Tomb of Stonehenge builder found?

A prehistoric tomb discovered in Wales may be the grave of one of the builders of Stonehenge.

Archaeologists found the tomb at the Carn Menyn site in Wales, generally thought to be the quarry for the so-called “bluestones” used for the inner circle of Stonehenge in 2300 BC.

The tomb is a passage grave, a cigar-shaped enclosure of stone that was once covered in earth. The tomb is in ruins and was looted in antiquity. Some organic material has been found and this will be carbon dated. Passage graves were common for elite members of society in the Neolithic.

The tomb was set atop a henge, a circular ditch and embankment that had a pair of bluestones are set upright at one end, reminiscent of the pairs of bluestones at Stonehenge.

It’s a mystery why the builders of Stonehenge would choose to drag stones weighing two to four tons more than 150 miles. One of the archaeologists investigating the site suggests that Carn Menyn, shown to the right, had religious significance because of the many natural springs in the area. The presence of the henge and tomb suggest the place did indeed have religious and cultural importance.

The excavation continues.

[Photo of Stonehenge courtesy Bernard Gagnon. Photo of bluestones courtesy Geograph]

Druid loses fight to have Stonehenge burials reinterred

A druid named King Arthur Pendragon has lost a legal bid to have human remains discovered at Stonehenge reinterred.

The cremated remains of more than forty individuals found at the stone circle in 2008 are currently being studied at Sheffield University. They’re due to remain there until 2015, at which point they’re supposed to be returned to Stonehenge. King Arthur stated in a BBC interview that the authorities have no plans to return the remains and he was fighting to have them reburied at once. The court rejected his claim, stating there was no evidence that the university and courts have acted outside the law.

King Arthur Uther Pendragon, shown here holding a staff and praying while celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge, is a prominent druid who often appears on British media. He had his name legally changed after he realized he was the reincarnation of King Arthur, his website says. King Arthur was one of the driving forces behind getting full public access for solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. He has also successfully campaigned for Druids to wear their traditional white robes while incarcerated, as he himself has been several times after political protests.

OK, I can practically hear the eyes rolling. Yes, this modern King Arthur is an eccentric like only an Englishman can be, but he’s bringing up a valid issue, and one that is contentiously debated in many nations. In the U.S., Native American groups have successfully lobbied to have human remains returned to them so they can be reburied in the traditional manner, rather than being left in museums to be studied. Native peoples in other nations have had varying levels of success.

One might also bring up the objection that the Celtic druids came long after the Neolithic, when Stonehenge was built, so that the stone circle isn’t a religious monument for them. But the fact is modern druids feel the site is sacred, and if we are to have freedom of religion, that means we have to accept not only Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, but also Druids, Mithraists, and Satanists. Freedom takes us outside our comfort zone.

In the past twenty years, public and academic opinion has generally shifted towards granting Native Peoples the rights to their remains, but the issue is less clear when it comes to prehistoric remains unrelated to any existing ethnic group. After 5,000 years, can the English really say they’re related to the people who built Stonehenge? The modern King Arthur says yes, but scientific opinion differs. This question has led to a lot of legal battles, especially in the U.S. with tribes claiming remains that archaeologists say don’t belong to them.

What do you think should be done with humans remains? “Don’t dig them up in the first place” isn’t always an option, since many remains come to light during modern construction or natural erosion. Tell us what you think in the comments section!

[Image courtesy Ann Wuyts]

Prehistoric balls may have built Stonehenge

There have been a lot of theories over the years about how Stonehenge was built. Moving massive stones ranging from 4 to 45 tons over hundreds of miles isn’t easy in modern times, and certainly was a challenge 4,500 years ago. The two leading theories–log rollers and wooden sledges greased with animal fat–both have detractors. Many archaeologists believe rollers would have left deep scars in the landscape and one can be found, while reenactments with sledges have shown it would take hundreds of people to move the largest stones.

Now National Geographic reports a new theory. British graduate student Andrew Young thinks grooved wooden rails fitted with stone balls would have made an easy surface on which to move the stones. The balls acted like ball bearings and giant stones could have been pulled along on top. He tried it out with a team of seven people and found they could easily move a load of four tons. Only a relatively short length of track would be needed because the rails and balls could be pulled up once the stone passed and placed at the front.

He got the idea by studying mysterious stone balls found near stone circles in Scotland. They didn’t appear to have any purpose until he noticed they’re all exactly 70mm (3 inches) in diameter, suggesting they were part of some greater mechanism.

It’s an interesting idea, but this former archaeologist isn’t convinced yet. No stone balls have been found in England. Young says old-growth wood could have worked just as well and wouldn’t have survived, and that’s possible, but civil engineer Mark Whitby told National Geographic that the biggest stones in Stonehenge would have crushed the balls into the tracks. A larger-scale demonstration is being planned to study this issue.

