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....
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Sunday 28 February 2010

Stonehenge -- less excavated than you might think

Recently I have come across these two fantastic maps of Stonehenge -- one larger scale than the other -- showing the existing stones, the missing stones, and the excavated area. The maps were made by Juris Ozols and Alex Down, and I'm grateful for permission to share them on this site. they are also on the Eternal Idol web site:

To quote Dennis Price: "Well, thanks to the hard work and generosity of spirit of Juris Ozols and Alex Down, you can now see these details for yourselves, as shown in the larger diagram above, and the relative ‘close up’ below."

There is a lot to discuss here -- but perhaps the most interesting thing of note is that half of the site has NEVER been excavated. That's the half where more than 20 standing stones are assumed to have been, without any proof whatsoever for that assumption. This is of course part of my reasoning when I say that Stonehenge never was finished -- and that it was a triumph of expectation and imagination, but a failed building project. Why? because, as I have often said before, the builders simply ran out of stones.

The Silbury Hill bluestone

This is a pic kindly provided by Pete Glastonbury. The fragment is now on show in the museum at Avebury. Pete says it is very small -- about the size of a thumbnail. Jim says it is hornblende schist:

"However, this one stone fragment is hornblende schist and therefore not of a type normally described as bluestone; it was examined sometime between 1972 and 1983 by the implement petrology committee, and the results were published over 20 years ago (Stone Axe Studies volume 2, ed T Clough & W Cummins, CBA 1988, available to download from ADS). Hopefully myth busted."

....... but it does appear to have some vague spots on it, and on the photo it looks as if it might be spotted dolerite or preselite. Does anybody know anything more?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Silbury Hill -- aggregated data

I found my Eternal Idol post -- from 11th Jan 2009:

"Sorry folks — I’m beginning to think that I have made a mistake about the Silbury Hill foreign fragments. I’ve realised (from my very faint copy of the Harrison et al Report) that a table on p 13 which I assumed to be just about Silbury Hill (it’s on the Silbury Hill page of the Report) is actually full of aggregated data — including a lot of data on fragments from Stonehenge as well. I’m trying to get info from Geoffrey Kellaway, who commissioned the work back in 1971. If the data are aggregated, the only fragments which we can say are definitely from Silbury Hill are the 16 sandstone fragments and 42 “others” which are mostly flint. I’ll keep you posted…."

Still no reply from Geoff Kellaway....

The Silbury Hill bluestone fragment

In the letter reproduced below, I am accused of being over-excited. Excited maybe, but OVER-EXCITED?!! I am happy to admit that I did make a mistake about all those bluestone fragments. One is only as good as one's sources, and as I have explained in other forums and blogs, I was working off an extremely scruffy typed manuscript which purportedly itemised all of the stone finds from Silbury Hill. The columns and the pages were so chaotic that I didn't realise that there was a lot of "double reporting" of stone fragments -- and I didn't discover this until I had gone through the ms over and over again -- it wasn't helped by the very faint type -- the doc was a copy of a copy of a copy.

The problematical report (Geological Survey) was by Harrison et al in 1971 -- and we have only the first 4 pages -- the rest of it is lost. We had a discussion about this on the Eternal Idol website about a year ago:

Letter in Brit Arch Jan/Feb 2010

The Silbury myth buster

Jim Leary

"Bluestone" has been mentioned a lot recently, and with the recent work at Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, I thought it would be useful to help bust a little myth that seems to resurface every now and again. During Richard Atkinson's excavations on the summit of Silbury Hill (1969–70) he found a fragment of rock "apparently identical with one of the varieties of Stonehenge bluestone". This stone is currently on display in the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury. In The Bluestone Enigma by Brian John (reviewed Books, Nov/Dec 2009) the Silbury bluestone fragment is mentioned again; he evens claims (slightly over-excitedly) that "over a thousand bluestone fragments" have been found at Silbury. However, this one stone fragment is hornblende schist and therefore not of a type normally described as bluestone; it was examined sometime between 1972 and 1983 by the implement petrology committee, and the results were published over 20 years ago (Stone Axe Studies volume 2, ed T Clough & W Cummins, CBA 1988, available to download from ADS). Hopefully myth busted.

Monday 15 February 2010

"Bluestone quarry" consigned to the scrap-heap

Carn Meini -- if you don't think this looks like a quarry, neither do I.........

Sent this off to the media today -- I doubt if any of them will pick up on it, since they probably think this is "just boring science." Fairy tales and wacky professors are much more fun........

15th February 2010
Stonehenge: new studies consign "bluestone quarry" to the scrapheap

New geological research conducted in the Stonehenge area and in West Wales has shown that the famous "bluestone quarry" supposed to exist in the vicinity of Carn Meini in the Preseli Hills is nothing but fantasy.

