Another theory about how Stonehenge was built

BBC Homepage featuring StonehengeA colleague pointed me at the BBC homepage today, which was featuring a nice slideshow displaying images of Stonehenge. The photos linked through to a story entitled “Stonehenge building riddle tackled“.

It’s always fun to suggest how the great sarsen lintels might have been raised on top of the upright stones, and there have been some novel suggestions. Today’s idea comes from Bristol engineer Nick Weegenaar:

“The lintels were rolled in the wheel until they were above the uprights, and then lowered down.

“The wheel would have been on a track, with counterweights to act as ballast.”
Quoted from the story on the BBC website

Basically, the lintel is put into a huge wheel, which is on a track. As the wheel is rolled, the lintel is lifted up into the air and deposited neatly on top of the upright stones. The wheel passes between the uprights while it does this.

There is an animation at the foot of the BBC story, that shows how this might all work. The first thing that struck me about this idea, is that many of the trilithons don’t have a large enough gap between the uprights to allow a huge wheel to pass between. I’ll let this image illustrate my point:

Could this machine have really worked if it couldn’t fit between the uprights?
The image is a mix of one of my photos and the demonstration on the BBC website.

English Heritage’s Dave Batchelor, Head of Metric Survey, hit the nail on the head:

“This level of infrastructure is very likely to have left some traces and none have yet been found.”

He also queries whether the wheel was in use in Britain in 2300BC. I’d add that I’m not sure if railways, let alone wheels, were in use at the time…

..unless the Amesbury Archer was some kind of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

It is fascinating to speculate on how the lintels might have been raised (amongst other engineering that took place), and long may healthy speculation continue. However, we must consider how easy it is to impose modern thinking upon the past. The old “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” adage aside, I don’t buy this new approach, novel as it is.

Weegenaar’s approach would only work on some of the trilithons, and there is no evidence for complex wheels at this point in the Bronze Age in Britain. It is easy to project our modern engineering knowledge of wheels and counterweights into the past.

But there is also no published archaeological evidence from the various excavations at Stonehenge in the last century that supports the use wooden ramps or tracks that I, nor others I have asked, can think of.

Another example of engineering ignores archaeology? Perhaps.

What’s wrong with shed loads of people, a lot of rope, big mounds of earth, and tree trunk rollers? :-)

Here’s to the next idea!

26 Responses to Another theory about how Stonehenge was built

  1. JCA 30 August, 2007 at 2:43 am #

    Henges – Engineering in Prehistoty

    Stonehenge was a crane working with nutating gear technology.

  2. Tom 30 August, 2007 at 8:04 am #

    Again, fitting modern ideas neatly onto the past…

  3. Henrik 31 August, 2007 at 7:42 pm #

    They did it with mirrors! ;-)

  4. JCA 5 September, 2007 at 3:18 pm #

    There are some who fit their intelligence and religiousity to the past…

  5. Lonny Richardson 10 November, 2007 at 4:19 pm #

    I have never heard the building of Stonehenge the way I would have done it if I had no machines, but did have ample man power. I would use dirt. first, I would bring in soil from the surrounding area then slide the large cut stones on top of it, then I would remove the dirt to get the stones in place. I would do the same to place the horizontal stones on top of the vertical stones. It would be the easiest of all very difficult possibilities. It would be fun to test this theory and to try to ditermine if that what was done at Stonehenge. Anyone up to trying?

  6. DrewR 15 November, 2007 at 5:37 am #

    The nutating gear theory would be plausible if and only if you ignore the fact that the middle of stonehenge has the giant horse shoe of trilithons to get in the way of any support beams running through the diameter of the wooden gear. I seriously doubt people of that time could create a huge wooden circle that is stable enough to be used as a giant gear WITHOUT having some sort of support beams. Without the spokes on a wheel, that wheel will break under pressure.

    As getting those lintels up there, I personally find using a dirt ramp and heaving it up with manpower very plausible. All other theories I’ve heard of seem too unlikely for the people of those times because most involve the wheel which probably wasn’t very well known to the locals of England at that period. Log rollers, sure, wheels, not so much.

  7. JCA 18 November, 2007 at 11:38 pm #

    Stonehenge – Engineering in Prehistory

    The wheel, or wooden circle would never be subjected to radial forces as current common wheels (such as bikes or car wheels), in fact it could be built in a flexible wooden material, whithout radial support beams. The wheel was subjected to high tangential forces (imagine bended tree logs under longitudinal traction or compression). The gearing spikes would need to be well connected to the wheel, and for better force distribution they would gear to inside and outside stone circles. So there is no need to use the middle of stonehenge. More, if you tie several ropes arround the wooden wheel, you can pull them alternatly from the top of the lintels creating a nutating motion, while others walked above the wheel in the oposite radial direction.

