THE BOOK
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
HERE

Friday 14 June 2024

Credit where credit is due


In the midst of all the fun and games relating to my latest published article, it's worth reminding ourselves that almost all of the points which I make have been made before by assorted geologists and geomorphologists, and -- strange to relate -- by certain respectable archaeologists.  One of the key articles, heavily cited, is Geoffrey Kellaway's article in "Nature" journal in 1971, and the other is the big article published by Richard Thorpe et al in 1991 in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.  The latter is hugely detailed, and over 50 pages long.  Unfortunately, it is still behind a paywall, so it is not as widely read aa it should be.  Kellaway's article is also behind a paywall, and that too tends to distort the perceptions of the people who enjoy reading things about Stonehenge........... very few of them will have actually read it.

But here is another immensely valuable article by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and Richard Thorpe -- sadly, Richard died in 1991 before the article was published in 1992.  This one is NOT behind a paywall, and I hope it will be widely read by a new generation, perhaps stimulated by my own modest contributions to the debate........

https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/documents/4040/77p133.pdf


Thursday 13 June 2024

Nothing new under the sun......




Courtesy David Field and English Heritage.  Too many stones?  Who knows?

I have had a number of recent comments from people who are greatly exercised by the ideas that (a) Stonehenge might have been built where it is because that is where the stones were; and (b) that Stonehenge was never completed, and went through lots or rebuilding and rearranging phases because the builders had simply run out of stones.

These ideas have been around for well over a hundred years, as others have pointed out with detailed citations.  They have been articulated most clearly by David Field and Trevor Pearson in 2010 -- as mentioned several times on this blog, in previous posts.

http://services.english-heritage.org.uk/ResearchReportsPdfs/109_2010WEB.pdf
http://heritageaction.wordpress.com

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT REPORT SERIES no. 109-2010
ISSN 1749-8775
STONEHENGE WORLD HERITAGE SITE LANDSCAPE PROJECT STONEHENGE, AMESBURY, WILTSHIRE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY REPORT 
by David Field and Trevor Pearson

If you have not read it, please do.   The following things stand out from the pages:

1. An admission that the sarsen stones might well have come from the immediate locality of Stonehenge, and that the idea of sarsen-collecting expeditions to the Marlborough Downs is dubious and probably unnecessary.

2. An acceptance that the bluestones MIGHT be glacial erratics (although the authors don't want to stray too far from the party line on this.....)

3. An acceptance of the idea that the Stonehenge stone monument was probably unfinished, and that the builders went through many changes of plans.

 4.  The builders of Stonehenge, who must have had great aspirations,  probably ran out of stones before their vision could be turned into reality.

It is often claimed by Stonehenge experts that there is a consensus on the broad outlines of the Stonehenge narrative -- and they have tried, especially in recent years, to reinforce this narrative while trying to discredit others. The "immaculate Stonehenge" as portrayed by Anthony Johnson, figures prominently.   But there is no consensus, and there never was.

By the way, back in 2012 David had a very interesting conversation with Edward Pegler, as reported here:
http://armchairprehistory.com/2012/05/22/the-sarsens-of-salisbury-plain-a-conversation-with-david-field/

He talks of the attempts to portray a sarsen litter in the Stonehenge area, and was concerned that the artist involved had perhaps been over-generous with the stoniness of the landscape! He was also concerned that the bluestones were missing from the artists impression -- suggesting to me that he thought it possible that the bluestones were also in the landscape before anybody started collecting stones and building a monument.........

This is an interesting comment from David: "Today the Imber to Chittern valley has many small boulders and cobbles on the slopes and in the stream and presumably many more were once visible when the area was cultivated."  

Was he talking just about sarsens, or about stones of all types?






Wednesday 12 June 2024

At last -- a reasonably reliable press report........

 

Stonehenge, The Prehistoric Megalithic Structure on Salisbury Plain. (Photo by Sonia Bonet on Shutterstock) 

Thanks to StudyFinds for this report on my new paper. At last -- an article from somebody who has actually read the paper and who is prepared to report honestly on what it says.........

===============================

Boulder discovery suggests Stonehenge bluestones weren’t moved by humans


JUNE 11, 2024
by StudyFinds Staff 

For over a century, the question of how the famous bluestones of Stonehenge made their way from their source in Wales to the ancient monument in England has been a topic of heated debate. The bluestones are the smaller boulders that form the site’s inner circle and inner horseshoe. Most archaeologists have long believed that Neolithic people transported these massive stones, each weighing several tons, over 200 kilometers to the site. But a recently rediscovered boulder found during excavations at Stonehenge in 1924 may finally provide the key to solving this age-old mystery.

