What Science Has Taught Us About Stonehenge
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What Science Has Taught Us About Stonehenge

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Even if you don’t know much about ancient history and prehistoric monuments, you’ve
probably heard of Stonehenge. The story of this incredible structure goes
back more than 5000 years, and while it was certainly important to the people who built
it, those architects would have had no way of knowing that their creation would become
world-famous. These days, Stonehenge is featured everywhere,
from popular movies to your friend’s vacation photos. But if there’s one thing that everyone seems
to know about Stonehenge… it’s that there’s a lot that nobody seems to know about Stonehenge. The monument is surrounded by famously puzzling
questions, like who built it? What was it used for? Who’s buried beneath it? And especially: How did ancient people manage
to move and erect those huge stones? Over the years, lots of explanations have
been proposed, including lost technologies, outright magic, and — of course — aliens. But while speculation is fun and all, Stonehenge
doesn’t need any help from myths and legends to be cool. After all, just because you understand something
doesn’t make it any less fascinating — and there is a lot about Stonehenge we understand. Archaeologists have been intensely studying
this structure for more than a century, and while many mysteries still remain, modern
science has taught us quite a lot. For centuries, visitors to Salisbury Plain
in Wiltshire, England have marveled at Stonehenge and tried to guess at the identity of its
builders. One of the earliest written suggestions came
from Geoffrey of Monmouth, a bishop famous for his fanciful writings on British history. In the 1100s, he claimed that the monument
was built by Merlin. Yep. The wizard Merlin, of Arthurian legend. The story goes that Merlin used magic to construct
Stonehenge as a monument for fallen soldiers, using huge rocks that were originally carried
out of Africa by giants. And for a while, this was actually a pretty
popular story. Later scholars got more realistic, though,
and proposed a list of non-fictional suspects, including the Romans and the Mycenaeans from
Greece. And while artifacts found at Stonehenge indicate
that some of those cultures did use or visit the monument in its later years, recent evidence
has ruled them out as its builders. A lot of that evidence has come from radiocarbon
dating. This method is one of the most useful tools
archaeologists have, because it mostly just requires some radioactive carbon. In nature, carbon atoms come in a few different
forms, or isotopes, which have different numbers of neutrons. Some of these isotopes — like a key one
called carbon-14 — are radioactive, so they break down over time at really predictable
rates. By figuring out how much radioactive carbon
has decayed in a material, scientists can calculate how long ago the material formed. And that means they can place a date on all
sorts of organic substances. Including ones found at Stonehenge. Radiocarbon dating of human remains and artifacts
has revealed that the monument’s history actually goes back to around 3000 BCE. Which is definitely too old to have been built
by the Romans or Mycenaeans… or Merlin! Unfortunately, whatever group made Stonehenge
didn’t leave behind much evidence about who they were, so their identity remains a
mystery. And the story is complicated even more by
the fact that, like many ancient landmarks, Stonehenge wasn’t built in a day… or even
in a century.4 Archaeologists have identified multiple phases
of construction at the site over a period of about 1500 years, possibly by different
groups of people. The earliest construction happened around
5000 years ago, and it involved the digging of the circular ditch that still surrounds
the monument. This formation is very similar to a type of
earthwork called a henge. We know this partly from carbon dating pieces
of tools that were left behind. But we’ve also found cremated human remains
from this period, hiding in pits within the henge. It’s possible that some early stones were
also put up around this time, but based on other evidence, it’s most likely that the
famous, giant standing stones didn’t arrive for another 500 years. So, even if there isn’t enough evidence
to say exactly who did the heavy lifting, archaeology has been able to help us understand
when it happened, which has ruled out some suspects. MERLIN. Science has also been able to help us figure
out how Stonehenge was built. And one thing is for sure: Getting all these
rocks into place was no easy task. There are two major categories of stones — also
called megaliths — at Stonehenge. The enormous sarsens typically weigh around
22 metric tons each, while the smaller bluestones are a modest 2 to 5 metric tons. Today, there are around three dozen stones
at the site, arranged into two outer circles and two inner horseshoes. But based on the holes dug into the ground,
there likely used to be more. From what we can tell, workers first dug holes
for the rocks to sit in, and then hauled them upright, probably with the help of ropes,
A-frames, and lots and lots of people. The standing stones were then capped with
horizontal beams to form what architects call lintels, like the beam over the top of a doorway. These were probably lifted up there on wooden
platforms that were dismantled after construction. But these lintels weren’t just plopped down. Holes, tabs, and joints were carved into the
rocks so that the architects could insert Tab A into Slot B and fit them all together,
like a very heavy piece of IKEA furniture. Admittedly, this is some very advanced engineering
for that time period, but unlike what a lot of Internet forums say, it’s not impossible. The builders might have lived a few thousand
years before cranes and power tools, but they still had that good old fashioned human ingenuity…
which we tend to overlook. Also, never underestimate the power of a good
ramp and pulley system. Archaeologists think major work on Stonehenge
continued until around 1500 BCE, and that in that time, more earthwork features were
dug, and the bluestones were rearranged multiple times. But who built the structure and how actually
aren’t the biggest questions scientists and historians have asked. Instead, the real mystery is how the stones
got there. See, the big sarsens are made of sandstone,
and the bluestones are variously formed from rhyolite, dolerite, and other types of rock. But none of them match the geology of the
nearby area. Thankfully, no matter how far a stone has
