Scientists Solve an Ancient Stonehenge Mystery: Where the Massive Rocks Came From

iStock.com/Onfokus
iStock.com/Onfokus

It's one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of all time: How did Neolithic peoples build Stonehenge—a massive, bluestone structure in an area where no stones of that kind can be found? As CNN reports, a new study answers some of the questions the site raises and puts other theories to rest.

The first stage of Stonehenge, located in what's now Salisbury, England, was built roughly 4000 years ago. Archaeologists have known for a while that the bluestones used to make Stonehenge originated from quarries in Pembrokeshire, Wales, 150 miles away, but how the stones arrived at their current spot is less clear. According to one theory, humans spent months transporting the materials, possibly with wooden sleighs on rollers, oxen, or river rafts.

Other experts insist that it would have been impossible to transport the 25-ton rocks such a great distance using primitive technology. Instead, they say the stones were placed there by glacial activity.

The new study published in the journal Antiquity debunks that idea. Archaeologists and geologists from the UK studied the smaller rocks used to build Stonehenge and pegged them to two quarries in the Preseli Hills of Wales. Upon visiting the sites, they discovered traces of tools, stone wedges, and digging activity. The evidence dates back to 3000 BCE, the same time when construction on Stonehenge started.

The results also dispel previously held beliefs concerning the rocks' origins. Though it's widely accepted that the stones came from the Preseli Hills, this study is the first to trace them to two specific quarries on the north side of the hills—Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin. It was thought for nearly a century that the rocks were excavated from the opposite side.

The research team says their findings suggest that materials used to make Stonehenge were moved by purposeful human activity rather than freak natural forces. But the study still leaves some questions unanswered, such as how the ancient peoples were able to transport the rocks 150 miles after digging them up. The fact that the rocks came from the north side of the Preseli Hills suggests they were dragged over land rather than transported by river—though the exact methods used remain a mystery .

[h/t CNN]

A WWII Navy Submarine, Lost for 75 Years, Has Been Discovered Off the Coast of Japan

MR1805/iStock via Getty Images
MR1805/iStock via Getty Images

The U.S. Navy lost 52 submarines during World War II, many of which are still missing today. But as The New York Times reports, the wreck of the U.S.S. Grayback—a submarine that disappeared along with its 80-person crew in 1944—has been found off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

On January 28, 1944, the Grayback departed from Pearl Harbor for its 10th combat patrol. It missed its scheduled return date that spring, and after weeks of failing to locate the vessel, the Navy declared it was likely lost.

Immediately following World War II, the U.S. military studied Japanese war records in search of clues that might lead them to their missing ships. One recording clearly states the Grayback was brought down by a bomb dropped by an Japanese aircraft, and it even gives the longitude and latitude of the attack. But due to a poor translation of the audio, the Navy went looking for the sub 100 miles away from its actual resting place.

Seventy-five years later, the submarine's coordinates were finally uncovered in old Imperial Japanese Navy files.

A Japanese researcher named Yutaka Iwasaki noticed this error while looking at the World War II records of the Imperial Japanese Navy base at Sasebo. He was asked to review the files for the Lost 52 Project, an organization dedicated to finding lost World War II submarines. Using the newly uncovered information and an autonomous underwater vehicle, the team was able to locate the vessel at the bottom of the East China Sea near Okinawa.

Lost 52 doesn't hunt for submarine wrecks with plans to recover them. Rather, the goal of the project is "documenting and preserving the story of the Lost 52 WWII Submarines, leaving a foundation of knowledge for future generations." In the case of the Grayback, the site where it settled on the seafloor will be protected from any human interference.

[h/t The New York Times]

Swedish Divers Just Discovered Two Shipwrecks That Might Be Related to the Famous Vasa Warship

The Vasa shipwreck displayed in Sweden's Vasa Museum.
The Vasa shipwreck displayed in Sweden's Vasa Museum.
Christian Lundh, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In 1625, King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden commissioned shipbuilders to create the most beautiful, lethal flagship that ever existed, as a symbol of Sweden’s naval strength. Three years later, crowds gathered to watch the Vasa, named after Sweden’s royal house, set sail for the first time. But less than a mile into its maiden voyage, the poorly and hastily constructed warship sunk to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it remained until 1961 when it was salvaged and later transported to the Vasa Museum.

Now, the Guardian reports Swedish maritime archaeologists from Vrak—Museum of Wrecks have located two shipwrecks in the Swedish archipelago outside of Vaxholm that could be linked to the Vasa. This is because the shipwright responsible for the Vasa built three other ships, the Äpplet, the Kronan, and the Scepter (though, unlike their ill-fated sibling, they actually made it into battle).

“It was like swimming around the Vasa ship,” maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson said in a museum press release. They believe the first wreck they discovered may be the Äpplet, and the second wreck could be either the Kronan or the Scepter.

“We think that some of them were sunk in the area,” Patrik Hoglund, another Vrak archaeologist, told the Guardian. But these ships didn’t capsize because of shoddy engineering or even an enemy attack. Instead, experts believe the Swedish navy intentionally sunk them after they were decommissioned, so their wrecks would function as surprise spike strips to damage approaching enemy ships.

The divers brought back wood samples from the wrecks to send to a laboratory for testing. Once they know when and where the timber came from, they can cross-reference the data with Swedish archives to find out if it matches information from the Vasa.

Even if the warships do turn out to be the Vasa’s long-lost siblings, it’s unlikely that they’ll be salvaged and displayed alongside it, since the Baltic Sea’s brackish waters actually preserve them much better than a museum could.

Sweden isn’t the only nation that boasts a beautiful shipwreck or two—here are 10 other shipwrecks around the world that you can visit.

[h/t The Guardian]

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