Famous for it’s annual bluebell display when every May the floor of the woods turns to a rich and glorious purple carpet, West Woods, adjacent to Lockeridge and just outside Marlborough may now have a far greater and more enduring claim to fame as the source of Stonehenge’s giant sarsens.
Originally there were believed to be eighty sarsens in Stonehenge of which only fifty two remain. These were the major stones in the monument, comprising the inner fifteen stone horseshoe, the large upright stones of the outer circle and their lintels as well as other more outlying stones.
How did this discovery come about? Published in the journal Science Advances – a study led by geomorphologist Professor David Nash, (University of Brighton) and jointly authored by a team including English Heritage historian Susan Greaney – has pinpointed the source of the megaliths to an area around 15 miles north of the stone circle site. (click here to ‘Stonehenge: how we revealed the original source of the biggest stones’ to find out more)
Reports explain how back in 1958, when the site was being partially ‘restored’ with several sarsens that had fallen in years previously being hauled back up and made stable a core was drilled from one of the stones (‘Stone 58’) so that a metal bracket could be fixed.
This metre-long core of stone was taken away by one of those involved in the work, a Robert Phillips. He kept the core in a tube, hung it on his wall and then took it with him to Florida when he moved there. Recently he passed away and his family offered the core to English Heritage who asked Professor Nash analyse the interior of one of Stonehenge’s great sarsens.
Working with colleagues from UCL, Brighton, Bournemouth and Reading Universities in a British Academy funded project, the team first carried out non-destructive testing of all the remaining sarsens at Stonehenge.
This revealed that most – including Stone 58 – shared a similar chemistry and came from the same area. They then analysed sarsen outcrops from Norfolk to Devon and compared their chemical composition with the chemistry of a piece of the returned core.
The opportunity to do a destructive test on the core proved decisive as it showed that the composition of Stone 58 matched the chemistry of sarsens at West Woods, just south west of Marlborough and an approximately 40 minute drive from Stonehenge today.
English Heritage Senior Properties Historian Susan Greaney said: “This research has been fascinating. To be able to pinpoint the area that Stonehenge’s builders used to source their materials around 2500 BC is a real thrill. Now we can start to understand the route they might have travelled and add another piece to the puzzle.”
Professor David Nash, University of Brighton, said: “It has been really exciting to harness 21st century science to understand the Neolithic past, and finally answer a question that archaeologists have been debating for centuries.” “We’re incredibly grateful to the Phillips family for returning the core to us.”
The Marlborough Downs are steeped in history and this adds yet another layer to the belief that this area, along with Avebury, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and numerous other sites rich in artefact and heritage was right at the centre of culture in prehistoric times.