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Monumental Discovery! More of the Stonehenge Origin Story Comes to Light

Monumental Discovery! More of the Stonehenge Origin Story Comes to Light

Are you familiar with the monoliths at Waun Mawn? Maybe not, but a team of researchers believes that the dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales is extremely significant. They have linked it to the Stonehenge story.

Just four stones remain to tell the tale of Waun Mawn, but an archaeologist has been singing the praises of this inconspicuous site for more than a decade. Now a paper containing the research to support that claim is in the journal Antiquity – bringing the story of Waun Mawn to a wider audience and revealing how it may be linked to the Stonehenge stones.

Is this the Proto-Stonehenge?

The oldest story of Stonehenge’s origins appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ (c. 1136 AD). It claims that the Stonehenge stones originally belonged to a stone circle in Ireland called the Giants’ Dance. In the legend, Merlin had the stones shipped by a force of 15,000 men who had defeated the Irish. The stones were believed to have magical and healing properties and they were used to build Stonehenge in honor of the Britons who were killed by Saxons during peace talks at Amesbury.

Merlin erecting Stonehenge out of the stones from the Giants’ Dance. (from a 14th-century French romance, British Library Egerton MS 3028, fo. 140v).

This story is just fantasy, but the new paper suggests that there is a small grain of truth hidden within it – the Stonehenge stones were moved to the site from a location far west of the Salisbury Plain. But the bluestones came from the western part of Wales, not Ireland. It is worth mentioning, however that during Geoffrey’s time south-west Wales was considered Irish territory. It is known that Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ come from Wales, but is it possible there was a Proto-Stonehenge? If so, could it be re-discovered today?

The ‘Stones of Stonehenge’ project led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of University College London has proposed that there could be a dismantled stone circle – the original Stonehenge – in Wales. In 2010, they first suggested Waun Mawn as a possibility.

3D photogrammetric image of stonehole 91 after excavation of the socket left by the standing stone ’s removal, viewed from the north. The imprint of this stone (in the right half of the stonehole) reveals that the base of this stone had a pentagonal cross-section. The ramp, along which the stone was erected and removed, is at the top of the picture (photograph by A. Stanford/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

But their geophysical study of the site near the bluestone quarries and others around the area proved unproductive. In 2017, a trial excavation at Waun Mawn found two empty stoneholes. But geophysical and ground radar surveys didn’t help to identify any more buried stoneholes. Parker Pearson and his team explain in their paper that digging has been much more successful.

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To date, they write that their excavations have identified six holes for missing standing stones at Waun Mawn. Moreover, they believe that “The six stoneholes and four surviving standing stones (ten in total) may have originally formed part of a circle of 30–50 stones.” Lead author of the current study, Professor Parker Pearson says:

“In September 2018, we excavated five main trenches at the partial stone circle at Waun Mawn. These included the stone holes of two of the recumbent monoliths and revealed 12 further features extending beyond the ends of the arc. Six of these features were holes for standing stones removed in antiquity. Together with the four remaining monoliths, they were part of a former stone circle.”

The arc of former standing stones at Waun Mawn during trial excavations in 2017, viewed from the east. Only one of them (third from the camera) is still standing. Recumbent stone 13 is in the foreground (photograph by A. Stanford/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

By using optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, Waun Mawn has been dated to sometime between 3600-3200 BC. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and sediments in the stoneholes suggests that the stone circle was erected around 3400 BC and there was an absence of activity at the site between 3000-2000 BC. Study co-author Tim Kinnaird of the University of St Andrews says:

“it is the hidden information preserved in the soils that provides the chronology for the construction, then the dismantlement of the Waun Mawn stone circle, intriguingly just before similar stones were erected at Stonehenge.”

A plan of the currently excavated sections of Waun Mawn and Stonehenge 1. (Credit: K. Welham & I. de Luis/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Comparing the Stonehenge and Waun Mawn Characteristics

It would have been no small feat to dismantle a stone circle, move its stones 280 km (175 miles), and then build a monument like Stonehenge. What other evidence do the researchers provide that Waun Mawn stone circle was the source for the Stonehenge stones?

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For one thing, the first stage of Stonehenge was built in 3000 BC, which fits well with the timeframe when the Waun Mawn monoliths were believed to have been extracted. Waun Mawn’s location is also near the quarries which have previously been identified by the same researchers as the source of the Stonehenge bluestones. They also explain in the paper that the unusual cross-section of one of the Stonehenge bluestones matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn and “the dimensions of the Waun Mawn stones compare well with those of the three unspotted dolerite pillars at Stonehenge.”

A bluestone (Stone 62) at Stonehenge. Its geology and lower cross-section match the chippings and imprint of one of the stoneholes at Waun Mawn. (Credit: A. Stanford/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Although the stone arrangement at Waun Mawn appears to have been more irregular than what is seen at Stonehenge, the researchers note that, like Stonehenge, it was aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise. Two of the standing stones at Waun Mawn were positioned as an entrance facing that direction. Waun Mawn’s stone circle also had a diameter of 110m (360.89 ft.), which is the same as the ditch enclosing Stonehenge.

