Missing piece of Stonehenge returned to ancient monument

A missing piece of one of the huge sarsen stones at Stonehenge which was removed 60 years ago has been returned to the ancient monument, English Heritage said.

The stone "core" was removed during archaeological excavations in 1958 and its existence remained largely unknown for six decades, but it now joins English Heritage's collection of more than 500,000 artefacts.

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Stonehenge repairs in 1958
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Stonehenge repairs in 1958
The final stone is put in place in the restoration of Stonehenge. The giant lintel is laid across the top of the trilithons 57 and 58.
Radioactive sodium, rushed from the pile at Harwell, was used to detect cracks in the 45 tonne Trilithon 58, last of the giant stones being placed in its original position in the restoration of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain.
Professor Richard Atkinson, Professor at Edinburgh University, left, with Professor Stuart Piggott, leader of the team. The bearded man is Malcolm Murray who is photographing all the work by the team at Stonehenge. Looking on are Bridget Wilson and Derek Simpson (both at right), members of the Edinburgh University team who are carrying out excavations in the hope of finding new evidence on the origins of the ancient monument.
Sally Kistruck, member of the Edinburgh University team, wheels away a barrowload of earth, spoil from the current excavations at Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain. The excavations are being made in the hope of finding new evidence on the origins of the great circle of stones. Concurrently with the excavations, the Ministry of Works is restoring a small part of Stonehenge.
Edwina Field, left, and Sally Kistruck, extreme right, members of the Edinburgh University team, digging at Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain. In the background are Professor Stuart Piggott, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Edinburgh University and leader of the team (right) and Professor Richard Atkinson. The excavations are being made in the hope of finding new evidence on the origins of the great circle of stones.
A 20 tonne slab of stone, carefully cradled to distribute the weight and prevent breakage, is lifted by a crane at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. The Ministry of Works is restoring one of the trilithons (two upright stones with a lintel), which crashed to earth in 1797.
A 20 tonne slab of stone, carefully cradled to distribute the weight and prevent breakage, is lifted by a crane at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. The Ministry of Works is restoring one of the trilithons (two upright stones with a lintel), which crashed to earth in 1797.
A 20 tonne slab of stone, carefully cradled to distribute the weight and prevent breakage, is fixed by workmen into the cradle before being lifted by a crane at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. The Ministry of Works is restoring one of the trilithons (two upright stones with a lintel), which crashed to earth in 1797.
STONEHENGE 1958: A 60 ton crane in use at Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, to raise a slab of rock weighing 20 tons which is carefully cradled to distribute the weight. The Ministry of Works is restoring one of the trilithons which crashed to earth in 1797.
A 20 tonne slab of stone, carefully cradled to distribute the weight and prevent breakage, is lifted by a crane at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. The Ministry of Works is restoring one of the trilithons (two upright stones with a lintel), which crashed to earth in 1797.
T.A Bailey, a Ministry of Works senior architect (left) and R.W Frost, a senior structrual engineer, on the site at Stonehenge looking at the work to restore a small part of the national monument, one of the trilithons (two upright stones with a lintel), which crashed to earth in 1797.
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Its return may help uncover the source of the stones that form much of the monument, experts said.

Missing piece of Stonehenge
The missing 'core' (English Heritage/PA)

The core was removed during the raising of a fallen trilithon, a group of two upright stones and a third across the top, in 1958.

It was drilled as part of measures to use metal rods to reinforce one of the vertical stones, which was found to be cracked, and the repairs were masked by small plugs from sarsen fragments found during excavation.

The work to drill three 32mm holes horizontally through the metre-thick stone was undertaken by Basingstoke diamond-cutting business Van Moppes.

The core was taken during work to raise one of the iconic fallen 'trilithons' in the 1950s (Historic England/PA)
Work to raise one of the fallen 'trilithons' in the 1950s (Historic England/PA)

Company employee Robert Phillips kept one of the Stonehenge cores, which he gave pride of place to in his office, and then took it with him when he left the firm and later emigrated to the US.

On the eve of his 90th birthday, he expressed a wish that the fragment of the world famous prehistoric monument be returned to English Heritage.

His sons Robin and Lewis travelled to Stonehenge last year and presented it to the conservation charity, which looks after the ancient stone circle.

English Heritage does not know if the other two Stonehenge cores survived and is urging anyone involved in the excavations during the 1950s, or whose family was, and has any information on the cores to get in touch.

Heather Sebire, English Heritage's curator for Stonehenge, said: "The last thing we ever expected was to get a call from someone in America telling us they had a piece of Stonehenge.

"We are very grateful to the Phillips family for bringing this intriguing piece of Stonehenge back home.

"Studying the Stonehenge core's 'DNA' could tell us more about where those enormous sarsen stones originated."

The core could help shed light on where the large sarsen stones at Stonehenge came from (English Heritage/PA)
The core could help shed light on where the sarsen stones came from (English Heritage/PA)

Lewis Phillips said: "Our father has always been interested in archaeology and he recognised the huge importance of the piece of the monument in his care. It was his wish that it be returned to Stonehenge.

"We are all delighted the core has come home, particularly as it is now being used to further important research."

Stonehenge's smaller bluestones are known to have been brought from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, but experts say the origin of the much larger sarsen stones is unknown.

A project is investigating the chemical composition of the sarsens to pinpont the source.

The newly recovered core, which is pristine compared with the weathered stone it was taken from, presents an opportunity to analyse the unweathered interior of a stone.

Professor David Nash, from Brighton University, who is leading the project, said the conventional wisdom was that the sarsens came from Marlborough Downs, but initial results indicate they came from more than one location.

"Our geochemical fingerprinting of the sarsens in situ at Stonehenge, and of the core itself, when compared with samples from areas across southern England will hopefully tell us where the different stones came from."

Anyone with information about the other two cores can get in touch by emailing stonehenge.core@english-heritage.org.uk.

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