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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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Where did the Packing Stones and Mauls come from?

On the left, typical packing stone debris and rubble -- this sort of material has been found, in vast quantities, during every excavation. Some of the stones are far too large to have been used as hammer-stones or mauls -- and this is a fair question: would this material have been carried from "quarries" many kilometres away, just to have been used as packing stones? Unlikely, in my view......

Following on from my last post, here is an extract from Chapter 6 of my book:

Almost every stone -- whether sarsen or bluestone -- that was pulled and pushed into a vertical position at Stonehenge was stabilised with packing stones and chalk rubble often containing flints. There is a phenomenal amount of this “clutter” at Stonehenge, and as far as we can see it has never been systematically analysed. An examination of Richard Atkinson’s photo archive from the 1958 excavations is very revealing; photo after photo shows rounded and sub-angular stones packed around the monoliths, sometimes with bits of antler thrown in for good measure. Some of the stones are as big as a human skull. The heaviest one found thus far weighed 30 kg, but Richard Atkinson thought that some mauls were as heavy as 60 kg when in use. (How would you actually use a maul which was that heavy?) Christopher Green refers to “chips and fragments of almost all the rock types that have been identified in the structure” -- including sarsen and bluestone. He says that in the course of 22 excavations at Stonehenge over 11,500 stone fragments have been recorded; some of this material is packed into stone holes as a sort of matrix between bigger stones, but many other fragments simply littered the ground surface in the past, prior to being incorporated into the soil horizon by earthworm activity and so forth.

In the excavations of Gowland and Hawley early in the twentieth century, they recorded 447 mauls and hammerstones, mostly in pit fillings, which had been used for the shaping of the sarsens. The tooling marks on the surface of the great monoliths are still visible. Some of the tools were made of a very hard type of sarsen which is densely cemented by microcrystalline silica, and which was therefore a tough and resistant tool. Other packing materials are more intriguing, since they are made (according to William Hawley) of Jurassic oolitic ragstone and glauconitic sandstone. Rock of the former type was supposed to have come from near Chilmark, around 20 km to the south-west of Stonehenge, in the Vale of Wardour. The latter was supposed to have come from the Upper Greensand beds in the same area. Dr Green thinks that these stones were collected there and carried to Stonehenge in a separate “stone collection” exercise. However, that is a matter of debate, and nobody has seriously questioned Hawley’s suggested provenances for the stones. These rock types also outcrop to the west, in the western part of Wiltshire and in Somerset, and Geoffrey Kellaway pointed out in 1971 that they could have reached the Stonehenge area as glacial erratics. The Upper Greensand outcrops around Warminster, about 22 km to the west -- not far, as it happens, from the site of Boles Barrow. Also, it is doubtful that these two stone types would have had any value as hammerstones, since they are generally too soft and only become hard when impregnated with calcium carbonate, for example by being placed in a chalk pit. Would piles of these soft sandstone and limestone rocks have been fetched all the way from the Vale of Wardour just to be used for stabilising standing stones in their sockets? That seems very doubtful to me.

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