Top) recumbent stone 013 lying beside its stonehole (9), viewed from the west. It formed the west side of the stone circle ’s north-east-facing entrance. Although the top of this pillar (left) is broken off, its weathered surface indicates that this probably occurred long before the Neolithic; bottom) stonehole 21 in half-section, viewed from the east. With its ‘gunsight’ arrangement, perpendicular to the circumference of the stone circle, the removed pillar would once have formed the east side of the north-east-facing entrance (photographs by M. Parker Pearson/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

The researchers believe that “key aspects of the circle’s architecture were brought by the people of west Wales to Salisbury Plain, to be both transformed and reinstated” in the Stonehenge monument. Parker Pearson also notes that the Stonehenge stones may have been sourced from other sites in Wales:

“With an estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge, my guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge. Maybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone will be lucky enough to find them.”

Left) a flake of unspotted dolerite from stonehole 91 was recovered from the junction of the empty socket and the ramp; top right) stone 62 is one of the three unspotted dolerite pillars at Stonehenge; bottom right) stone 62 ’s basal cross-section matches the imprint of the pillar that once stood in stonehole 91 at Waun Mawn (photographs by S. Laidler & A. Stanford/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Builders of the Third Biggest Stone Circle in Britain

The Waun Mawn stone circle also provides more evidence that Neolithic people valued the Preseli area. Why else would they have bothered to create a huge stone circle, a concentration of dolmens, and large enclosures there? As mentioned above, the new study shows that the Waun Mawn stone circle would have measured 110 meters (361 ft) in diameter, this would have made it the third biggest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset. An Antiquity press release also calls it “one of the earliest, along with circles in north Wales and Cumbria.”

Excavation of the stone holes at Waun Mawn, revealing the scale of the monument. Stanford/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )

The Antiquity press release also states that “The find goes a long way to solving the mystery of why the Stonehenge bluestones were brought from so far away, when all other stone circles were erected within a short distance of their quarries.” Parker Pearson wonders if the people migrated from the land that is in west Wales “taking their stones – their ancestral identities – with them” to places such as Salisbury Plain. Interestingly enough, the paper mentions that isotopic analysis of people cremated and buried at Stonehenge “lived the last decades of their lives on the Ordovician/Silurian rocks of south-west Wales—including around the outcrops of the Preseli Hills.”

The paper revealing the years of research at Waun Mawn, titled ‘The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales,’ is now published in the journal Antiquity.

The decade of research behind the Waun Mawn discovery and its connection to the Stonehenge stones is also the focus of a new BBC documentary. Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed , will be broadcast on BBC 2 at 21:00 UTC on February 12.


What’s the real story on Stonehenge?

Dear Straight Dope:

I just watched a segment about Stonehenge on a repeat of "In Search Of . . ." on the History Channel. The show seemed like a bunch of bunk, sucking up to the touchy-feely, crystals-and-spirits crowd (with a touch of "Chariots of the Gods" gobbledygook thrown in to further muddy the waters). I want to know: What is the absolute, no-holds-barred Straight Dope on Stonehenge?

Brad in New York

Guest Contributor Antiquarian replies:

It’s a calendar, except instead of pictures of shapely women in bikinis, it’s got big chunks of rock. Alignments of different stones mark various solar or lunar events (or so some have argued). The best known alignment, and the one we can be surest isn’t mere coincidence, is for the summer solstice, a date of significance to many cultures. Stonehenge is a favorite of New Age enthusiasts, who imagine it to have been a Druid temple in the days of the early Britons. It may have been a temple, and conceivably the Druids used it as such (much as wannabe Druids do today), but the Druids didn’t build it. As an archaeologist who has studied and worked briefly on excavations at Stonehenge, I can say the significance of the monument goes well beyond the puerile Druid crystals-and-spirits story.

Impressive though it is, what we see at Stonehenge now is only a fragment of what it was in its heyday. When the final phase of construction concluded, it was a near-perfect astronomical calculator (or, again, so some have argued). Not only is Stonehenge aligned with solar and lunar events, it can be used to predict eclipses, although whether that was the intention of the builders remains controversial (see resource 3 below). But why would someone want to build it? And who built it, and when, and how?

In the early 1990s the English Heritage Scientific Dating Service assembled a group of scientists to measure, date and corroborate evidence brought to light over the previous three centuries to determine when Stonehenge was built. The scientists established that the site had been built in three phases over a period of two millennia.

The first phase of Stonehenge was the outer ditch, which lies far outside the iconic stone structure. The ditch forms a nearly complete circle with an earthen bank on the inner side. (Now the bank is almost level with the ground due to age.) Radiocarbon dating of material found in the ditch in 1993-94 suggests it was built more than five thousand years ago, somewhat before 3000 BC (see source 1). Just inside the earthen bank are 56 small pits known as Aubrey holes after their discoverer, 17th century British antiquarian John Aubrey. It’s uncertain what was in the Aubrey holes. Speculation ranges from timber posts to sacrificial ornaments.

Organic remains in the ditch have enabled us to date it:

The main Ditch at Stonehenge was dug in a series of segments, at the base of which were deposited large numbers of antlers, many of which had been used as picks or rakes and showed heavy wear. Since these artifacts had no primary silt beneath them they must have been deposited very soon after the Ditch was dug. It is considered that antlers would not have been kept for long before use, especially as over half (57%) came from slain deer (perhaps because a large number of antlers were needed quickly?). Consequently the digging of the Ditch can be dated to very soon after the last of the antlers was collected. (See resource 2)

As a celestial clock-tool the Henge was far from complete. The inner stone circles are where the real mystery comes in.

