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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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Hauling bluestones through the jungle

The terrain west of Efailwen and south of Llangolman -- precisely the territory that the bluestones would have had to be transported across. Remember that in the Neolithic the fields would not have been clear -- there would have been dense "virgin forest" everywhere, except in the natural clearings where there might have been thin soils and rocky terrain, or else string bogs. Transporting monoliths across this terrain of steep gradients, chaotic woodlands and turbulent streams? The word "impossible" springs to mind......

In the last couple of weeks I have driven a few times through the landscape to the south of the Preseli Hills -- with a series of deeply-incised streams belonging for the most part to the Eastern Cleddau river system -- and have marvelled at the rough beauty of the place. The valleys are heavily wooded to this day, with tumbling streams and rapids, shallows and pools, and boggy and rocky areas adding to the number of ecological niches.

That got me thinking about the sheer daftness of the idea that a single large bluestone monolith -- let alone more than 80 -- could have been dragged through this terrain from the Carn Meini area to the head of navigation at Blackpool Mill. this is what I put in Ch 8 of my book:

".........the ill-fated "Millennium Stone" project in Pembrokeshire (in the year 2000) showed that even with the aid of cranes, tractors, modern ropes and low-friction netting on the ground surface, the transport of a single bluestone monolith over rough terrain was incredibly difficult. And the organizers did not even take the stone from a natural rock outcrop surrounded by scree and boggy land. They took it from a farmer’s field close to the road. They did not dare to pull the stone across country, through fields, bogs and wooded areas, but stuck to roadways for the 27 km or so of the sled pull. They had the advantage of good maps which could be used for the avoidance of steep gradients as far as possible. In contrast, our imaginary Neolithic stone collection teams would have had to cope with a heavily wooded landscape which would have been as difficult to pass through as the west coast rain forest of New Zealand. Any team hauling a heavy stone would have encountered, over and again, boggy areas too wet to haul sledges across and too shallow for rafts or boats. And how would they have found their way to the head of navigation of the Eastern Cleddau? Only by finding the river and following it downstream -- and in the process having to cope with the most difficult physical conditions imaginable."

I am reminded of the work I did once as a geography student, on terrain roughness. There was a roughness index -- and as far as I know there still is. The Eastern Cleddau catchment will be well up on the roughness index -- and Salisbury Plain will be somewhere at the other end of the scale. Moving stones there would have been almost a doddle -- if the land was reasonably clear of trees.

In am often gobsmacked by the sheer naivety of archaeologists who look at the Atkinson stone haulage experiments (on the nice smooth chalklands of Salisbury Plain) or the assorted stone movement experiments so graphically illustrated on YouTube, and then say "Oh yes, it has been proved that it was possible to move large stones over long distances.........." Sorry, folks. Not on this terrain, it hasn't.

1 comment:

Steve Garcia said...

Hahaha - Arkies in general need to have some real world experience. Since their discipline has to do in many ways with architecture, you'd think they would some of them have SOME engineering type classes - some subjects with quantification in then. Instead they go do artsy fartsy stuff, and comparison of ceramics, and hieroglyph reading, etc., and they MUST sign onto the meme that ancient people were stupid and gullible and had no smarts or practical minds - or means of harnessing some very impressive force to do some amazing and, in some cases, quite precise things. (You should see the schist bowl in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.)

I've come to classify archaeology with historians instead of scientists. A subject where everyone's opinions are more important than trying to include quantified data.

Digs with strings and depth measurements? Okay, as far as that goes, but it doesn't exactly make them scientists, just because they can read a ruler - which we all could do by third grade.

C14 and OSL dating? The arkies are just the guys who send the samples off to the labs (which ARE scientists). Do we call a cop who sends stuff to the FBI lab or Scotland Yard crime lab a scientist? Not in my world we don't.

Not Impressed with Arkies