In recent years, the mysterious Stonehenge has had a link from its location of Wiltshire, in southern England, to the faraway location of Wales. This is thanks to evidence showing that the megaliths used to erect the henge originally came from Wales. Now, new evidence suggests that some of the people buried at the ancient site more than 5,000 years ago also came from Wales.
According to a study recently published in Scientific Reports, a new way of measuring strontium isotopes within cremated bones has shown that some people buried at Stonehenge would have spent the last 10-15 years of their lives 140 miles away in Wales.
Back in the 1920s, remains of 58 individuals cremated and then buried at Stonehenge were discovered. At the time, though, methods of identification were not advanced enough to estimate where these individuals came from. These remains were then reburied in a mass grave, according to the Washington Post.
In 2008, the remains were exhumed and reexamined. Christie Willis, of the University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, and co-author of the new study, began identifying the individuals. Out of the jumble of charred bones, she was successful in identifying 25 individuals. However, it was still difficult to identify where these people came from, as teeth are normally destroyed in the cremation process. What they needed was a way of using the bones to test where these people came from.
Christophe Snoeck, a researcher at Vrije University in Belgium, who specializes in archaeology and chemistry, had managed to create such a testing method. According to the Washington Post, Snoeck had developed “a technique to identify the element strontium, a metal deposited in bedrock, within cremated remains.” This element is deposited in human bones when they eat plant matter and, as a result, can help identify where people lived in the last 10-15 years of their life.
Using this method, Snoeck tested the remains of the people buried at Stonehenge and discovered something very interesting.
According to his findings, 10 of the people identified in the remains were not from the local area of Wiltshire. Instead, they spent the last decade of their lives in Wales.
“Forty percent of the people who we analyzed could not have lived in Stonehenge for the last decade or so of their life,” Snoeck said.
While the exact details of why these people were cremated and then buried at Stonehenge is not known, some assumptions can be made based on the archaeology.
According to items originally found with the cremated remains in the 1920s, the date of these bones can be placed around the time of the construction of Stonehenge. It doesn’t prove that these people were involved in the construction of Stonehenge, but it does create an ongoing link between Stonehenge and Wales at the time.
Jane A. Evans, an archaeologist at the British Geological Survey, and who was not involved with this research, weighed in on the discussion.
“This suggests it was not just the stones that were brought to Wiltshire,” Evans said, “but there could have been a continuing link between the two areas.”
It also seems likely that these people were cremated and then their remains were carried to Stonehenge for burial.