Did the people buried at Stonehenge come from Wales?

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Cremated remains, which were reinterred in a pit following Hawley’s excavations of Stonehenge, were re-excavated in 2008 and underwent stable isotope analysis to determine their origins. (IMAGE: Adam Sanford, Aerial-Cam)

Recent analysis of cremated human remains excavated from Stonehenge has shown that some of the individuals buried at the Neolithic monument may have spent some of their lives in western Britain, or even west Wales – the same region where the Stonehenge bluestones are believed to have come from.

During William Hawley’s excavations of the famous monument between 1919 and 1926, up to 58 individual cremations were unearthed. These were subsequently reinterred in a single pit, which was re-excavated in 2008. At least 25 individuals were identified from the recovered remains – a task made difficult as they had been co-mingled during their re-interment – and all were radiocarbon dated to between 3180-2965 and 2565-2380 BC. This places the burials in the earlier stages of the monument’s construction – a period when cremation was a common funerary practice in Britain.

Now, samples from these remains have also been subjected to isotope analysis, to find out more about where the individuals came from. This kind of research can be difficult with cremated remains, as the high temperatures that bones are exposed to during burning alter the stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios (which are commonly used to assess diet and mobility). Strontium isotopes, though, which provide information on a person’s whereabouts in the last decade or so before death, remain preserved in cremated bone.

The results of the strontium isotope analysis showed that 15 individuals had isotope ratios consistent with the chalky geology found at Stonehenge, and for at least 15km in any direction from the monument. This suggests that in the years leading up to their deaths, they most likely obtained much of their diet from (and therefore probably lived in) the local area. The other ten individuals, though, yielded significantly different results. Three had isotope ratios that were so dissimilar to the Stonehenge area that they are unlikely to have obtained any of their diet from the region. Instead, their isotope values point to older lithologies more in keeping with parts of Devon and Wales, particularly western Wales. The other seven had isotope values in between the two, possibly reflecting a diet that came from both west Wales and Wessex.

These results lend further credence to the idea that during the Neolithic there was a strong connection between west Wales and Salisbury Plain, which included the movement of both materials and people.

The paper highlighting these results is freely available here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28969-8. We hope to bring you a more in-depth account of this exciting new research in the next issue of CA – watch this space!

This article appeared in CA 343.


  1. Stonehenge Car Park Postholes / Stonehenge Mesolithic Postholes:
    Westernmost post “A” represented “Pembrokeshire Coalfield”;
    The Centre post “B” represented “South Wales Coalfield”;
    Easternmost post “C” represented “Bristol Coalfield”;

    Avebury coal duster, Cursus coal duster, Durrington Walls coal duster, Long Barrow coal duster, Robin Hood’s Ball coal duster, Stonehenge coal duster, Woodhenge coal duster, etc, all being originally surface coal hunting failures. Every one of them were coal exploration sites that did not yield any coal.

    Take away all of the dressed up cemetery headstone rocks and what have you got? Nothing more than a bunch of coal exploratory ditches and holes, that is what. Afterwards, these ditches and holes were utilized as grave plots, for tired disappointed coal explorers, and their cold disheartened families.


    Yes; they came from Wales,
    and Bristol of course. G-D

  2. Complete History of Stonehenge Excavations

    1611. King James I investigated Stonehenge “to see ‘The stone which the builders refused.'”
    King James Version, 1611

    1616. Doctor William Harvey, Gilbert North, and Inigo Jones find horns of stags and oxen, coals, charcoals, batter-dashers, heads of arrows, pieces of rusted armour, rotten bones, thuribulum (censer) pottery, and a large nail.
    Long, William, 1876, Stonehenge and its Barrows. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, Volume 16

    1620. George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, dug a large hole in the ground at the center of Stonehenge looking for buried treasure. (Diary)

    1633-52. Inigo Jones conducted the first ‘scientific’ surveys of Stonehenge.
    Jones, I, and Webb, J, 1655, The most notable antiquity of Great Britain vulgarly called Stone-Heng on Salisbury plain. London: J Flesher for D Pakeman and L Chapman

    1640. Sir Lawrence Washington, knight, owner of Stonehenge, fished around Bear’s Stone (named after Washington’s hound dog). Bear’s Stone profile portrait a local 17th century attraction. (G-Diary)
    The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, Volumes 15-16

    1652. Reverend Lawrence Washington, heir of Stonehenge, commissions Doctor Garry Denke to dig below Bear’s Stone, reveals lion, calf (ox), face as a man, flying eagle, bear (dog), leopard, and hidden relics. Bear’s Stone (96) renamed Hele ‘to conceal, cover, hide’. (G-Diary)

