Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Bluestone "declassification" -- have the geologists lost the plot?

Not long ago I took the geologists to task for suggesting that the Altar Stone should be "declassified" as a bluestone because they now think it might not have come from Wales.  This is the ultimate manufactured absurdity -- maybe designed to divert attention from all the things they have got wrong over the past decade.  

The term "bluestone" is daft enough as it is, but it is just about acceptable if it is used as a shorthand label for "any stone at Stonehenge that is not a locally collected sarsen stone."  For years Ixer and Bevins have been trying to redefine the term to mean "any non-sarsen MONOLITH at Stonehenge" while getting into a frightful tangle by talking about multiple bluestone fragments that cannot be shown to have come from any monolith since there are no known close geological matches.  So imaginary or fantasy monoliths are included as bluestones as well. At the same time, they very conveniently ignore any "inconvenient" fragments of rock found at Stonehenge that do not fit into any of their designated "geological types" that are in themselves artifices. As I have said many times before, that is illogical and unscientific.  Nobody knows how many rock types there are at Stonehenge, and to some degree it depends whether you are a lumper or a splitter, but we would probably all agree that there are far more than a dozen.  Just read the literature since 1991 to confirm that........

We are never going to sort out what happened at Stonehenge unless we evaluate ALL of the foreign material at Stonehenge and try to work out how it got there.  And that includes assessments of packing stones, mauls, hammerstones, boulders (like the Newall Boulder), cobbles, axes and knock-offs, fragments and flakes.  It's intellectually lazy to simply assign all the inconvenient bits and pieces to a category called "adventitious".

Now, in this latest bizarre twist, Ixer and Bevins seem to want to assign to themselves the authority to determine what is a bluestone and what is not -- and have decided that you cannot refer to something as a bluestone unless it has come from the area within and around Mynydd Preseli.  

It's all a mess, and they know it.  

I had hoped that the ides of "bluestone declassification" was a mementary aberration, and that the geologists would promptly forget about it. But now up pops another publication, with the involvement of another team of geologists.  Quote:

"The Altar Stone is a grey-green micaceous sandstone, otherwise known as Stone 80. It is anomalous in its composition, size and weight when compared to the other bluestones. A very recent publication by a team of geologists, which included Prof. Bevins and Prof. Andò, proposes that the Altar Stone be declassified as a bluestone. Based on X-ray and Raman analysis in the laboratory on fragments of the stone using a Renishaw inVia Raman microscope, they hypothesise that the stone did not originate from the Anglo-Welsh Basin, as previously thought. Instead, there is strong correlation between the Altar Stone and sandstones in northern England or Scotland."

So it looks as if the "declassification of inconvenient Stonehenge bluestones" is going to be pushed as the next great Stonehenge debate, led by the heroic team of geologists who like to refer to themselves as "the pet rock boys".  It's even more ridiculous and sterile than some of the debates that have gone on in glacial geomorphology in the past, relating to the labelling of lithological units.   Don't get me going again on the "Penfro Till Formation" (invented by Prof David Bowen) which does not actually seem to exist, or on the labelling of certain other deposits in the glacial sequence of Southern Britain......

Friday 24 November 2023

The Saga of Breakheart Bottom

Breakheart Bottom, near Imber

Once upon a time an ice giant with frozen fingers travelled from the far west, where he lived close to the setting sun, to visit a cousin of his who lived on the chalklands close to the place where the sun rises.  He was called Dafydd and his cousin was called Cuthbert.  Anyway, Dafydd carried with him  a bag of pretty pebbles as a gift for his host, because that is the way with giants. (He thought they were pebbles, because he was a giant, but for ordinary people they were HUGE......)  When he arrived he was welcomed with open arms by his cousin, who lived in a warm and pleasant valley with not many trees.  He just loved his gift from the west, and the two giants arranged the pebbles in a nice pile where they could be admired by all who travelled that way.    They passed the time pleasantly enough, talking of other giants and the latest happenings here and there.  But then Dafydd began to feel uncomfortable because his fingers started to thaw, and he was much happier when they were frozen.  So at last he took his leave and headed back to the icy lands of the west.  Cuthbert was very proud of his collection of pebbles, but he was not very intelligent and not very attentive, and when he was out wandering one day a gang of human beings came and stole the pebbles because they wanted to arrange them in a pretty pattern to show to their friends.  They left one behind because they were in a bit of a hurry, but a human being who lived nearby (Mr Bole was his name) stole that one and buried it in the middle of a mound in his garden.  Cuthbert was distraught for a while, but soon forgot about the pebbles, because he had other pressing matters to deal with.  But after the passage of a few centuries Dafydd came on another visit, but without any pebbles this time because he was feeling his age, and anyway, pebbles had gone out of fashion.  He was welcomed warmly enough by Cuthbert, but he immediately noticed that the nice pile of pebbles had gone.  Cuthbert explained that they had been stolen by some humans, but poor Dafydd was distraught because his cousin had not looked after the pebbles better, and because of the evil ways of human beings. He broke down and wept giant tears, and ever since then the pleasant valley where Cuthbert lived has been called Breakheart Bottom...............