Geomorphologist Brian John argues that this small, unassuming stone, known as the Newall Boulder, shows clear signs of having been transported and shaped by glaciers. This suggests that ice, not humans, may have been responsible for moving Stonehenge’s giant megaliths. “The simplest explanation of the presence of the bluestones at Stonehenge is that they are glacial erratics from the west, emplaced by ice at some site still to be discovered, on or near Salisbury Plain, where they were later collected up and used by the builders of the stone monument,” John writes in his paper, published in the open-access E&G Quaternary Science Journal.



A much-discussed photograph of the Newall Boulder, annotated by the author. The shape and surface features are widely interpreted as indicators of sub-glacial transport, in spite of heavy damage by humans. (Credit: The Institute of Geological Sciences/British Geological Survey)

Methodology: Newall Boulder analysis


To unravel the Newall Boulder’s complex history at Stonehenge, John subjected it to detailed visual analysis, carefully examining its shape, facets, and surface features. The boulder, measuring about 22 x 15 x 10 cm, has a distinctive bullet-like shape with a pointed end and a blunt end. It sports at least five major facets and several smaller ones, with abraded surfaces and edges. Intriguingly, there are also fracture scars, faint scratches, and what appear to be crescentic gouges — all potential indicators of glacial transport and erosion.

A much-discussed photograph of the Newall Boulder, annotated by the author. The shape and surface features are widely interpreted as indicators of sub-glacial transport, in spite of heavy damage by humans. (Credit: The Institute of Geological Sciences/British Geological Survey)

John also examined evidence of human modification, including apparent percussion scars from when someone in prehistoric times seemed to have unsuccessfully tried to shape the boulder into a tool such as an axe. More recent damage from geological sampling was also evident. To establish the boulder’s provenance, John compared its petrology and geochemistry to potential source rocks in Wales, though a precise origin remains elusive.

Results

The cumulative evidence from the Newall Boulder’s shape and surface features makes a compelling case for glacial transport to Stonehenge. Its bullet-like morphology with a distinct “stoss” (upstream) and “lee” (downstream) end is classic for clasts that have been subglacially dragged, rolled and lodged in flowing ice. The facets, striations, and chatter marks are also highly consistent with the boulder having been scraped and crushed at the base of a glacier.

Curiously, the boulder has a weathering rind up to 5 millimeters thick on its upper surface, but fresh, unweathered facets on its flanks and underside. This suggests it once lay partially buried for an extended period, with its top exposed to the elements. Subsequent human modification left percussion scars on this weathered surface, hinting that Stonehenge’s builders found the boulder as a loose, pre-weathered erratic at the site – not as freshly quarried stone.



Six of the Stonehenge bluestones belonging to the bluestone circle, in the NE quadrant of the stone monument. They are overlooked by the larger sarsens of the outer circle. For scale, stone 47 is 1.45 m tall. For the most part the bluestones are not elegant pillars but heavily abraded and weathered erratic boulders and slabs. (Credit: Brian John)

‘Shortcomings’ Of Human Transport Theory

Despite the prevailing belief that Neolithic people transported the bluestones to Stonehenge, John highlights numerous studies showing why there are numerous problems with this theory. First and foremost, there is no evidence from any other British Neolithic site of megaliths being moved such vast distances. In fact, the builders of other monuments consistently used whatever large stones were locally available. If Stonehenge’s stones were specifically selected and brought from Wales, it’s odd that they come from at least 30 different rock sources — a geological diversity more consistent with the random “sampling” of glacial action than deliberate human choice.

The sheer variety of stone types at Stonehenge also argues against the idea of a special connection to Wales or the “sacredness” of the bluestones, as does the lack of any evidence that these particular rocks were prized or venerated in their homeland. If acquiring the bluestones was a major driver of Stonehenge’s construction, it’s puzzling that no Neolithic quarries, stone-moving equipment, or infrastructure have been found. Experimental archaeology has also highlighted the immense practical challenges of transporting multi-ton monoliths across the boggy, densely forested Neolithic landscape using only Stone Age technology.

Perhaps most damningly, there is no evidence of the kind of sophisticated stone-moving culture that should have existed if Neolithic Britons had undertaken such a massive feat of megalith transport. The skill, planning, and organization needed to move Stonehenge’s monoliths is curiously absent from the archaeological record before and after the monument’s construction. If the builders had such advanced capabilities, why did they not use them at other sites or pass them down to their descendants? The lack of any corroborating evidence for large-scale human stone transport suggests that this theory, while entrenched, rests on shaky foundations.

