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Stonehenge: Built by Welshmen?
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
June 18, 2004 ? At least three of the builders of Stonehenge were from Wales, according to archaeologists who found the builders' grave close to the Stonehenge site, and have linked the remains to stones used in the construction of the Salisbury Plain monument.
The finding, which comes just before Sunday's summer solstice, not only sheds light on Stonehenge's origins, but also provides clues to prehistoric migration patterns within Europe following the Stone Age, which was the earliest known period in human culture.
Most historians believe that Stonehenge served as a temple to the gods of the sun and moon.
The Welshmen's bones originally were spotted last year next to a water pipe trench during routine road improvement work in Boscombe Down, which is very close to Stonehenge.
Later excavation work by Wessex Archaeology revealed that the bones were part of a mass, 2,300-year-old grave that contained eight decorated pots, arrowheads, flint tools, a boar's tusk, an ornamental bone toggle, and the remains of seven individuals whose skull similarities led researchers to believe were related.
The remains included a man who died between the ages of 35 and 45, two other men between the ages of 25 and 30, a male teenager who died at around 15 to 18, and three young children between the ages of two and seven.
Oxygen isotope analysis was conducted on the teeth of the adults, who have been nicknamed the Boscombe Bowmen. Such isotopes become imbedded in tooth enamel from drinking water. Their profile can indicate the person's distance away from the sea at certain periods in time reflective of tooth development, the person's location above sea level, and even general information about the climate that existed during the individual's lifetime, according to the Wessex Archaeology website.
"Ideally, as with the Boscombe Bowmen, strontium isotope analysis is used in conjunction with other lines of evidence such as oxygen isotope analysis to constrain possible areas where an individual could have spent their childhood and/or rule out areas where the tooth data does not match environmental values," said Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey.
She believes the recent find "provides a remarkable picture of prehistoric migration" from Wales to Salisbury.
The tooth study yielded a high proportion of strontium isotope, which is associated with high radioactivity. This limited the remains' point of origin to Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the northwest of England, parts of the Scottish highlands, and Wales. Climate considerations ruled out all but the Lake District and Wales.
Since geological studies indicate that the earliest bluestones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills of southwest Wales, archaeologists who worked on the excavation are almost certain that the individuals in the grave were Welsh and that they were involved in the construction of the prehistoric monument.
Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology told Discovery News that it would be "a phenomenal coincidence" if the origin of the men and the stones were not linked.
He added, "The grave contents do not help in our understanding of how the temple worked, but they put a human face on it."
The mass grave dates to around the same time and place of the Amesbury Archer, a man from Central Europe who was given the richest burial of the age in Europe. He was found a few years ago, and his grave contained pots, metalworking tools, and the earliest known gold objects in Britain.
Although metalworking technology existed during certain phases of Stonehenge's construction, Fitzpatrick said, "The Welsh individuals brought the stones to the site purely with sweat, blood, and tears."
This must have been no easy task, as the remains for the oldest man in the grave indicate that he sustained a severe leg break during his lifetime that likely made his leg shorter and caused him to limp.
"Now we must ask ourselves why these people felt moved to carry stones over such a great distance," Fizpatrick said. "Stonehenge, save for its initial wooden monument, was not remarkable until the stones arrived, so we believe that the site in Wales must have been of some importance to the people of the time."
He believes it is possible that the stone circle was brought from Wales and reconstructed at Stonehenge. A similar monument does exist in the Preseli Hills, but a direct link between the two stone circles has yet to be made.
The Boscombe Bowmen and all of the other recent archaeological finds will be on public display from July 3 through Aug. 30 at the Salisbury Museum in England.
"Alas for those who never sing and die with all their music left in them" - Oliver Wendell Holmes