Source of Stonehenge bluestones, near Mynachlog-ddu, Preseli
The uplands and valleys around Crosswell are the source of the Preseli bluestones at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The area is covered by several conservation designations – please follow the Countryside Code and avoid disturbing anything.
Up to 80 bluestones were taken from the Preseli hills to Stonehenge c.5,000 years ago. The megaliths (large stones) have distinctive geological fingerprints. Investigations by archaeologists since 2011 have matched those fingerprints to two Neolithic quarries in this area.
Monoliths (long stone blocks) were removed from the southern rockface at Carn Goedog. Below is a stone-built platform where they would have been lowered onto wooden sledges which were waiting at the foot of the outcrop, a metre a metre below the platform. Charcoal fragments date the stone platform to 3400–3000 BC.
The rock at Carn Goedog matches Stonehenge’s spotted dolerite bluestones, the most numerous type of bluestone at Stonehenge. Prehistoric tools found at the quarry include stone wedges and hammer stones. The upper photo (courtesy of Adam Stanford) shows the quarry during an archaeological dig in 2016. Carn Goedog is near the prehistoric ‘Golden Road’.
One of the bluestones at Stonehenge, Stone 62, is of unspotted dolerite and comes from Garn Ddu Fach (pictured here courtesy of Adam Stanford).
One of the rhyolite bluestones at Stonehenge can be sourced to Craig Rhosyfelin, an outcrop further north between Crosswell and Brynberian. Neolithic quarry workers removed one monolith here and drove stone wedges into the rockface to split off another but abandoned the attempt, leaving that monolith and two stone wedges in situ. Remnants of a fireplace and burnt hazelnut shells were found, possibly where the quarry workers roasted nuts during breaks.
Nobody knows why the bluestones were transported c.290km (c.180 miles) to Stonehenge, but they were clearly regarded as special stones. One theory is that they symbolised the ancestral origins of Preseli’s Neolithic farmers who re-established their community on Salisbury Plain. South-west Wales may have been one of the earliest areas of Britain to be farmed, and the Neolithic inhabitants built a large complex of ceremonial monuments in north Pembrokeshire that included stone circles (smaller than Stonehenge). The bluestones at Stonehenge may have been taken from several of these circles as well as directly from the quarries.
A theory that the stones were carried by glaciers is now largely discounted. Some have suggested that the stones were carried on boats or rafts across the Bristol Channel. Others favour overland haulage across South Wales and fording the River Severn. The monoliths certainly had to be transported long distances overland because the quarries and Salisbury Plain aren’t coastal. Sledges running on wooden rails were probably used.
Thanks to Prof Mike Parker Pearson and Adam Stanford. Sources include reports of the Stones of Stonehenge project, and 'Stonehenge: a brief history' by Mike Parker Pearson, Bloomsbury Publishing 2023
Coastal Uplands Heritage and Tourism website – more about places to visit