Discussion & Takeaways: Stonehenge bluestones a ‘gift’ from Mother Nature?


The implications of the Newall Boulder’s glacial origins are profound. If this diminutive “reject” found in the monument’s debitage is an ice-rafted erratic, then it’s probable that Stonehenge’s giant standing stones — many of which are also faceted, abraded boulders geologically out of place on Salisbury Plain — were likewise delivered by glaciers. Rather than being purposefully selected and heroically transported by Neolithic builders, they may simply have been fortuitously lying around the site, gifts left behind by ice age glaciers.

This “glacial theory” elegantly explains many puzzling aspects of Stonehenge’s megaliths, from their sheer diversity of rock types to the lack of any evidence for stone-moving infrastructure. It suggests that the monument’s location may have been chosen precisely because of the convenient scattering of giant boulders, not the other way around. And it would overturn the orthodox archaeological narrative of long-distance human transport in favor of a simpler story of our ancestors opportunistically making use of an “erratic quarry” created by nature.

Whether the bluestones were moved by human hands or by the irresistible momentum of glaciers, Stonehenge remains a testament to the ingenuity, adaptability, and sheer ambition of our Neolithic ancestors – and a source of enduring wonder for us today.






Tuesday 11 June 2024

Daily Mail gets in on the act


Following a long interview with the Daily Mail reporter, here is the press coverage.  It gets all sorts of things spectacularly wrong, but I guess that is par for the course.......... 

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-13518357/Stonehenge-Lost-boulder-proves-not-human.html



I find it quite instructive to see that national newspapers like this one work to such tight deadlines that there is virtually no fact checking or editing of content. The reporter interviewed me after lunch, and an hour later the article was out there on the web, attracting comments of the nonsensical sort from readers who seem to know very little about anything.  You know the sort of thing..........

 So abundant mistakes just creep in and nobody tries to correct them.  I suppose there is an Editor, but where is he?   "Get it out there, as fast and as BIG as possible.......If there are mistakes and misunderstandings, never mind -- by tomorrow this story will be dead, and replaced by another one......"

Sarsen.org drags the debate into the gutter


With a little help from his friends, Tim Daw (over on Sarsen.org) has decided to drag the debate about bluestone transport into the gutter.  In a series of posts he makes a serious attack on my integrity, concentrating on citations and protocols -- while ignoring the fact that my latest article is carefully considered and respectful to previous authors and publications.  I have tried to respond through comments on his blog, but that is effectively impossible, and one just ends up going round in circles.  So I have to respond here.

In one post he refers to the old article written by Lionel Jackson and myself (in Earth magazine in 2009) as "sensational".  In fact, in 2009 the Earth magazine was a perfectly respectable "popular science" journal, carefully edited, reporting on developments in the earth sciences.  It was certainly no more sensationalist than "Current Archaeology", "British Archaeology" or a number of other popular journals used over and again by Ixer, Bevins and Parker Pearson for the perpetration of their theories to non-specialists.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Here are his headlines:

Bibliographic Negligence in John's 2024 Paper


In his garbled piece on "bibliographic negligence" Tim criticises me for failing to mention the OU work on samples from the boulder in the late 1980's.  I do cite their work and thought I had made it clear that I was referring to examinations of the boulder rather than to the laboratory examinations of geochemistry and petrology.  With reference to text citations, one is constantly making judgements about where to place them; you just cannot overload a paper with multiple citations of the same source.  And then he has the cheek to accuse me of disregarding antecedent research, while simultaneously trying to defend the reputations of the likes of Ixer, Bevins and Parker Pearson who have cynically and deliberately ignored the two 2015 papers written by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself in peer-reviewed journals simply because what we say is extremely inconvenient.  That's almost a decade of selective amnesia and bibliographic negligence.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

I'm accused of egregiously failing to cite the 2023 paper by Bevins et al.  Because the paper was published in 2023 (and was therefore a late addition to the literature) I had to add it to my article at a relatively late stage in the editing of the manuscript -- but it's petty in the extreme to pretend that it should have been cited here rather than there, or there rather than here.  Life is too short for such nonsense.  The article is cited in several places in the text.  Tim complains that the authors of the 2023 paper made a "complete detailed examination of the boulder".  They did nothing of the sort.  Their examination was superficial and misleading, and missed many key features.

