The Legend Behind the People Who Moved the Monoliths of Stonehenge

Death of Arthur and MordredPhoto:
Death of Arthur and Mordred
From The Boy’s King Arthur, N.C. Wyeth 1922.
Digital Scan / Book Illustration ­- DavepapeBot / Wikimedia

The ‘sarsen stones’ for the great stone circle at Stonehenge came from southern Wales. Their transport to Salisbury Plain brought the encapsulated sacred power of an unknown Welsh hero to southern Britain thereby to ensure the mythic potency of Stonehenge. Join us on an archeological dig back to the time of the legendary King Arthur, where we’ll meet a band of Bronze Age bowmen and rather extraordinary kind of construction project manager.

King Arthur and Salisbury Plain –

Why were the Bluestones intended for Stonehenge moved from southern Wales to Salisbury Plain? This is fascinating and important question because there are large sarsen-like stones much nearer to the Stonehenge site. There must have been something very special about these bluestones and their original location. There is an important stone circle in the Presili Mountains of Southern Wales known as Carn Menyn that is a landmark from land and sea, and was a sacred place in antiquity. At some point in the time, it became known as Bedd Arthur, and was added to the list of possible burial places for the legendary King Arthur. The extraordinary effort to move bluestones that weighed several tons each would need exceptional impetus and extraordinary motivation in order for the astronomer-priests to effectively organize, propose and convince powerful regional tribal kings to order up the essential manpower for however long it is needed.

Wales - BeddarthurPhoto:
Wales / Preseli Mts – Beddarthur
Photo ­- claonaite / flikr

One possibility that provides a powerful mythic rationale is that an extreme, sacred energy of an ancient Neolithic hero was located at Carn Menyn, and was literally embodied in the stones and their architectural alignment. For reasons still unknown it became an imperative to move that sacred power from southern Wales to Salisbury Plain c.2300 BC. If this legend is believed and accepted, if the astronomer-priests had the requisite charisma and oratory skill, then the project can be activated. What was to be moved was not large heavy boulders but supremely condensed magic and powerful sacred energy.

Merline Builds StonehengePhoto:
Merlin Builds Stonehenge / Roman de Brut, c.1150-55
Written in Norman by the poet Wace, Roman de Brut is a ‘history’ of new British territories of the Anglo-Normans. It includes a life of King Arthur and goes back to the mythical Brutus of Troy.
Digital Image / illuminated manuscript ­- Dsmdgold / Wikipedia

Much later in history, the Welsh bards either chose or were ordered by their kings to mythologize King Arthur because a defeated Cymri (Wales) people needed that to be done in the 8th through 11th centuries AD. These most skilled poets may have chosen to cloak their newly transformed King Arthur with the timeless legend of a Neolithic pre-Cymri hero of ancient Wales whose sacred energy had moved to Salisbury Plain long ago with the great Presili bluestones. Such an extraordinary endeavor requires an exceptional project director and site manager. What better choice than Merlin as Geoffrey of Monmouth relates in 1136 in his Historia Regium Britanniae. No matter that critical historical dates do not match and are badly out of joint; we are in the realm of magic. Thus did King Arthur leave the historical identity of a Cymri king and warrior who fought fiercely against invading Germanic Saxons, and enter the timeless universe of the mythical.

The Boscombe Bowmen –

Boscombe Bowmen gravePhoto:
Boscombe Bowmen / mass grave
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

Incredibly, recent excavations by Wessex Archeology Ltd have found burials of some of the men who may have worked on this grandest building phase of Stonehenge, possibly as site managers who directed work crews. Lady Luck certainly tilted the odds; it is hard to imagine otherwise. An archeologist cannot decide to go out one day and find the guys who built megalithic Stonehenge. They could set out, but what beside snickering laughter would follow them down the road?

In May 2003, a dig for a new water pipe accidentally uncovered a Bronze Age burial at Boscombe Down, and Wessex Archeology Ltd was quickly brought in. Boscombe Down is only 6 km from Stonehenge and as we await C-14 laboratory results, age for this site as deduced from artifacts is c.2300 BC. In the grave were three adult males, a teenage male, three children and a total of five skulls. Beaker pots held food and drink, provisions for the afterlife as the deceased journeyed through the Underworld. A boar’s tusk and bone toggle were rare trade goods from Central Europe. The presence of beautifully made flint arrowheads earned this (group? family?) the name of the Boscombe Bowmen. Perhaps the adult men were archers after all. Two of the men had died before reaching the age of 30; the oldest male was at most 40 years old.

