Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Stone Age Quarrying

 Ladybird Series, Adventures from History, No 561, Adventures from History – Stone Age Man in Britain (first published in 1961)

Thanks to Dave M for this, sent with a recent letter.  Some will have happy memories of this --the old Ladybird book first published in 1961.  Not at all sure how many editions it went through, or how much the text and the illustrations changed over the years.  Anyway, above we see a wonderful picture and some splendid stuff about 30 tonne rocks being transported from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge.  Wedges, water, hammers and wooden levers feature.  Fair enough...... the quarrymen would have had access to all of these.

In his letter, Dave raises these points:

As part of the recent spat about quarrying, has anyone suggested a list of attributes that a man made quarry would have, that could be tested by observation in a scientific process?  I guess though that the nature of broken rock and later natural processes would probably conceal or destroy any such evidence.  The list of attributes indicating  natural process would probably be much greater.

Out of interest, can any of the stones fallen on the ground at Rhos y felin be matched to spaces in the outcrop above, or are they all of such variable shape that it would be very difficult to attempt to analyse?  The upper surface of the outcrop is also too heavily weathered and suffered from multiple rock falls to reconstruct with any conviction.

These are perfectly sensible things for discussion.  I'm not aware of a list of attributes which might feature in a genuine man-made quarry.  Does anybody know of a list in a sort of quarry-hunter's manual?  I agree that evidence is incredibly hard to describe or define -- and that is why we have a group of archaeologists looking at Rhosyfelin and describing with great conviction a whole range of so-called "engineering features" that are completely invisible to a group of geomorphologists.  Clearly you need the eye of faith to see them -- and that seems to some to be a good enough substitute for visible hard evidence.

I'm not sure that any of the stones on the rockfall bank at Rhosyfelin can be accurately "fitted" to existing "spaces" on the rock face.  The trouble is that as they fall many of them break, and the broken bits become separated and buried beneath other debris.  If I was an archaeologist I would probably argue that if there are no stones which match spaces, that means they they have been taken away by the quarrymen and used somewhere else!  I made a start on some work on this, having recognised that you can see on many of the large rocks those faces which were uppermost, or outward-facing, since they are more weathered than those on the inward-facing sides or on the flanks -- but that exercise would be rather time-consuming.  Maybe something like this will be done when samples are taken for cosmogenic dating in the future -- because exposure times on different rock faces are quite critical to sorting out a reliable chronology for the site.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Was there a proto-Stonehenge near Heytesbury?

 The chalk escarpment, with the Westbury white horse in the distance.  Could the Anglian Irish Sea Glacier have skidded to a halt at this position, and could there subsequently have been a litter of erratics in the Heytesbury area, available for collection and use in stone settings?

In Rodney Castleden's book called "The Making of Stonehenge", on page 111, there is a suggestion that the simplest explanation of the presence of a bluestone boulder in the Boles Barrow long barrow is that the "bluestone expeditions" all took pace before 5,000 yrs BP and that a tribal group in occupation of the Heytesbury area (c 20 km WNW of Stonehenge) was responsible for the enterprise.  His theory is that the stone moving people then built the bluestones into long barrows like Boles Barrow (Heytesbury 1) and maybe also into a simple stone setting.  Several centuries later the inhabitants of Stonehenge and Durrington (maybe after one of their giant raves) decided that they rather liked the look of it, and either went off and pinched it, or else encouraged their neighbours near the chalk scarp to make a generous donation of the bluestones as a political gesture of solidarity.

So the bluestones were moved in two stages, first to the Heytesbury area and then maybe a thousand years later from there to Stonehenge.

It's rather a wacky idea, but I suppose no more wacky than the idea that there might have been a proto-Stonehenge near Waun Mawn, or at Castell Mawr, or near Cilymaenllwyd, or near Whitland in West Wales.  Nobody has ever found any evidence to support the idea, but I dare say bluestone hunters are looking for signs as we speak.........

Whether or not one likes the human transport hypothesis, the link to the Heytesbury / Boles Barrow / Chitterne area is an intriguing one, since the western edge of Salisbury Plain, and the chalk escarpment, is a natural obstacle to the ingress of Irish Sea ice moving from the west and north-west.  Forget human transport for a moment.  Could it be that the glacier during the Anglian glacial episode did indeed skid to a halt against the scarp?  If it did, could there have been a litter of erratics in the area around Heytesbury, Warminster and Westbury readily available for collection by those Early or Middle Neolithic enthusiasts who liked picking up monoliths and doing interesting things with them?

It's rather an intriguing idea, which might lead to a compromise between the glacial transport proponents and the human transport proponents, with both groups being (maybe) partly right.......

I'm not putting a lot of money on this hypothesis at the moment, since there does not seem to be any hard evidence in support of it, but it's worth devoting some thought to it..........

Boles Barrow Bluestone -- coming in from the cold?

 West Kennet long barrow, Wiltshire.  It now appears to be perfectly OK for long barrows to have bluestones in them..........

My thanks to Phil, who has been looking through the pages of Prof MPP's new book, and who reports the following:

"Radiocarbon dates indicate that  the quarrying of megaliths took place at Craig Rhos-y-Felin c 3400-3300 BC and later on in the Bronze Age after 2000 BC. Intriguingly, the quarrying activity took place directly on top of a sequence of hearths that date back much further - to just before 8000 BC."

 "The same may be said for Carn Goedog, visited by Mesolithic hunters long before its dolerite pillars were quarried c 3300-3200 BC."

