarsens at Stonehenge had come from the Marlborough Downs more than 20 miles away. The idea has since been growing that some may be local and the heel stone came out of that big pit. If you are going to move something that large you would dress it before you move it, to get rid of some of the bulk. That suggests it has not been moved very far. It makes sense that the heel stone has always been more or less where it is now, half-buried.”
Pitts wrote that two big holes have been found beside the megaliths. The archaeologist believes that the pits are the remnants of where the stones were laying before builders decided to stand them up. For example, the 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter hole near the Heel Stone would have been big enough to have contained the megalith. Other explanations for the holes by these two stones have not satisfied Pitts.
Moreover, Science Alert reports that when the Heel Stone and Stone 16 (and their corresponding holes) are lined up, the two stones mark the horizon “where the Sun rises on the summer solstice, and sets on the winter solstice.”
And Pitts believes that is a key part of why the Stonehenge building site was chosen. According to the archaeologist , the earliest prehistoric builders of Stonehenge may have noticed the coincidental alignment of the two stones and decided the site was important. He says , “The two largest natural sarsens on the plain aligned with the rising midsummer and the setting midwinter Sun” are probably what caught their attention.
The sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (June 21, 2005). (Andrew Dunn/ CC BY SA 2.0 )
From there, others set about lugging more stones to the site – both from other locally sourced sarsen sandstones and more distantly obtained bluestones - and the fascinating location known today as Stonehenge was born.
The Cuckoo Stone, another large sarsen stone which lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge. ( Stonehenge News and Information )
Finally, Pitts reflected on the significance of discoveries at the site, writing,
“Continued radiocarbon dating may reveal further clusters of middle neolithic ritual features. But for now, the combination of a little henge, large cattle bones … and perhaps the two largest natural sarsens on the plain aligned with the rising midsummer and the setting midwinter Sun, make the site locally unique. It all suggests that Stonehenge didn't so much burst into view shortly after 3000 BCE, as grow slowly over a long time before.”
Stonehenge. ( Public Domain )
Top Image: Stonehenge. Source: CC BY SA 3.0
By Alicia McDermott