For something like a century this "quarry" has been a favourite component in the Stonehenge story, having been promoted with considerable zeal by the geologist Herbert Thomas and the archaeologist Richard Atkinson. Generations of archaeologists have accepted -- more or less without question -- the idea of an heroic enterprise on the part of our Stone Age ancestors, involving the quarrying and haulage of 80 or more bluestones (selected because of their magical or spiritual qualities) and their transport over land and sea to Stonehenge, about 240 km away. But within the last week two new publications (1,2) have confirmed that the bluestones at Stonehenge have come from so many different places (including some as yet unidentified) that the idea of a Neolithic or Bronze Age quarry located in the area of spotted dolerite is now unsupportable.

Geologists Dr Rob Ixer and Dr Richard Bevins have now expanded the work of an earlier team from the Open University who showed in 1991 that few if any of the "spotted dolerite" bluestones at Stonehenge had come from Carn Meini, and that there were so many other rock-types (like rhyolites, sandstones and volcanic ashes) represented at Stonehenge that the idea of one rock type being "preferred or specially revered" could no longer be sustained. The OU team pointed out that among the standing stones and rock fragments at Stonehenge there are at least 15 different rock types represented, most of which can be traced back to locations in West and South Wales. Other stones appear to be more local, having come from rock outcrops on the western edge of Salisbury Plain. New analyses of rock samples from Stonehenge, the Stonehenge Cursus Field and Pembrokeshire have shown that some of the rhyolite and ash fragments on Salisbury Plain have probably come from innocuous locations between Preseli and the north Pembrokeshire coast, but that others are from unknown locations maybe outside Wales (3,4).

Commenting on the new work, Dr Brian John said: "We have now lost count of the number of sites that the Stonehenge bluestones have come from -- at least 25 different locations are involved. You can never say never in science, but it is now vanishingly unlikely that Neolithic tribesmen quarried 80 bluestones from Carn Meini and transported them to Stonehenge. There is no quarry at Carn Meini anyway. The 43 bluestones and the thousands of bluestone fragments in the soil must have originated in an "assemblage" of glacial erratics that have come from the west, and which were collected up on Salisbury Plain before being built into the monument. I'm increasingly confident that the hypotheses put forward in "The Bluestone Enigma" (5) is the correct one, although there is still work to be done on the age and dimensions of the glacier involved. Can we now please get rid of this quarry idea once and for all, and concentrate on some proper science?"


Contact: Dr Brian John
Tel: 01239-820470

Timothy Darvill, Geoffrey Wainwright, Kayt Armstrong and Rob Ixer, Archaeology in Wales 48, pp 47-55.
In this paper Dr Ixer shows that you cannot say "this is a spotted dolerite, and that is an unspotted dolerite", since there are many degrees of "spottiness" amongst the dolerites of eastern Preseli, dependent upon the history of metamorphism or rock alteration over many millions of years.

(2) Rob A. Ixer and Richard E. Bevins, 2010, "The petrography, affinity and provenance of lithics from the Cursus Field, Stonehenge", Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine, vol. 103 (2010), pp. 1-15

(3) Rob A Ixer and Richard E Bevins, 2009, "Stilpnomelane-bearing rhyolites/rhyolitic tuffs at Stonehenge are most probably from the Preseli Hills region", British Archaeology, 109 (Nov/Dec 2009).

(4) Pitts, M. 2009, "Missing Stonehenge circle did not come from Preselis", British Archaeology, 109 (Nov/Dec 2009).

(5) John, Brian 2008. "The Bluestone Enigma", Greencroft Books, 160pp.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Did HH Thomas cook the books?

I have come across a lot of fraudulent science lately, in other contexts, and this got me thinking about whether HH Thomas deliberately "cooked the books" when it came to his original stunning revelations about the link between Stonehenge and Preseli. Increasingly, I think that he did distort and select his evidence in order to prove his point. For example, we still do not know how many samples he took, and we do not know how many "inconvenient" stones he chose simply not to report on..........

This is an extract from THE BLUESTONE ENIGMA:

It was Herbert Thomas who speculated on a Preseli origin for the Stonehenge bluestones in 1908 and then went on to propose, in his famous 1921 lecture, that the bluestones were identical to rocks cropping out within one small area around Carn Meini. These bluestones, located within the bluestone circle and the bluestone horseshoe, comprise 43 stones, give or take a few. The best estimate is that there are 27 spotted dolerites (including at least two that are broken in half), three unspotted dolerites, five altered volcanic ashes, five rhyolites (of which two are ignimbrites and two are lavas), two micaceous sandstones and a greenish sandstone called the Altar Stone. The spotted dolerites are more variable than one might think; some of them have obvious and large spots of whitish or pinkish feldspar, and others have spots that are almost too small to see with the naked eye. The two micaceous sandstones and five volcanic ashes are just left as stumps, buried beneath the turf.