Generally the KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid) points to the most probable solution. Wood was plentiful and making smooth rollers out of tree trunks would have been the easiest solution. Rollers and a bunch of strong prehistoric Britons, helped by teams of oxen, would have been the cheapest and least technologically demanding way to move the stones. While this would have left marks on the land, it’s an open question whether they’d still be visible after 4,500 years of weathering.

The KISS method also explains why aliens didn’t build Stonehenge.

The balls idea is still worth investigating, and considering that Young has come up with such an innovative and perhaps correct answer to a major archaeological mystery while still a PhD student in biosciences hints that I’ll be writing more about him in the future.

[Photo courtesy Mister Rad via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Top ten overrated international travel destinations

Laurel brought us the US’s top ten overrated travel destinations, and we thought it was time to go global. Here are ten international sites, in no particular order, that just aren’t worth a two-hour wait in line, fighting the crowds, or covering long distances to get there:

1. Eiffel Tower, Paris
Seriously, your photos of Paris are going to look much better with the Eiffel Tower in them. If you feel like getting high, Notre Dame is a much cooler spot.

2. Oktoberfest, Munich
If getting drunk with a bunch of American college student is your idea of a good time, then be sure to hit up the Hofbrauhaus tent.

3. The Blarney Stone, Ireland
Don’t do it. Stay away from the nasty, germ-infested piece of rock. Surely no luck can come of kissing that stone cold sore, right?

4. Cancun, Mexico
Crammed with spring-breakers and holiday makers, Cancun is party-central and really no different than, say, any other beach city in the States.5. Niagara Falls, Ontario
The volume of water thundering over Niagara’s limestone cliffs is arguably amazing, but the neon lights under the falls and Vegas-like cacophony built up around them are over-the-top.

6. Stonehenge, United Kingdom
Crowds jostle for space not to get close to the monoliths, but to capture them on film from a distance. That’s right; you can’t even get up close anymore. And a major highway runs right by it, ruining any ambiance that might remain.

7. Hoi An, Vietnam
This little town popped up again and again among the Gadling crew as one that has shoved out any local culture in favor of coddling tourists – if “coddling” can also encompass aggressive selling.

8. The Atomium, Brussels
Another Gadling un-fave, the Atomium is, in the words of our esteemed editors, “boring.” There’s no real reason to visit it other than to take a couple of pics and say you’ve been there.

9. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Here you’ll find a tower that is cabled up so it won’t lean any further, and tourist posing for photos where they pretend to hold it up. It’s not worth the journey.

10. Universal City Walk, Los Angeles
Not much more than an attempt to dazzle with bright lights and big screens, Universal City Walk is three blocks of cheese. There’s shopping for “memorabilia” and whatnot, and lots of families vacationing. Skip it and spend the day at Disneyland.

Did we miss any? What places do you think are overrated?

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Al Ianni]

Stonehenge burial may be prehistoric tourist

Archaeologists call him the “Boy with the Amber Necklace”, and ever since he was discovered in 2005 they’ve known he was special. Not only would his jewelry have been rare and expensive back when he was buried 3,550 years ago, but the choice of his grave site was significant too–just three miles from Stonehenge.

Now chemical analysis on his teeth has revealed something else special about him–he isn’t from England at all, but from the Mediterranean. Tooth enamel forms in early childhood and retains oxygen and strontium. Different isotopes of these elements are found in different ecozones and regions, and show where an individual grew up. When scientists analyzed the teeth of the Boy with the Amber Necklace, they found he’d grown up around the Mediterranean. The “boy” was actually about fourteen or fifteen years old, and it’s unclear exactly why he came to southern England and the sacred site of Stonehenge.

This isn’t the first time a burial near Stonehenge has turned out to be from somewhere else. The “Amesbury Archer”, a grown man buried with some of the oldest gold and copper artifacts ever found in the UK, grew up in the foothills of the German Alps some 4,300 years ago.

So were these prehistoric tourists? Well, more like prehistoric pilgrims, or perhaps immigrants coming to work at one of the most sacred and dynamic places in the prehistoric world. People often assume international travel is a new thing, starting in the age of luxury liners and really getting going when international flights became cheap, yet daring individuals and groups have been making long journeys for thousand of years. The Boy with the Amber Necklace and the Amesbury Archer could have taken boats along the coastline and rivers, and would have had to do a lot of walking too. They may have been helped along by a simple yet effective prehistoric navigation system. In the days when the waters teemed with fish and not plastic, and the forests were filled with wildlife and berries instead of discarded soda cans, the trip wouldn’t have been as hard as we think.

[Photo courtesy webmink via Gadling’s flickr pool]