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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.

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