Phase II of construction is somewhat sketchy. Radiocarbon dating makes it reasonably certain that the second phase extended from 2800-2260 BC (92% confidence for you statisticians see resource 1). During Phase II, after the creation of the ”Avenue,” a pathway located at the northeast corner of the circle, the builders placed a ”Slaughter Stone” just inside the confines, surrounded by four “Station Stones” set in a rectangle. A hundred feet away they positioned a ”Heel Stone” weighing 35 tons and measuring almost 20 feet in height. This stone holds particular significance–each summer on the longest day of the year, June 21st, the sun rises directly in line with this stone when viewed from the center of the monument, giving the appearance that the sun is resting on it. On most other days of the year, one cannot see the sunrise from the center of Stonehenge (resource 2).

Two centuries after the placing of the Heel and Slaughter stones, some eighty blocks of bluestone from the Preseli Mountains in Wales were brought to the site. These stones were the lightest of the lot, but came the greatest distance. Most likely they were brought by raft around the coast of Wales to the river Avon in Bristol, then floated upstream. Once ashore, the big slabs were conveyed the relatively short distance to Salisbury plain by rolling them on timbers to the Avenue. (Some dispute this scenario, saying bluestone of the kind found at Stonehenge was available locally. Local stone and stone from the Preseli Mountains has been dated to the Pliocene Era som 650,000 years ago.) The bluestones were placed in two concentric circles at the monument’s center.

Phase III began around 2000 BC, with work continuing episodically until 1100 BC. During this time Stonehenge assumed the form we know today. Construction was complicated and I won’t attempt to recount it in detail here. The bluestones were taken down and re-erected as a smaller circle dwarfed by the larger sandstone trilithons–two large pillars with a top lintel stone–which formed a horseshoe at the center of the monument. Surrounding the trilithons were some thirty other sarsen (sandstone) stones placed upright, all capped and connected with lintels making a larger outer circle enclosing the inner horseshoe. It’s worth noting the way in which the lintels were fastened together. They were connected using tongue-and-groove joints, which still hold the lintels in place today. Amazing to think this all took place before the introduction of the wheel.

How did ”they” do it? Here scientists including myself generally agree. When the stones were brought on site, no small feat in itself, they were laid perpendicular to holes dug into the chalk. Large wooden timbers were used to lever each stone up, whilst surely close to a hundred men pulled from the other side with ropes, slipping the stone into place. The challenge was the sheer mass of the huge stones, some 45 tons. One would think they would crush the earth on their way upright into the foundation holes. Perhaps timbers were placed beneath the stone to distribute the weight. Once the uprights were in place, each lintel was placed next to a pair of pillars, then hoisted up using wood levers and ropes, centimeter by centimeter. Scaffolding was placed underneath at each increment until the lintel was brought to the top of the pillars and slid into place. Clearly thousands of people worked on Stonehenge–it may have been the center of a large village..

As for who built Stonehenge, let’s start by dispelling the myth that it was the Druids. An early champion of that idea was John Aubrey, the first to do a meticulous study of the site in the early 17th century. Julius Caesar and others had written of a Celtic priesthood dwelling near Stonehenge at the time of the Roman conquest of Britain around 55 B.C. But the Druids had arrived a few centuries earlier at most. At that point Stonehenge had been standing for nearly two and a half millennia and was already a ruin (resource 2).

There are several theories on who built Stonehenge. During the Neolithic period, around 3000 B.C., the ancient Britons lived in small communities. They used tools to a much greater extent than their semi-nomadic ancestors. A people called the “beaker folk” because of their use of pottery drinking vessels resided near Stonehenge around the time construction began, and some contend that Stonehenge was their handiwork (reference 4). However, archaeological evidence for this view is scant. Others looking at the ancient tools found close to the site have surmised that the builders came from continental Europe, not Britain. A more recent school of thought holds that the people were indigenous to the area and simply started using more complex tools (resource 3). It’s possible Stonehenge was initially built to monitor the seasons for agricultural purposes, but its eventual scale and complexity suggest a highly organized culture that would have had more in mind than merely marking the beginning of planting season. Today we rely on clocks and calendars to track the passage of time. The ancient Britons had Stonehenge.

It’s likely Stonehenge had religious significance. To have built Stonehenge over a span of two millennia at considerable cost in terms of resources required an idea and a commitment shared by many. Religion has been the traditional source of such commitments. Christianity has been around less time than Stonehenge.

Whatever religious purpose if any Stonehenge may have served, an impressive amount of scientific knowledge and engineering skill went into its construction, even if you take the conservative view that the only celestial event it commemorates is the summer solstice. The builders had a sound grasp of astronomy. Before they began their work they had determined exactly where the midsummer’s sun would rise, and possibly when a great many other astronomical events would occur, and they expressed that knowledge in stone. Stonehenge is a tool, a celestial pocket watch if you will, built by a people driven by a passion to be precise.

REFERENCES Cleal, R.M.J., Walker, K.E., and Montague, R., Stonehenge in Its Landscape: The Twentieth-Century Excavations (Archaeological Report 10, 1995) Hawkins, Gerald S. and John B. White. Stonehenge Decoded, 1965. Fowles, John. The Enigma of Stonehenge, 1980 Robbins, Lawrence H., Stones, Bones, and Ancient Cities. .