So there we are then.

Even if the above folk tale is not necessarily true, I am intrigued by the manner in which both Aubrey Burl and Geoff Kellaway homed in on the area around Chitterne, Heytesbury, Boles Barrow and Imber as the possible area in which the Stonehenge bluestones were deposited by ice and from which they were collected up by our heroic ancestors.  Breakheart Bottom is in the middle of that area, and around half of the territory on the map below is within the MOD firing range.  

I just wonder whether this is the area in which the truth resides, just waiting to be uncovered?

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Stonehenge in its Landscape -- free online

I have just caught up with the fact that the big (definitive?) volume edited by Ros Cleal et al is now online as a free PDF, available for download. So well done, EH and the Archaeology Data Service.

I refer to it frequently, and I really do like its cool, matter-of-fact approach in which evidence is presented methodically, analysed and assessed as to its importance -- all mercifully free from the hype and hubris that we see all too often in Stonehenge studies........

It's not perfect -- no book ever is -- but since it was published in 1995 nothing has come near it in terms of value for money.  And now it's free!  Enjoy........


This volume represents a detailed discussion of the structural history of Stonehenge, arrived at by the integration of evidence from primary records of excavations carried out between 1901 and 1964. These major campaigns of excavation and recording include those of Prof William Gowland (1901); Lt-Col William Hawley (1919-26); Profs Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson with J F Stone (1950, 53-5,56,58 and 64) and some smaller, previously unpublished campaigns as well as more recent, small-scale excavations which are already published. The evidence for the use of the monument from the Middle Neolithic to the present day is discussed in terms of its landscape and social settings. The evidence for the rephasing of the monument, including artefactual and ecofactual assemblages, details of the radiocarbon dating programme, geophysical surveys, transcripts of all available field plans, sections, and stone elevations is presented together with a variety of summary lists, concordances, and a guide to the site archive. A new suite of radiocarbon determinations has been obtained which redefines our understanding of the sequence of construction and use of the monument and augments the surviving archaeological evidence.

Saturday 18 November 2023

The gullibility of the innocent.........


This image is doing the round in social media, on assorted nutty archaeology sites and Facebook pages galore.  Almost everywhere it is accompanied by serious discussions about how this mammoth was entombed in crystal clear ice and so on and so on.  It's all complete rubbish, of course.  The accompanying text was about the discovery of a baby mammoth in the permafrost  -- that's an old story anyway, now recycled -- and all regurgitated by people who skim science stories in learned journals, extract the spectacular bits and seriously misrepresent almost everything because of the obsesssion with "impact."  To hell with ethics.  The image has been created by somebody having fun with AI technology, which is contributing -- faster than any of us thought possible -- to the death of science.  It's now almost impossible to separate out the real images from the manufactured ones....... 

In reality, the remains of mammoths found in the permafrost are always scruffy, squashed and very dirty.  Permafrost ice does not look like crystal clear glacier ice or lake ice.  And when animals die in Arctic bogs they do tend to fall over in the process.....

Sounds familiar?  For years we have had nonsense press releases flagging up the wonders of Neolithic quarries, lost stone circles and heroic stone transport expeditions, and as we speak people are probably working on "photographs" of precisely what is supposed to have been going on.

Here is my contribution.  This, by the way, is a real, undoctored photo from Antarctica.

Breaking news!  Just discovered in Antarctica -- a pyramid which is far larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and next to it a smaller pyramid is just emerging from the melting ice cap.  This proves that Ancient Egyptians discovered Antarctica and developed an advanced civilisation, well before the start of the Ice Age.  This of course transforms our understanding of the ancient world, and the history of the world must now be re-written.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Bullet-shaped clasts


I'm still rather intrigued by the Newall Boulder, also somewhat prosaically known as RSN18.  The top photo was taken by Tony H when we were in Salisbury Museum last year, and the other is from my study today, showing the boulder found in the garden the other day.

