LONDON, England (AP) -- Two British archeologists declared Monday that they have uncovered the core reason behind the construction of one of the world's best known and least understood landmarks.
Druids perform a pagan Samhain blessing ceremony at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire.
1 of 2 The stone circle at Stonehenge has stood for thousands of years -- and bred endless debate over whether it was a temple for ancient sun-worshippers, a sacred burial site, or even a kind of massive prehistoric astronomical calculator.
Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill argued their own explanation for the mysterious monument: Stonehenge, they said, was a kind of primeval Lourdes, drawing prehistoric pilgrims from around Europe.
"We found several reasons to believe that the stones were built as part of a belief in a healing process," Wainwright told journalists assembled at London's Society of Antiquaries.
Wainwright and Darvill, the first to excavate the site in more than 40 years, said the key to their theory was Stonehenge's double circle of bluestones -- a rare rock known to geologists as spotted dolomite -- which lie at the center of the monument.
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Dragged or floated on rafts from Pembrokeshire in Wales to Salisbury Plain in southern England, he said the bluestones were prized for their healing properties -- as evidenced by the small mountain of flakes the scientists uncovered during their dig.
Pieces ended up buried in tombs across the area, a testament to people's fascination with the rocks, Wainwright said.
The proof was not only in the stones -- but also in the bones. Skeletons recovered from the area showed signs of serious disease or injury.
"People were in a state of distress, if I can put it as politely as that, when they came to the Stonehenge monument," Darvill said.
The evidence, they said, pointed to a kind of shrine where people from across the Europe would go to seek healing. But they cautioned that that did not rule out alternative theories for Stonehenge's uses.
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"It could have been a temple, even as it was a healing center," Darvill said. "Just as Lourdes, for example, is still a religious center."