Guest Contributor Antiquarian

Send questions to Cecil via [email protected]

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.


Analyzing the Architecture of Stonehenge: From Bluestones to Sarsens

While studies have traced the smaller stones near the center of Stonehenge, known as bluestones, to the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, over 200 km (124 miles) away, the origin of the site’s largest stones, known as sarsens, has remained a mystery.

But new research from four UK universities (Brighton, Bournemouth, Reading, and UCL) and English Heritage, the organization that cares for Stonehenge, reveals a likely source. The research team used a novel geochemical approach with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology to determine the location.

The results show the large sarsen stones came from a much more local area—the West Woods, Wiltshire, just 25 km (15 miles) north of the monument.

Keep reading to learn how they made the monumental discovery.

The biggest stones at Stonehenge are known as sarsens. These giant stones form the outer ring of the monument. The smaller stones near the center of the structure are called bluestones. Image credit: Andre Pattenden (English Heritage).


New, Massive Complex Discovered Near Stonehenge

On the heels of the Summer Solstice which was streamed live from Stonehenge for the first time, archaeologists have announced the discovery of a ring of ancient shafts near the famous neolithic monument that is over a mile in diameter. This discovery could shed further light onto the still-mysterious purpose and significance of Stonehenge, as well as other aspects of Neolithic life and belief. This new ring is described as the largest prehistoric structure ever found in Britain.

Stonehenge is located on the Salisbury Plain, and is famously aligned to the sun and winter and summer solstices, but the ancient structure is just one of many Neolithic monuments in the area. Just under two miles from Stonehenge is Durrington Walls (so named because it was first discovered as just a series of walls near the town of Durrington). This location was already a fascinating and extremely important location for studies of the Neolithic and includes Neolithic settlements, but at its center is an ancient henge, much larger than Stonehenge.

The Durrington Walls settlement was also located close to Woodhenge, another henge (meaning circular) style monument that was used in the Neolithic era. Together all these monuments and others indicated a great landscape of structures, but the discovery of these new shafts, however, dwarves all of the previously discovered monuments. The newly-discovered “Durrington shafts” form a circle with a diameter of 1.2 miles, with Durrington walls henge located precisely at its center. This is seriously amazing and awe-inspiring.

So far, archeologists have discovered at least twenty shafts and they are huge. They are more than ten meters (32 feet) in diameter and 5 meters deep (16 feet deep). That means that the largest trilithon at Stonehenge would barely poke out of the top. Many of these pits were visible to the naked eye but were assumed to be naturally occurring ponds or depressions in the ground. It’s only now with high tech tools like ground-penetrating radar that scientists have been able to discern that they were man-made. About 40% of the circle is now covered up by modern developments, but enough have been discovered to discover that they make a massive ring around the Durrington Walls henge.

Researchers believe that the shafts were dug around 4,500 years ago, roughly at the same time as Stonehenge, though obviously that’s a rough guess. Scientists are fascinated because the huge scope of these works indicates that the neolithic builders who constructed them would have had to have been much better at math than previously believed. Of course, thanks to Stonehenge, we already knew they were masters as building and watching the seasons and the heavens.

This discovery comes as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project, led by Professor Vincent Gaffney. Gaffney told The Guardian “This is an unprecedented find of major significance within the UK. Key researchers on Stonehenge and its landscape have been taken aback by the scale of the structure and the fact that it hadn’t been discovered until now so close to Stonehenge.” He also added, of the effort it would have taken to make this: “I can’t emphasize enough the effort that would have gone into digging such large shafts with tools of stone, wood and bone.”

But again, these are the same people that transported many of the massive “blue stones” that make up parts of Stonehenge over 150 miles from Wales. What is of course still mysterious is why these ancient peoples built these massive structures. We can theorize about the alignment of the sites with the landscape and the heavens and even the presence of burials and other remains at Stonehenge that these were places of worship or healing. Or that Durrington Walls represented the land of the living while Stonehenge and the avenue towards it represented the land of the dead … or it could be the other way around. Or it could be something else completely!

The reason the discovery of the Durrington Shafts is so incredible and so exciting is that it gives us more clues about the scope of this complex. We do know that the first structures built at Stonehenge were perhaps 7,000 years old, meaning this site was already ancient and sacred when the stone circles and walls were built. This is yet another glimpse into our forgotten past and a hint of more secrets yet to be unearthed.

(via: The Guardian, image: Wikimedia Commons)

—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—


The True Story of the Monuments Men

Captain Robert Posey and Pfc. Lincoln Kirstein were the first through the small gap in the rubble blocking the ancient salt mine at Altausee, high in the Austrian Alps in 1945 as World War II drew to a close in May 1945. They walked past one sidechamber in the cool damp air and entered a second one, the flames of their lamps guiding the way.

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There, resting on empty cardboard boxes a foot off the ground, were eight panels of The Adoration of the Lamb by Jan van Eyck, considered one of the masterpieces of 15th-century European art. In one panel of the altarpiece, the Virgin Mary, wearing a crown of flowers, sits reading a book.

"The miraculous jewels of the Crowned Virgin seemed to attract the light from our flickering acetylene lamps," Kirstein wrote later. "Calm and beautiful, the altarpiece was, quite simply, there."