    1653-6. Doctor Garry Denke auger cored below Hele Stone ‘The stone which the builders rejected’ on various occasions. Gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, bone, concrete discovered at 1-1/3 ‘yardsticks’ (under flying eagle). Elizabeth Washington, heir of Stonehenge.
    Denke, G, 1699, G-Diary (German to English by Erodelphian Literary Society of Sigma Chi Fraternity). GDG, 1-666

    1666. John Aubrey surveyed Stonehenge and made a ‘Review’. Described the Avenue’s prehistoric pits. (the ‘Aubrey Holes’ discovered by Hawley, not Aubrey).
    Aubrey, J, 1693 (edited by J Fowles 1982), Monumenta Britannica. Sherborne, Dorset: Dorset Publishing Co

    1716. Thomas Hayward, owner of Stonehenge, dug heads of oxen and other beasts. (Diary)

    1721-4. William Stukeley surveyed and excavated Stonehenge and its field monuments. Surveyed the Avenue in 1721 extending beyond Stonehenge Bottom to King Barrow Ridge. Surveyed the Cursus in 1723 and excavated.
    Stukeley, W, 1740, Stonehenge: a temple restor’d to the British druids. London: W Innys and R Manby

    1757. Benjamin Franklin observes Bear’s Stone (96) lion, calf (ox), face as a man, flying eagle, bear (dog), leopard, and Hele Stone ‘hidden’ relics below them. (Diary)

    1798. Sir Richard Hoare and William Cunnington dug at Stonehenge under the fallen Slaughter Stone 95 and under fallen Stones 56 and 57.
    The Ancient History of Wiltshire, Volume 1, 1812

    1805-10. William Cunnington dug at Stonehenge on various occasions.
    Cunnington, W, 1884, Guide to the stones of Stonehenge. Devizes: Bull Printer

    1839. Captain Beamish excavated within Stonehenge. (Diary)

    1874-7. Professor Flinders Petrie produced a plan of Stonehenge and numbered the stones.
    Petrie, W M F, 1880, Stonehenge: plans, description, and theories. London: Edward Stanford

    1877. Charles Darwin digs at Stonehenge to study ‘Sinking of great Stones through the Action of Worms’.
    Darwin, Charles,1881, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits. London: John Murray

    1901. Professor William Gowland meticulously recorded and excavated around stone number 56 at Stonehenge.
    Gowland, W, 1902, Recent excavations at Stonehenge. Archaeologia, 58, 37-82

    1919-26. Colonel William Hawley extensively excavated in advance of restoration programmes at Stonehenge for the Office of Works and later for the Society of Antiquaries. Hawley excavated ditch sections of the Avenue, conducted an investigation of the Slaughter Stone and other stones at Stonehenge, and discovered the ‘Aubrey Holes’ (misnamed) through excavation.
    Hawley, W, 1921, Stonehenge: interim report on the exploration.
    Antiquaries Journal, 1, 19-41
    Hawley, W, 1922, Second report on the excavations at Stonehenge.
    Antiquaries Journal, 2, 36-52
    Hawley, W, 1923, Third report on the excavations at Stonehenge.
    Antiquaries Journal, 3, 13-20
    Hawley, W, 1924, Fourth report on the excavations at Stonehenge, 1922.
    Antiquaries Journal, 4, 30-9
    Hawley, W, 1925, Report on the excavations at Stonehenge during the season of 1923.
    Antiquaries Journal, 5, 21-50
    Hawley, W, 1926, Report on the excavations at Stonehenge during the season of 1924.
    Antiquaries Journal, 6, 1-25
    Hawley, W, 1928, Report on the excavations at Stonehenge during 1925 and 1926.
    Antiquaries Journal, 8, 149-76
    Pitts, M, Bayliss, A, McKinley, J, Boylston, A, Budd, P, Evans, J, Chenery, C, Reynolds, A, and Semple, S, 2002, An Anglo-Saxon decapitation and burial at Stonehenge. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 95, 131-46

    1929. Robert Newall excavated Stone 36.
    Newall, R S, 1929, Stonehenge. Antiquity, 3, 75-88
    Newall, R S, 1929, Stonehenge, the recent excavations.
    Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 44, 348-59

