Stonehenge transport mystery solved?

Posted: May 24, 2016 by oldbrew in History, methodology

Stonehenge [image credit: BBC]

Stonehenge [image credit: BBC]

Whether this is ‘case closed’ is uncertain but it does seem to offer another option to resolve the puzzle, as the Telegraph explains.

It is an archaeological conundrum that has baffled generations of experts. Just how did prehistoric Britons manage to transport the huge bluestones of Stonehenge some 140 miles from the Preseli Mountains in Wales to their final home on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire?

The answer is surprisingly simple. The feat really isn’t as hard as everyone imagined.

An experiment by University College London found that mounting huge stones on a sycamore sleigh and dragging it along timbers required far less effort than was expected.

In fact the one tonne stone whizzed along the make-shift silver birch track when pulled by just 10 people, moving at around 10 feet every five seconds – which works out faster than one mile per hour if pulled continually, rather than in the short bursts of the experiment.

Stonehenge expert Prof Mike Parker-Pearson of UCL believes the Stonehenge stones were part of a monument that once stood in Wales which was dismantled and moved to Wiltshire. But even Prof Parker-Pearson was amazed at how quickly the stones could be dragged.

“It was a bit of a shock to see how easy it was to pull the stone,” he said.

Full report: Stonehenge wasn’t so hard to build after all, archaeologists discover | Daily Telegraph

  1. oldbrew says:

    Note they are talking about the ‘bluestones’ which came from Wales, not the sarsens shown in the picture. Still very heavy beasts though.

    Aubrey Burl in ‘A brief history of Stonehenge’ argues that the stones weren’t transported at all, but arrived in times of glaciation. He claims that some of the bluestones found were too soft to be of any use, and nobody would have wanted to drag them anywhere.

  2. PeterMG says:

    The Stones were moved when earths gravity was much less than it is today. There really is no other sensible explanation. Perhaps if settled science spent less time squandering money looking for the explanation in advanced mathematics at the LHC and looked at physical data about our world we may begin to start understanding things again.

  3. graphicconception says:

    The parallels to climate science are obvious: You worry and scratch your head for a few thousand years trying to make sense of the models then some bright spark decides to try an experiment!

    Whatever next?

  4. This report is utter bilge, not news at all, because they tried the same method many years ago (on a TV series that tried to show also how the pyramids were built, by trying to build a small one–with the same silly results as this), only they tried it on a substantially larger stone, not a 1 ton one (I vaguely recall it was on the order of 5 tons), although one still not nearly as heavy as the main Stonehenge stones. And they made fools of themselves, basically (which no doubt is why they chose to try with a smaller stone this time–I think they did this too, back then, so the producers and “experts” could feel pleased with themselves). The fools keep trying, because they want to be thought the “experts”, and get attention. The “experts” are just trying to brainwash the latest generation of curious children, not get at the truth.

  5. oldbrew says:

    PeterMG: if ‘The Stones were moved when earths gravity was much less than it is today’, would that have to mean the Earth was either smaller or less dense in the past – or both?

  6. Bloke down the pub says:

    PeterMG has obviously been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The druids there knew how to move big stones about.

  7. Tenuc says:

    The method to move large and heavy megaliths was discovered some time ago….

    “Give me a place to stand, a lever long enough and a fulcrum. and I can move the World”
    ― Archimedes

    This simple techneque was developed and tested by Wally.Wallington and he has posted some info about his method along with a few short video clips demonstrating how it is done…


  8. E.M.Smith says:

    Saw a demo of “rowing” large stones. A big multiton concrete stone analog was easily and quickly moved by about a dozen folks. Lay a rail on each side as fulctum. Small tree trunk poles as “ores” end under the stone. Team on each ore. Pull down, walk forward (stone goes the other way) let up, reset oar. IIRC, there were runners under the stone so it didn’t go fully flat to the dirt.

    Team easily rowed stone a good distance. similar oar lift with shoring / cribbing can raise stones to heights, too.