traveled, it still has the same geologic age and composition as the formation it came from. So, after analyzing the mineral makeup of
the stones at Stonehenge, as well as determining their age with other forms of radiometric
dating, geologists have been able to go hunting for outcrops that match its features. And we think we’ve found some answers. Although there’s still plenty of debate,
many scientists believe the sarsens came from a region called Marlborough Downs, about 32
kilometers from Stonehenge. And the bluestones most likely came from the
Preseli Hills of Wales more than 200 kilometers away. A 2015 study from the journal Antiquity even
identified a site that not only matches the geology of the bluestones but also shows evidence
of quarrying during the right time period. The researchers have suggested this might
actually be a site where Stonehenge rocks were extracted. Which is pretty amazing. Of course, that still doesn’t explain how
people moved the rocks. It seems like an overwhelming task, to the
point where it’s been proposed that the rocks weren’t moved by humans at all. For once, though, I’m not talking about
aliens. I’m talking about glaciers. It’s been suggested multiple times that
these huge stones may have been glacial dropstones, carried by advancing glaciers and deposited
when the ice receded. But modern archaeologists tend not to agree
with this. For one thing, they point out that there’s
a lack of good evidence for glacial activity on the Salisbury Plain. We don’t see any major piles of glacier-carried
rocks, and certainly no deposits of the type of stones used to build Stonehenge. And for another, they argue you don’t need
glaciers to explain the movement of these megaliths. Again, human ingenuity is enough. For example, some researchers think the rocks
may have traveled over water. Ancient peoples could have loaded them onto
boats and carted them along rivers and coastlines. .Some people have even traced out specific
waterways that could have taken the bluestones from the Preseli Hills in Wales all the way
to Stonehenge On the other hand, the stones could have also
moved over land. In 2016, a group of students from University
College London conducted an experiment to test just how hard it would be to move a megalith. Inspired by technologies from ancient Japan,
they constructed a large wooden sleigh laid on top of a path of wooden logs. They put roughly one-metric-ton of stone on
the sleigh, and pulled it across London’s Gordon Square. With only ten people pulling, they were able
to move the rock up to three and a half kilometers per hour. So maybe Stonehenge architects used a similar
technique. Or, like other scientists have pointed out,
maybe they just rounded up a bunch of people and carried the rocks. All in all, it’s hard to say which of these
ideas — if any — is closest to the truth, because no one has found any direct evidence
of a transport route. It has, after all, been an awful long time. But there’s good reason to suspect people
were at least capable of moving these megaliths without any help from magic or tractor beams. Historians are still investigating why they
might have gone through so much trouble, but either way, with all of the hard work that
went into building it, it’s pretty clear that Stonehenge was important. It may have served a number of purposes, but
scientists know for sure that it was a long-used burial ground. The cremated remains of more than 60 people
have been extracted from beneath the monument, and it’s estimated that there may have been
more than 150 burials at the site over its centuries of use. For a long time, we didn’t know who these
people were, but recent research ha s begun to unravel that mystery, too. New excavations at Stonehenge in 2008 opened
up the doors for more modern scientific analyses on these remains, including a technique called
stable isotope analysis. Unlike radiocarbon dating, this method looks
at isotopes that haven’t decayed much over time. And instead of being used to determine age,
it can be used to examine the chemical makeup of remains. Kind of like the stones themselves, the bodies
at Stonehenge hold the chemical signatures of the environments they lived in, picked
up from the water they drank and the locally-grown food they ate. That can tell scientists where they likely
lived. A 2018 study in Scientific Reports found that
some of the bodies had isotopic signatures that matched the local environment. So these were probably people who lived nearby. But others had signatures pointing to more
distant regions like Devon or Wales. Since these signatures are also affected by
the type of wood used for the cremation process, the . It’s not yet clear exactly who these people
were, but it seems people from near and far were buried here, maybe because their relatives
were, or because this site was used by a culture that was often on the move. More digging and more research will hopefully
tell. Regardless, whoever it was that built, used,
and buried their dead at Stonehenge, we do know that they weren’t alone. Whether because of the environment or other
factors, the Salisbury Plain is one of the richest archaeological regions in the world. There are hundreds of other burial sites and
ancient remains, and researchers have used all kinds of cool methods to investigate them
— including ground-penetrating radar and lasers. So there may still be a lot of mystery surrounding
Stonehenge, but those questions aren’t unanswerable. And as we keep researching and introducing
newer technologies, more science — and more knowledge — is yet to come. Unlike the builders of Stonehenge, you probably
won’t be dragging megaliths across the countryside any time soon. But if you want to get in touch with your
inner Bronze Age human, you can always try pottery.b Archaeologists have found plenty of pottery
shards around Salisbury Plain, and thanks to Skillshare, you can learn to make some
of your own, too. In this class, called Building Dishes by Hand,
artist Emily Reinhardt teaches you how to make ceramic dishes at home, without having
to go out and buy a potter’s wheel. Which is pretty helpful, if you’re just
looking for something new to try out. Also, there’s just something really satisfying
about storing your pins or loose change in a little plate you made all by yourself. Skillshare has classes on everything from
design to public speaking. And right now, Skillshare is offering SciShow
viewers 2 months of unlimited access to their over 20,000 classes for free! To check it out, you can follow the link in
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100 thoughts on “What Science Has Taught Us About Stonehenge

