Stonehenge rocks in place 'millions of years before humans'

Expert claims largest rocks at megalithic monument were not moved there by people

Stonehenge, South West of England
(Image credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty )

Two of Stonehenge's largest stones were in place there for millions of years before Neolithic people built the monument, according to the site’s former director of excavations.

In a new paper published in the journal British Archaeology, Mike Pitts argues that two of the largest sarsens - the sandstone boulders that make up Stonehenge - have always been “more or less” where they sit today.

Stonehenge, located on Salisbury Plain, and its alignment with the Solstice Sun has puzzled archaeologists for centuries.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The largest sarsen, known as the heel stone, is 75 metres from the centre of the stone circle, weighs about 60 tons, and has not been shaped or dressed, unlike the other sarsens. It points to where the Sun rises and falls beneath the horizon at midsummer and midwinter.

In the late 1970s, archaeologist Pitts was excavating beside the heel stone when he found a hole up to six metres in diameter. The pit was too large to have been the “socket” for a standing stone but big enough to have contained the huge boulder itself, Sky News reports.

This suggests “the stone was lifted out of the hole and stood upright, but not brought from elsewhere”, the broadcaster says.

Pitts’ theory suggests that the rocks’ alignment with the Solstice Sun was merely a coincidence.

“The assumption used to be that all the sarsens at Stonehenge had come from the Marlborough Downs more than 20 miles away,” Pitts told The Times. “The idea has since been growing that some may be local and the heel stone came out of that big pit.

“If you are going to move something that large you would dress it before you move it, to get rid of some of the bulk. That suggests it has not been moved very far. It makes sense that the heel stone has always been more or less where it is now, half-buried.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.