Most people believe that Herbert Thomas actually sampled the bluestones in the stone settings at Stonehenge. He did not do that. Instead, his work was based upon a visual examination of 34 in situ stones and an analysis of fragments and samples from assorted collections made by William Cunnington, Nevil Maskelyne and William Judd. His analytical method was called “standard transmitted light petrography” which involved a detailed examination of thin sections made from his samples. He also looked at thin sections made from samples taken from the tors in the Preseli Hills, although it is unclear whether any of the samples were his own. Again he seems to have depended largely upon samples collected by other geologists. Some of the samples came from bluestone fragments found in the soil during excavations.

His paper was remarkably vague and unsatisfactory in many respects; we have no idea, to this day, how many samples he looked at and whether he reported on ALL of his analyses. He was driven by the belief that all of the stones must have come from one small source area, as suggested initially by Sir Jethro Teall. So although some of his rock identifications were anomalous, he seemed unprepared to consider the possibility that they had come from other far distant sources. For example, he rejected the possibility of some dolerite samples having come from the Cader Idris district on the grounds that “this locality may be disregarded as a possible source.” There was no explanation for this curt dismissal. He was far too hasty in assigning a Preseli origin to some of the rhyolite samples to which he had access. He also avoided a proper discussion of the source of the Altar Stone, and he made no mention at all of the “inconvenient” micaceous sandstone bluestones (numbered 40g and 42c) or the equally inconvenient fragments of sandstones, grits, quartzites, greywackes, argillaceous flagstones and slates, and of the glauconitic sandstone listed by Judd in 1902. He was familiar with Judd’s work, but treated it with disdain, largely because Judd was convinced that the Stonehenge bluestones were erratics of glacial origin! Thomas’s results were not tabulated or itemised anywhere, and it is impossible to tell which of his assumptions and conclusions are based on which samples. In the grand tradition of Stonehenge studies, confidence and bluster were sufficient to overcome any shortcomings on the data front. The five pairs of thin sections which illustrated his article were obviously selected to give the best “matches” possible; but that is fair enough, since he, as an author, was seeking to make a case! And let’s not be too critical here. Thomas was writing in 1923 when the science of geology was anything but mature, and there is no doubt at all that his work was of great importance.

Thomas knew that his sampled stones could not all have come from one “quarry” because of the petrographic differences which his work revealed. There were at least seven different rock types. So the heterogeneity of the bluestones had to be explained. He did this by proposing that the stones were erratics gathered together in one small area (possibly around Cilymaenllwyd) and utilised there in an early and simpler version of Stonehenge.

Friday 12 February 2010

Goodbye to the Bluestone Quarry.........

Carn Meini -- ice-smoothed surface on the clifftop

After wasting thousands of hours of everybody's time on the arid debate about the Darvill / Wainwright fantasies of the last couple of years, can we now forget about this wretched Bluestone Quarry? The latest Ixer / Bevins paper, called "The petrography, affinity and provenance of lithics from the Cursus Field, Stonehenge" in the Wilts Arch and Nat Hist Mag 2010, is a very impressive and detailed piece of work. It describes in great detail the characteristics of 15 bluestone fragments from the Stonehenge area, and then reviews much other information. And this is their conclusion:

"Although a few of the Cursus Field lithics, especially the basaltic tuffs, show some similarities to volcanic rocks from North Pembrokeshire, the majority, because of significant differences in mineralogy and textures, cannot be matched with certainty to the Lower Palaeozoic or Neoproterozoic rocks cropping out in southwest Wales, including those found on the Preseli Hills. This situation opens the possibility that, while the spotted dolerites are from the Preseli Hills, other Stonehenge orthostats together with the Altar Stone may come from a far wider and, as yet, unrecognised area, or more likely areas."

As I have pointed out on innumerable occasions in the past, there is absolutely no evidence that the famous Stonehenge spotted dolerites were collected from this area by human beings, and absolutely no evidence that spotted dolerite was "preferred" in any way by the builders of the monument. If there was any quarrying at Carn Meini, it had nothing to do with Stonehenge. The bluestones at Stonehenge were classified by HH Thomas according to what was known at the time -- and I have always thought that he twisted his evidence to suit his theory. But now, with much more sophisticated techniques, geologists have concluded that the bluestones have come from all over the place, and that there are many more rock types than those which HH Thomas described.