  1. If I remember correctly, Stonehenge is part of a series of monuments that stretch out for about 100 km.

  2. Wonder what you people would think if u saw ancient Hindu temples which are not only gigantic, but also filled with intricate carvings and complex, precise mathematical methods in its design. Hauling megaton rocks is relatively quite easy and requires no aliens or God.

  3. It was giants obviously but that goes against evolution so we are told its not giants even though history tells us it was giants lol. Ignorance of history

  4. In my opinion, I think the reason stonehenge was built was because of religion. I think the people made it to show their devotion to their God(s). Maybe production eventually ceased because the people eventually died out before it could be totally finished. Again, just a theory but it's the one that makes sense to me

  5. There are henges all over the world dating from tue same time. From the amazon ,to egypt. There WAS an advanced lost civilization.

  6. Wally Wallington from Michigan built a Stonehenge in his back yard all by himself. It's not that hard. Look it up.

  7. before the myceneans and the minoians there were the minians , they were known for theyre megastructure abilities

  8. To be fair they could have dragged them there on a wooden sledge, considering it took 1500 years to complete.

  9. the way this guy talks it is as if the Stonehenge is a greater marvel than the pyramids where 75t granite rocks were lifted hundreds of meters into the sky, also his theories on how it was built are beyond sketchy without any evidence. If they could move these rocks with ramps and pulleys, then why hasn't anyone bothered to replicate it? Dislike from me for the poor scientific research on the matter.
    Also to suggest there were lots of people involved in moving these rocks means the society was sufficiently organised to do so. I'm not going to help move a rock if I don't have any reason to do so, and which one is it, ramps and pulleys or lots of people?

  10. a new theory says that, while the ancient builders didn't have wheels, they may well have had balls.

    So is that theory no longer in vogue?


  11. So we don't know how they moved the stones, only that they did (but it wasn't magic)…. Well Alister Crowley (apparently a top authority on the matter) said that "magic" is defined as "the art and science of causing change in accordance with the will". Now I'm assuming it must have taken an absolutely incredible mastery of will to move those stones without modern technology!! So perhaps maybe we can guess it was done by "magic" (atleast according to the Alister Crowley definition anyway)…

  12. Its a pile of rocks, and yet no one in their right mind even considers that they just happened there by chance(and rightly so) … And yet our children are taught that microscopic cells with incomprehensibly complex structures plus over a gigabyte of stored information is just a happy accident of chance.

  13. The Mykenaians were indeed around in 3000 BC. Its not likely that they had anything to do with Stonehenge, but they were around.