Kirstein and Posey were two members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Allies, a small corps of mostly middle-aged men and a few women who interrupted careers as historians, architects, museum curators and professors to mitigate combat damage. They found and recovered countless artworks stolen by the Nazis.

Their work was largely forgotten to the general public until an art scholar, Lynn H. Nicholas, working in Brussels, read an obituary about a French woman who spied on the Nazis’ looting operation for years and singlehandedly saved 60,000 works of art. That spurred Nicholas to spend a decade researching her 1995 book, The Rape of Europa, which began the resurrection of their story culminating with the movie, The Monuments Men, based upon Robert Edsel’s 2009 book of the same name. The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art holds the personal papers and oral history interviews of a number of the Monuments Men as well as photographs and manuscripts from their time in Europe.

"Without the [Monuments Men], a lot of the most important treasures of European culture would be lost," Nicholas says. "They did an extraordinary amount of work protecting and securing these things."

The Monuments Men

In a race against time, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture by Nazis.

Nowhere, notes Nicholas, were more of those treasures collected than at Altaussee, where Hitler stored the treasures intended for his Fuhrermuseum in Linz, Austria, a sprawling museum complex that Hitler planned as a showcase for his plunder. On that first foray, Kirstein and Posey (portrayed in pseuodyminity by actors Bob Balaban and Bill Murray, respectively) had also discovered Michelangelo’s Madonna, which was spirited out of Bruges, Belgium, by the Nazis in September 1944 as the Allies advanced on the city. Within days, they’d also found priceless works by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

They summoned the only Monuments Man for the job, George Stout, who had pioneered new techniques of art conservation before the war working at Harvard's Fogg Museum. Early in the war, Stout (given the name Frank Stokes as played by George Clooney in the film) unsuccessfully campaigned for the creation of a group like the Monuments Men with both American and British authorities. Frustrated, the World War I veteran enlisted in the Navy and developed aircraft camouflage techniques until transferred to a small corps of 17 Monuments Men in December 1944.

Stout had been crossing France, Germany and Belgium recovering works, often traveling in a Volkswagen captured from the Germans.  He was one of a handful of Monuments Men regularly in forward areas, though his letters home to his wife, Margie, mentioned only "field trips."

Monuments Men like Stout often operated alone with limited resources. In one journal entry, Stout said he calculated the boxes, crates, and packing materials needed for a shipment.  "No chance of getting them," he wrote in April 1945.

So they made do. Stout transformed German sheepskin coats and gas masks into packing materials. He and his small band of colleagues rounded up guards and prisoners to pack and load. "Never anywhere in peace or war could you expect to see more selfless devotion, more dogged persistence in going on, much of the time alone and empty-handed, to get it done," Stout wrote to a stateside friend in March 1945.

The Allies knew of Altaussee thanks to a toothache. Two months earlier, Posey was in the ancient city of Trier in eastern Germany with Kirstein and needed treatment. The dentist he found introduced him to his son-in-law, who was hoping to earn safe passage for his family to Paris, even though he had helped Herman Goering, Hitler’s second-in-command, steal trainload after trainload of art. The son-in-law told them the location of Goering's collection as well as Hitler's stash at Altaussee.

Hitler claimed Altaussee as the perfect hideaway for loot intended for his Linz museum. The complex series of tunnels had been mined by the same families for 3,000 years, as Stout noted in his journal. Inside, the conditions were constant, between 40 and 47 degrees and about 65 percent humidity, ideal for storing the stolen art. The deepest tunnels were more than a mile inside the mountain, safe from enemy bombs even if the remote location was discovered. The Germans built floors, walls, and shelving as well as a workshop deep in the chambers. From 1943 through early 1945, a stream of trucks transported tons of treasures into the tunnels. 

When Stout arrived there on May 21, 1945, shortly after hostilities ended, he chronicled the contents based on Nazi records: 6,577 paintings, 2,300 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 pieces of sculpture, 129 pieces of arms and armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of objects thought to be archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, 1,200-1,700 cases apparently books or similar, and 283 cases contents completely unknown. The Nazis had built elaborate storage shelving and a conservation workshop deep within the mine, where the main chambers were more than a mile inside the mountain.

Stout also noted that there were plans for the demolition of the mine. Two months earlier, Hitler had issued the “Nero Decree,” which stated in part:

All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory, which could in any way be used by the enemy immediately or within the foreseeable future for the prosecution of the war, will be destroyed.

The Nazi district leader near Altaussee, August Eigruber, interpreted the Fuhrer’s words as an order to destroy any objects of value, which required the demolition of the mines so the artwork would not fall into enemy hands. He moved eight crates into the mines in April. They were marked "Marble - Do Not Drop," but actually contained 1,100 pound bombs.

"Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck was one of the most notable works found in the Altausse mine. (Wikicommons)

His plans, however, were thwarted by a combination of local miners wanting to save their livelihood and Nazi officials who considered Eigruber’s plan folly, according to books by Edsel and Nicholas. The mine director convinced Eigruber to set smaller charges to augment the bombs, then ordered the bombs removed without the district leader’s knowledge. On May 3, days before Posey and Kirstein entered, the local miners removed the crates with the large bombs. By the time Eigruber learned, it was too late. Two days later, the small charges were fired, closing the mine's entrances, sealing the art safely inside.

