Stonehenge may have been pilgrimage site for sick

LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists probing the secrets of Stonehenge, Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument, said on Monday it may have been an ancient pilgrimage site for the sick who believed its stones had healing qualities.

Revellers play instruments during the annual summer solstice at ancient monument, Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, southern England June 21, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

It has always been a mystery why bluestones, the smaller stones that form part of the circle, were transported around 155 miles from Preseli Hills in Wales to Wiltshire in southern England.

Archaeologists from Bournemouth University, who carried out the dig in April -- the first at Stonehenge since 1964 -- believe the bluestones were revered as healing stones.

“It was the magical qualities of these stones which ... transformed the monument and made it a place of pilgrimage for the sick and injured of the Neolithic world,” a statement from the archaeologist team said.

Geoffrey Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London and one of the experts leading the work, told BBC radio that one reasons which lead to the conclusion was because a number of the burials around Stonehenge showed signs of trauma and deformity.

The archaeologists said in the statement that radio-carbon dating put the construction of the circle of bluestones at between 2,400 B.C. and 2,200 B.C., a few centuries later than originally thought.

But they found fragments of charcoal dating from before 7,000 B.C., showing humans were active in the area much earlier than previously thought.

The dig, carried out over two weeks, revealed that centuries after it was built, Stonehenge exercised a fascination for Romans in Britain.

In late Roman times, a shaft was dug in the centre of the site and a coin placed at the bottom before it was refilled with soil and stone and a block of bluestone placed on top.

The archaeologists found that pieces were deliberately broken off the bluestones until medieval times and that holly, ivy and yew were used in accompanying rituals.

Another of the team leaders, Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, said the bluestones appeared central to the purpose of Stonehenge although it may have had more than one function.

Other theories about Stonehenge are that it was a religious site or that it acted as a calendar.

Reporting by Adrian Croft and Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Mariam Karouny