New Light on Stonehenge

The first dig in 44 years inside the stone circle changed our view of why—and even when—the monument was built

Carved sarsens-enormous blocks of hard sandstone-were used to build the towering trilithons that dominate the landscape of Salisbury Plain in southern England. But archaeologists Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright believe the smaller so-called bluestones hold the key to unraveling Stonehenge's mystery. (Michael Freeman)
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Not everyone buys into the healing stone theory. “I think the survey work [Darvill and Wainwright are] doing in the Preseli hills is great, and I’m very much looking forward to the full publication of what they’ve found there,” says Mike Pitts. “However, the idea that there is a prehistoric connection between the healing properties of bluestones and Stonehenge as a place of healing does nothing for me at all. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a fairy story.” Pitts also wants to see more evidence that people suffering from injuries and illness visited Stonehenge. “There are actually very few—you can count them on one hand—human remains around and contemporary with Stonehenge that haven’t been cremated so that you could see what injuries or illnesses they might have suffered from,” he says. “For long periods in the Neolithic we have a dearth of human remains of any kind.”

For his part, Wainwright believes that no theory will ever be fully accepted, no matter how convincing the evidence. “I think what most people like about Stonehenge is that nobody really knows why it was built, and I think that’s probably always going to be the case,” he says. “It’s a bloody great mystery.”


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