Cutting edge technology, coincidence and the secrets of Stonehenge

This is an authorized translation Eos Article. This is an authorized Spanish translation of an article Eos.

Stonehenge is an iconic monument that has stood the test of time.

became its main architecture Sarson stones, gray megaliths over 6 meters tall and weighing 18 metric tons. Despite their importance, little is known about the remaining 52 of the approximately 80 stones erected in the mid-third millennium BC.

„The amazing thing about the new study is that they’ve hit Stonehenge. [nueva tecnología].”

But now, new technology and unexpected luck have allowed researchers to analyze a puzzle at the heart of the site: What are these stones made of? Published in PLoS OneThis study provides a complete characterization of the physical and chemical composition of the Charson stones at Stonehenge.

„What’s exciting about the new study is that [investigadores] They have attacked Stonehenge, and all this can be said [nueva tecnología]”, said Mike PittsArchaeologist and journalist who led excavations at the site in 1979 and 1980.

Stone surfaces and coincidence

David Nash, a physical geographer at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom, led the study. His team began by analyzing the surface of each sarchen during several night shifts and a „very early morning shift” when there were no tourists.

Using a handheld meter. The crew stood in the cold, dark night with flashlights, trying to find patches of stone covered in lichen. Except for a few security guards, Nash said, no one else was around. „So, yeah, it’s a little scary.”

The team’s measurements, however careful, could not have been more thorough. They cannot provide information about what lies beneath the surface. Because Stonehenge is so protected by the government, they were unable to take any samples from within the stones.

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But then serendipity struck: As his team was completing fieldwork at Stonehenge, Nash received an email from the English Heritage Trust, a nonprofit organization. Administration of Stonehenge and hundreds of historic sites in Britain.

„They emailed me and said, 'We understand you’re working on the chemistry of stones now. Can you give us a call?'” Nash said. „My immediate reaction was, 'Oh my God, what did we do wrong?’

English Heritage shared information about a major restoration project at Stonehenge in 1958. Three stones including the plan were re-erected at the site Pietra 58A large vertical sarson collapsed in 1797. To reinforce a split, three cores were drilled through Stone 58 to install metal rods.

David Nash of the University of Brighton analyzes a core extracted from Stone 58 at Stonehenge. Credits: Sam Frost/English Heritage

A core was gifted to Robert Phillips, who works for a drilling company involved in the project. (Part of the second core was later found in a box near the Salisbury Museum labeled the „Treasure Box.” The location of the third core is still unknown.) Phillips hung the core in a protective tube in his office until his retirement, traveling to New York, Illinois, California, and finally Florida to collect it. saved As Phillips approached 90 years old, he sought to return this important artifact He provided Al English Heritage en 2018.

The core of Phillips Stone 58, whose existence was previously unknown to any researchers, was given to Nash’s team, who were able to take samples and study it in detail.

„This is the first time we’ve been able to see inside one of the stones at Stonehenge,” Nash said.

„They did everything imaginable,” said Pitts, who was not involved in the study. „I mean, it has to be the most analyzed rock on Earth.”

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Remarkably clean and incredibly durable

Examination of the cores with sophisticated petrographic, mineralogical and geochemical techniques has revealed the reason for the persistence of the charson stones that have long been present at Stonehenge.

The core was 99.7% silica, almost entirely quartz, and was, from start to finish, the purest of any Sarson stone Nash had ever worked with. Under the microscope, its sand-sized quartz grains were tightly packed and supported each other. The grains are then coated in excess cement—at least 16 different growth layers can be counted, almost like tree rings—”creating an interlocking mosaic of quartz crystals that binds the stone together,” Nash said.

Catholuminescence imaging of the Stonehenge charson stone reveals the outlines of sand grains (light blue, black) and multiple layers of quartz cement (red).
Catholuminescence image of Charson stone showing the outlines of sand grains (light blue, black) and multiple layers of quartz cement (red). Credit: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

„That’s why the Sarcens were so big and so durable,” Nash said. „Because it’s an incredibly well-cemented stone.”

Research has also indicated that the dull gray color of Stonehenge that we see today may not have been the same as when it was first built.

„When the stones were first raised, they were worked and they were cleaned on the outside,” Nash said. „The new rock would have been creamy white, and it must have been amazing.”

The data on stone 58 can be applied to other sarsens and where they originated from: In a 2020 article published in Science Advances, Nash and colleagues found that stone 58 was geochemically similar and representative of 50 of the 52 remaining sarsen at Stonehenge. These cherts share geochemical signatures with cherts at West Woods in Wiltshire, about 25 kilometers north of Stonehenge, the source of the stones.

Large sarson stone in the West Woods, Wiltshire
Large sarsen stones in the West Woods in Wiltshire may have been the source of most of the sarsen used to build the vicinity of Stonehenge. Credit: Katie Whittaker/ Historic England / University of Reading

The new study lays the groundwork for future research by making all data open access.

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„They basically gave us access to a unique model of national importance,” Nash said. „What we want to do is to make sure that for future studies of Stonehenge, if other people are doing more work, we’ve done the analysis using all the modern techniques we can. People you can use.”

„By approaching this stone, you realize that you are truly privileged to do this work,” he added. „So you want to do it right, because you can’t go back.”

-Richard J. Sima (@Richardsima), science writer

This translation by Daniela Navarro-Perez (@DanJoNavarro) of @GeoLatinasEditing by Anthony Ramírez-Salazar (@Antnyy), made possible through a partnership with Planetization. This translation is made possible in collaboration with Planetization.

Text © 2022. Authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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