    1935. Young, W E V, The Stonehenge car park excavation. (Diary)

    1950. Robert Newall excavated Stone 66.
    Newall, R S, 1952, Stonehenge stone no. 66. Antiquaries Journal, 32, 65-7

    1952. Robert Newall excavated Stones 71 and 72. (Diary)

    1950-64. A major campaign of excavations by Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott, and Marcus Stone involving the re-excavation of some of Hawley’s trenches as well as previously undisturbed areas within Stonehenge.
    Atkinson, R J C, Piggott, S, and Stone, J F S, 1952, The excavations of two additional holes at Stonehenge, and new evidence for the date of the monument. Antiquaries Journal, 32, 14-20
    Atkinson, R J C, 1956, Stonehenge. London. Penguin Books in association with Hamish Hamilton. (second revised edition 1979: Penguin Books)

    1966. Faith and Lance Vatcher excavated 3 Mesolithic Stonehenge postholes.
    Vatcher, F de M and Vatcher, H L, 1973, Excavation of three postholes in Stonehenge car park. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 68, 57-63

    1968. Faith and Lance Vatcher dug geophone and floodlight cable trenches. (Diary)

    1974. Garry Denke and Ralph Ferdinand set out to confirm Sir Lawrence Washington, knight and Reverend Lawrence Washington’s revelation (G-Diary). Auger cores 1.2m (4ft) below Heel Stone 96 (under face as a man). Gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, bone, concrete confirmed. No coal in cores. Stonehenge Free Festival.
    Denke, G W, 1974, Stonehenge Phase I: An Open-pit Coalfield Model; The First Geologic Mining School (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). GDG, 74, 1-56

    1978. John Evans re-excavated a 1954 cutting through the Stonehenge ditch and bank to take samples for snail analysis and radiocarbon dating. A well-preserved human burial lay within the ditch fill. Three fine flint arrowheads were found amongst the bones, with a fourth embedded in the sternum.
    Atkinson, R J C and Evans, J G, 1978, Recent excavations at Stonehenge. Antiquity, 52, 235-6
    Evans, J G, 1984, Stonehenge: the environment in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, and a Beaker burial. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 78, 7-30
    Alexander Thorn and Richard Atkinson. NE side of Station Stone 94. (Diary)

    1979-80. George Smith excavated in the Stonehenge car park on behalf of the Central Excavation Unit.
    Smith, G, 1980, Excavations in Stonehenge car park. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 74/75 (1979-80), 181
    Mike Pitts excavated along south side of A344 in advance of cable-laying and pipe-trenching. In 1979, discovered the Heel Stone 97 original pit (96 original Altar Stone pit). Survey along the Avenue course identified more pits. In 1980, excavated beside the A344 and discovered a stone floor (a complete prehistoric artifact assemblage retained from the monument).
    Pitts, M W, 1982, On the road to Stonehenge: Report on investigations beside the A344 in 1968, 1979, and 1980. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 48, 75-132

    1981. The Central Excavation Unit excavated in advance of the construction of the footpath through Stonehenge.
    Bond, D, 1983, An excavation at Stonehenge, 1981. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 77, 39-43.

    1984. Garry Denke (and Hell’s Angels) seismic survey. Auger cores 1.2m (4ft) below Heel Stone 96 (under lion head). Gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, bone, concrete reconfirmed. No coal in cores. Stonehenge Free Festival.
    Denke, G, 1984, Magnetic and Electromagnetic Surveys at Heelstone, Stonehenge, United Kingdom (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). GDG, 84, 1-42

    1990-6. A series of assessments and field evaluations in advance of the Stonehenge Conservation and Management Programme.
    Darvill, T C, 1997, Stonehenge Conservation and Management Programme: a summary of archaeological assessments and field evaluations undertaken 1990-1996. London: English Heritage

    1994. Wessex Archaeology. Limited Auger Survey.
    Cleal, R M J, Walker, K E, and Montague, R, 1995, Stonehenge and its landscape: twentieth-century excavations (English Heritage Archaeological Report 10). London: English Heritage.

    2008. Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright set out to date the construction of the Double Bluestone Circle at Stonehenge and to chart the history of the Bluestones, and their use.
    Darvill, T, and Wainwright, G, 2008, Stonehenge excavations 2008. The Antiquaries Journal, Volume 89, September 2009, 1-19
    Mike Parker Pearson, Julian Richards, and Mike Pitts further the excavation of ‘Aubrey Hole’ 7 discovered by William Hawley, 1920.
    Willis, C, Marshall, P, McKinley, J, Pitts, M, Pollard, J, Richards, C, Richards, J, Thomas, J, Waldron, T, Welham, K, and Parker Pearson, M, 2016, The dead of Stonehenge. Antiquity, Volume 90, Issue 350, April 2016, 337-356

    2012-3. Stonehenge A344 road excavated and removed. (Diary)

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