A Missing Piece Of Stonehenge Has Been Returned After Mysteriously Disappearing

The 1958 archaeological work in progress. ©English Heritage.

In 1958, a piece of Stonehenge vanished during some archaeological work at the world-famous prehistoric monument. After laying in obscurity for decades, the missing piece – a skinny cylindrical stone “core” – has been found and is already causing archaeologists to excitedly scratch their beards with curiosity. 

Now the core has been returned to its rightful place in English Heritage’s collection of artifacts, archaeologists are hoping the elusive stone core could provide some invaluable insights into the history of this unique Neolithic site and perhaps even uncover the source of the large stones that form its iconic trilithons.

Three cores went missing when archaeologists set about re-erecting one of the Henge’s fallen trilithons, a distinctive structure consisting of two large vertical stones with a third stone laying horizontally across the top. To fix and reinforce the structure, three 32-millimeter (1.2-inch) holes were bored out of the stone and metal rods were inserted, which produced three long tube-like cylinders of stone.

©English Heritage

One of the people working on this project was Robert Phillips from the diamond cutting business Van Moppes. He managed to get his hands on one of the cylindrical cores and, understandably, it took pride of place in his office for many years. By 1976, he left his job at Van Moppes and emigrated to the US, where he and his precious Stonehenge core took up numerous posts across the country, from New York and Chicago to California and Florida.

On the eve of his 90th birthday, Robert decided it was time to place his favorite memento into the care of English Heritage.

“Our father has always been interested in archaeology and he recognized the huge importance of the piece of the monument in his care. It was his wish that it be returned to Stonehenge,” Robert’s son, Lewis Phillips, said in a statement. “We are all delighted the core has come home, particularly as it is now being used to further important research”.

However, the two other cores remain at large.

“The other two Stonehenge cores may still be out there somewhere and if anyone has any information, we’d love to hear from them,” said Heather Sebire, English Heritage’s curator for Stonehenge.

The long-lost Stonehenge core. ©English Heritage

Archaeologists are certain that Stonehenge’s smaller bluestones were brought from the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales – nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) away from the megalith – based on analysis of the rock. However, the origin of the larger sarsen blocks is still hazy. Now equipped with these well-preserved unweathered cores, the researchers are hoping to get a more detailed look at Stonehenge's “DNA” and track its origins.  

“Archaeologists and geologists have been debating where the stones used to build Stonehenge came from for years,” said Professor David Nash of the University of Brighton, who is investigating the chemical composition of the sarsen stones.

“Conventional wisdom suggests that they all came from the relatively nearby Marlborough Downs but initial results from our analysis suggest that in fact, the sarsens may come from more than one location. Our geochemical fingerprinting of the sarsens in situ at Stonehenge, and of the core itself, when compared with samples from areas across southern England will hopefully tell us where the different stones came from.”  

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