We are not going to budge the good professor from his unshakeable belief that we have Early-Middle Neolithic quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog -- but what is interesting about this is that he is now apparently arguing for the extraction and transport of monoliths much earlier than has ever been proposed before.  So if the earliest stone transporting expeditions really took place around 5400 - 5300 years ago, in his view, that pushes things back into the period of long barrow building -- and that in turn may mean that the Boles Barrow bluestone comes in from the cold.........

For many years archaeologists have argued that the stone parked in Heytesbury House garden for many years could not possibly have come from the heart of a long barrow, because Boles Barrow was built 500 years too early -- well before the earliest assumed use of bluestones at Stonehenge.  Some of the long barrows date to c 6000 years BP.  But now, if Prof MPP and his colleagues are arguing that the Early or Middle Neolithic tribal groups were the ones who started all this bluestone haulage business, it would have been perfectly acceptable not only for these stones to be used at Bluestonehenge and in the Aubrey Hole settings, but also in long barrows as well.

It all gets very convoluted, and very interesting!  One might as well argue that the stones were all glacial erratics, lying around on Salisbury Plain well before the start of the Neolithic period, as some of us have been saying for many years........

PS.  We have coverd this topic -- relating to the DEBU (date of earliest bluestone use) several times before, including this entry:

Eight fundamental problems with the bluestone human transport hypothesis

I'm the first one to admit that the glacial transport hypothesis does not currently have much evidence going for it, when we look at the landforms and known sediments on Salisbury Plain.   I remain optimistic that such evidence will be forthcoming, when more detailed studies are done.  However, we do know that the bluestone assemblage could have been carried at least as far as the Somerset Levels,  because there are glacial deposits there, and glacier modelling suggests that at some stage the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier could have reached Salisbury Plain.  So that's a start.......

By contrast, I suggest there is NOTHING in the way of evidence to support the idea of human transport -- just an assumption that if Neolithic tribesmen were able to move big stones over short distances, they could also have moved them over long distances, if they had been sufficiently motivated.  That's either reasonable speculation, or wild fantasy, depending on where you are coming from........ 

The fact that assorted bluestone fragments from Stonehenge have been provenanced quite accurately to parts of the Preseli Hills area is of course irrelevant as far as the transport debate is concerned.

There are extremely serious problems with the human transport hypothesis, as pointed out by many authors over the years.  I have posted these points before, but here they are again.

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances (more than 5 km or so) for incorporation in a megalithic monument.  In contrast, abundant evidence shows that the builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.

2. If ancestor or tribute stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?  Were belief systems and "local politics" quite different to the north, east and south?

3.  There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite or Rhosyfelin rhyolite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.  The builders always used whatever was available to them in the vicinity, and it cam be argued that stone availability was a prime locational determinant for stone settings.

4.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards?  It is a complete technological aberration.

5. The evidence for Neolithic quarrying activity in key locations like Rhosyfelin and Carngoedog is questionable, to put it mildly.  No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis.  At Rhosyfelin the so-called engineering features are all, in my view,  archaeological artifices or figments of the imagination.

6.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (near 30 when one includes packing stones and debris) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been ten or more "bluestone quarries" scattered across West Wales.

7.  Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast. Neither has it been shown that they had the geographical awareness and navigational ability to undertake long and highly complex journeys with very heavy loads. 
8.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?   The mooted "Preselite" axe factory has never been found, and neither has the mythical Stonehenge precursor.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

So there we are then......

Take a look at this then.  I trust you will find it enlightening, coming as it does from Dave, an expert digger.  Maybe he is the guy who operated the JCB?  Stone D34?  Where on earth did that come from?  Presumably he means 32d............  Note that beneath the video on YouTube there is an interesting comment on timber levers.

Although this is a very short video, note the complete certainty of the speaker on everything he says, even when he is completely up the creek.  This is the TRUTH, folks, as established by the digging tribe, because I tell you it is......

This date of 3,300 BC (5,300 yrs BP) pops up over and again.  Apparently there is a date from around that time from some charcoal close to where some stone or other was supposed to have been quarried, as pointed out by our friend Dave.  So the thesis seems to be that that was when the "quarry" was operating -- and when all those handy monoliths were being carted off to Stonehenge.  That of course is part of the long-standing MPP hypothesis, since he has said frequently that the stones were taken to Stonehenge early enough to have been incorporated into the "Aubrey Hole" stone setting -- if there ever was such a thing.

The Darvill / Wainwright thesis is that the bluestones were taken to Stonehenge somewhat later, to be used directly in the earliest actual bluestone setting.

On the other hand, of course, the stones might have been there all the time, lying about on Salisbury Plain, long before anybody had the bright idea of using them in a grand stone monument.

I'm not sure how you extrapolate from a piece of radiocarbon dated charcoal in a hearth or camp site and assume that it tells you that there was a quarry here, and that the quarry was operating at the same time as the charcoal was deposited.  How many other dates are there for the site, before and after 5,300 BP?  We know that there are some back to the Mesolithic, and at least one date (from beneath the "proto-orthostat") from the Bronze Age.  And from which parts of the stratigraphy have they come?  All will no doubt be revealed when those learned papers appear........

WB Wright's wonderful map

According to Jamie Woodward's Ice Age Twitter site, it's 101 years since this wonderful map was first published by WB Wright.  It's incredibly accurate, and has not changed all that much over all the years that have passed........

Boles Barrow -- photo from Pete G

Here is a splendid photo of Boles Barrow -- kindly sent by Pete Glastonbury.  He says:  "Here is a recent photos of Boles Barrow. it is now protected from the military and has chicken wire covering it to stop the badgers.  I am looking into getting permission to photograph it from a drone sometime soon."  I assume that's chalk rather than slow that we can see.  Anyway, glad it's now being better protected, and we look forward to seeing some new photos from the air........