    JCaeiroAntunes

  8. N G Weegenaar 8 December, 2007 at 7:15 pm #

    It is not a wheel, it must be realized that 180 dergrees of the litholift is not used to roll on, and can be eliminated if the device was scaled up and replaced with ballast boxes{not round} attached to the now half round structure.Quite frankly I think that English Heritage is a stuffy organisation with equally stuffy points of view when confronted with new ideas, and have failed to understand that its the principal that the model displays, the actual device will not be round. Finally, of course they had trackways{not to be confused with railways} and the large trilithons can also be placed/erected using the same principle but in a different configuration . I wonder if Enlish Heritage will accept the existence of the half wheel? it was strong small diameter axels that the neoliths did not have.because the larger the axel the less leverage imparted to the wheel and the rolling resistance is therefore increased, so the roller is just a deep section neolithic wheel, compared to the neolithic builders we dont know much about lifting heavy objects, using inteligence, experience, inovation and geometry, they certainly were not primitive in thought, and originalty, which is hardly surprising as they were MODERN MAN a mere 180 generations ago, NGW.

  9. sam 18 December, 2007 at 7:31 pm #

    modern people,especially engineers arrogantly assume we are smarter than bronze age peoples.If this really were the case then we would know how they done it.They could have had any amount of machines and technology that we hove found nothing of.Evolution has been against us for thousands of years,as it is no longer the smart or the strong who get to breed.”There is someone for everyone” will be the end of us all.

  10. sam 21 December, 2007 at 3:04 pm #

    The easiest way to get the lintels up would be dog-leg leavers.Set at about 10 past eleven,they would be solid oak with bronze struts and bearings.Working in pairs between the uprights for the outer circle,a large basket(for want of a better word)would be hung from the short 11 arm.This would be filled with ballast to raise the lintel.On the horseshoe,as there is no space between the uprights and the stones are heavier,i would put a pair of leavers at each outer end.
    Although there would be a fair amount of weight in this machinery it would be portable enough for the small distances it would have to be moved within the site.
    As for us finding remains of any machine we have to consider that they weren’t building the Channel Tunnel and oak and bronze are valuable materials and as such would be recycled.

  11. Dean Talboys 23 January, 2008 at 4:21 am #

    Sorry guys, but the script reads “anything but a wheel”. Honestly, you can use levers, counterweights, any amount of rope, dirt, a-frames, but sadly no wheels (or pulleys for that matter). Basically the builders had no concept of “round” except for that perfectly formed set of stone lintels – Doh!

  12. sam 2 March, 2008 at 8:18 pm #

    Since when was a dog-leg lever a wheel? It’s an angled lever,plain and simple. Just because the arms are best described as a time doesn’t make it a clock.Meanwhile, in the time of the inner circles wheels were very much in use and could well have been used at the site for any number of reasons. As for these people, who studied the cosmos and used applied mathematics in their building(which is still here) to think they had no concept of round is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. That includes “ape”ing someone else’s catchphrase in a pop culture, Monkey see Monkey do.

  13. Bruce Bedlam 4 March, 2008 at 10:19 pm #

    Hi

    Have a look at http://www.stonehenge.tv It has a Stonehenge Animation made by Bournemouth University and a Meridian TV Report linked to the site.

    It challenges the old school of thinking

    Thanks in advance

    Bruce Bedlam
    Intelligence Director,
    Stonehenge Ltd.

  14. Tom Goskar 15 March, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    A nice idea, Bruce, but how does your model get around the chronology of Stonehenge? And given the solsticial alignments, why put a roof over it?

  15. wroland 18 March, 2008 at 2:19 am #

    It’s not lifting the stones that astounds the wrabbit, its the astonishing accuracy with which they set up…see http://www.solvingstonehenge.co.uk

  16. Dave 23 March, 2008 at 12:01 am #

    Just my two cents, but I think the wheel theory almost has to be rubbish. It’s very clever, but it’s impractical considering what others have said about engineering methods at the time as well as the fact that Stonehenge was built over a 500 year period. I think the mistake engineers and others are making is that they’re figuring out how they would have done it – and they’re used to modern time constraints, where buildings/structures are put together in the shortest time span possible.

