Monday, December 6, 2010

Stonehenge 'was built by rolling stones using giant wicker baskets'

It is one of the abiding mysteries of Britain’s Neolithic past. For all the awe-inspiring wonder of the standing stones at Stonehenge no one has ever worked out how our ancient ancestors were able to heave boulders weighing many tonnes over such huge distances.

But now an engineer and former BBC presenter believes he has come up with a theory which explains how the giant stones were moved. Garry Lavin believes that the engineers who built Stonehenge used wicker basket-work to ‘roll’ the huge boulders all the way from Wales to their present location.

‘I always thought that dragging these huge stones was physically impossible because of the friction on the surface. The key thing is the technology was always there around them,’ he said.

It is the movement of the 60 famous Bluestones which causes historians such problems. Each stone weighs up to 4 tons and they originally came from the Preseli Mountains in Wales – some 200 miles away.

Mr Lavin has come up with a cylinder ‘basket’ to roll the massive and irregularly-shaped stones. The basket is created by weaving willow and alder saplings to form a lightweight structure that can be easily moved by 4 or 5 men. To complete the rig and to ensure the best rolling and flotation conditions, the gaps between the basketwork cylinder and the irregular stone are packed with thin branches. This spreads the load as the basket flexes in transit, much like a modern tyre, and creates buoyancy when transported down rivers and across the sea.

One of Mr Lavin’s key discoveries during his earlier experiments was that the wicker cages that contained the stones were able to float. This would have enabled Neolithic man were able to get the huge stones across rivers on their journey, as well as making it easier to transport them over long distances without having to carry them the entire way.

One of Mr Lavin's sketches showing how groups of men could have enlisted the help of oxen to roll the huge boulders. The men would have been able to place the stones in a river, such as the River Wye, and then guide them on their way.

Mr Lavin said: ‘Woven structures were everywhere at the time, there are even wells which they have discovered were full with woven basketwork. It’s just taking that technology and using it in a new way. ‘It is not without some foundation. It was staring us in the face the whole time.’

In the summer Mr Lavin tested out his theory near Stonehenge and succeeded in moving a large one-ton stone in a wicker cage that he had made himself. Mr Lavin now wants to set out on his final mission to rewrite history by creating a supersize cradle capable of moving a huge five-ton stone. To do so he has enrolled the help of an engineer, an ancient wood archaeologist and a professional willow weaver to help him with the final test and construction. He hopes to run the test around the time of the summer solstice next year.

‘The physics is there it’s just so obvious. It’s one of the things that when you think about it you say “oh yes, of course”, ‘ he said.

He believes the original stones could have been moved by two teams of ten men each with one team resting while the others pushed the ‘axles’ containing each bluestone all the way from Wales their final destination.

George Oates, who works for the engineering company Expedition UK that recently designed the Olympic Velodrome as well as the Millennium Bridge, has looked at the new theory from a physics perspective. He looked at the height and weight of Neolithic men as well as the stone’s weight, the strength of the wicker basket and the inclines that would have to be negotiated.

Mr Oates said: ‘We feel that it is possible that Garry’s theory of a woven basket around the stone, moving these four-ton stones all the way from the Welsh mountains to Stonehenge is at least viable.’

Last week a competing theory from the University of Exeter was published which suggested that the stones may have used wooden ball bearings balls placed in grooved wooden tracks would have allowed the easy movement of stones weighing many tons.


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