A legal loophole offered a chance to study the composition of the ancient monument.
Stonehenge, the mysterious megalith formation of Wiltshire, England, is a protected national monument. What that means is, no matter how much the scientific community wants to chip off a piece to put under a microscope, extracting samples from Stonehenge is a big no-no. However, back in 1958, a drilling company was performing some work on Stonehenge to restore it. One of its workers, one Robert Phillips, extracted a cylindrical core from one of the pillars and took it home with him as a souvenir. In 2018, long after Stonehenge had received its protected status, Phillips returned the core to the University of Brighton. So while new samples of Stonehenge can’t be extracted, because this chunk was removed before it was protected, the researchers had a loophole they could use to finally take a closer look.
The results of this research were published in the scientific journal PLOS One. According to the researchers’ analyses, the pillars of Stonehenge are constructed of a mysterious quartz “cement,” binding the particles together into its signature sturdy shape.
“These cements are incredibly strong. I’ve wondered if the builders of Stonehenge could tell something about the stone properties, and not only chose the closest, biggest boulders, but also the ones that were most likely to stand the test of time,” said study lead author David Nash.
The analysis also gave a clue into precisely how old Stonehenge is. While the construction of the pillars was likely man-made, the sediments within the pillars are positively ancient. “The sandy sediments within which the stone developed were deposited during the Paleogene period, 66 [million] to 23 million years ago, so the sarsens can be no older than this,” Nash said.
Besides the core Phillips lifted from the monument, there are several other cores missing from Stonehenge, likely pinched during the same drilling operation. If the whereabouts of these cores could be determined, they could provide even further insight.