    They knew how to row boats and do cribbing then…

  9. Graeme No.3 says:

    Years ago I read an engineer’s version. Far from advocating the usual route avoiding cliffs/hills he suggested that the stones were hauled up with a largish team using pulleys. The more vertical the slope the easier to get it up. Once up it would be downhill and with the stones on a sled (if necessary) it could be rolled over logs with a team bringing them forward after the stone travelled. 2 long poles to slow it if needed.
    Incidentally Thor Heyerdahl’s book Aku-Aku contains a description of them rolling a multi-ton statue on Easter Island in just that way. And how it was raised to a vertical position with levers and wedges.

  10. michael hart says:

    I’ll bet that a few orcs as slave-drivers could get those undergraduate-powered stones tonking along at over 2mph, with, or without, a university academic who can put “Stonehenge Expert” on his CV. Where there’s a whip, there’s a will.

    OK, it’s all good fun, but how on earth do they expect to get further funding if they don’t blame something, anything, on global warming?

  11. suricat says:

    Why contemplate the use of “a sycamore sleigh and dragging it along timbers” when the transit of ‘the stones’ was executed ‘post wheel invention’???

    Two great wheels connected by a fixed axle would move ‘the stones’ more easily! Just ‘suspend’ a ‘stone’ from the axle by rope and ‘weight’ the rear of the stone when traversing uphill, and ‘weight’ the front of the stone when traversing downhill.

    WOW! Now we have a ‘self-servo braking system’ as well.


  12. p.g.sharrow says:

    What a bunch of ninnies. Smith has the correct answer. Obvious none of the rest of you have never moved large heavy things with nothing more then man power. I’m only 5’10, 220 pound 69 year old and just “lifted” a Basalt stone as large around as I am tall that was 4feet in the ground and moved it 40 feet with nothing more then an iron bar and my weight. About 6 hours of work…pg

  13. John Silver says:

    The aliens have tractor beams in their saucers, I saw it on the telly.

  14. ren says:

    Is El Niño occurs in the middle of the lunar cycle?
    “With the culmination of the 18.6-year cycle of the Moon in 2006 and again in 2024-25, also called the Major Lunar Standstill, we are afforded the unique opportunity to observe the monthly, annual, and 18.6-year wanderings of the Moon. The 18.6-year cycle is caused by the precession of the plane of the lunar orbit, while this orbit maintains a 5° tilt relative to the ecliptic. At the peak of this cycle, the Moon’s declination swings from -28.8° to +28.8° each month. What this means is that each month for the years 2005-2007 and also 2023-2026, the Moon can be seen rising and setting more northerly and also more southerly than the solar extremes, and will transit monthly with altitudes which are higher in the sky than the summer Sun and lower in the sky than the winter Sun.”

  15. John Silver says:

    “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.”

    – Archimedes

    Those academics never heard of him, obviously.

  16. Ned Nikolov says:

    Ancient megalithic constructions pose a much more difficult and interesting question than how to move specific heavy stones with man power … The question is why do we find prehistoric megalithic sites all over the world and why did ‘primitive’ people choose to build using multi-ton stone blocks instead of small bricks? Ancient constructions such as the Egyptian pyramids, Baalbek (in Lebanon) and Saksaywaman (in Peru) present a formidable challenge even for today’s technology and engineering. Some leading architects state that building the Great Pyramid, for example, is simply beyond our contemporary technical capabilities…
    The striking similarity of construction techniques found on sites separated by thousands of miles suggests the existence of a global prehistoric civilization with a common knowledge regarding cutting and moving of large stones. It appears that, for the ancient builders, processing and transporting huge megalithic blocks was not a difficult task at all. This was likely facilitated by some sort of advanced technology unbeknown to us today rather than by a weaker Earth’s gravity. In Peru, there are many sites, where one can clearly see traces of unknown tools that have cut hard stones such as granite and basalt by melting the rock surface. The stone blocks appear to have been cut as a hot knife would slice through butter … This evidence points to a fascinating new hypothesis that technological advancement of humanity might have not increased continuously and steadily as assumed by mainstream archeology, and that our current level of technology may not be unprecedented in the history of Homo Sapiens on this planet. Instead, human civilizations may have followed a cyclic pattern of development, and technologically advanced civilizations may have existed multiple times in the past. Our current computerized world might only be the peak of the latest cycle of civilization growth, which began at the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago following a cataclysm that whipped off a previous advanced global civilization … Since everything in the Universe moves in cycles (waves), the human evolution and civilization development is likely to follow a similar pattern, which means that our civilization will end at some point in the future as well.

