For centuries, Stonehenge has received a great deal of attention, from the druids all the way to Ylvis. Speculations abound as to the purpose of the stone circle (a prison far too easy to escape?), on the existence of healing properties in the stones, and how the big ol’ rocks got there in the first place. For the latter question, some speculate the stones were rolled on logs, wrapped in wicker baskets, dragged behind ships, or even pushed along a system of wooden balls and rails. Of course, we also have theories that point to Merlin and aliens as the builders of the structure, though they lack the important element of evidence.
Today, we’re pushing a different theory. The stones were transported on ice.
Preposterous, you shout! But hold on. I will explain.
Stonehenge has been an important location for thousands of years. It began as a circle of dirt mounds, but between 2600-2400 BCE, the stone circle we see today was erected. A good 30 stones were transported to the site, most likely from a quarry some 25 miles away.
Each stone weighs around 25 tons and stands 13 feet tall and almost 12 feet wide. In other words, these are massive objects. In comparison, the largest of the stones in the Great Pyramid at Giza are between 25 and 80 tons. Unlike Egypt, though, rural Britain was just that: rural. There were around 250,000 people living in Britain in 2000 BCE, while Egypt boasted a population of between 1 million and 2 million people.
So, we can rule out that brute manpower was utilized to to move the stones. It must have been a more ingenious method of transportation, and thus theories (like those listed above) have popped up over the centuries. But how’s about this one instead?
The key to our theory about the great mystery lies far to the east of Britain, in China.
The Forbidden City was built in the 15th century. It was constructed with the aid of 100,000 artisans and around 1 million laborers. Some of the stones used in the building weigh a mighty 220 tons. Though long assumed that the stones were moved with the aid wheels, a recent discovery has shed light on the true method. It’s that ice again.
During the winter, long ice paths were set in the ground and down these paths the stones were slid. According to researchers and common sense, great planning was needed to execute this feat, but if done right, the impossible could happen. As described in a recent BBC News article, the logistics behind such an operation were put to the test:
They [the academics] then made calculations looking at the friction of ice to see how plausible it would be to drag such large rocks over the short time period in winter, when it was cold enough to do so.
Prof Stone said several hundred workers would have been needed to transport stones ranging from 100-300 tonnes.
“If you look at the frictional characteristics of ice for the rocks of this size, we estimate that 300 people were needed for this kind of dragging,” he explained.
Advance planning was also vital, as water had to be laid out in the winter months so it could freeze along the 43-mile (70km) stretch from a quarry outside Beijing.
So, 43 miles. When it comes to Stonehenge, the distance was almost half of that and the stones were substantially smaller. In addition, the manpower needed to move the stones, around 300 people in China, would have been readily available in Britain at the time of construction.
The next hurdle would be to determine if ice were present in the quantities needed to create a sort of artificial ice river. On average on January 1, Stonehenge experiences temperatures between 37 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Not nearly cold enough…today. However, the temperatures were not always so toasty in the dead of winter.
From 3000 to 2000 BC, the world experienced a cooling trend. It dropped water levels, exposed islands like the Bahamas, and created many of the coastal areas in existence today.
The sudden cool down, as indicated in the graph on the left, lasted until around 1600 BC. Before the temperatures reached their nadir and human populations were negatively affected, winters in Britain would have been cold enough to freeze ice and allow humans to work outside without meeting their demise.
The technology needed to create the ice channels themselves would have been rather primitive. A sort of shovel would have been utilized to dig trenches and the containers needed to transport water into the trenches. Add some freezing temperatures and you have an ice highway fit for Stonehenge.
This is just a theory (paging the archaeology community), but in light of the discoveries in China the ice road seems plausible. However, if you’re still certain it was Merlin who levitated the stones over 25 miles, I won’t try to correct you.
Map Source: Google Maps
Graph source: Long Range Weather
Stonehenge Image: Wikimedia Commons