Geological analysis explains durability of Stonehenge megaliths

The first comprehensive scientific analysis of Stonehenge's imposing megaliths has revealed some of the traits that made them an exemplary building material for the famed monument in southern England including their stout resistance to weathering.


Researchers on Aug. 4 described a battery of examinations that provided a glimpse inside one of Stonehenge's 52 sandstone megaliths, known as sarsens, gaining insight into its geology and chemistry.

They studied a core sample extracted from one of the sarsens, called Stone 58, during 1950s conservation work. It was kept in the United States for decades before being returned to Britain for research in 2018.

The sarsens are made of stone called silcrete that formed gradually within a few meters of the ground surface as a result of groundwater washing through buried sediment.

The examination clarified Stone 58's internal structure. It showed that the silcrete is comprised of mainly sand-sized quartz grains cemented tightly together by an interlocking mosaic of quartz crystals. Quartz is extremely durable and does not easily crumble or erode even when exposed to eons of wind and weather.

"This explains the stone's resistance to weathering and why it made an ideal material for monument-building," said University of Brighton geomorphologist David Nash, who led the study published in the journal PLoS ONE.


In a remarkable engineering achievement by late Neolithic people, the sarsens were erected at the site in Wiltshire, England around 2500 BC. Stone 58, one of the giant upright sarsens at Stonehenge's center, stands about 7 meters tall, with another 2 meters underground, and an estimated above-ground weight of 24 tons.

The core sample is a rod of stone,...

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