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Encyclopedia > Sarsen

Sarsen stones are sandstone blocks found on Salisbury Plain and elsewhere. They are the remains of a cap of tertiary sandstone which once covered much of southern England. Natural sarsen boulders created by glacial and periglacial effects can be sometimes found scattered on the surface and the stone is also present in the surviving outcrops of the rock.


The builders of Stonehenge, Avebury and many other megalithic monuments in southern England chose to build with sarsen stones.


Several colourful etymologies exist for the name. It may be a mediaeval corruption of Saracen denoting the pagan significance of sarsen standing stones. Others have suggested Sanskrit links.


From the middle ages until the nineteenth century sarsen megaliths in Europe were a target for destruction by both religious zealots and commercial enterprise. The stones were sometimes toppled, cleared from fields under cultivation or broken up for reuse. Fire or explosives could be used to fracture or destroy the stone for use in buildings. Sarsen is not an ideal building material however, William Stukeley wrote that Sarsen is "always moist and dewy in winter which proves damp and unwholesome, and rots the furniture." In the case of Avebury the investors who backed the scheme to recycle the stone were bankrupted when the houses they built proved to be unsaleable and also prone to burning down.


  Results from FactBites:
 
Images of Stonehenge, Stonehenge, England, c. 3100-1550 BCE. Digital Imaging Project: Art historical images of ... (411 words)
Somewhat later sarsen stones were arranged in an outer circle with continuous lintels and five trilithons were arranged in a horseshoe, the axis of which pointed to the midsummer sunrise.
The larger stones and their lintels are all of Sarsen, a kind of sandstone, brought from about 20 miles away from the Marlborough Downs.
The Sarsen circle is about 100 feet in diameter and originally consisted of 30 uprights and a continuous circle of lintels.
Erratics of the Wessex Coast; Geology of the Wessex Coast Field Guides (10482 words)
Sarsen stone blocks from the Pleistocene gravels are very common on the beach, at about mid-tide level, at Brownwich and Chilling Cliffs to the northwest of Hillhead.
The stone was a sarsen or greywether, similar in thin-section to a sarsen specimen from the Valley of Stones near Bridehead, Dorset.
Sarsen stones, are common in the Portesham area of Dorset (Valley of the Stones and in Portesham village) and also occur near Lulworth Cove (Arkell, 1947).
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