In his piece on "misrepresentations and omission" Tim makes similarly absurd claims.  Referring to my discussion of the idea that Stonehenge was built "where the stones were found", he takes issue with my cited sources.  He claims that the opinion of Judd in 1901 or 1903 was "near worthless."  I happen to disagree;  Judd was an astute observer who made many valuable contributions to the debate and who had a number of impressive insights. As for the views of Field et al, it is disingenuous to quote their conclusions and ignore what went before.  Maybe I could have cited other sources, some involving David Field -- but over and again in a paper of this sort one makes judgments about which of multiple sources one should cite and which one should leave to one side.

Then I am criticised for not citing the paper by Nash et al on sarsen sources. Of course I was fully aware of that paper, which I found interesting but unconvincing.   My paper was about the bluestones, and not about the sarsens.  But to pretend that Nash et al (2020) were infallible ("Nash et al provide evidence that the sarsen stones of Stonehenge were not found where the monument was built") is more than a little foolish.  Nash et al did NOT demonstrate that all or most of the stones were carried from West Woods, and subsequent work (reported faithfully in this blog) by Ixer, Bevins and others across the Atlantic suggests that the sarsens came from multiple sources.  And this work has done nothing to eliminate the possibility of the local use of locally derived stones.

This attack from Tim is all very petty and ill-judged, and does nobody any credit.



On glacial erratic transport

 



It's not easy, being an geomorphologist trying to communicate relatively straightforward concepts to people who have no background in the earth sciences.  One has to communicate with members of the public in language which is understandable and yet tight enough to pass muster with the referees and editors of scientific journals.  So I must be patient with those who have a problem in understanding the text of my latest article (on the Newall Boulder) around pp 8 and 9 where I explain why I think the boulder was transported by ice.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/381205542_A_bluestone_boulder_at_Stonehenge_implications_for_the_glacial_transport_theory

Our old friend Tim Daw, on his blog and on Twitter, seems to be suggesting that if the boulder found at Stonehenge has indeed been glacially transported over a great distance, it must look demonstrably different from similar boulders (of many sizes) that are found at Rhosyfelin.  He says that unless I can demonstrate that to his satisfaction, my research and my conclusions are meaningless.  Sadly, that demonstrates a misunderstanding of how natural processes operate.  Transport distance is indeed one of the factors that influences clast shape and surface characteristics, but as I explain in my text, it all depends on where and how a clast is being transported.  Clasts carried supraglacially or englacially (ie either on or within a glacier) may not be affected at all by abrasion or crushing, even after hundreds of kilometres of transport.  On the other hand clasts carried subglacially may be dramatically modified -- if bed conditions are right -- over a transport distance of just tens of metres. Clasts may become trapped or stuck on the basal ice-sediment interface, or they may be rolled over or broken, leaving abraded facets or percussion scars such as those described on the surfaces of the Newall Boulder.

If you look at the clasts featured in my Figure 7,  you will see that each one has a unique combination of features and a different history.

And as indicated in my paper, far-travelled clasts tend to follow zig-zag paths over hundreds of thousands of years, as a result "re-entrainment" and "re-mobilisation" in successive glacial episodes.

There is no way you can look at one clast at Rhosyfelin and another at Stonehenge and say "This one has been subjected to glacial transport and this one has not".........

That having been said, there are certainly abundant glacially-transported clasts at Rhosyfelin that do display typical "diagnostic" surface features, as described in earlier blog posts.

My new paper makes a very simple point:  namely that the Newall Boulder displays a number of features that are characteristic of glacially transported clasts.  I cannot understand why that should be such a problem for some people......

And by the way, we do not know that the Newall Boulder has come from Rhosyfelin.  I am pretty convinced that it has not.  It's all explained in the text.





Saturday 8 June 2024

"Lost Bluestone Boulder" -- Quaternary Science Journal article now available on Researchgate

 


Some of the features of the boulder (courtesy BGS)

Here it is -- open access and issued under a Creative Commons license. So it is easy to get at, I hope.  No paywalls here, thank goodness.........

The article, published in Germany in a long-established journal which is part of the Copernicus Group, has a very tight publishing process.  The article took a year to get into print, partly because of the heavy involvement of two referees who raised quite different issues and who sometimes gave conflicting advice, which I and the editor had to negotiate as tactfully as we could. There were several rounds of consultations and manuscript drafts, so the input of the peer reviewers was considerable. There was heavy involvement from the editorial team as well.    Anyway, I tried to take all the advice offered -- and what started as a short note expanded inexorably into something far more substantial at the request of the referees.  

So I hope that this paper will have a role in opening up the bluestone debate and showing interested parties that there are several sides to every question.....

Enjoy!

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/381205542_A_bluestone_boulder_at_Stonehenge_implications_for_the_glacial_transport_theory