    When you’re talking about a time spawn of 500 years, I find the idea of simply building big dirt ramps up to the pillars much more plausible. If the people who built Stonehenge would have realized the full extent and use of the wheel for engineering purposes (including transportation of the stones), we’d probably be talking about a 50 year building span, not 500.

  17. tope 3 April, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    it says using wooden logs but because of the special blue granite
    which is extremely heavy it will break the logs

  18. Paul 14 April, 2008 at 7:08 am #

    The obvious answer that will leave no signs is snow and ice.
    Years ago the weather was rougher so all they had to do is during the summer bring a sarson stone to the site then when winter came make a huge embankment of snow/ice and slide the stones up in place.
    If the weather was mild that year then it did not matter.
    When the snow melted in the summer, no trace is left of how they did it.
    They could have even used snow/ice to help move the stones from where they quarried. It would take years but they had time on their hands plus they wouldn’t need hundreds taking part.
    This is how a lot of stones were moved to make the stone circles up and down the length of the country.

  19. Ric 22 May, 2008 at 6:27 pm #

    The aliens built the Stonehenge most probably by their vehicles lifting the stones. Eat that!

  20. jodie 8 June, 2008 at 6:17 pm #

    the way it was constructed was they dug holes to erect the posts the easy part the harder part was accomplished by filling the entire area with fill to the top of the posts then bring the lentils in and put them in place and remove the fill.

  21. Dean Talboys 15 June, 2008 at 8:04 pm #

    All research is aimed at proving the site built in the late Neolithic, which it most certainly was not. R. J. C. Atkinson unwittingly stumbled upon a feature that will prove the site to be much older than anticipated (yes, ‘anticipated’ because you can’t date a site on the fragile evidence of two bits of bone spaced 2,000 years apart or the cremated remains of a person who didn’t burn to death in situ).

  22. Eric 5 August, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    So…
    ‘All research is aimed at proving the site built in the late Neolithic’.
    What on earth does that mean? Archaeological research is about seeking the correct answers not about trying ‘to prove’ anything, unlike the comment above. What evidence does Dean Talboys have that the current series of radiocarbon dates published in Cleal’s ‘Stonehenge in its Landscape’ (1995) are wrong, and that the Late Neolithic date is incorrect? Stonehenge is NOT dated on ‘the fragile evidence of two bits of bone spaced 2,000 years apart or the cremated remains of a person who didn’t burn to death in situ’, what utter nonsense.

  23. Paul 12 October, 2008 at 3:40 pm #

    It would be far to difficult for humans to build Stonehenge, It was most likely built by giants of the time. We know from archaeologist evidence that we have found human bones calculating to giants of 49 ft. The stone masons may also of used occult magic in order to contact the spirts for assistants. I don’t think aliens had a part to play in this construction but they were certainly involved in building the pyramids.

  24. Nick 7 May, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Please get this Mystical and religous rubbish out of your minds.In the times when all these stone structures were built in britain including standing stones,they had a practicle use : the standing stones were nothing more than storage heaters and an early form of chimney. Built around each stone was a wooden house they were put up in circles to keep out the bears wolves ect…. Stonehenge was just an upgrade of the standing stones. You have heard of stone cold well if you heat a stone it stays warm for a long time. So you could have it warm in winter and cool in summer,these people didn’t have time for anything but survival. I have invented a simple device that you could build stonehenge with easily. If your cup is full you won’t understand what I am saying.

  25. Dean 31 May, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    @eric
    “What evidence does Dean Talboys have that the current series of radiocarbon dates published in Cleal’s ‘Stonehenge in its Landscape’ (1995) are wrong, and that the Late Neolithic date is incorrect?”
    For one I have undertaken a thorough study of the original evidence the results of which you can read about in my book. If you read it you will see that I have not doubted the radiocarbon dates at all. My objection is the way in which samples are accepted or rejected in order to confirm the site as being of late Neolithic origin. Read page 102 of my book and you might understand why (either that or read the AML results yourself).

  26. Jean 29 August, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Both sets of my grandparents were mid western farmers. Their lives were totally full of just trying to exist from one day to the next. Growing food, feeding farm animals, milking cows, cooking, laundry, etc. filled every waking minute. I can’t imagine any of them getting up one morning and saying they wanted to go out and join the neighbors trying to move mega ton rocks to upright positions to honor their dead. They just didn’t have the time! What inspired Stonehenge? My vote goes to other worldly beings.

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