Regardless of how the boulders were shaped, and how they travelled from A to B, the similarities are striking -- bullet shape, weathering crust, clearly defined facets, rounded off or abraded edges, and what appear to be pressure fractures on what are otherwise abraded surfaces.  The bullet shape, with one pointed upglacier end and one blunt downglacier end where the rock surface is rougher, is typical of glacially transported clasts.

The Newall Boulder is a welded tuff referred to by some as a rhyolite; the Trefelin Boulder is an unspotted dolerite.  The Newall Boulder, relatively fine-grained, does have some features which I think are striations -- the other boulder has none.

The biggest difference between the two boulders relates to prehistoric and recent damage done by human beings.  The Trefelin Boulder is in pristine condition; but the Newall Boulder has had a hard time of it.  Both the tip and the back end of the clast are missing, and I agree with Kellaway that some of the damage has been done by our  prehistoric ancestors who were maybe thinking of making some stone tools.  The most recent damage (well documented by Bevins et al, 2023) has involved cutting out or knocking off at least five samples for geochemical and petrographic analysis, and the slicing of thin sections.  Vandalism, or necessary sampling in the cause of science?  I wonder whether it was necessary to destroy the boulder quite so comprehensively?

Sunday 12 November 2023

Another bullet-shaped glacial erratic clast

I was mending one of my stone walls yesterday when I happened upon a rather fine small boulder which was virtually a mirror image of the famous "Newall Boulder" which sits in Salisbury Museum.  It's almost spooky -- but this one has not had chunks knocked off it, and it has not lost large slices to geological sampling.....

This one is made of dolerite, not rhyolite, and its dimensions are c 27 cm x 15 cm x 10 cm.  It weighs 5 kg, which is approx what the Newall Boulder will have weighed before human beings started messing about with it.  It has a weathered surface, with some facets more weathered than others.  It has 8 main facets and 4 smaller ones -- some flat and others curved or undulating, and there are variations in surface micro-morphology as well.  There are no striations (dolerite surfaces seldom hold striations because of the coarse graining) but there are several small but distinct pressure fractures.  There are no calcium carbonate concretions or nodules (this is an acid water environment), but parts of the boulder surface are covered with patches of whitish lichen.

I am in do doubt at all that this is a glacially transported clast, found in Devensian glacial deposits in the immediate vicinity and used in the construction of my stone wall.  We'll call it the "Trefelin Boulder". It has probably travelled 2 km at the most, from outcrops to the N or NW.  But boulders like this can be carried hundreds of kilometres -- sometimes with ongoing modification but sometimes unchanged after carriage in a "protective environment."  The interesting thing is that each facet has a different micro-morphology and therefore a different history.

I will describe this boulder in more detail in another post, which I hope will be instructive for those who think that the Newall Boulder is just the broken off tip of a monolith transported by our heroic Neolithic ancestors from the so-called quarry at Craig Rhosyfelin........

"Side on" view of the boulder, showing 7 of the 12 facets created by subglacial or 
englacial fracturing and abrasion.

For comparison, here are a couple of photos of the Newall Boulder:

Suggested original shape of the boulder -- before prehistoric and modern modification

The extent of the damage on the lee (blunt) end and on the flank

In the case of the Newall Boulder, the nose (pointed end, up-glacier) has been broken or sheared off, as has the blunt end (down-glacier), leaving us with perhaps 70% of what was there originally.......

Banded rhyolite, Newport, Pembs

Three huge chunks of banded rhyolite have been used on the Parrog in Newport as a memorial for Brian Watts, who died in 2005.  They are pretty spectacular -- the larger of the three probably weighs ten tonnes.  I don't think they are glacial erratics -- from their sharp edges, I think they have been quarried from a rock outcrop somewhere in the neighbourhood.  There are a number of rhyolite outcrops on the northern flank of Carningli.   I am trying to discover the provenance........

Text-book examples of contorted flow banding, created by flowing lava and picked out by layers of quartz (?) crystals......  Click to enlarge.

PS.  The provenance will remain a mystery.  Apparently Glyn Rees, the landlord of the Golden Lion in Newport, "obtained" it from a secret location in the year 2000, as a Millennium commemoration stone, and never divulged where it came from.  So the secret went to the grave with him when he died.......