Sarsen Stones

5 Aug 2020

Sent in by William and sitting in my 'to do' tray for a couple of weeks. At ... which concerns the big sarsen stones. It has long been assumed they were picked up from the surface, especially from the Marlborough Downs, as sarsens can still be seen poking out of the ground. The sarsens are made of sandstone which is usually dated to the Palaeogene - following on from the chalk laid down in the Cretaceous. In Wiltshire the later geology has eroded away and the sarsen stones can be found just below the surface, and on occasion, completely at the surface. Further east and you have to dig down in order to reach sarsen sandstone. The sarsens are an interesting geological story in themselves but in this post we are concerned with the archaeology of the Stonehenge sarsen boulders. Where exactly did they come from.

Some of the sarsen blocks are 30 feet in length (or height) and were not easy to shift. Stonehenge originally had 80 sarsen blocks but today 52 remain on site. A new study has identified their point of origin in a wooded area of Wiltshire, just 15 miles from the monument. How did they do that? By the chemistry of the stones. An x-ray flourescence spectrometer was used, another useful piece of technology for archaeologists. Various locations were researched and the sarsen stones tested. The West Wood site came up positive. 

The same story is at ... the study is published in Science Advances ... see ... for the full article.

We shall now have some papers and experiments on transporting the sarsen blocks from West Wood. At the moment sledding is favoured. We may also note West Wood is going to come under research as well as we have a Neolithic barrow, prehistoric cultivated fields, and a pollissoir. The latter was used to sharpen stone axes. Also, it may be that the stones had been moved from their original positions by the farmers cultivating the Neolithic fields. Later, the transportation to Stonehenge may have come about as they already had a collection of sarsen blocks, which just needed some smoothing and hammering to make them fit for the monument.