Missing piece of Stonehenge is returned after 60 years: Workman who ‘secretly’ took chunk of rock in 1958 before emigrating to the US finally decides on the eve of his 90th birthday to send it back to Britain
- Robert Phillips led a project to remove a four-foot long stone core in 1958
- The stone core was removed and metal rods inserted to stabilise the structure
- It was in his possession for 60 years and he even took it with him to Florida
- English Heritage will now study the core in a bid to find out more about the mysterious origin of Stonehenge’s sarsen stones
A piece of Stonehenge secretly removed 60 years ago during restoration work has finally been returned to its rightful home in Britain after a trip across the Atlantic.
Robert Phillips was leading a project to remove a four-foot long stone core from one of the standing stones.
He kept the piece of history in his possession for the last six decades, placing it pride of place in his Florida office when he emigrated from the UK to the US.
But on the eve of his ninetieth birthday, Mr Phillips decided to return it to the country of his birth – where it can be studied to cast light on the ancient stone circle.
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A piece of Stonehenge secretly removed 60 years ago during restoration work has finally been returned to its rightful home in Britain after a trip across the Atlantic. The four-foot long stone core (pictured) was taken from one of the standing stones
Robert Phillips(pictured, right, with wife Joan) was leading a project to remove a four-foot long stone core from one of the standing stones
It was one of three ‘cores’ drilled out of a giant stone during the raising of a fallen trilithon, a group of two upright stones with a third across the top, in 1958.
Metal rods replaced the stone cores as engineers scrambled to solidify the cracking structure of the prehistoric site.
Now it is hoped the stone sample may help reveal the outstanding riddle of where the great Sarsen stones came from.
Unlike the smaller bluestones, which are known to have been quarried in the Preseli mountains of Wales, it is still an open question where the great Sarsens came from.
To extract the cores, engineers used an annular drill – which has a ring shaped drilling bit – to remove the pole-like piece of rock.
Metal rods were then inserted into the crumbling stone in a bid to hold it together and the holes blocked up with fragments of Sarsen.
Mr Phillips, an engineer with a keen interest in archaeology, of Basingstoke firm Van Moppes, kept it in a Perspex tube in his office.
He later took it with him when he emigrated to Florida, where he now lives.
Robert’s sons, Robin, 57, a solicitor of Bath, and Lewis, 63, who works in finance, of Canterbury travelled to Stonehenge.
There they officially presented it to English Heritage curator, Heather Sebire.
Whether the other two Stonehenge cores survived remains unknown.
English Heritage said it would like to hear from anyone who was involved – or whose family was involved – in the archaeological excavations at Stonehenge during the 1950s and who has more information as to the remaining cores’ whereabouts.
Mr Phillips, who is in poor health, was unable to return the stone in person.
Robert’s sons, Robin (right), 57, a solicitor of Bath, and Lewis (left), 63, who works in finance, of Canterbury travelled to Stonehenge after the core had been rightfully returned to the site after a 60 year hiatus
To extract the cores, engineers used an annular drill – which has a ring shaped drilling bit – to remove the pole-like piece of rock. Metal rods were then inserted into the crumbling stone in a bid to hold it together and the holes blocked up with fragments of Sarsen
English Heritage said it would like to hear from anyone who was involved – or whose family was involved – in the archaeological excavations at Stonehenge during the 1950s and who has more information as to the remaining cores’ whereabouts
But Lewis Phillips told the Daily Mail his father wanted the stone to come back.
‘I recall as a teenager visiting my dad in his office and there was this long Perspex tube containing the drilled out bits of stone and a picture of the drilling works in progress.
‘So in 1976 when he left the firm, and everybody else in the project had departed and nobody else seemed to be interested in this piece of stone, he took it with him when he left and it went with him as he travelled across America.
‘It was displayed in various homes my parents were in,’ and Mr Phillips later divorced and remarried.
‘My father is 90 and in recent years there have been concerns that as and when he dies he didn’t want this thing getting lost or chucked away. He was keen it should come back.’
Robin made the first contact with English Heritage a year ago, and the charity picked it up from Florida and shipped it back to the UK.
The 1958 project was aimed to help preserve and save the iconic structure after some of the large stones began crumbling. Stone cores were taken out and replaced with metal alternatives to strengthen it
HOW WAS STONEHENGE BUILT?
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.
‘It’s a much travelled piece of stone, it’s probably the furthest any bit of Stonehenge has gone. It’s great they are able to use this, it’s got provenance and we know exactly which stone it came from. There are lots of stone fragments buried around the monument, but we don’t know exactly which stone they came from, but we do with this one.’
‘I remember going to Stonehenge with my dad as a little kid, and he pointed out to me the work they did. Nowadays of course you cannot get so close. It would be nice if it went on display.’
‘At the time in the 1950s it would have just been waste material, it’s possible the other two cores just got thrown away.’
Heather Sebire, English Heritage’s curator for Stonehenge, said: ‘The last thing we ever expected was to get a call from someone in America telling us they had a piece of Stonehenge. We are very grateful to the Phillips family for bringing this intriguing piece of Stonehenge back home. Studying the Stonehenge core’s ‘DNA’ could tell us more about where those enormous sarsen stones originated.
‘The other two Stonehenge cores may still be out there somewhere and if anyone has any information, we’d love to hear from them.’
A British Academy and Leverhulme Trust project, led by Professor David Nash of the University of Brighton, is investigating the chemical composition of the sarsen stones at Stonehenge in order to pinpoint their source.
Professor David Nash, Brighton University, said: ‘Archaeologists and geologists have been debating where the stones used to build Stonehenge came from for years. The bluestones have attracted a lot of attention recently, but in contrast little has been done to look at the sources of the larger sarsen stones.
‘Conventional wisdom suggests that they all came from the relatively nearby Marlborough Downs but initial results from our analysis suggest that in fact the sarsens may come from more than one location.
‘Our geochemical fingerprinting of the sarsens in situ at Stonehenge, and of the core itself, when compared with samples from areas across southern England will hopefully tell us where the different stones came from.’
Unlike the smaller bluestones, which are known to have been quarried in the Preseli mountains of Wales, it is still an open question where the great Sarsens came from.Researchers hope the four-foot long stone core will shed light on this mystery
The stone core was one of three ‘cores’ drilled out of a giant stone during the raising of a fallen trilithon, a group of two upright stones with a third across the top, in 1958. Monolith building is thought to have arrived in the UK around 4,000 BC (pictured) from people originating from France and Spain
WHO BUILT STONEHENGE?
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.
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