There has been much coverage in the media recently about the identification of the source of the bluestones at Waun Mawn that we hardly need another post on the matter. However, as Waun Mawn as the source of some of the Stonehenge bluestones is something I’ve covered on this site I decided to include a comment for completeness on this issue. Although I’m sure this will not be the end of the matter…..
The Stones of Stonehenge (SOS) project, directed by Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL, Institute of Archaeology), was established to explore the origin of the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge: sourcing the huge sarsens and the smaller bluestones using geological analysis to identify their precise locations.
Some old core samples taken from a limited number of sarsens at Stonehenge in the 1950s identified their source as West Woods, 15 miles (25km) north of the monument on the edge of Wiltshire’s Marlborough Downs. Simple enough? Not really, this was from very limited sampling of the sarsens and provides no guarantee that all the sarsens are also from West Woods, but with further sampling being denied it will have to do. However, the “bluestones“, a term used for all exotic, i.e. non-sarsen, stones at Stonehenge representing at least 20 different rock types, is a rather more complex matter. You probably know the story by now, however, I will briefly recap how we got to this point.
Over a hundred years ago Herbert Thomas identified the source of some of the bluestones at Stonehenge as the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales. Debate has ensued ever since as to how these exotic stones travelled around 150 miles (250km) to Salisbury Plain in England.
Some of the bluestones show signs of previous workings such as tenons (stones 67, 70, and possibly 69) and mortices (36, 150), groves (68) and tongues (66), seen as supporting evidence for a long held suspicion that these stones once stood in a previous bluestone arrangement before their movement to their final location on Salisbury Plain and incorporated into the Stonehenge structure.
This notion was re-affirmed when two quarry sites at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin were identified in the Preseli Hills but the dating evidence showed a discrepancy between the date the bluestones were lifted from the outcrops and their arrival at Stonehenge. In short there was a gap of several hundred years between the quarry date and Parker Pearson’s revised date for the first bluestone configuration which he envisaged standing in the 56 Aubrey Holes (the outer ring next to the ditch at Stonehenge) long before the sarsens arrived. All of this fitted together nicely with the bluestones having stood in a former stone circle somewhere near the quarry sites in Preseli. This has all been hyped up in the ‘Lost Bluestone Circle’ theory.
The Stones of Stonehenge team set out to find a dismantled stone circle near the quarry sites at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin. Today the nearby site At Waun Mawn has four unspotted bluestones configured in an arc suggesting they may once have been part of a stone circle, perhaps dismantled in antiquity. In contrast, today only three unspotted bluestones survive at Stonehenge (stones 44, 45 & 62). We don’t know how many stood in the original number.
A stone circle at Waun Mawn?
Having carried out excavations at Waun Mawn, the Stones of Stonehenge team claimed that six stoneholes and the four surviving bluestones (ten potential stone settings in total) may have originally formed part of a circle of 30–50 stones. This meant that other stone circles must have also been robbed of their bluestones to provide the 80-82 thought to have stood at Stonehenge in its full compliment.
In the interim report of the excavations of 2018 at Waun Mawan the team got a little over excited and suggested that one of the stoneholes (091) at Waun Mawn matched the pentagonal cross-section of one the bluestones (Stone 62) at Stonehenge. Had the team uncovered evidence of a direct stone lift from Waun Mawn to Stonehenge? Samples from a large flake of unspotted dolerite that is thought to have become detached from the stone during its erection or removal at Waun Mawn was sent for analysis to determine if it was of the same type of rock as that of Stone 62 at Stonehenge.
Similar conclusion jumping was seen during the excavations (2008-09) of the henge on the bank of the Avon at West Amesbury, termed “Bluestonehenge“. This henge was sited at the terminus of the Avenue which Parker Pearson saw as linking Stonehenge to Durrington Walls via the river Avon forming an ancient ceremonial route. The henge was surrounded by 24-26 stoneholes said to have held bluestones, making up the magic number of 80-82 when combined with the 56 that stood in the Aubrey Holes. One hole was said to bear the same distinctive groved shaped footprint as Stone 68 at Stonehenge. However, not one chip or flake of bluestone was found at West Amesbury henge.
A new report in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 45, October 2022) reports on the analysis of Stone 62 at Stonehenge and the bluestone flakes from stonehole 091 at Waun Mawn.
Using a portable XRF (a non-destructive testing techique), the team of Richard E.Bevins, Nick J.G.Pearce, Mike Parker Pearson and Rob Ixer examined the four unspotted dolerite bluestones standing today at Waun Mawn, along with two bluestone fragments from stonehole 091. The data obtained have been compared to data from spotted and unspotted dolerite outcrops across the Mynydd Preseli, an area known to be the source of some Stonehenge doleritic bluestones, as well as data from in-situ analysis of Stone 62 and ex-situ analysis of a core taken from Stone 62 in the late 1980′s.
This study has identified Stone 62 as coming from an outcrop nearly 7 km to the east-southeast of Waun Mawn known as Garn Ddu Fach. Unfortunately for the ‘Lost Bluestone Circle’ theory, not one of the four unspotted bluestones at Waun Mawn or the bluestone fragments from stonehole 91 have compositions which match Stonehenge Stone 62.
The data indicates that the Waun Mawn unspotted bluestones, and likely also the bluestone fragments from stonehole 091, can be sourced to Cerrig Lladron, 1.5 miles (2.37 km) southwest of Waun Mawn, suggesting that a very local quarry was used in the construction of the stone circle there.
The report also mentions that there is evidence that at least eight stones had been erected and subsequently removed from the Waun Mawn stone circle which in all probability also came from Cerrig Lladron.
From this report it is clear that we can rule out any connection between the sites at Waun Mawn and Stonehenge and the team must look elsewhere for the Lost Bluestone Circle.
Richard E.Bevins, Nick J.G.Pearce, Mike Parker Pearson, Rob A.Ixer
Identification of the source of dolerites used at the Waun Mawn stone circle in the Mynydd Preseli, west Wales and implications for the proposed link with Stonehenge
– Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume 45, October 2022, 103556
There are photographs of all the stones at Stonehenge on the excellent Stone of Stonehenge website by Simon Banton including Stone 62.