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Friday, 26 October 2012

Are there more "periglacial stripes" at Stonehenge?



I was struck when I came across this "micro-morphology" map in the 2010 Pearson/Field report (published by EH) by the realization  that the old monument is located on the edge of a very gentle spur.  It's not obviously apparent when you are walking about on the site, but these contours -- at intervals of just 25 cm -- show it clearly.

The periglacial stripes which MPP has written about quite extensively are in the avenue, which runs away from the embankment and ditch towards the NE.  The stripes, so we are told, run in exactly the right direction, exactly parallel with the edges of the avenue and just right for something astronomically highly auspicious.  Hey presto!  So that is why, in the view of MPP, Stonehenge is where it is -- because the periglacial stripes were aligned in the right direction.

From a geomorphological perspective, the stripes do indeed run in the expected direction -- straight down the rather gentle slope.  Just in that one location.   But what about everywhere else on the map shown above?  If there are stripes in the chalk surface over a wider area, as we might expect, we can speculate that they should have a more or less radiating pattern, always running perpendicular to the contours.  So to the north of the Avenue, they would be running NNE, and to the south of the Avenue ENE and then, further round, more or less E-W, and then further south still, ESE and then SE and then SSE.  If the stripes were visible at the time when Neolithic people were thinking about building the first earthworks at Stonehenge, ALL of these stripes, with many different compass orientations, will have been visible to the naked eye.

That particular MPP theory about the location of Stonehenge looks increasingly dodgy -- and clearly there is a need for more work on this interesting little periglacial problem.

26 comments:

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

Like you, I have been puzzled by these Avenue Stripes for a long time. Some thoughts on these:

1)Do you now conclude these stripes run perpendicular to the land contours and not diagonally? I recall you had some questions about that in the past.

2)I know you have not examined these in situ personally. But from the photos, do these stripes look periglacial to you?

3)How firm are you in your conviction there must be other such stripes in the surrounding landscape to the Avenue and Stonehenge?

4)What conclusions could we reasonably draw if there are no other such stripes?

I believe these Avenue Stripes (as well as all other facts on the ground) have sensible explanations. But we need to use my working hypothesis of an ice cover of Salisbury Plain. With Stonehenge being a meltwater retaining basin and the Avenue being the egress path of the meltwater draining into River Avon.

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Fascinating Brian. Well spotted.

Looking at the overall contours, it seems that the eastern quadrant would have the appearance of radial lines emanating out from the original bank construction of Stonehenge: The centre of the lines to the east and outside the monument would appear to coincide with Stonehenge's centre?

If that were the case, the centre of Stonehenge might have been seen to be special rather than the avenue axis?

Robert John Langdon said...

If these stripes were radiating from the perpendicular to the contours of the site - then why were not found when the car park was constructed in 1966?

The car park was the largest area ever totally stripped in the vicinity of Stonehenge - yet they only found Mesolithic post holes and the root of a tree (or another post hole misinterpreted). One would imagine one foot stripes radiating across the car park may have been at least noticed?

What is more of interest is that bore holes in the same vicinity (made for the abandoned A303 tunnel)show that under the top soil is 'head'(sand, silt and clay gravel - note Brian) which is up to 2.7m metres deep before you reach the soiled chalk (Grade V).

But in the Avenue (from your picture) it's looks in places less than 50cm from the surface and that looks like just top soil.

Either the stripes are in the 'head' or sandy chalk (grade VI) which is post-glacial or someone has cleared the avenue of the superficial deposits - but would that would not put the avenue in a ditch unless a greater area than the avenue was cleared and if so, for what reason?

RJL

Anonymous said...

Brian,

Looking at the map in your post showing the contours lines, the contours along the Avenue just a little beyond Stonehenge are not showing. This leaves open the possibility the 'periglacial stripes' may in fact not be perpendicular to these contour lines further down the slope from Stonehenge. Any such maps that can show exactly how these contour lines are relative to the Avenue stripes?

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Robert,

Good to see you back in this blog, active as usual! You raise some interesting and important points. If what you are reporting is true.

You write, “... or someone has cleared the avenue of the superficial deposits”. Yes! The meltwater stream running down the Avenue from the retaining basin that I argue existed at Stonehenge would indeed have done that!

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Interesting points, Robert. I quite agree that if the car park area was totally scraped clean of superficial debris during building works, then "periglaciqal" stripes would have been revealed, if they were there. So if they weren't revealed, and weren't there , and aren't there, that brings into question the whole interpretation of these features as periglacial phenomena.

Geocur said...

Martin Trott reported periglacial stripes at the car park during the Wessex Archaeology 1988 investigation .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah -- thank you, Geo. Are you able to enlighten us as to what they found?

Was this all written up somewhere accessible?

Geocur said...

Sadly no. He had excavated the fourth post hole at the car park (1988-89) and according to Michael Allen in the Cleal book M.T. "reported (unpublished notes )that these investigations revealed a series of periglaical stripes and solution hollows but little of archaeological significance except a single pit ..." Martin went on to greater things ,working for the Inland Revenue .

TonyH said...

But maybe one prehistoric Gent, let's call him George, happened to be looking along that solsticial alignment from where the Heel Stone happened to be standing very naturally, and remarked to his two friends stood next to him (let's call them John and Paul), hey lads, Here Comes The Sun, right up some of those funny stripes the chief Shaman keeps raving about! I could write a song about that! And the rest is prehistory. Does anyone have a better explanation?

Anonymous said...

You've been hitting the sherry too harshly on a Monday afternoon?

