Stonehenge: How’d they get ’em there?

The last lecture, we began discussing Stonehenge in some significant detail. I wanted to take an opportunity to talk about some of the leading theories as to how the stones actually got there (I hope we don’t discuss all of these today in class).

The transport of the bluestone and sandstone was not a trivial task: these mulit-ton blocks had to be carried to the various sites from over 100 miles away! How did they do it that long ago? From wicker baskets to, of course, alien technology, there are a wide variety of ways people believe these stones were transported such great distances.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: Ancient aliens. Easily enough, aliens came around these parts and helped us construct Stonehenge. It is thought by the famous Erich von Däniken that the aliens may have used Stonehenge either as a landing pad for alien spaceships or an observatory for alien happenings in the sky. He also theorizes on the idea that Stonehenge represents our solar system.

Some geologists support the idea that glaciers actually did most of the moving, not humans. As glaciers flowed out and carved out the Preseli hills, 200 miles from Stonehenge, perhaps they deposited the bluestone much closer to the site than previously thought. However it is unclear whether or not the ice sheets were able to transport the stones far enough as to reduce the technological requirements for transporting the stones further. In other words, if you can transport the stones 25 miles, chances are you could probably transport them 100 miles. Another question: how likely is it that the glaciers deposited the EXACT number of stones for ancients to make a circle out of them?

A more recent theory posits that large rock or wooden ball bearings along with wooden tracks were used to transport the stones. Such an idea came about due to the large, stone balls found near the Stonehenge site. It has been calculated that the Neoliths could have moved the stones up to 10 miles a day, only taking two weeks to get the stones from the mountains to the actual site. An initial attempt using student volunteers, wooden balls, planks, and concrete slabs shows this method to be quite feasible. However, a more authentic attempt using materials of that age as well as oxen will provide a better idea on this method’s feasibility.

A recent theory, brought to attention in 2010 by an engineer, suggests that it was large wooden cradles that encapsulated the stones and transported them across land and water.  The engineer, Gary Lavin, believes that 5 men and perhaps some oxen rolled these baskets along the plains, then floated them across bodies of water when needed. But why wicker baskets? Archaeological evidence shows that the people of that time were already weaving such baskets and other objects at the time of Stonehenge’s construction. Lavin created a prototype out of willow and alder was able to successfully transport a 1-ton rock for some amount of distance on both land and in the water. Future efforts will include the transport of 5-ton stone blocks (keep in mind the heaviest stones were around 150 tons).