  17. gymnosperm says:

    “tools that have cut hard stones such as granite and basalt by melting the rock surface”

    This would take enormous energy resources that are nowhere else in evidence. Our forebears learned to tap dark energy and the legacy was lost? Bummer.

    The recrystallized surface of these cuts could be precisely dated…

  18. PeterMG says:

    Oldbrew. Over the past 10 years or so I was sure that the change in gravity was due to a change in the earths size or density. But that thinking ties back into believing that gravity is directly related to mass. Today I’m beginning to see a new understanding of gravity based around electrical attraction/repulsion and caused by tiny offsets of the nucleus of atoms.

    If we have a different understanding of gravity and its causes, then a lot of things we see from our past start to make sense. And if the solar system has been unstable in the recent past then each time the planets realign their electrical charge will adjust and by definition gravity.

    Another bow to this is radioactive decay. The current assumption is that it is constant through out the universe. However this assumption has been called into question, and again decay rates may depend on the electric charge. If this turns out to be true then all the calculations we have made about the age of rocks and other items are going to be wrong, and the margin of error become huge rather quickly the further back in history we go.

    From physical (not written) data we can go back about 1100 years. That is when a possible cosmic disaster hit earth and is the timeline when we see the end of Rome in physical data. Beyond that (and this has huge implications for religion) the physical time line does not fit the written and accepted timeline. No darkages.

  19. Chaeremon says:

    @PeterMG (May 25, 2016 at 5:03 pm) good thoughts; me too thinks that things like ‘quantum mechanics force’ (neglected by quantum mechanics) need to be reconsidered and that has implications as you mentioned.

  20. Ned, there is considerable evidence that the only thing transported a large distance for the Great pyramid is the white marble facia panels.The quarry for these can be identified by chemical analysis and looking a ratios of the main elements (Ca, Mg, Si) and trace elements such as Se. The evidence points to the main block were poured on site from a young, soft limestone from a Wadi close by. This limestone has fossils (various shell material). One clue is that the fossils in the a natural bed of limestone have a particular common orientation. close to horizontal if the deposit has not been geologically disturbed. The orientation of the fossils in the blocks is random showing the material has been mixed. Chemical analysis (XRF) and mineral analysis (XRD) are other indicators. Further, there is evidence of formwork and mortar (different composition) in joints and under the facia panels. The Egyptians developed geopolymers for the first (Stepped) Pyramid.. They had the first chemical engineers. Civil Engineers, Scientists and Archaeologists have no understanding of the process and chemical Technology of the ancients.
    Have a look at this

  21. PeterMG says:

    @cementafriend Whilst I can’t comment on your points about the chemical makeup of the rocks, I do think the accepted wisdom of attributing the building of the Pyramids to the Egyptians is something that is being called into question. The idea that they where built to bury the Kings is too far fetched and would have require enormous resource to coerce so many people into building these structures, just for a Tomb.

    There are many theories about those who may have built them, and why, but it is almost certain that today we couldn’t. Yes today it is technically possible with our advanced machines, but no we couldn’t afford to do it and nor could we be coerced to do it.

    More likely earths environmental conditions were different when the pyramids were built, and that these structures were built to harness something. Some people talk of them harnessing electricity or other unknown power, and other talk of giant people. Indeed the pyramids are not the only outsized structures on earth, just the most famous and best known. And pyramids exist all over earth, or we can see the remains of them all over the earth.

    But understanding what we see of our past earth depends on us having open minds to new ideas and not being stuck in with “settled science” or religion as we are now that is not serving us well at all.

  22. Chaeremon says:

    Re: pyramids builders: these people left their own inscriptions behind, in cave wall libraries, on megalithic monuments and other canvases, e.g.

