A group of researchers from the Brussels Free University VUB has made some discoveries about the people who built Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire in southern England. According to the team led by Christopher Snoeck, some of the builders originally came from West Wales, where the stone itself originated.
Snoeck previously made his name by discovering a process allowing for the investigation of cremated bones to trace their origins. Around Stonehenge, the cremated remains of 25 men thought to have been the builders were buried, and according to Snoeck’s research, at least ten of them come from West Wales.
To make the job more difficult, the remains were dug up in the early part of the last century, then buried again in a common grave. When that was opened up in 2008, archaeologists had the impossible task of figuring which part went with which.
Snoeck’s new technique made that identification possible. The bodies can be dated to some time between 3180 and 2380 BCE, which corresponds with the date of the oldest part of the monument, suggesting the men were among the original builders. That still leaves an uncertainty of 800 years, but more precision is not possible at this stage.
Snoeck’s research consists of analysing the remains for isotopes of the radioactive element strontium, which occurs in nature. It is absorbed by humans through their food, and according to the concentration found in the cremated remains, conclusions can be drawn as to the place where the person lived, according to where concentrations are similar.
The discovery will be published in the journal Nature.