How Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ were quarried 5,000 years ago: Ready-made pillars were pried away from rocky outcrops before being transported over land NOT sea

  • Ready-made pillars were pried away from two outcrops in west Wales
  • Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin are located in the Preseli hills 
  • Outcrops can be relatively easily manipulated to yield  huge obelisks 
  • Evidence of neolithic mining has been found at both sites and experts say they were then dragged over land to the current location in Wilthsire 
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Stonehenge’s bluestones were quarried from rock at two Welsh outcrops 5,000 years ago and transported over land to where they stand today.   

This is contrary to a popular theory that the enormous rocks, up to 80 of them in total, were transported by sea via the Bristol channel.  

Rocky outcrops in Wales, known as Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, provided easy access to natural, vertical pillars.

Evidence of the quarrying from 3,000 BC was found in the form of charcoal at both sites, which researchers claim was used to remove the obelisks from the outcrops.

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Stonehenge was formed from rock derived from two Welsh outcrops (pictured) by prehistoric miners using wedges of soft rock 5,000 years ago. They were then moved, archaeologists claim, over land to the current location of Stonehenge in Wiltshire 

Stonehenge (pictured) is made of natural pillars from Pembrokeshire, 180 miles (290 km) away from its current location in Wiltshire. Experts claim the obelisks were dragged there over land and not taken there by sea, as some theories have suggested 

Professor Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said: ‘Some people think that the bluestones were taken southwards to Milford Haven and placed on rafts or slung between boats and then paddled up the Bristol Channel and along the Bristol Avon towards Salisbury Plain.

‘But these quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills so the megaliths could have simply gone overland all the way to Salisbury Plain.’ 

The research also claims it is possible a prototype of Stonehenge was originally built at Waun Mawn, situated only 1.86 miles (3km) from the rocky outcrops they were mined form. 

They were likely used to build a simple circle structure before being disassembled and transported on the mammoth journey to where they now stand. 

Previous studies have claimed cows and other large livestock may have assisted the Neolithic individuals in moving the rocks. 

The reasons behind this move remain unknown and was likely fraught with logistical difficulties that have baffled scientists and historians for centuries.  

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Team leader Professor Mike Parker Pearson, of UCL, said: ‘What’s really exciting about these discoveries is that they take us a step closer to unlocking Stonehenge’s greatest mystery – why its stones came from so far away.

‘Every other Neolithic monument in Europe was built of megaliths brought from no more than 10 miles away.

‘We’re now looking to find out just what was so special about the Preseli hills 5,000 years ago, and whether there were any important stone circles here, built before the bluestones were moved to Stonehenge.’ 

The natural pillars in Pembrokeshire, 180 miles (290 km) away from Stonehenge, could be eased off the rock face by opening up the vertical joints between each pillar. 

Soft stone tools and wedges were found at the scene which were used by Neolithic workers to pry the monoliths away using the ready-made joints.

 The natural pillars in Pembrokeshire, 180 miles (290 km) away from Stonehenge, could be eased off the rock face by opening up the vertical joints between each pillar. It is now thought the rocks were transported over land, not over sea 

This differs from some stone quarries, such as those in ancient Egypt, where obelisks were carved out of solid rock. 

The huge pieces of rock would have then been lowered down to the foot of the outcrop and hoisted away for transport. 

Excavations at the foot of both outcrops uncovered the remains of man-made stone and earth platforms used for this purpose.  

From here the research, led by University College London (UCL), found they would likely have been removed and transported over land to the Salisbury Plains, not over sea as some theories have suggested, to the current location.  

Most of their equipment is likely to have consisted of perishable ropes and wooden wedges, mallets and levers which have faded from existence, but tools such as hammer stones and stone wedges have been identified.

Bluestones were taken from Wales and formed a circle near to where Stonehnge stands today. They were likely used to build a simple circle structure known as ‘bluehenge’ (pictured)

The new discoveries also cast doubt on a popular theory that the bluestones were transported by sea to Stonehenge. New research indicates they were likely dragged across to the Salisbury plains instead 


Stonehenge was built thousands of years before machinery was invented. 

The heavy rocks weigh upwards of several tonnes each.

Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument.

To do this would have required a high degree of ingenuity, and experts believe the ancient engineers used a pulley system over a shifting conveyor-belt of logs.

Historians now think that the ring of stones was built in several different stages, with the first completed around 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Britons who used primitive tools, possibly made from deer antlers.

Modern scientists now widely believe that Stonehenge was created by several different tribes over time.

After the Neolithic Britons – likely natives of the British Isles – started the construction, it was continued centuries later by their descendants. 

Over time, the descendants developed a more communal way of life and better tools which helped in the erection of the stones. 

Bones, tools and other artefacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis.

Soft stone tools were used to ensure that if anything was to crack during the excavation of the huge stone lumps, it would be the tools and not the valuable obelisks.    

Geologists have long known that 42 of Stonehenge’s smaller stones, called bluestones, came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire following previous research and an investigation at the site for eight years.

They each weighed approximately the same as a car but are now often overshadowed by the impressive three-stone features made of sandstone. 

Researchers now think Stonehenge was initially a circle of rough, unworked bluestone pillars set in pits known as the Aubrey Holes, near Stonehenge, and that the sarsens, or sandstone blocks, were added some 500 years later. 

