| 3 December 2004
A new theory on how Stonehenge came about
For more than 20 years, Derbyshire carpenter Gordon Pipes has been striving to find an answer to a 4,000-year-old question that still confounds archaeologists; namely how, without roads or wheels, did Neolithic man transport 80 sarsen stones, each weighing an average of 30 tons, 20 miles from the Marlborough Downs to Salisbury Plain to construct Stonehenge? The site also comprises 98 blue stones, each weighing six tons, from the Preseli Mountains in Wales. The question of how these were conveyed over land - it is agreed they must have been ferried in boats along the Severn Estuary and River Avon - is also unanswered. But Pipes is convinced he has found the solution.
"In terms of Stonehenge, theories that one stone could have been dragged a mile a day by 700 men using rope and wooden rollers seemed as viable to me as alien involvement. The rollers wouldn't have taken the weight and the physical effort required would have been super-human." he explains. "It occurred to me that a megalith could be picked up, moved a short distance, put down and moved again. Further research suggested this would be quicker, require less manpower and negate the need for muscle power. Also, the initial inertia the body experiences when attempting to drag large stones, is all but nullified."
Called stone rowing, the procedure involves laying down a number of logs - the number determined by the weight of the stone - in a parallel formation. Resting on supports, the logs are positioned just above the ground. Some are then used to support the stone, while the rest act as a continuous fulcrum for wooden oars, or levers, inserted underneath the stone. By pressing down on the levers, the stone rises two inches clear of the support logs, and when the levers are moved sideways, the stone moves forward.
Pipes tested his theory in his garden. "Four of us carried out this experiment using a four-ton concrete block, four logs and four levers," he explains. "We were able to move the block between six and 12 inches at a time with ease. I then set up a ramp and discovered that the method also worked uphill when using more levers and incorporating a break mechanism."
Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology, says: "Few archaeologists ever consider practical issues like moving stones. Gordon's ideas fascinate because they come from an understanding of lifting and moving things, rather than from theories dreamt up at a desk. And while he doesn't underestimate the difficulties facing the Stonehenge builders, neither does he come up with impossibly complicated solutions. It's the first time that someone has come up with anything really sensible for a long time."
Pipes is planning further experiments on Salisbury Plain next summer, including an attempt to move a 40-ton block.
Source: The Guardian (30 November 2004)
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