At least 10 people buried around the Stonehenge site, in the south west of England, were not local to the area. They came, like the stones, from the west of Wales.
According to a new analysis of human remains, several bodies did not come from the Salisbury plain, the modern day location of Stonehenge. The study suggests that some of the individuals buried on the site moved at the same time as the blue stones used at the beginning of the monument’s construction. The stones and the people came from the same place: the Preseli mountains in the west of Wales, some 200 km from Stonehenge.
The results provide a “rare insight into the large scale of contacts and exchanges in the Neolithic, as early as 5,000 years ago,” according to Christophe Snoeck from Oxford University, and the main author of the study.
Archaeological digs carried out between 1919 and 1926 at the time revealed the incinerated remains of 58 people, “making Stonehenge one of the largest Late Neolithic burial sites known in Britain,” write the researchers. These cremated remains were discovered in the Aubrey Holes, a series of 56 pits at Stonehenge. All of the remains were then moved into Aubrey Hole 7.
For this new analysis, researchers looked to the bone fragments belonging to at least 25 people. They analysed the strontium isotopes (an isotope being a variation of an element, with a different number of neutrons in its nucleus). Because a person’s bones absorb the strontium in their diet, the team compared ancient strontium isotopes with those found in modern plants and in the water across the United Kingdom. The results suggest that 10 of the 25 people (40%) had not spent their final years near Stonehenge.
Many of these individuals had isotopes corresponding to levels of those in Wales. As for the 15 others, they probably lived less than 20 kilometers from the site. The radiocarbon dating also suggests that these people lived between 4,380 and 5,200 years ago, an era which coincided with radiocarbon dates for quarrying in the Preseli mountains, in western Wales, from where the stones came. “Some of the people buried at Stonehenge might have even been involved in moving the stones — a journey of more than 180 miles [290 km]”, concludes one of the researchers.
You can find all the details of this study in the journal Scientific Reports.