    But academic schamans, in particular the theologians, want that is mystery and forge “translations” enigmatic, for selling over and over again the same mental garbage.

  23. oldmanK says:

    As to gravity, remember skeletal remains always point to a gravity of 1G.

  24. oldmanK says:

    Ned Nikolov above asks an important question — Whatever for? There are two answers; related.

    The first advancement that brought about the civilisations of homo sapiens was the cultivation of the cereals. The development of the cereals is a marvel in itself. The lore that was developed is all based on the cereals, the old myths, + the zodiac, all developed from that single point.

    But that required an essential, a calendar, and many of the ancient megaliths are just that. Today we build imposing monstrosities which we consider essential, for political or religious reasons. The ancients went to the same extreme, but for more important reasons — their life depended on it. Sow your grain at the wrong time and you will face famine.

  25. EternalOptimist says:

    Many years ago, on the island of South Uist, we had the need to deliver a very large and heavy electric motor to the peak of a high and remote mountain (Shaeval).
    The Chinook was cancelled and then the army chopper and then the civilian chopper.

    The sergeant-major looked at us and said – ‘you four. get that crate to the top of that hill. You two – backup’ ‘There is beer in it boys. start humping’

    We got that crate up the mountain quicker than the chopper could have made it from Glasgow airport

    never underestimate the creative ability and power of a few people with a clear goal and a clear incentive

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    @ Ed Nikolov:

    Without power cutting tools, it is easier to move a big stone than to cut it to small blocks. Using brick starts with molded mud and then clay, since it too avoids cutting stones by hand. Small stone comes to common use with power cutters (Romans had a water driven abrasive cutter).

    There is also good evidence that geopolymer methods werewell understood, including a stelli carved for the main architect stating he had mastery of “liquid stone”…

  27. Paul Vaughan says:

    EternalOptimist, welcome to the discussion. You bring exactly the kind of energy needed.

  28. oldbrew says:

    Stonehenge beer theory – anyone working on that 😉

  29. suricat says:

    oldbrew says: May 27, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    “Stonehenge beer theory – anyone working on that 😉”

    Odd that you mention that OB.

    Wiki has a good coverage of Stonehenge here;

    but doesn’t mention ‘the causeway’ AFAIK (or can see in their contribution)! The ‘Time Team’ collaboration conducted a ‘dig’ near the river Avon that posed a connection with Stonehenge and its activity.

    IIRC there were seasonal gatherings of distant populations to the region for a ‘greater purpose’! These were situated ‘off-site’, but close to the site of Stonehenge.

    My closest ref to ‘TT’ (Time Team) is episode 208 of Time Team (specials) @

    where I’m almost sure that the riverbank of the Avon reveals temporary occupation by either ‘workers’, or ‘ceremonialists’.


  30. tallbloke says:

    A few hundred people with ropes and timber could have shifted these stones up hill and down dale all day long. I don’t understand the puzzlement. Stonehenge was built in a warm era. Plenty of surplus labour and food for the hauliers.

  31. jim says:

    Another ahh for the beerman theory. Beer was a staple drink of the ages. Clean water was the rarity in the days of yore. The fermentation of water and plants, creating a tea, and sugars from plant leavings were necessary for survival. Especially for communities, where clean potables were harder to find. And in a movable project as such, with a overlying implied time period of three months or more? There must of been a camp ground of a thousand people. That implies communities established for food and supplies all along the route. Most interesting.

  32. oldmanK says:

    EternalOptimist said “never underestimate the creative ability and power of a few people with a clear goal and a clear incentive”.

    Since the incentive was important, what would have been the result had the incentive been a “King’s Ransome” ? I ask so because it evidently was so for the builders of Stonehenge.

  33. Chaeremon says:

    @oldmanK (May 28, 2016 at 3:51 pm) Re: because it evidently was

    Still on the unreal track we discussed in email, dear oldmanK 😉 The plausible incentive was that medical care (and other high skilled people) come to the attractive and widely advertised place, and not the other way ’round (you’d have to seek for e.g. treatment far away after someone fell sick, etc, or for just a smithery).

