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Summing up, Pitts said of Parker Pearson's theory: "The value of this interpretation is not just the idea of linking stones and ancestors, but that it works with the entire landscape. Previous interpretations have taken the independent sites separately."

IRONICALLY, A MORE DIRECT approach to the heart of Stonehenge might lie in fieldwork far from its own landscape, miles away in a small site amid convulsed, fractured outcrops of dolerite and shale in the Preseli Mountains of southwestern Wales—the source of Stonehenge's oldest stones, the fabled bluestones. The erection of the bluestones marked a critical transition from the original timber settings toward the monument we have today. "Dusted with magic," is how one archaeologist described the famously atmospheric hills to me, in a region long known for its intriguing stone circles, dolmens, and other megalithic monuments. As long ago as 1923, specific outcrops around Carn Menyn, at the eastern end of the Preseli hills, had been identified as the bluestone source; subsequent geochemical work in 1991 refined this to roughly one square mile.

Yet for more than 80 years after the discovery of the bluestone source, "no one actually got their trowel out and did anything," said Timothy Darvill, a professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University. "It's perverse, really." Together with Geoffrey Wainwright, a distinguished authority on the Neolithic and the original excavator of Durrington Walls in the 1960s, Darvill began a systematic survey around Carn Menyn in 2001, accompanied by a small team of researchers from Bournemouth University, including Yvette Staelens, a senior lecturer. "It's a place where strange things happen," Staelens said of the hills. She described reaching the top of a sheer rock outcrop and finding a fox impaled on rock. "Guts and blood were spilling down—we think a large raptor must have dropped it. Strange things like that."

"It's a natural monument," said Wainwright, of the chaotic rock formations of columns and pillars that litter the ground. "The stones of Stonehenge didn't have to be quarried; they could be simply carried off." Up to six feet in height and four tons, the approximately 80 original bluestones—the exact number formerly located at Stonehenge is unclear—are mostly dolerite spotted with milky feldspar. Freshly cut and wet with rain, they do indeed glisten blue. Still, these are not the only striking stones within the British Isles. "Why did they bring these stones 250 miles to build Stonehenge?" Wainwright asked. "And why did they retain these stones throughout its structural history?"

So far the Preseli hills have not yielded an answer, but they do offer some clues. As Staelens recalled, on the first day Wainwright and Darvill began their field survey, Wainwright laid his hand on a rock. "And it had rock art. The pair of them were very academic blokey about the discovery. Geoff said, 'Look at this, Tim.' Tim said, 'That looks important, Geoff.' They just stood there, very British low-key."

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