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Stonehenge rocks in place 'millions of years before humans'

The Week logo The Week 09/04/2018 Sophia Eppolito

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Two of Stonehenge's largest stones were in place there for millions of years before Neolithic people built the monument, according to the site’s former director of excavations.

In a new paper published in the journal British Archaeology, Mike Pitts argues that two of the largest sarsens - the sandstone boulders that make up Stonehenge - have always been “more or less” where they sit today.

Stonehenge, located on Salisbury Plain, and its alignment with the Solstice Sun has puzzled archaeologists for centuries.

Stonehenge rocks in place 'millions of years before humans' © LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Stonehenge rocks in place 'millions of years before humans' The largest sarsen, known as the heel stone, is 75 metres from the centre of the stone circle, weighs about 60 tons, and has not been shaped or dressed, unlike the other sarsens. It points to where the Sun rises and falls beneath the horizon at midsummer and midwinter.

In the late 1970s, archaeologist Pitts was excavating beside the heel stone when he found a hole up to six metres in diameter. The pit was too large to have been the “socket” for a standing stone but big enough to have contained the huge boulder itself, Sky News reports.

A dramatic sunset acts as a backdrop to Stonehenge on November 20, 2008 in Stonehenge, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) © 2008 Getty Images A dramatic sunset acts as a backdrop to Stonehenge on November 20, 2008 in Stonehenge, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) This suggests “the stone was lifted out of the hole and stood upright, but not brought from elsewhere”, the broadcaster says.

Pitts’ theory suggests that the rocks’ alignment with the Solstice Sun was merely a coincidence.

STONEHENGE, WILTSHIRE - NOVEMBER 6:  Stonehenge on November 6, 2011 in Stonehenge, Wiltshire. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images) STONEHENGE, WILTSHIRE - NOVEMBER 6: Stonehenge on November 6, 2011 in Stonehenge, Wiltshire. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images) “The assumption used to be that all the sarsens at Stonehenge had come from the Marlborough Downs more than 20 miles away,” Pitts told The Times. “The idea has since been growing that some may be local and the heel stone came out of that big pit.

“If you are going to move something that large you would dress it before you move it, to get rid of some of the bulk. That suggests it has not been moved very far. It makes sense that the heel stone has always been more or less where it is now, half-buried.”

Related: Mysterious monuments from ancient civilizations (provided by Espresso)

Mysterious monuments from ancient civilizations: To this day, some monuments left behind by ancient civilizations remain a mystery to researchers and archaeologists. If you seek out history and adventure when you travel, here are 22 enigmatic sites that will excite your inner Indiana Jones.

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