Boscombe Bowmen - arrowheads, bone togglePhoto:
Boscombe Bowmen / arrowheads, bone toggle
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

Premolars form between ages 3 and 6 as milk teeth are replaced. Third molars are the last teeth to erupt and they set in between ages 9 and 13. All metabolic processes take place in a water environment, that is the substrate of living tissue. When rare variants of an essential element are present during the growth and establishment of permanent tooth enamel, those rare isotopes are built into the enamel of adult, permanent dentition. The ratio of rare to common isotopes in tooth enamel will be the same as that in the regional hydrology profile. For the Boscombe Bowmen, two isotope indices stood out in their adult tooth enamel: high strontium and a particular ratio of ‘heavy’ – O18 to common oxygen isotope – O16.

A locality that could match both of these indices would be the home of the sarsen bluestones before coming to southern Britain. Only one region meets this requirement and that is southern Wales. Furthermore, because this isotopic fingerprint is locked into pre-molars in early childhood, but not in 3rd molars until early adolescence, the analysis revealed that the men were in one place until the age of 6 and then another until the age of 13. From Wales, the Boscombe Bowmen moved closer to Stonehenge in early adolescence. Close similarities in skull shape suggest that the children in the burial are related to the adults in the grave. Do we have a Band of Brothers, who with their sons helped move the sacred bluestones from the Preseli Mountains of southern Wales to Salisbury Plain of Britain? Their residency on Salisbury Plain appears to have ended in tragedy and death, and we have found the burial evidence for that in the 21st century.

Amesbury Archer - burialPhoto:
Amesbury Archer / burial
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

An Upper Class Project Manager Comes to Stonehenge –

One year before the discovery of the Boscombe Bowmen, a routine archeological survey in advance of a housing project at Amesbury found Beaker pottery and a gold hair tress on site. These finds quickly led to the burial of an adult male from the early Bronze Age, c.2300 BC. The locality in Amesbury (Wiltshire) was 3 miles southeast of Stonehenge. The grave was not discovered until mid-afternoon on Friday, May 3, 2003. It was clear to the archeology team that the situation was very important and should not be left unattended over a holiday weekend. Rescue archeologists worked intensely until 2 AM Saturday to learn everything possible about this Amesbury Archer.

Amesbury Archer / copper knivesPhoto:
Amesbury Archer_copper knives
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

The grave goods were the richest ever found in a British Bronze Age burial. More than 100 items were catalogued that included five Beaker pots, a slate wrist guard to protect the arm from the recoil of an archer’s longbow, two small gold hair tresses, a cushion stone used for metal working, 16 barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, three copper knives, and four boar tusks accompanying a complete male skeleton. The gold was dated to 2470 BC and is the oldest gold found in Britain. Many of the objects were goods for use in the afterlife, and it is possible the grave was originally covered by a barrow (mound).

Neolithic Beaker Culture / potteryPhoto:
Beaker Culture / pottery
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

The Amesbury Archer was between 35 and 45 when he died. He had suffered a serious injury that tore out his left knee cap. The Archer would have walked with a straight left leg gait. He also suffered from an embedded bone infection and sadly would have lived out his last years in severe, permanent pain. Isotopic analysis of tooth enamel – ratio of ‘heavy oxygen O18 to common O16 – revealed that the Amesbury Archer lived in central Europe when a child. Why had he come to southern Britain?

Amesbury Archer / companionPhoto:
Amesbury Archer / companion
Photo ­- Wessex Archeology Ltd

Nearby was a second burial of younger man, who was no more than 25 at the time of death. Two gold hair tresses were found in the mud in his jaw. Bone analysis supports a family relationship with the older Amesbury Archer and a life lived entirely in Britain. Was this the son of the Amesbury Archer, who was born in Britain and died on Salisbury Plain?

The rich Beaker culture grave goods portray the Amesbury Archer as a member of an elite class. His burial near Stonehenge must have been deliberate because of an important relationship with the awesome megalithic stone circle and astronomical observatory. Speculation has suggested that the Amesbury Archer was a project manager at a time when two important constructions were executed at Stonehenge. He might have helped organize the erection of the 4 tonne Welsh bluestones into a circle, and/or also the establishment of the 20 tonne Sarsen stones that had been brought to Stonehenge from Marlborough Downs. The ability to work gold would have been a rarity that quickly conferred high status upon the Amesbury Archer.

Arrival of the Beaker Culture into Britain at the time of Stonehenge 3 is documented at many localities and should not be thought of as a military invasion. It is quite possible that small numbers of a Beaker Culture aristocracy came to Britain from continental Europe to facilitate trade networks and strongly position themselves within regional politics. The Amesbury Archer has a profile that fits this scenario.

Sources –
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6