Scientists have unveiled details about the people who build the Stonehenge in the UK, by analysing the human remains found at the site.
Despite over a century of intense study, very little is known about the people buried at Stonehenge or how they came to be there.
A study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that a number of the people that were buried at the Wessex site had moved with and likely transported the bluestones used in the early stages of the monument’s construction, sourced from the Preseli Mountains of west Wales.
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The researchers including those from the University of Oxford in the UK combined radiocarbon-dating with new developments in archaeological analysis.
Lead study author Christophe Snoeck demonstrated that cremated bone faithfully retains its strontium isotope composition, opening the way to use this technique to investigate where these people had lived during the last decade or so of their lives.
The team analysed skull bones from 25 individuals to better understand the lives of those buried at the iconic monument.
These remains were originally excavated from a network of 56 pits in the 1920s, placed around the inner circumference and ditch of Stonehenge, known as ‘Aubrey Holes’.
Analysis of small fragments of cremated human bone from an early phase of the site’s history around 3000 BC, when it was mainly used as a cemetery, showed that at least 10 of the 25 people did not live near Stonehenge prior to their death.
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Instead, they found the highest strontium isotope ratios in the remains were consistent with living in western Britain, a region that includes west Wales -the known source of Stonehenge’s bluestones.
Although strontium isotope ratios alone cannot distinguish between places with similar values, this connection suggests west Wales as the most likely origin of at least some of these people.
While the Welsh connection was known for the stones, the study shows that people were also moving between west Wales and Wessex in the Late Neolithic, and that some of their remains were buried at Stonehenge.
The results emphasize the importance of inter-regional connections involving the movement of both materials and people in the construction and use of Stonehenge, providing rare insight into the large scale of contacts and exchanges in the Neolithic, as early as 5,000 years ago.
“The recent discovery that some biological information survives the high temperatures reached during cremation (up to 1,000 degrees Celsius) offered us the exciting possibility to finally study the origin of those buried at Stonehenge,” Snoeck said.