A MISSING stone which could be an integral part of rituals at Stonehenge may have been discovered by a Welsh archaeologist.
Dennis Price, pictured below, who has done years of research on the mysterious stone structure, believes he has tracked down a previously lost altar stone, identified during one of the first studies of the site in the 17th century.
He is convinced it is now in two pieces on either side of a road in a Wiltshire village, just a couple of miles from Stonehenge itself.
Mr Price, who is from Monmouthshire, and now based in Exeter, has studied the archaeology of Stonehenge for years, and in 2003 filmed the excavation of the graves of the Welsh Boscombe Bowmen who helped build Stonehenge.
He believes the stones found used to be the altar stone which was named and described by 17th century architect Inigo Jones.
Jones, one of his era's most prominent architects, was the first person known to have carried out detailed measurements of Stonehenge. He did so in 1620.
Now Price, 47, says he can account for the altar stone's history.
The stones are made of Jurassic limestone - found in Dorset and the Cotswolds, but not locally. It is known not all stones used in Stonehenge were Welsh Preseli bluestone.
And the stones, if put together, would look remarkably similar to one in a Victorian woodcut picture he has acquired. Price believes the stone was taken from the site in the Victorian era, when such raids were commonplace.
He said, "We have a woodcut of an easily carved stone with a distinctive shape being cut in two at Stonehenge, and we have accounts of a curious altar stone as described by Inigo Jones being transported to somewhere called St James. We have drawn a blank at the Palace of St James, but when we look at the nearby village of Berwick St James, we find two standing stones that once formed two bridges across a stream, and if we mentally reunite the parts, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the stone in the woodcut.
"There is always the possibility, however remote, that a few centuries ago, someone trekked either to Dorset or to the Cotswolds and back again with two ungainly and extremely heavy pieces of stone to make two bridges across a small stream in a tiny village in Wiltshire, while ignoring the established and well-documented practice of retrieving perfectly suitable stone from Stonehenge, just a few miles north."
He added, "On the balance of probabilities, there can be little doubt that Inigo Jones's fabled and once-lost altar stone from Stonehenge now stands in two pieces in a nearby village either side of a small lane, in plain view of anyone who wishes to inspect them. There can also be little if any doubt that our ancestors went to great pains to select this stone and to transport it from either Dorset or the Cotswolds to Stonehenge, where it formed an integral part of the ancient observances and ceremonies there over four thousand years ago."
Dr Julie Gardiner from Wessex Archaeology, a leading authority on Stonehenge, said many stones had been taken from the site.
She said, "Lots have been broken up and taken away, especially by the Victorians."
She added one "altar stone" was already accounted for, but admitted there could be more.
Dr Gardiner said, "There is a stone called the altar stone, which is still at the site. It's under a larger stone and would have been knocked over when it fell.
"But a lot of stones have been removed, and may have been given any number of names."
A brief history of Stonehenge
8,000BC - Before the stones themselves were in place, a wooden structure had been erected nearby.
3,000BC - A series of ditches and timber circles were created, possibly for cremations.
2,600BC - Stone first used, with about 43 huge rocks
1,600BC - Last known construction at Stonehenge.
1620 - Inigo Jones carries out a study, concluding that it was a Roman temple.
1640 - John Aubrey declares that it was druids who built Stonehenge.
January, 2007 - Archaeologists discover what could be an ancient village near Stonehenge.