A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A massive three-ton bluestone, dragged 240 miles from the Preseli Mountains in western Wales, and carried on primitive Neolithic-style boats along the south coast of Wales to Bristol, England, is due to arrive at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, this September. The directors of this Herculean task, a community organization known as Menter Preseli, hope to demonstrate that Stonehenge's Neolithic builders could have brought the stones from Wales 4,500 years ago.
Stonehenge includes two distinct types of stone: sarsens, which form the main outer circle, and smaller bluestones, including spotted dolerite, used for the inner circle and the horseshoe-shaped arrangement capped with lintels. Sarsens came from the Marlborough Downs just 18 miles to the north. The only source of bluestone, however, is the Preseli Mountains.
How then did these characteristic stones arrive at Stonehenge? One theory is that they were carried by glacial action during the last Ice Age. However, the absence of any other bluestones in the area, apart from those used at Stonehenge, has rendered this hypothesis unlikely. Another theory is that they were transported manually from Wales to the revered Neolithic site, a journey that Menter Preseli re-created over five months this spring and summer.
Using a wooden sledge and ropes, teams of volunteers began dragging the so-called "Millennium Stone" from its mountain quarry to the Welsh coast in early April. Near the port of Milford Haven it was loaded onto primitive skin rafts, known as curachs, for the sea journey to Bristol, and then up the River Avon where the stone resumed its overland journey to Stonehenge.
Although the organizers had to resort to modern technology on several occasions-on the first attempted sea crossing the stone sank into the Bay of Bristol and had to be winched ashore-they have demonstrated that Neolithic peoples could have dragged the stones to Wiltshire. The new bluestone will be displayed at the Stonehenge visitor center as part of an interpretative exhibition.