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Saturday, 3 April 2010

Stonehenge -- lessons from Avebury

Avebury and Stonehenge -- two of a kind? Both manufactured from a convenient litter?

Came across this from a chapter in a book on the Marlborough Downs:

"The origin of the stones in the Avebury stone circles is often considered to derive from one of the accumulations that still exist on Overton or Fyfield Downs to the east of the site, each stone being dragged a distance of several kilometres up and over Hackpen Hill. Such suggestions are merely a response to where boulders can be found in abundance today. However, as noted above stone was certainly available locally and may have been present on the site itself. There is no reason for the stones to have been hauled such a distance. Local accumulations of sarsen are or were certainly present here and it is likely that the valleys were once covered with boulders even though only isolated examples now survive. The farmer of land east of the West Kennet Avenue confirmed that a ridge c1.0m high and 30m wide `consists of a seam of sarsen that runs through the field' (Barker 1985, 21). Thus the land for this massive construction would need to be cleared first and any boulders within the immediate vicinity removed. Given this scenario the stones for the circle may well have come from the immediate vicinity of the henge, some potentially from the interior."

(Ch 8. Some observations on perception, consolidation and change in a land of stones.
David Field)

I think that's rather interesting -- confirming what many other archaeologists and geologists have said about Neolithic people being opportunists and scavengers, rather that highly organized long-distance stone hauliers. It makes a great deal of sense to assume that both at Avebury and Stonehenge the builders simply used what was on the spot, and cleared a litter of large stones from the landscape. As I have said elsewhere, after they had used up all the stones in the immediate vicinity, they cast about further and further afield, until they finally ran out of stones, ran out of energy, or got bored. Was either monument (Avebury and Stonehenge) actually FINISHED? I doubt it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,
I guess you consider that the two monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge were left unfinished because there are a large number of stones missing. Do you not consider the possibility that this may be due to the sites being robbed? Antiquarians of the past noted stones being burnt in pits and broken up and in your book, The Bluestone Enigma, pp.109-110, you mention a rumour that there is a cluster of bluestones in a garden somewhere on Salisbury Plain and that delicate negotiations are going on to have the stones examined. (Any news on this yet?)
Do you think these bluestones may have robbed from Stonehenge or deposited as an ornamental garden feature by glaciation?
Regards, Ed.

Brian said...

Yes, I agree, Ed, that the records refer to a lot of Stonehenge robbing and destruction in the past. But if stones have been taken from the "empty segment" of Stonehenge, we need evidence of that, either in the form of sockets or stumps. There are enough gaps and stumps in the excavated part of Stonehenge to confirm the disappearance of quite a few stones.....

As for that mysterious cluster of bluestones, no further news. If my friend who gave me that info is reading this, maybe he will give us an up-date?

re how the stones might have got into a garden -- yes, I suppose they could be in an original cluster -- ie as deposited by a glacier, or they could be stones gathered up either from Stonehenge or elsewhere as a garden feature. Shades of the Boles Barrow controversy....

PeteG said...

I asked Mike Parker Pearson to check out the stones which are in the garden of the Antribus Estate and make up the facade of John Gays cave on the edge of Vespasians camp.
They are limestone not bluestone.

After four years if intensive searching around Stonehenge I have not found a single piece of Bluestone anywhere yet.

The stones in Loxenborough woods are no longer there.

Brian said...

Thanks Pete. So that sorts that one out. What is the geological context at John Gay's Cave? And when you say you have not found a single piece of bluestone, do you mean you have not found a single piece of spotted dolerite? Exotic (ie not sarsen) sandstones, rhyolites and ashes, not to mention "foreign" limestones, are notoriously difficult to spot in the field -- unless you happen upon a nice boulder that you can't very well miss. I know how difficult it is, having looked all over South Pembs for erratics, for years. There are foreign stones around, no doubt about it. The OU team who did the work around 1989 list quite a few of these occurrences....