Ancient stone circle found in Wales ‘was dismantled and rebuilt as Stonehenge’

Emily Beament, PA Heritage Correspondent

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an ancient stone circle in Wales which they believe could have been dismantled and rebuilt as Stonehenge.

The stone circle, named Waun Mawn, was found in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, in the area where the smaller “bluestones” found at Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, are known to have come from.

The team behind the discovery, made during filming for a BBC programme, said there are key elements linking Stonehenge to the Welsh monument, one of the biggest stone circles ever found in Britain.

They suggest its bluestones could have been moved as the ancient people of the Preseli region migrated, even taking their monuments with them, as a sign of their ancestral identity, and re-erecting them at Stonehenge, 175 miles away.

Mike Parker Pearson at Stonehenge
UCL’s Professor Mike Parker Pearson at Stonehenge, the story of whose smaller bluestones is being told in BBC Two documentary Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed (Barney Rowe/BBC/PA)

And it could explain why the bluestones, thought to be the first monoliths erected at Stonehenge, were brought from so far away, while most circles are constructed within a short distance of their quarries, the experts said.

Archaeological investigations as part of the “Stones of Stonehenge” research project, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of University College London, previously excavated two bluestone quarries in the Preseli Hills.

Their discovery that the bluestones had been extracted before the first stage of Stonehenge was built in 3000 BC prompted the team to re-investigate the nearby Waun Mawn stones to see if it was the site of a stone circle supplied by the quarry and later moved.

Only four monoliths remain at the site, but an archaeological dig in 2018 revealed holes where stones would have stood, showing the remaining stones are part of a wider circle of 30-50 stones.

Archaeological excavation of a stonehole (Mike Parker Pearson/Antiquity Journal/PA)
Archaeological excavation revealed a series of stone holes (Mike Parker Pearson/Antiquity Journal/PA)

And the scientific dating of charcoal and sediment from the holes reveal it was put up around 3400 BC.

Findings of the discovery, published in the journal Antiquity, show significant links between Stonehenge and Waun Mawn.

The Welsh circle has a diameter of 360ft (110m), the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge, and both are aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.

Several of the monoliths at the World Heritage Site on Salisbury Plain are of the same rock type as those that still remain at the Welsh site.

And one of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section which matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn, suggesting the monolith began its life as part of the stone circle in the Preseli Hills before being moved.

Waun Mawn is the third biggest stone circle in Britain and one of the earliest, and confirms that the region was an important and densely settled area in Neolithic times until 3000 BC when activity seems to have ceased.

Prof Parker Pearson said: “It’s as if they just vanished. Maybe most of the people migrated, taking their stones – their ancestral identities – with them.”

The stone circle discovered in the Preseli Hills from above (Adam Stanford/Antiquity Journal/PA)
The stone circle discovered in the Preseli Hills from above (Adam Stanford/Antiquity Journal/PA)

Analysis of the remains of people buried at Stonehenge at the time the bluestones were erected there would seem to back up the theory, as it shows some of them were from western Britain, possibly Wales.

With only a few of the Stonehenge stones directly linked to Waun Mawn, the archaeologists also believe monoliths from other stone circles could have been taken from Wales to form part of the new monument.

Prof Parker Pearson said: “With an estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge, my guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge.

“Maybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone will be lucky enough to find them.”

– Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed will be broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on Friday February 12.

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