Stout originally thought the removal would take place over a year, but that changed in June 1945 when the Allies began to set the zones of post-VE day Europe and Altaussee seemed destined for Soviet control, meaning some of Europe’s great art treasures could disappear into Joseph Stalin’s hands. The Soviets had “Trophy Brigades” whose job was to plunder enemy treasure (it’s estimated they stole millions of objects, including Old Master drawings, paintings, and books).

 Stout was told to move everything by July 1. It was an impossible order.

"Loaded less than two trucks by 11:30," Stout wrote on June 18. "Too slow. Need larger crew."

By June 24, Stout extended the workday to 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., but the logistics were daunting. Communication was difficult he was often unable to contact Posey. There weren't enough trucks for the trip to the collecting point, the former Nazi Party headquarters, in Munich, 150 miles away. And the ones he got often broke down. There wasn't enough packing material. Finding food and billets for the men proved difficult. And it rained. "All hands grumbling," Stout wrote.

By July 1, the boundaries had not been settled so Stout and his crew moved forward. He spent a few days packing the Bruges Madonna, which Nicholas describes as “looking very much like a large Smithfield ham.” On July 10, it was lifted onto a mine cart and Stout walked it to the entrance, where it and the Ghent altarpiece were loaded onto trucks. The next morning Stout accompanied them to the Munich collecting point.

On July 19, he reported that 80 truckloads, 1,850 paintings, 1,441 cases of paintings and sculpture, 11 sculptures, 30 pieces of furniture and 34 large packages of textiles had been removed from the mine. There was more, but not for Stout who left on the RMS Queen Elizabeth on Aug. 6 to return to home on his way to a second monuments tour in Japan. In her book, Nicholas says Stout, during just more than a year in Europe, had taken one and a half days off.

Stout rarely mentioned his central role campaigning for the Monuments Men and then saving countless pieces of priceless art during the war. He spoke about the recoveries at Altaussee and two other mines briefly in that 1978 oral history, but spent most of the interview talking about his museum work.

But Lincoln Kirstein didn’t hold back to his biographer. Stout, he said, “was the greatest war hero of all time – he actually saved all the art that everybody else talked about.”


After Stonehenge was built

The stone settings at Stonehenge were built at a time of great change in prehistory, just as new styles of &lsquoBeaker&rsquo pottery and the knowledge of metalworking, together with a transition to the burial of individuals with grave goods, were arriving from the Continent. From about 2400 BC, well-furnished Beaker graves such as that of the Amesbury Archer [9] are found nearby.

In the early Bronze Age, one of the greatest concentrations of round barrows in Britain was built in the area around Stonehenge. Many barrow groups appear to have been deliberately located on hilltops visible from Stonehenge itself, such as those on King Barrow Ridge and the particularly rich burials at the Normanton Down cemetery.

Four of the sarsens at Stonehenge were adorned with hundreds of carvings depicting axe-heads and a few daggers. They appear to be bronze axes of the Arreton Down type, dating from about 1750&ndash1500 BC. Perhaps these axes were a symbol of power or status within early Bronze Age society, or were related in some way to nearby round barrow burials. [10]


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Back in the 1920s, the geologist Herbert Thomas traced the origin of the bluestones to quarries in the Preseli Hills, a mountainous region in southwest Wales, and ever since researchers have been puzzling over how and why Neolithic people would carry these imposing stones over such a great distance.

Now, the team led by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist from University College London, has excavated a previously known prehistoric monument named Waun Mawn in the Preseli Hills. The archaeologists found that the paltry four monoliths that still stood in the open at the site were in fact once part of a massive stone circle &ndash one of the oldest and largest found in Britain. During the 2017-2018 dig they uncovered empty sockets along the projected arc of the circle at Waun Mawn. These pits still held the imprint of the boulders that had stood in them for centuries and also contained smaller &ldquopacking stones&rdquo which were used by the builders to keep the monoliths upright.

Using radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence, a technique which tells us when certain minerals were last exposed to sunlight, the researchers dated the Waun Mawn circle to around 3,400 B.C.E. &ndash that is, some 400 years before the earliest phase of Stonehenge.

Missing monolith at Waun Mawn: Stonehole 7 after removal of sediment filling the emptied socket, but with the stone packing still in place M. Parker Pearson />Stonehenge bluestone S. Laidler & A. Stanford

The Preseli region was densely inhabited at that time, but after 3000 B.C.E. settlement ceases almost completely, Parker Pearson notes.

&ldquoIt&rsquos as if they just vanished,&rdquo he says, adding that the most plausible explanation is that most of the inhabitants migrated eastward, apparently taking their sacred stones with them.

A 2018 study of cremated remains found at Stonehenge had already suggested that at least some of the people who were buried there hailed from Wales. Isotope analysis of the burnt fragments showed that 15 percent of the locals were recent arrivals from western Britain and had only spent their final years in the Salisbury area.

The study of the circle unearthed in the Preseli Hills offers new evidence of this migration and its direct link to the construction of Stonehenge.

There are multiple correlations between the dismantled circle of Waun Mawn to the later one at Stonehenge, Parker Pearson and colleagues report. The Welsh site had a diameter of 110 meters, the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge, and the entrances of both monuments are aligned with the summer solstice sunrise. Stone chippings found in one of the empty sockets at Waun Mawn match the type of rock used for the bluestones of Stonehenge.

