The Foreign Stones

While the Sarsens usually awake the greatest interest by reason of

their bulk, and the problem of how a primitive people was able to deal

with them, a far greater problem is presented by the small uprights,

or Foreign Stones, the like of which cannot be matched within a

hundred miles of Salisbury Plain, while some can only be found upon

the continent of Europe. Fragments carefully removed and submitted to

have made this fact abundantly clear, and consequently

it is possible to arrive at the very definite conclusion that

Stonehenge is certainly not a Wiltshire monument, and probably that

it is not even British at all.

Where have the stones come from? One school of writers ventures to

suggest Kildare in Ireland. Others suggest Wales, Cornwall, Dartmoor,

Shropshire, or Cumberland, where similar rocks are to be found, though

perhaps not absolutely identical in character. Yet another theory

advanced is that the Foreign Stones were transported to the plain as

boulders of the glacial drift. It has even been stated that the

gravels of the district contain small pebbles composed of rock similar

to these mysterious Foreign Stones. The statement has indeed been

made, but as yet no Wiltshire geologist has produced one of these

pebbles of which so much is written, and so little seen.

These Glacial Drift theorists, further account for the absence of

these foreign stones elsewhere than at Stonehenge, by yet another

theory, that they, like most of the Sarsens, have all been used up for

millstones, gateposts, and road metal.

There are many millstones and gateposts in Wiltshire, but where is

there one which corresponds in any way to the upright Foreign Stones

at Stonehenge? The production of pebbles from the gravels of Wilts, or

of a specimen gatepost or millstone would at once settle this

question. Unhappily this tangible evidence is wanting, so, alluring as

the Glacial Drift theory may appear, it must reluctantly be set aside

for want of convincing evidence. Finally, there seems every reason to

believe that the small upright stones are naturalised aliens from

abroad, and that is why they have been described at the commencement

of this section as Foreign Stones. It must not be taken for granted

that the small upright stones at present standing represent all the

foreign rocks employed. Probably they are merely the hardest and most

durable of those used in the original structure, the softer and more

friable examples having disappeared entirely, owing to the action of

the weather, and possibly also to the assaults of the unchecked

relic-monger, who until recent years could with his hammer collect

souvenirs with impunity. In this connection, there is a story afoot

that a hammer was kept upon the mantelpiece of a well-known hotel in

Salisbury, which was reserved for the use of those intending to see

Stonehenge, who might be wishful to bring back some convincing

evidence of their visit.

In all probability these foreign stones originally numbered

forty-five. To-day there are but thirty.

A complete lithology of the stones made by the late Professor J.W.

Judd, in 1901, reveals the following rocks as comprising those used in

the construction of Stonehenge.

1. Sarsens.--Coarse and fine-grained Sandstone similar to the

Woolwich, Reading, or Bagshot beds. This stone is used for

the Trilithons, Hele Stone, a recumbent stone known as the

Slaughtering Stone, and two small stones set north-west

and south-east of the circle. It is of local origin.

2. Ophitic Diabase.--(Some porphyritic.)

3. Highly altered basic Tuffs, and agglomerates (calcareous

chloritic schists).--Only one stump now remains.

4. Altered Rhyolites and Dacites.--Only fragments of this rock

have been revealed during Mr. Gowland's excavations in 1901.

At one time doubtless there was a whole upright of this

material, but its striking appearance and fracture has

probably led to its demolition by generations of souvenir

hunters. Other fragments have been found in the barrows once

within sight of Stonehenge, but now destroyed by cultivation.

5. Sandstones, Grits, and Quartzites.--The Altar-Stone belongs

to this class. It is interesting to note that Professor

Maskelyne has pointed out the similarity between the Altar

Stone at Stonehenge, and the Stone of Destiny in the

Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey.

6. Grey Wackés.--Fragments only of these stones have been

discovered among the chippings incidental to the dressing of

the stones before erection.

Their absence at the present day is not a matter for surprise, as

stones of this class weather badly, and when exposed to the

action of frost and cold rapidly disintegrate.

7. Argillaceous Flagstones and Slates.--As in the case of the

Grey Wackés, fragments only of these stones exist to tell the

story of the uprights which have vanished under atmospheric


8. Glanconitic Sandstone (possibly Upper Greensand?).--Traces of

this rock have been discovered at Stonehenge by Mr.

Cunnington. Professor Judd suggests the possibility of a

boulder of this material having been found and used by the

builders of Stonehenge.

9. Flints.--These of course are naturally found in abundance

throughout the district. Most of those found within

Stonehenge are broken fragments struck off in the process of

repointing flint chisels during the erection of the circle.

The above catalogue of stones may not convey very much to the ordinary

visitor, and has only been inserted for the sake of completeness; or

for the information of geologists who may be concerned with this

aspect of the history of the monument. The conclusions to be drawn

from such a list, however, are not without interest to the general

reader. From the varied fragments found, it is apparent that some six,

or perhaps seven, different classes of stone were used for the small

uprights, but that only the harder and more durable rocks (the

diabase, rhyolite, etc.) have survived. The softer rocks (basic tuffs,

grey wackés, flagstones, and slates), being more easily broken, have

fallen victims to the souvenir hunter, and to the action of the

weather, rain, and frost. Originally, as has already been stated, the

foreign stones numbered forty-five, disposed as follows: thirty in the

outer circle, and fifteen in the inner horseshoe. To-day only nineteen

exist in the outer circle, and eleven in the inner horseshoe.

A very striking proof that many of these foreign stones have

disappeared, is to be found in the wide gaps which exist to-day in

certain parts of the circle. That such gaps were originally filled by

standing stones is beyond question, indeed, the base of a schistose

stone (see Class 3 in the Lithology above) was actually discovered by

Mr. Cunnington in the course of his investigations into the nature of

the rocks composing Stonehenge. It is highly probable that careful and

scientific excavation may add greatly to our knowledge in this


There is yet one other point of interest in connection with these

foreign stones. On entering the circle from the north-east (the usual

path taken by visitors) a recumbent foreign stone will be noticed on

the left-hand side, which has two cavities worked in it. This is the

only worked foreign stone in the whole monument, and at first sight

these cavities may possibly suggest themselves as mortise holes

similar to those on the Sarsen trilithons, to be described later. It

has even been suggested that the small uprights once carried imposts,

or lintel stones similar to the trilithons, on the evidence of this

one stone. Such a theory, however attractive, should be accepted with

due caution, for the cavities on the stone are far from the ends, and

situated too close together to justify a comparison with the existing

Sarsen trilithons of the outer circle. This stone has never yet been

explained and its position defined, consequently it is omitted from

the frontispiece.