There are (mainly) two types of stone at Stonehenge: the larger sarsen stones are a type of sandstone, which is found scattered naturally across southern England; and the smaller ‘bluestones’.
Bluestone is the term used to refer to the smaller stones at Stonehenge. Although they may not appear blue, they do have a bluish tinge when freshly broken or when wet. Fragments of bluestone/bluestone tools have been found all around Stonehenge. It has been deduced bluestones came from the Preseli Hills in Wales, but this location is 180 miles from Stonehenge. In 2018 evidence was found in the Preseli hills that point to the exact quarry the bluestones came from. Archaeological excavations at the foot of both outcrops uncovered the remains of human-made stone and earth platforms, with each platform’s outer edge terminating in a vertical drop of about a metre.— as well as neolithic tools such as mallets, levers, hammer stones and stone wedges. Also burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires that underwent radiocarbon dating. Every other Neolithic monument in Europe was built of megaliths brought from no more than 10 miles away!
So this unearths another mystery… why bluestone?
Many theories have come about over the years concerning the existence of Stonehenge. Is it a celestial calendar? Due to the way it interacts with the solstices and cosmos. Is it a sacred place of healing? Some of the remains found on site showed signs of disease, so it would make sense if they were brought here. The leading theory currently is that Stonehenge was a cemetery and monument to the dead (possibly the elite) and is the earliest and largest so far discovered in Britain.
60 cremation burials have been uncovered at Stonehenge, and there are perhaps a couple of hundred more remaining in unexcavated areas. The latest has been radiocarbon dated to c. 2300 BCE, which illustrates that cremation was still being practiced at long after its creation.
This suggests that only certain people were selected for burial within the early Stonehenge monument. Could they have been politically important? Perhaps aristocrats, clan leaders, or authority figures? Most of the cremains date within a “similar” time frame from 2400 – 2150 BCE (the Early Bronze Age).
Only one complete skeleton has been found. Examination of the skeleton revealed that the man had been shot at close range by up to six flint-tipped arrows, probably by two people, one shooting from the left the other from the right. Could this have been an execution or perhaps even some form of ritual human sacrifice?
Possible burials connected to Stonehenge
The Amesbury Archer – King of Stonehenge
The Amesbury Archer is the richest of the burials associated with Stonehenge, and the wealthiest ever discovered from Bronze Age Britain. It was found amidst Roman graves at Amesbury, 2 miles south-east of Stonehenge. This high status burial dated between 2400 and 2200 BCE and yielded an astonishing array of grave goods including: five ‘Beaker’ pots, sixteen beautifully-worked flint arrowheads, boar’s tusks, two sandstone wristguards (to protect the wrists from the bow string of a bow and arrow), a pair of gold hair ornaments, three tiny copper knives, a kit of flint-knapping, metalworking tools, and a shale belt ring. The discovery of such rich grave goods with this burial indicates a high-status individual who was also probably one of the earliest metalworkers in the islands.
Fascinatingly, chemical analysis showed that one of the Archer’s copper knives was of Spanish origin and the gold may also have come from outside Britain. Studies of the skeletal remains by Jackie McKinley of Wessex Archaeology revealed that the Archer was a strongly-built man aged between 35 and 45, though he had an abscess on his jaw and had suffered an accident when young which had torn his left knee cap off. Thus for much of his life the ‘Archer’ would have walked with a pronounced limp.
But the most surprising element came with the use of oxygen isotope analysis on his tooth enamel found that he had grown up in the Alps region (Switzerland, Austria or Germany). The Archer is thought to have come to Britain at a very young age. Why did he travel from so far away? It has been theorized that he might have been “used” to seal an alliance and if he was trained in metalworking, he would have been one of the few people in Britain with the necessary skill set to play an important part in the construction of Stage 1 of Stonehenge.
