Stonehenge mystery solved: 'Smoking gun' discovery provides 'missing piece' of puzzle

Photographer Phil Holden found a giant glacially deposited bluestone in the Mumbles, on the southern coast of Wales. The huge boulder, which weighs at least seven tonnes, was found on the rocky foreshore and is said to match those used at Stonehenge. Its discovery apparently “proves beyond doubt” that the Irish Sea Glacier was once capable of carrying large monoliths of dolerite rock from Pembrokeshire up the Bristol Channel towards Wiltshire.

The huge body of ice once flowed southwards from its source areas in Scotland and Ireland.

Mr Holden said: “I must have walked over this boulder a dozen times, lodged in a crevasse.

“It wasn’t until a falling tide revealed its true colours that I realised this was not just another large erratic for me to photograph for my photo library, but something more significant.”

Mr Holden contacted retired glacial geomorphologist Dr Brian John, who has been collecting evidence relating to the transport of the Stonehenge bluestones for many years.

After studying the rock in detail, he believes it is a typical large elongated but irregularly shaped glacially deposited rock.

He believes that it may have once been much larger since there are a number of smaller dolerite boulders on the beach in the vicinity which might have been broken off during storm events.

He said: “This discovery is of huge importance to Ice Age research in South Wales and also to the debate about the origins and transport of the Stonehenge bluestones.

“Archaeologists – and some geologists – have previously assumed that it would have been impossible for glacier ice to transport large boulders, pillars and slabs of dolerite from North Pembrokeshire, or anywhere else, up the Bristol Channel towards Somerset and Stonehenge.

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“Many smaller dolerite erratics are known from Gower and other parts of South Wales, but there have been no discoveries to compare with the “giant erratics” that are known from the coasts of Devon and Cornwall.

“Phil’s very exciting discovery demonstrates that the glacier did indeed transport large blocks of rock south-eastwards from their source areas.

“There must be other erratics of this size awaiting discovery along the South Wales coast, but unfortunately most of them are likely to be located under the murky waters of the Bristol Channel.”

Dr John believes it is the “missing piece” he’s been searching after “for years”.

He told “I think it’s the smoking gun. Whether or not it’s come from Preseli – I think it has – it must be somewhere in the west.

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“I think the money is on North Pembrokeshire as a place of origin.

“Many said glacier transport was impossible and so human transport is the only explanation.

“It’s been very difficult to argue one way or another.

“But I think now we’ve found this erratic, it demonstrates 100 percent that the ice was capable or carrying large rocks over large distances.”

Last year Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from University College London (UCL), announced a breakthrough in understanding the famed stone circle.

His team uncovered a similar structure at Waun Mawn, in the Preseli Hills of Wales, which experts say was dismantled and used as the “building blocks” of the attraction that stands in Salisbury today.

The discovery left many questioning how the huge stones were moved by the Neolithic builders some 4,500 years ago.

Dr John believes Mr Holden’s discovery should encourage archaeologists to abandon their long-held belief that the bluestones at Stonehenge were quarried in North Pembrokeshire and transported by Neolithic tribesmen by land or sea.

He adds: “Theirs is a nice story.

“But the evidence of quarrying is highly suspect, and there is no solid evidence in support of the human transport hypothesis.

“Most of the Stonehenge bluestones look like ancient glacial erratic boulders, and that is undoubtedly what they are.”