Scientists have a new theory regarding one of the most famous structures in the world, Stonehenge. Based on previous structures, the new study says, Stonehenge has foundational roots in a hunter-gatherer culture that began 7000 years prior to its construction, based out the Brittany region of northwestern France.
There are many theories concerning who built Stonehenge. A study last year from claimed that the bluestones of the structure, as well as the people who moved the stones, came from Wales. Those studies pointed towards Welsh structures dating back 5,000 years, like Carreg Coetan Arthur, as coming from the same culture that brought forth Stonehenge.
But Bettina Schulz Paulsson was looking back further, and beyond the English island. Her findings argue that European societies 7,000 years ago were more ship worthy than previously believed, and were able to travel by boat to England where they were able to replicate their stone building culture.
Paulsson started looking at the “35,000 presently extant European megaliths” in Europe, according to her study. Megaliths, ancient structures, get their name from the Greek words for “big” and “stone.” According to Paulsson, these include “tombs, standing stones, stone circles, alignments, and megalithic buildings or temples.”
Paulsson pared down to radiocarbon dating data for 2,410 ancient sample sites across Europe in hopes of creating a history of these archaeological sites. The study looked at megaliths and premegalithic graves without stones, taking into account tool used to create the structures, architecture, and burial customs to further specify each entry.
“Everyone told me, ‘You’re crazy, it can’t be done,’” says Schulz Paulsson, a prehistoric archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the study’s author, speaking to Science. “But I decided to do it anyway.”
Over the centuries, a narrative begins to emerge. The earliest examples of megalithic structures that Paulsson points at being an influence of Stonehenge are the Carnac stones, neolithic stones aligned around 4700 B.C. Their structure intrigued ancient societies as much as modern day scientists, with legends dating back to ancient Christian and Arthurian belief. These myths focused on the stones careful order, suggesting that they were enemy soldiers turned to stone.
For Paulsson, they’re an origin point. Over hundreds of years, similar structures started popping up in southern France, Mediterranean coasts, and Spain. These structures were not necessarily as awe-inspiring as the Carnac stones or Stonehenge, like the Dolmen de Axeitos of northern Spain. But, Paulsson declares in her paper, they marked “the beginning of a new practice for the whole of Europe: the construction of graves for successive depositions of human remains over centuries.”
The emergence of these structures in different coastal cultures isn’t a coincidence, Paulsson says. They were shared through seafaring cultures, pushing the seaworthiness of Europeans back around 2,000 years.
These structures filtered through Europe, including the British Isles, until they reached Stonehenge in around 2400 B.C. It’s a theory that on least on its surface is compatible with the Welsh theory from last year. That theory suggested that the stones for Stonehenge came from the Preseli Mountains, on the western coast of Wales. If the culture near the area adapted the burial concept, it would fit into the pattern of coastal groups first learning of the practice and spreading it inwards.
There’s still much that’s unknown about Stonehenge: who, exactly, built it, and what, exactly, did they mean by its elaborate structure which goes far beyond anything seen at the Carnac stones. But as scientists look throughout history, some motivations are at least becoming more clear.