We’ve all heard of people taking things from their workplaces. Thousands of people take pens and sticky notes from their offices (maybe we’ve done it ourselves) and celebrities are always cheekily telling us about the props they’ve stolen from set. Heck, Chris Hemsworth has admitted he’s taken home multiple iterations of Thor’s hammer home with him. But have you heard of someone swiping an ancient piece of stone from a UNESCO World Heritage Site they were helping to restore, keeping it for 60 years, then returning it?
Well, that’s the story of 90-year-old Robert Phillips who took a small column of stone from Stonehenge in 1958 and was inspired on his 90th birthday to return it to the original site.
This is a core from #Stonehenge that has been missing since 1958 ☹️
It was removed as part of an archaeological excavation and has now been reunited with @EnglishHeritage.
Later we’ll hear about it’s amazing journey from @EH_Stonehenge to America and back again 🌎 pic.twitter.com/JNsiXnQeID
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) May 8, 2019
In 1958, archaeologists worked with a diamond cutting company to reinforce one of the fixtures in the Stonehenge formation. To do that required drilling three columns of stone out of the fixture and adding metal rods in their place. That left three columns of stone 108 cm long and 25mm wide. Phillips managed to swipe one of them during the project without anyone noticing and proceeded to keep it in his office until he left the company in 1976. After that, he took the stone with him when he emigrated to the United States.
How wild is that? Historians had no idea what happened to any of the three pieces of stone until Phillip’s birthday admission. His sons traveled to the United Kingdom this week to return the artifact to English Heritage.
It seems like historians aren’t even mad at the fact it took Phillips 60 years to come clean—they’re more excited about the new research potential. They hope studying the unweathered interior of the stone will help uncover where the rock originally came from. The whole mystery of Stonehenge is that it would have been impossible to erect with the tools known to humans at the time (aliens??) and on top of that, none of the stones in the arrangement seem to be from nearby (aliens??). While archaeologists have determined the origin of the smaller stones, the larger ones (like the one the columns were from) are still a mystery.
English Heritage thanked the Phillips family for returning the core and encouraged anyone with info about the other two cores or the 1958 excavation to contact them.