  14. I think a key point about carbon dating that not everyone understands is that the proportion of carbon-14 is continually being replenished in the atmosphere so when plants absorb CO2, that carbon will always be in the same stable proportion of carbon-14 to other carbon isotopes. That means that any animals which eat the plant, or eat whatever ate the plant, will also be continually replenishing carbon-14 via new plant matter. When the organism dies, they stop ingesting new carbon-14 but the carbon-14 they already have continues to decay.

  15. If Bikini Bottomites could take their city and push it somewhere else, than I'm pretty sure some humans could ride some rocks. The Pioneers DID used to ride those babies for miles after all.

  16. I still remember the old "MAD" magazine who was dedicated to history. In the part about stonehenge they said "5000 years ago the people of England built stonehenge to confuse the hell out of future archaeologists

  17. Before the invention of the wheel, they invented the pulley. Legit. Seriously though, I could see this being built by humans if there were a good enough answer as to why they would build it.

  18. or maybe the Stones were poured like plaster or something just need some molds or cavities to shape & cast them … sooo simple lol

  19. Just like the discovery on how the Pyramid of His a was built using man-made waterways could've been used in some form here as well.

  20. You ever break your phone and have to wait a few days to get a new one? That's probably why they built it, hell I'd probably build one too if we ever lost wifi for a few months.

  21. What if Stonehenge was erected as a monuments to ancient influential leaders of the region where each stone slab represents and honours a fallen leader. Maybe the Briton tribe?

  22. a bunch of drunk blue collar workers, re-built stonehenge, in 1952.. look it up… those rocks were put up with cranes….. but if i had to guess… it looks like they wanted to keep something "IN" the center… if it was a gate, whatever came through…we didnt want to come through….. the wall or mound around the outside, is a good position to fight from. the rest of it, looks like it was designed to slow down, whatever it was coming through the "Gate".

  23. Congratulations on your excellent pronunciation! I expected Salisbury and Monmouth to trip you up but you nailed it! Nice to see someone doing their research!

  24. Radiocarbon dating is to dating what lie detector tests are to ascertaining the truth. The peaches in my kitchen are 1200 years old according to RCD.

  25. At minute 11:35.. “and lasers!”
    It just struck my funny bone the way he emphasized the word ‘laser!’

    Pls keep up the great work!!

  26. I have a weird question: from what I understand, carbon dating basically tells you how old the specimen probably is, but how does that make us sure that a particular speciman (stone) was put there in that era? They could have just used stones that were old??

  27. 150 burials in a site in use for over 1500 years is NOT a lot. One per century? It took a great deal more than merely dying to earn a place there. A great deal more, in fact, than being a king or an arch druid or whatever high rank might entitle someone to all kinds of other special extras. Can't help wondering what the criteria were (although I expect they changed over that much time), and who got to make the decision (which also probably changed, but maybe not – we have institutions that have lasted that long and continue today, so who knows?).

  28. Wood platform really??? God people are stupid. Even with modern tech it IS IMPOSSIBLE to lift 22 metric tons especially 35 km away gtfo here bro. WE CANT EVEN DO IT TODAY!!!!!!!

  29. It was a nightstand next to the giant bed of an ogre. The glass top got broken so when the ogre moved he just left it behind.

  30. My pre history teacher told me that it was used as pretty much a sundial to be able to tell Seasons because people were starting to learn how to farm around that similar time

  31. If you take an eagle eye view again you can see that it's the building sight for the henge tower "erected" in 3001 B.C., the blue stone would've been the same struggle as trying to push a loaded 18 wheeler minus the wheels. So they scraped the project and went on with their lives. and there you have the not so mysterious stone henge,

  32. If Merlin was real. He could have had people re-arrange the Blue rocks on the Ground.(since those had been moved before.) And perhaps may have even been buried there.(Since they said they have found 150 remains there over at least a 1500 years. So my thoughts are on Famous people like kings are buried there.)

  33. Interesting point that wasn’t noted in the vid is that there’s a significant river between Preseli and Wiltshire, called the river Severn. It’s not a small river and it has the second largest tidal range in the world. So, just the task of getting the stones across that river would’ve been a monumental task.

  34. To early for Merlin?
    how dare you, clearly the only way it could have built it was if the Great Merlin traveled back in time just to create it in secret before heading home.

  35. Is that possible that ancient people didn't have too much work to do and they were almost all the time free but there smart Brian didn't like that so they were building useless structures like Stonehenge and pyramids to pass their time.

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