    So the incentive was rather that more children at your place survived and were advantageously raised and taught, in contrast to other places and people (of unknown skills) in far away or seasonally unreachable regions.

    P.S. it’s quite another story why such places had to be abandoned (consider also Göbekli Tepe and West Sahara, etc); me thinks, meanwhile, that life-threatening consequences of ill-considered plant cultivation took the inevitable toll.

  34. Paul Vaughan says:

    I haven’t read up on Sonehenge theories, but here’s how I would do it:

    Ice and spiked shoes…

    Horse team #1:
    Tow fire with boiling water and attendant on sled.

    Horse team #2:
    Tow roped rocks.

    Team 1 fire attendant tosses boiling water on the frozen ground ahead of team 2.

    Replenish pot with snow as needed.

    I base this suggestion on nothing other than firsthand rural childhood observation (e.g. logging tricks used by oldtimers) and firsthand experience (building iceways to facilitate all kinds of easy fun).

    To get the rocks downslope you would give the horses rest (for safety). All you would need is the equivalent of a bobsled tube. We used to build them as kids. We’d cut a hole though the hockey pond ice and carry buckets of water up the hill to flood the (dangerous) sliding path. The only thing that made the slide safe was the hockey net that would catch us on the far side of the rink.

    You’d need the spiked shoes to go uphill. With crampons, traction is assured and ice is irrelevant.

    Whoever has studied the file:

    What was the terrain like between the 2 sites?
    Were there lots of ponds and streams on the route?

    Maybe the fire team wouldn’t have even been needed to ice the way. Maybe just buckets. Or better yet, did they have pump and hose capabilities? That works even better for icing.

    Snow and ice play a big role in easing winter transport.

    I grew up next-door to a wise oldtimer who taught all the tricks to any patience youngsters with hours upon hours of fascinating storytelling, always told by a crackling fire. Whenever I could I would always go out and check whatever he told me and unlike those in academia his version of nature matched reality at every step.

  35. Paul Vaughan says:

    For getting stones perched on others: Shovel snow. Bury pillars. Ice the surface of a snow-ramp. Snow bridges are taken-for-granted seasonal infrastructure in the north. Do they leave a trace in the geological record? I’ll leave that and other questions to others.

  36. oldmanK says:

    PV points to another factor with clear possibilities for moving heavy loads. I (and Dodwell) would add another factor to that. Before 2345bce obliquity was lower (~14.5 not 23) so snow and ice would have been abundant at that latitude.

    Chaeremon pointed to Gobelkitepe. Two things I observe. First that that place was destroyed and buried in silt, the same fate of the Ness of Brodgar and several other places, all at around the same particular time, 2300bce (quite possible 2345). Which is too much for coincidence.

    The second is that, like our cathedrals, Gobelkitepe is an edifice built for human vanity, not a functional building like an astronomical observatory/calendar, such as Stonehenge. They were not hunter-gatherers, but an established community (and therefore agrarian and of late date). Dating with C14 material that may be millennia older (or younger) than the site is a common pitfall in dating. Like at the Ness, (and elsewhere; Tarxien Malta was buried in mediterranean sand, same date) ancient marine silt and sediment washed up on land.

    I mentioned the ‘incentive’ above because ‘King’s ransome’ is a much better lubricant than beer. And preferred anytime. At least it was in Glasgow. Which incidentally now I notice, points to extensive cereal cultivation. Mesopotamia swilled in barley beer about the same time.

    Re Chaeremon’s ‘medical care’ the first medic to establish himself firmly in history who replaced ‘Askelpios the Snake’ and relegated him to the hearth, was a companion of St Paul, but that was much later, and its another story anyway.

  37. Chaeremon says:

    @oldmanK (May 29, 2016 at 6:48 am) Re: Göbliki Tepe

    By not looking at the inscriptions on the Göbliki Tepe edifice, some academic shamans instead already invented what they want as function of the stone circles (for selling their scripted reality and become famous as the pope), gee, how sensational (in particular for the still not unearthed major parts at that site). But the already found inscriptions have the same pictorial forms resp. functional forms as those in the Nile river valleys (and flag post form of the site’s largest stone monuments, was does this say to you?).