That same pit in Wales also holds the imprint of a monolith with a very distinguishable pentagonal cross section, which matches the shape of one of the bluestones at Stonehenge.

The location of Stonehenge and other monument complexes of the Middle to Late Neolithic (c. 3400–2450 BCE) I. de Luis

Most of the bluestones were probably initially arranged on the inside perimeter of the ditch and bank that enclose Stonehenge, Parker Pearson says. They were later moved and rearranged as the site developed through the centuries and 43 of the estimated initial 80 survive at the monument, the archaeologist tells Haaretz. Of the original ring all that remains are the sockets, named Aubrey holes after John Aubrey, a 17th century scholar who first identified them.

By the way, it was in the Aubrey holes that most of the oldest human remains at Stonehenge were found, which has led Parker Pearson to theorize that the site, at least in its earliest incarnation, functioned as a burial ground.

Don&rsquot forget great-grandpa!

The megalithic local sandstones that were raised later, around 2,500 B.C.E., to give Stonehenge the form we are familiar with today could weigh up to 30 tons, but the smaller bluestones were still no joke to move around, especially over long distances. They weighed between one and four tons (something between a compact car and a light truck) and, at a time when the wheel hadn&rsquot reached Britain yet, the migrating population probably transported the stones using wooden sledges pulled by human hands or animals, Parker Pearson says.

&ldquoMoving these stones over such a long distance would have been a huge project, involving masses of people and years&rsquo worth of preparation,&rdquo he notes.

We don&rsquot know what prompted the mass migration from Wales around 3,000 B.C.E., though Parker Pearson theorizes the locals may have been responding to climate change or other environmental pressures, such as a drop in the productivity of their lands.

Stonehole 91 after excavation of the socket left by the standing stone’s removal. A. Stanford

But the fact that these migrants invested so many resources in carrying their monoliths with them instead of just carving out new ones out of local stone (as their descendants would later do on a much grander scale) tells us something about the importance and function of these enigmatic monuments.

&ldquoThese were clearly their most sacred assets, representing their deepest identities,&rdquo Parker Pearson says. The monoliths most likely were raised as a form of ancestor cult, representing the deceased forbears that were called upon to protect the living and their lands, he says. For this reason they could not be left behind but had to be transplanted to the new home of the migrants, the archaeologist theorizes.

This land is mine

a) Waun Mawn: excavation trenches (red) the midsummer solstice sun rose within the entrance formed by stoneholes 9 and 21 b) b) Stonehenge stage 1 Drawn by K. Welham & I. de Luis.

The purpose of Stonehenge, and other monuments like it, has long been debated. It has been variably interpreted as a cultic site, a primitive calendar, and a healing spot whose stones were believed to have curative properties.

It is of course possible that the monument had multiple functions or that these changed in the course of its long history. But it does seem that in recent years the idea of interpreting such sites as places for ancestor worship has been gaining particular traction among scholars.

Circles or enclosures made of stone monoliths are a common feature of many Neolithic cultures throughout the millennia, emerging just as hunter-gatherer societies turned to farming and a sedentary existence. They are found across Britain, continental Europe and the Middle East, perhaps most famously at the 11,500-year-old site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Here too, at what researchers have dubbed the world&rsquos oldest temple, the combination of stone monoliths and burials has been interpreted as a hallmark of ancestor cults.

The basic idea is that with the emergence of agriculture and sedentarism, human ancestral spirits supplanted the animistic pantheons of hunter gatherers. This may have happened, if it did, because ancient farmers called upon the skills and protection of their predecessors for the success of their labors or because they relied on their ancestral connections to lay claim to the lands upon which they toiled.

After all, scholars argue, if modern nations, including Israelis and Palestinians, can invoke the presence of their distant ancestors in a particular region as evidence of their rightful claim to the land, why shouldn&rsquot have Neolithic farmers done the same?

United we stone

Whatever the symbolism behind these ancestor cults, they seem to have been central to the belief systems of everyone from the ancient shamans of Göbekli Tepe to the proto-Druids of Stonehenge. But there is one final, interesting twist to the story about the two linked British stone circles.

It is estimated that the original site at Waun Mawn held a maximum of 50 monoliths, while, as mentioned, the first phase of Stonehenge included some 80 bluestones. This means that the numbers don&rsquot add up and at least some of these stones must have come from elsewhere in the Preseli Hills, perhaps contributed by different tribes that united in the great migration eastward, Parker Pearson suggests.

&ldquoMy guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge,&rdquo he says. &ldquoMaybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone will be lucky enough to find them.&rdquo

Sheep at Stonehenge ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP


Background and Context

John (the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine) was not the first English king to grant concessions to his citizens in the form of a charter, though he was the first one to do so under threat of civil war. Upon taking the throne in 1100, Henry I had issued a Coronation Charter in which he promised to limit taxation and confiscation of church revenues, among other abuses of power. But he went on to ignore these precepts, and the barons lacked the power to enforce them. They later gained more leverage, however, as a result of the English crown’s need to fund the Crusades and pay a ransom for John’s brother and predecessor, Richard I (known as Richard the Lionheart), who was taken prisoner by Emperor Henry VI of Germany during the Third Crusade.

Did you know? Today, memorials stand at Runnymede to commemorate the site&aposs connection to freedom, justice and liberty. In addition to the John F. Kennedy Memorial, Britain&aposs tribute to the 36th U.S. president, a rotunda built by the American Bar Association stands as "a tribute to Magna Carta, symbol of freedom under law."