Geologist Dr Richard Bevins, of the National Museum of Wales, said: ‘This was the dominant source of Stonehenge’s spotted dolerite, so-called because it has white spots in the igneous blue rock.

‘At least five of Stonehenge’s bluestones, and probably more, came from Carn Goedog.’

In the valley below Carn Goedog, another outcrop at Craig Rhos-y-felin was identified by Dr Bevins and fellow geologist Dr Rob Ixer, of UCL, as the source of one of the types of rhyolite – another type of igneous rock – found at Stonehenge.      

Soft stone tools and wedges were found at the scene which were used by Neolithic workers to pry the monoliths away using ready-made joints between pillars and then lower it down to the foot of the outcrop where man-made bases were made (pictured)


Stonehenge is one of the most prominent prehistoric monuments in Britain. The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago. 

According to the monument’s website, Stonehenge was built in four stages:   

First stage: The first version of Stonehenge was a large earthwork or Henge, comprising a ditch, bank and the Aubrey holes, all probably built around 3100 BC. 

The Aubrey  holes are round pits in the chalk, about one metre (3.3 feet) wide and deep, with steep sides and flat bottoms. 

They form a circle about 86.6 metres (284 feet) in diameter. 

Excavations revealed cremated human bones in some of the chalk filling, but the holes themselves were likely not made to be used as graves, but as part of a religious ceremony.

After this first stage, Stonehenge was abandoned and left untouched for more than 1,000 years. 

Second stage: The second and most dramatic stage of Stonehenge started around 2150 years BC, when about 82 bluestones from the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales were transported to the site. It’s thought that the stones, some of which weigh four tonnes each, were dragged on rollers and sledges to the waters at Milford Haven, where they were loaded onto rafts.

They were carried on water along the south coast of Wales and up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged overland again near Warminster and Wiltshire.

The final stage of the journey was mainly by water, down the river Wylye to Salisbury, then the Salisbury Avon to west Amesbury. 

The journey spanned nearly 240 miles, and once at the site, the stones were set up in the centre to form an incomplete double circle. 

During the same period, the original entrance was widened and a pair of Heel Stones were erected. The nearer part of the Avenue, connecting Stonehenge with the River Avon, was built aligned with the midsummer sunrise. 

Third stage: The third stage of Stonehenge, which took place about 2000 years BC, saw the arrival of the sarsen stones (a type of sandstone), which were larger than the bluestones.

They were likely brought from the Marlborough Downs (40 kilometres, or 25 miles, north of Stonehenge). 

The largest of the sarsen stones transported to Stonehenge weighs 50 tonnes, and transportation by water would not have been possible, so it’s suspected that they were transported using sledges and ropes. 

Calculations have shown that it would have taken 500 men using leather ropes to pull one stone, with an extra 100 men needed to lay the rollers in front of the sledge.

These stones were arranged in an outer circle with a continuous run of lintels – horizontal supports. 

Inside the circle, five trilithons – structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel – were placed in a horseshoe arrangement, which can still be seen today. 

Final stage: The fourth and final stage took place just after 1500 years BC, when the smaller bluestones were rearranged in the horseshoe and circle that can be seen today.

The original number of stones in the bluestone circle was probably around 60, but these have since been removed or broken up. Some remain as stumps below ground level. 


Professor Parker Pearson added: ‘The stone wedges are made of imported mudstone, much softer than the hard dolerite pillars.

‘An engineering colleague has suggested that hammering in a hard wedge could have created stress fractures, causing the thin pillars to crack.

‘Using a soft wedge means that, if anything were to break, it would be the wedge and not the pillar.’ 

Professor Colin Richards, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, has excavated Britain’s only other identified megalith quarry in the Orkney islands, off the north coast of Scotland.

He said: ‘Bluestone pillars could be eased down onto this platform, which acted as a loading bay for lowering them onto wooden sledges before dragging them away.’

An important aim of the team was to date megalith-quarrying at the two outcrops.

In the soft sediment of a hollowed-out track leading from the loading bay at Craig Rhos-y-felin, and on the artificial platform at Carn Goedog, the team recovered pieces of charcoal dating to around 3000 BC. 


The Neolithic Revolution was the world’s first verifiable revolution in agriculture.

It began in Britain between about 5000 BC and 4500 BC but spread across Europe from origins in Syria and Iraq between about 11000 BC and 9000 BC.

The period saw the widespread transition of many disparate human cultures from nomadic hunting and gathering practices to ones of farming and building small settlements.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

The revolution was responsible for turning small groups of travellers into settled communities who built villages and towns.

Some cultures used irrigation and made forest clearings to better their farming techniques.

Others stored food for times of hunger, and farming eventually created different roles and divisions of labour in societies as well as trading economies.

In the UK, the period was triggered by a huge migration or folk-movement from across the Channel.

The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

Today, prehistoric monuments in the UK span from the time of the Neolithic farmers to the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

Many of them are looked after by English Heritage and range from standing stones to massive stone circles, and from burial mounds to hillforts.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later finished during the Bronze Age.

Neolithic structures were typically used for ceremonies, religious feasts and as centres for trade and social gatherings.


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