Even before Stonehenge became the revered and mysterious sarsen monument we know today, it was an important site for the Mesolithic and Neolithic people who lived in the area.
Bone remains indicate that it was once an important burial site for at least hundreds of years – and a recent research has revealed that people journeyed from as far away as western Wales, where some of the stones are assumed to have originated.
It has long been known that the place is used for funerals. Cremains from at least 58 separate bones were discovered in 1919-26 excavations known as “Aubrey holes.” These holes were formerly filled with cremains, and bluestone markers were placed on top. The bones were later reburied in one Aubrey hole, which was excavated again in 2008.
According to radiocarbon dating, these remains contained 25 occipital fragments, a bone from the base of the skull, dating back to 3180 BCE. Around 2500 BCE, the stone circle was built. These are the 25 fragments studied by researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium using strontium isotope analysis.
This is a technique that is typically used on teeth, which hold strontium isotopes extremely well. These isotopes can be found in soil and are absorbed by plants. When people eat the plants, these isotopes replenish some of the calcium in their teeth and bones. The strontium isotopes may be matched to geographical regions, which can aid in determining what a person has eaten and where they are from.
It becomes more difficult when dealing with cremains. The high temperatures damage the tooth enamel, which provides a profile dating back to childhood. However, one that is burned at these higher temperatures can get calcined, which has also been shown to dependably maintain strontium isotopes.
Unlike tooth enamel, it only indicates an average of the foods consumed in the decade preceding death, but this is enough to tell where someone spent the most of that time. And yes, the occipital fragments were calcined.
The researchers discovered that 15 of the skulls belonged to people who lived in the Stonehenge area after studying 25 of the fragments.
The remaining ten, on the other hand, had traveled from much further afield. These prehistoric people had traveled more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from western Britain. Given that some of the sarsens have been linked to specific quarries in Wales, the researchers assume the persons are related.
They also discovered evidence that some of the wood used to burn the corpses came from Wales and that the remains had been transferred to the Stonehenge site after they had been cremated.
“All of the readings fell within the biologically accessible strontium values for Stonehenge and west Wales, which is compatible with humans going between the two locations at different stages in their life,” the researchers stated in their report.
“Finally, the findings imply that at least some ‘non-local individuals’ were cremated away from Stonehenge and that their cremated remains were carried to the site for burial, possibly in conjunction with the raising of the bluestones.”
The function of Stonehenge is still unknown, although it is apparent that it has been important to humanity for thousands of years. It could have served several purposes at the time.