    I already warned friends in Turkey that the “next” things unearthed at this site are, inevitably, remains of children, so that some academics shamans can once again claim there were cannibals (on today’s Turkish ground, imagine Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused a decendant of canibals).

  38. Paul Vaughan says:

    Did an image search for
    stonehenge transport route map

    and learned that most of the route is by sea.

    One interesting image that came up:

    That linked to 2015 blog article claiming a 5000 year dating error and higher sea levels (suggesting door-to-door transport by boat):

    This is all totally new territory for me. I’ll leave it to others to assess. (I didn’t read it.)

    But even by the more conventional mappings of the route, most if it was by sea:

    Something imaginary to provoke:

    If there was a fresh water lake between the 2 sites and a cold winter, you could sail the rocks all the way on smooth ice with nothing but wind. I’ve seen large heavy fishing shacks blown many miles on smooth ice during a strong wind. And that’s without even attaching a sail. An interesting experiment would be to see how heavy an object could be sailed on smooth ice in a strong wind.

    Another idea: Encase the rocks in ice or underlay them with ice slabs and tow them. Someone could calculate whether that’s feasible (buoyancy, melt rate in winter sea water). As kids one of our favorite activities was called “iceberging”.

    Were there canal systems on the rivers? Were temperatures cold enough for freezing?
    Giant logging trucks cut 70% off their trip-times to the mill via ice. It’s easy to move loads of logs on ice. Where I grew up almost all logging was done in winter. It’s so easy to drag the logs over frozen swamps, lakes, rivers, and otherwise-uneven terrain evened-out by snow.

    If ice was a part of the picture, I can’t see any mystery at all — rather just details to work out for different sections of the route.

  39. Chaeremon says:

    Re: ice was a part of the picture

    Sure it was; with a whole ice age in the most recent past, architecture with squares and rectangles for making a self-sustaining sphere was invented and improved many times (watch the full 10 mins, note the pivotal structure of the first round),

  40. oldmanK says:

    To add to PV’s post above, I read the Thames did freeze occasionally. Where would the permanent winter sea ice be at a substantially lower obliquity? Also, blocks of stone were said to be cut by first cutting a groove, then ram wooden wedges, soak with water for the wood to swell and nature does the rest. Alternately in winter pour water in the groove and let it freeze. Will it work? If freezing water can burst a metal water pipe,—–.

    The unknown, unconsidered factor may be the most important to solve what may have been an anomaly for many decades, the result of an incomplete assessment.

    Sorry to keep repeating this. But I have just proved you can FORECAST the solstice day, by a 5000 year old technique. That, for me at least, has put paid to many of the local pre-history books; it is now completely new ground.

  41. Paul Vaughan says:

    Having now eliminated some of my basic ignorance on this file I realize the bluestones are just the smaller stones (1 or 2 tons), so the land route makes sense and you would only need snow, a pair of skis, and a few horses.

    Given that there are something like 80, my guess is there was some kind of trade in these “ringing stones” and those quarrying them also improvised (winter) delivery methods.

    Why would snow sleighing something that size with a few horses be considered enigmatic? Or did they not have horses? Maybe they had a team of giant prehistoric huskies!

    Over to someone who’s read more background on this file…

    An interesting diversion from climate

  42. oldbrew says:

    The sarsens (the biggest stones) are said to come from Marlborough – about 20 miles away – as it’s the nearest known source of that type.

  43. Paul Vaughan says:

    If it was neither aliens nor beer, maybe it was…

    – –

    We should begin work on
    The Beer Theory of Climate.

  44. oldmanK says:

    PV say “We should begin work on The Beer Theory of Climate.”

    But also note that a high level of CO2 in the blood is a cause of hallucinations (and panic attacks).

  45. oldbrew says:

    Whoever made that cartoon may have had a beer too many. The big stones as shown are sarsens, but the Stonehenge bluestones are a lot smaller and have no lintel on top.

    ‘The Beer Theory of Climate’ sounds like one that should attract a fat government grant – after you take them to the pub to explain it – which i$ after all an important part of the climate game 😉