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Friday, 9 October 2009

The Bluestones -- tribute stones, petrified ancestors, or simply erratics?


Rob Ixer has kindly sent a copy of the new article from British Archaeology -- entitled "Missing Stonehenge Circle did not come from the Preselis." This refers not to the "new" circle at the end of the Avenue, near the River Avon, but to another assumed missing circle at the far western end of the Cursus, where there has also been a lot of recent excavation. He and Richard Bevins have identified many rhyolite fragments from the digs in that area -- many of them apparently not from the Preseli area at all. They are not sure where the fragments have come from.......

Interestingly, Rob and Richard have not plumped for the glacial theory in preference to the human transport theory, but have suggested a third option, namely that the stones were carried to the Stonehenge area "by different groups of people." This has been suggested for a while by Mike Pitts and other senior archaeologists who have been trying to come to terms with the fact that the bluestones are from well over 20 different locations. The geologists say that the question of how the stones were moved is "an archaeological problem." I would disagree with that. It is a geomorphological/glaciological/geological problem -- in the solution of which archaeologists do not have much of a role.

So are these stones "tribute stones" or "dead ancestors"? In one scenario, Mike Pitts has suggested that the Stonehenge ritual landscape was so important across the UK, and the tribal groups that controlled the area were so powerful, that other tribal groups from far and wide travelled to Stonehenge with "tributes" in the form of large stones which could then be set up on the developing monument. It may have been required or expected of them, in view of their status as subservient tribes, acknowledging the power of their masters. A nice theory? Hmmm -- I'm not convinced. Sounds like special pleading to me -- and there is no evidence for this sort of thing ever having happened in the British Neolithic or Bronze Age, as far as I know. Also, we seem to be obtaining evidence now of stones and fragments of all shapes and sizes -- would these "tribute payers" have carried with them some big stones, some little ones, and a few flakes from here, there and everywhere? You could build up a mighty fantasy here -- and archaeologists will probably do just that. Another problem is that there seems to be no evidence of stones that have come from the east or south. If stones were brought to Stonehenge as tributes, one would have thought that they would be carried from east, west, north and south. So far as we know, they only come from the W and NW -- and that happens to be where the ice came from. No -- they still look like erratics to me.

The dead ancestors theory? That's even more wacky - and designed to bolster the Parker Pearson theory that Stonehenge was a place of the dead. He will probably argue that Stonehenge was a place where rituals were centred on ancestor worship and ceremonies designed to send the dead off to Paradise or some such place -- and that as this "ancestor" cult developed tribes came from tens and maybe hundreds of kilometres away, bearing with them the likenesses of their ancestors in the form of stone pillars, to be incorporated (with due ceremony) into Stonehenge. Sorry, but again this takes fantasy to absurd lengths. And again, why did these dead ancestors all come from the west, with none of them coming from the other points of the compass?

This is all ridiculously elaborate, and for my money the new evidence simply confirms that what we had on or near Salisbury Plain was an assemblage of glacial erratics, of all shapes and sizes, from many different locations, conveniently available for picking up and incorporation into the monuments of people who enjoyed working with stone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Richard and I have made no archaeological claim
we are just doing the petrography.
I long ago abandonned the transport problem as I have said for decades-find a true quarry site and the game is over until then a theories are just that.
I do not know who the stones arrived at Stonehenge and indeed try not to worry about that. It is an archaeological problem. Rob Ixer