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Stonehenge Yields Clues to Its Builders

Stonehenge Yields Clues to Its BuildersStonehenge Yields Clues to Its Builders

Despite a century of scientific scrutiny, the 5,000-year old Neolithic monument in southern England, known as Stonehenge, has yielded few secrets about the people buried amidst its ring of towering rocks.

Most of their remains were cremated, leaving only ashes, a few bone fragments, and an archeological dead-end. But a eureka moment discovery by Christophe Snoeck, a University of Oxford graduate student, revealed that many of the buried people probably came from as far as Wales in western Britain, source of the bluestone used in Stonehenge’s mysterious and entrancing monuments, Artdaily.com reported.

In Britain, the term bluestone is used in a loose sense to cover all of the “foreign” stones at Stonehenge. It is a “convenience” label rather than a geological term, since at least 20 different rock types are represented.

Some of the pre-historic wayfarers, who may have helped transport the massive stones, were cremated before their ashes were laid to rest, Snoeck and colleagues reported in a study published on August 2 in the international journal of Scientific Reports. Others may have died on the job, or settled near Stonehenge to finish their days.

What Snoeck discovered in the lab is that strontium, a heavy element found in bone, resists the high temperatures of a funeral pyre, which can top 1,000 degrees Celsius.

For scientists trying to tease out data from human remains burnt to a crisp, this opened up a gold mine.

Cremation destroys all organic matter, including DNA. “But all the inorganic matter survives, and there is a huge amount of information contained in the inorganic fraction of human remains,” Snoeck explained.

By measuring traces of strontium, he told AFP, “it is possible to evaluate the origin of the food we eat, especially the plants.”

 

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