In 1199, when Richard died without leaving an heir, John was forced to contend with a rival for succession in the form of his nephew Arthur (the young son of John’s deceased brother Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany). After a war with King Philip II of France, who supported Arthur, John was able to consolidate power. He immediately angered many former supporters with his cruel treatment of prisoners (including Arthur, who was probably murdered on John’s orders). By 1206, John’s renewed war with France had caused him to lose the duchies of Normandy and Anjou, among other territories.


Early Celtic 'Stonehenge' discovered in Germany's Black Forest

A huge early Celtic calendar construction has been discovered in the royal tomb of Magdalenenberg, nearby Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany's Black Forest. This discovery was made by researchers at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum at Mainz in Germany when they evaluated old excavation plans. The order of the burials around the central royal tomb fits exactly with the sky constellations of the Northern hemisphere.

Whereas Stonehenge was oriented towards the sun, the more than 100 meter width burial mound of Magdalenenberg was focused towards the moon. The builders positioned long rows of wooden posts in the burial mound to be able to focus on the Lunar Standstills. These Lunar Standstills happen every 18,6 year and were the 'corner stones' of the Celtic calendar.

The position of the burials at Magdeleneberg represents a constellation pattern which can be seen between Midwinter and Midsummer. With the help of special computer programs, Dr. Allard Mees, researcher at the Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum, could reconstruct the position of the sky constellations in the early Celtic period and following from that those which were visible at Midsummer. This archaeo-astronomic research resulted in a date of Midsummer 618 BC, which makes it the earliest and most complete example of a Celtic calendar focused on the moon.

Julius Caesar reported in his war commentaries about the moon based calendar of the Celtic culture. Following his conquest of Gaul and the destruction of the Gallic culture, these types of calendar were completely forgotten in Europe. With the Romans, a sun based calendar was adopted throughout Europe. The full dimensions of the lost Celtic calendar system have now come to light again in the monumental burial mound of Magdalenenberg.


Source of Stonehenge Bluestone Rocks Identified

Scientists have found the exact source of Stonehenge's smaller bluestones, new research suggests.

The stones' rock composition revealed they come from a nearby outcropping, located about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) away from the site originally proposed as the source of such rocks nearly a century ago. The discovery of the rock's origin, in turn, could help archaeologists one day unlock the mystery of how the stones got to Stonehenge.

The work "locates the exact sources of the stones, which highlight areas where archaeologists can search for evidence of the human working of the stones," said geologist and study co-author Richard Bevins of the National Museum of Wales. [In Photos: A Walk Through Stonehenge]

Mysterious megaliths

The Wiltshire, England, site harbors evidence of ancient occupation, with traces of pine posts raised about 10,500 years ago. The first megaliths at Stonehenge were erected 5,000 years ago, and long-lost cultures continued to add to the monument for a millennium. The creation consists of massive, 30-ton sarsen stones, as well as smaller bluestones, so named for their hue when wet or cut.

Stonhenge's purpose has long been a mystery, with some arguing it was a symbol of unity, a memorial to a sacred hunting ground or the source of a sound illusion.

But for decades, researchers agreed upon at least a few things. In 1923, geologist Herbert H. Thomas pinpointed the source of one type of the stones, known as dolerite bluestones, to a rocky outcropping known as Carn Meini on high ground in the Preseli Hills of western Wales. He became convinced the other bluestones (made from other types of igneous, or magmatic, rock) came from the nearby location of Carn Alw. That, in turn, lent credence to the theory that Stonehenge's builders transported the stones south, downhill, to the Bristol Channel, then floated them by sea to the site.

Different origins?

But a few years ago, Bevins and his colleagues found that at least some of the bluestones came from a slightly different region of the landscape, at lower elevation, called Craig Rhos y felin. If true, this would have meant builders would have to the stones uphill over the summit of the hills, then back downhill before floating them on rafts to the sea, Bevins said.

Another competing theory argues glaciers carried the bluestones to the general region of Stonehenge during the last Ice Age.

The researchers wondered about the origins of the dolerite bluestones that Thomas had identified, and took a second look at the mineral composition of the rocks. In general, when rock forms from molten magma, some minerals known as incompatible elements remain outside the crystallizing magma in residual magma, whereas others get embedded within the crystallizing magma. Past work identifying the origins of the rocks had used the presence of only a few incompatible elements, Bevins said.

In the new study, the team looked at the minerals, such as chromium, nickel, magnesium oxide and iron oxide, which are part of the crystallizing structures forming in the original magma. The researchers found that at least 55 percent of the dolerite bluestones came from a location, known as Carn Goedog, which is farther north than the location Thomas had proposed in 1923, and about 140 miles (225 km) away from Stonehenge, Bevins said.

That, in turn, made the raft-theory of transportation more unlikely, Bevins told Live Science.

Transportation mystery

The new findings raise more questions than answers about how the rocks could have made it to Stonehenge.

But pinpointing the exact location of the stones' origins could help archaeologists looking for other evidence of ancient human handiwork near the area, which could then shed light on the transportation method, Bevins said.

"For example, if we could determine with confidence that the stones had been worked by humans in Neolithic times, then the ice-transport theory would be refuted," Bevins said.

The findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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