The Remains of Foreigners Buried at Stonehenge Add to Its Mystery

Stonehenge on Salsbury Plain in Wiltshire in southwest England. Built about 3000BC Stonehenge is Europe's most famous prehistoric monument. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A new analysis shows that 10 of the individuals buried at Stonehenge were not native to the area, and likely traveled from a distant location. According to the study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the cremated remains date back to a time between 3180 and 2380 BCE, early in the monument’s construction.

The team involved in the study used an isotopic analysis to measure strontium, an element found in bone that can tell scientists about local diets and chemical processes, to distinguish whether the remains buried at Stonehenge were native to the area. They found that 40 percent of the individuals did not exclusively spend the last decade of their lives around Stonehenge, or even anywhere in southern England.

Typically, strontium is only found in tooth enamel – a part of the body that doesn’t usually survive the cremation process. But chemical-engineer-turned-archeologist Christophe Snoeck, developed his own method to extract strontium from condensed bone fragments that survived the heat.

According to the Guardian, Snoeck asked a local butcher for the foot and shoulder of a pig to conduct an experiment with isotopic analysis while studying for his Ph.D. at Oxford. He burned the pork in his backyard at 1000 degrees Celsius, finding that the high temperature crystallized the bones, preserving the strontium isotopes. He was then allowed to do the same with the remains found at Stonehenge. Bit of an overachiever, don’t you think?

The remains were discovered in the Aubrey Holes, a series of 56 chalk pits dating to the early construction of the site. These individual holes have baffled archeologists for decades, unsure of whether they were meant to secure timber or other stone posts, while others believe they were a facet of Stonehenge’s astronomical functions.

Another interesting find from the study showed that the site’s famous bluestones – the monolithic blocks believed to have been quarried 180 miles away in the Preseli Hills of western Wales – were potentially brought to Stonehenge by these people. These non-local, primitive Welsh are believed to be the ones buried there – changing archeological perceptions which suggested there was little-to-no interaction between settlements at such great distance 5,000 years ago.

As it turns out, they may have in fact been friendly with neighboring peoples. But how exactly they moved these 25-ton stones, more than 100 miles before the invention of the wheel, remains a mystery. Adding to that mystery is the fact that the stones were found to be quarried centuries before they were brought to Stonehenge.

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