Many of the bluestones are indeed from Pembrokeshire, mostly from the area to the north of Carn Meini, on the northern slopes of the upland ridge, but many others are not -- their origins are still unknown. They have to be glacial erratics.

Can we now please consign that wretched quarry to the dustbin of history?

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Cairns near Carn Meini

One of the cairns on Craig Talfynydd

Another part of the recent "Spaces" report on AW, by Darvill and Wainwright and colleagues, refers to the cairns in the vicinity. I have no problem with those -- there are several, and they are easy to spot. They are assumed to be Bronze Age. Of course, the "construction" of those cairns would have involved a certain amount of stone collecting and maybe excavating into the stony ground -- I would still not use the word "quarrying". So stones would have been moved about and put into piles, or tastefully arranged in other ways. But I can still see no reason whatsoever to think that any of the stone movement in the vicinity was for "export purposes" to Stonehenge or anywhere else. That is an absolutely unnecessary and unsupportable hypothesis.

More about "quarries" and "sacred springs"

One of the "springheads" -- is this supposed to be a "construction"? If so, can we please have some evidence?

Our old friends Profs Darvill and Wainwright have just produced another Report on their "Spaces" project in Pembs -- in "Archaeology in Wales" -- and as one might expect it is full of assumptions about quarries and sacred springs. Typical quotes:
"In 2007 five further springheads were recorded on the west and north side of Carn Meini. Most are of similar construction to those previously recorded with a crude wall screening off the springhead, thus creating a basin from which the streams run downslope."

"Similar construction"??? They see constructions where others see natural features.

"An incline was recorded on the north-west corner of Carn Meini below the western crag associated with two abandoned pillar stones and a pile of quarry debris. Stone-filled pits may represent extraction holes later filled with debris from dressing the stones".

Inclines, stone-filled pits and debris from dressing stones? Oh dear oh dear. I venture to suggest that there is not a scrap of evidence for any of this. We are on a slope, which tends to have inclines on it. What I see when I look everywhere in this area is a periglacial landscape, with frost-shattered surfaces, some of which are ice-smoothed by overriding ice, and broken slabs and scree all over the place. I don't deny that there might have been some stone removal at some stages (including within living memory) but why anybody should think this has anything at all to do with Stonehenge is a mystery to me........

Saturday 6 February 2010

The Stonehenge moraine?

Now this is interesting! Yet more info coming out... and this time we have a shrubbery and a mound. It's interesting that Mike Pitts thinks the mound might have been "a natural geological feature" -- could this be the Stonehenge moraine that provided the incentive for the monument to be built here in the first place, and which also provided a ready source for at least some of the stones? That might sound rather fanciful -- but let's see what the evidence is.......

From the Guardian newspaper, 4 Feb 2010
Stonehenge's secret: archaeologist uncovers evidence of encircling hedges

Survey of landscape suggests prehistoric monument was surrounded by two circular hedges

The Monty Python knights who craved a shrubbery were not so far off the historical mark: archaeologists have uncovered startling evidence of The Great Stonehenge Hedge.

Inevitably dubbed Stonehedge, the evidence from a new survey of the Stonehenge landscape suggests that 4,000 years ago the world's most famous prehistoric monument was surrounded by two circular hedges, planted on low concentric banks. The best guess of the archaeologists from English Heritage, who carried out the first detailed survey of the landscape of the monument since the Ordnance Survey maps of 1919, is that the hedges could have served as screens keeping even more secret from the crowd the ceremonies carried out by the elite allowed inside the stone circle.

Their findings are revealed tomorrow in British Archaeology magazine, whose editor, Mike Pitts, an archaeologist and expert on Stonehenge himself, said: "It is utterly surprising that this is the first survey for such a long time, but the results are fascinating. Stonehenge never fails to reveal more surprises."

"The time these two concentric hedges around the monument were planted is a matter of speculation, but it may well have been during the Bronze Age. The reason for planting them is enigmatic."

Pitts wonders if the hedges might have been to shelter the watchers from the power of the stones, as much as to ward off their impious gaze.

If the early Bronze Age date is correct, when the hedges were planted the Stonehenge monument already had the formation now familiar to millions of tourists, after centuries when the small bluestones from west Wales and the gigantic sarsens from the Stonehenge plain were continually rearranged.

The survey also found puzzling evidence that there may once have been a shallow mound among the stones, inside the circle. It was flattened long ago, but is shown in some 18th century watercolours though it was written off as artistic licence by artists trying to make the site look even more picturesque. The archaeologists wonder if the circle originally incorporated a mound which could have been a natural geological feature, or an even earlier monument.