A second burial of a male aged around 20-25, found near the site has been shown to be either the Archer’s son, brother or cousin through bone analysis. He was buried with a pair of gold hair ornaments in the same style as the Archer’s, though for some reason these had been left inside the man’s jaw. Oxygen isotope analysis revealed that this man had grown up in the area around Salisbury Plain, though his late teens may have been spent in the Midlands or north-east Scotland. These fascinating burials obviously represent important people, but were they kings or priests of some kind, or perhaps members of a local ruling clan or family connected to Stonehenge?
The Boscombe Bowmen
The ‘Boscombe Bowmen’ are a group of Early Bronze Age burials (dated to about 2,300 BCE), found in a single grave in Boscombe Down, south of Amesbury. Known as bowmen due to the amount of flint arrowheads found in their grave, the burial consists of seven individuals: three children, a teenager and three men, all apparently related to each other.
Finds from the grave are similar in character to that of the Amesbury Archer and included an unusually high amount of Beaker pottery, flint tools, a boar’s tusk and a finely worked bone toggle. Again it was chemical testing on the teeth that provided the clue as to where these people originated, in this case the men grew up in Wales but migrated to southern Britain in childhood. A British origin for the Bowmen is interesting, considering the continental nature of many of their grave goods (the Beaker pots decorated with plaited cord, the bone toggle). It surely cannot be a coincidence that one of the few parallels for such grave goods in Britain is the nearby burial of the Amesbury Archer.
Given that the Boscombe Bowmen were roughly contemporary with the transport and erection of the Welsh bluestones at Stonehenge it has been theorized that they may have accompanied the stones from Wales to Stonehenge.
When put together: these two burials offer fascinating implications— not only for people who may have been involved in the task of designing and constructing Stonehenge, but also for close ties between Britain and continental Europe more than 4200 years ago.
The Boy with the Amber necklace
In 2005, the grave of a person nicknamed ‘the Boy with the Amber necklace’, was discovered at Boscombe Down. The skeleton was radiocarbon dated to around 1550 BCE. The skeleton, was of a 14 or 15 year-old boy who was buried wearing a necklace of around 90 amber beads. Amber necklaces are rare and exotic objects; the amber would have been brought to the Stonehenge area from the Baltic Sea, perhaps Denmark, and may have arrived as lumps of raw material before being fashioned into tiny beads locally.
Close examination of the tooth enamel samples indicated that he was not local, and had grown up in a much warmer climate— probably the Mediterranean. The rare necklace certainly suggests the boy was a person of significant status and importance. At this point, Stonehenge was already 1500 years old. Was he own a pilgrimage with his family? Were they involved in the last known construction phase of the monument?
This series of burials around Stonehenge illustrate that people were travelling huge distances to the monument over a period of a thousand years, suggesting that it possessed a Europe-wide reputation as one of the most sacred and revered places in the ancient world.
There are a few visible carvings at Stonehenge, BUT laser scanning has revealed even more ancient carvings on the pillars that are invisible to the naked eye. A scan experiment was done on part of three of the 83 stones. Archaeologists hope a full survey could provide compelling evidence that Stonehenge was a memorial for the dead, at least at the time the carvings were made. Mike Pitts, a Stonehenge expert, says: “It is extraordinary that these carvings, the most significant art gallery from ancient Britain, have still not been properly studied.”
Analysis of the carvings indicate they might represent axe heads (most with he blade pointing up). Carvings of axe heads, daggers and cups, have been found at burial sites all over the UK so these seem to commemorate the dead in some way. (My theories: How they died? Male/Female?)
My Theory: A cult of Merlin
Merlin/Myrddin first pops us in written record in 1130 AD. It used to be theorized that Stonehenge was created by Merlin. Moving them the 150 miles with his magic. While that piece might be farfetched, Merlin is part of British folklore that originated in (today) Wales where the Bluestone and creators of Stonehenge seem to have come from. Bluestone is said to contain the energy of Merlin and to connect us with our own power, to bring out courage, give strength, and provide protection. Could Stonehenge be the remnants of a cult to Merlin?
If swords represented men and cups represented women? What might axes represent? Could it be ancient trans people? Blade down— biological female trnas, Blade down— biological male trans… I say that because most of the people found at Stonehenge were biologically male and the carvings mostly depict axe heads with the blades facing up.