Ringo

BRIAN JOHN said...

Can't speak for Tony, but as for me, sherry is strictly confined to sherry trifle, to which I am partial. But never before 8 pm........

Anonymous said...

Brian,

Geo's quote of Michael Allen is revealing …

“ reported (unpublished notes )that these investigations revealed a series of periglaical stripes and solution hollows but little of archaeological significance”.


So Brian, any finding with “ little of archaeological significance” gets ignored! And the investigator [MT] “went on to greater things”.

These car park periglacial stripes (if they in fact exist) could tell a very important story. But hard to get the truth out with this mental attitude and selective reporting!

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not sure that there is any conspiracy here -- they were probably just not very interested in the nature of the undulations in the chalk surface in 1988. Periglacial stripes and solution hollows..... hmmm - I wonder what the alignments of those "stripes" might have been?

Geocur said...

I feel I should put in a word for Martin Trott , he did exactly what he was supposed to do which was was to excavate in around the pit .This was the an archaeological feature , the periglacial stripes and solution holes , which he reported were not . Periglacial stripes and other geological features will have been encountered regularly in the area with no need for a mention in the final written report .Similarly geologists will encounter archaeological material culture like old pipes and coins which will not finish up their written reports . The stripes idea is seen as a bit of joke today even when coming from a pro , the periglacial stripes in the car park are unlikely be aligned on the monument but can you imagine the laughter if a student had suggested as much in 1988 even if they were aligned.
Looks like irony has still to make landfall in some areas i.e. “greater things “ - “ Inland Revenue “ .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Quite agree, Geo. We only see what we are trained to see -- and in 1988 I can quite understand that lumps and bumps and hollows in the ground surface were not of any great interest.....

Anonymous said...

Brian,

No conspiracy. Just selective predisposition. Finding what you seek to find and explaining what you want to believe.

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah yes, Kostas. Exactly what I have been -- ever so gently -- accusing you of for rather a long time! We all do it......

Anonymous said...

Brian,

It is the nature of human nature. No doubt about that. And that is why we need an open and honest discussion. Allowing all views to be voiced. Using sensible reasoning on irrefutable facts.

I believe that is what I have done. But I am also open to the possibility I haven't. If I haven't, I welcome and expect counterarguments.

But there is a difference! When a whole school of thought has evolved based on beliefs. To the exclusion of all others. In the case of Stonehenge we have human agency. The dissenting view? Natural agency.

Kostas

TonyH said...

There has, however, been speculation since their discovery that the Mesolithic tree trunks/ totem-like poles might have had some meaningful alignment with either the [already-in-place naturally?] Heel Stone or the ground on which Stonehenge was to stand thousands of years later.

If so, were the periglacial stripes in the modern car park oriented in a meaningful way also?

(This time, I have definitely not been on sherry or anything similar or mushroom-like.)

TonyH said...

What if, maybe, prehistoric man and his Shamen did indeed notice the periglacial stripes RADIATING OUT from the location that was to become Stonehenge? Wouldn't that also impress Shamen (I suppose that's the plural of Shaman) and all, as they might compare that feature with the sun's 360 degree rays. So the centre of that series of rays was very auspicious. And there does seem to be a sound case for the Solsticial Alignment to have been the trigger for the building of the monument where it was. The Heel Stone may very well have been more or less where it is now, at the head of the future Avenue, as a surviving sarsen natural feature, and the Good Ol' Boys may have decided (with the insight provided by their Shaman) that the coincidence was MORE than just a coincidence, but a sign from Myris' as yet unkown God Apollo that they should get assembling their magaliths HERE. It was a Monty - Python like Terry Gilliam Finger "- THIS IS IT, BOYS!!!"

Geocur said...

Tony , I don't know ,but imagine that the periglacial stripes at the car park would be on much the same orientation as those at the Avenue as both sites are sloping in much the same direction ,if that is the case the stripes would not be aligned on monument .The general slope from the monument is not towards the car park either making any stripes in that direction unlikely too .
The car park posts are certainly not aligned on the Heel stone where it is standing today , the group of three don't quite align with themselves either but are close to being aligned on the equinoxes . Fwiw a post in the the fourth pit excavated by Martin as seen from the Heel stone is on the orientation close to the summer solstice setting sun .

Geocur said...

I meant to add this to the last post but somehow it got lost .

I should point out that because I mention that something like these posts are aligned ,there is no necessary suggestion of intention on behalf of the builders . My house like many other south facing houses is aligned on the equinox .The builder would have been intentional in their choice of orientation but the the only astronomy on their mind was getting as much light and heat as possible .

TonyH said...

Geo, Brian tells us in his Post that the stripes would be radiating in a certain fashion and he has provided us with the English Heritage contoured image, spacings being just 25cms apart, to help us see where the stripes might be oriented at particular points of the compass, as it were. it looks to me as though there would have been some clear radiating from approximately the future Stonehenge site, on its slight spur, if only to the NE, E, SE and SW.

Geocur said...

Tony , there's no Lidar data for the car park in the Field &Pearson report , but as I mentioned earlier the slope from the car park is similar enough to the Avenue to suggest that the stripes will be not be aligned from the car park to the monument or vice versa .

TonyH said...

Agreed, Geo, based on my knowledge of the topography thereabouts, and also evidenced by English Heritage's image of the micro-contours.
I suppose our prehistoric forebears would have been well aware of the stripes in the very local landscape, and wondered about them. The site of Stonehenge and its immediate vicinity was, from very early by all accounts, an open clearing rather than woodland.