Stonehenge remains one of the most debated prehistoric monuments in the world. Archaeologists believe the ring of standing stones was erected some time between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, but since the culture who created it left no written records, its ultimate purpose remains unknown. Most theories posit that the structure had some sort of ancient astronomical significance, but those are still debated. Perhaps more mysteriously, scientists still aren’t exactly sure how ancient people could have constructed the monument with the technology available to them.
A long-standing theory about the stones is that they were somehow transported to their current resting place from likely Wales. The particular type of stone used to construct the monument isn’t readily found in the area. However, earlier this year, British archaeologist Mike Pitts published a radical new theory claiming that some of the Stonehenge stones were in place millions of years before humans arrived in the area. Pitts claims that the two largest stones’ alignment with the solstice sun is coincidental, but that this alignment was noticed by ancient people who then built the rest of the monument around these two stones.
Now, a controversial new theory has been published claiming the opposite: that the stones were carried from far away in Wales. Rather than being transported by humans as is commonly thought, though, this theory instead argues that the stones were carried by a glacier. The theory was put forth by geologist Brian John in his new self-published book The Stonehenge Bluestones due for a June 1 release. John says that much of the current thinking surrounding Stonehenge’s construction is all based on the idea that humans, not mother nature, carried the stones. John, however, thinks this is simply hubris:
Archaeologists, in general, have assumed that if the ice couldn't have carried them, therefore they must have been carried by human beings. People have loved this story: all of the heroic ancestors slaving away, collecting up these stones from west Wales and then carrying them all the way to Stonehenge. We all love heroic tales, and I think that's why people have just accepted this, more or less, at face value without any questioning of the evidence on which it's based.
John’s theory is based on his analysis of the stones themselves, which he claims are “rather clumpy bits of stone” characteristic of the stones typically carried around and ground up by glaciers. There is no evidence that humans transported the stones to their current location, he adds.
However, many other archaeologists do not agree. Josh Pollard, a University of Southampton archaeologist, told LiveScience.com that the glacier hypothesis is “looking increasingly untenable.” Pollard adds that nearby rock outcroppings show evidence of ancient quarry activity and match the composition of the stones at Stonehenge. Pollard is part of The Stonehenge Riverside Project, a research venture which studies nearby exposed rock outcrops to try and find a local source for the Stonehenge stones.
This scientists’ squabble might just be an academic ‘turf’ war, but it demonstrates just how mysterious Stonehenge remains today. Despite our best efforts, we still can’t crack the mysteries of how or why the monument was built. Will we ever know?