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Friday, 26 November 2010

The small sarsens

 Five of the lintels still in position on top of the big sarsens.  BUT did these lintels once stand, and did some of the smaller standing stones once lie?

When we talk of Stonehenge we normally refer to the "big" sarsens and the "small" bluestones, often forgetting that there is another category of monoliths on the site -- namely the sarsen lintels.  Most archaeologists assume that there were originally 35 of these, 30 making up a "ring of interlocking lintels) on the outer circle, and then another five capping the big standing stones in the trilithon horseshoe.  Today there are only 9 left in position, meaning that (if they were there in the first place) 26 have fallen.  There appear to be four on the ground, and the assumption is that 22 have disappeared completely, as a result of stone collecting or "quarrying" activities on the site.

Anthony Johnson goes to great lengths to show how closely similar the 6 lintels left on the circle sarsens are, around a metre wide, 75 cm deep, and around 3.4m long, with a curved long profile and tongue and groove joints where they butt together, and mortise and tenon joints to hold them in position on top of the sarsens.  They are estimated to weigh about 6 tonnes each.

The discussions are all coloured by the assumption of the "immaculate" Stonehenge  -- but I think it perfectly reasonable that the small sarsens and the bluestones should be lumped together as an assemblage of smallish stones.  For some strange reason it is never admitted that the sarsen lintels ever were standing stones, or indeed that the bluestones ever were lintels (although the shaping of some of them is interesting to say the least).  What about all those Q and R holes that are assumed to have held stones at one time?   There is no logic at all, as far as I can see, in assuming that the stones in those holes were bluestones rather than small sarsens.  By the same token, might not some of those pits discovered all over the place -- for example in the 2008 Darvill / Wainwright dig -- have held small sarsens which were later rejected or re-used as lintels on the final stone setting?

Also, if there really was at one time a ring of standing stones at Bluehenge or Bluestonehenge,  it now looks increasingly unlikely that these were bluestones, since there are no bluestone chips or fragments on the site.  So they must have been small sarsens.  Whether these were taken to Stonehenge is another question.........

My suggestion is that the builders of Stonehenge first of all brought as many smallish stones (3 - 6 tonnes in weight) onto the site from wherever they could find them, not worrying whether they were blue or not!  Sarsens and erratics were all mixed up in a single assemblage.  They never had enough of these small stones to complete what they were trying to do.  Later, they decided to use big stones as well, and hauled as many big sarsens onto the site as they could manage.  When they started playing around with lintels, they discovered that sarsen was easier to shape than dolerite or the rest of the grotty collection of bluestones they had at their disposal, and they completed part of their grand design, putting a few lintels into position --  but then they ran out of stones and ran out of energy, and the monument was abandoned as a partly-finished shambles.

Does anybody have any EVIDENCE to show that I'm wrong about all of this?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

'half finnished shambles' - a bit harsh for the oldest monument in history.

They must have had a plan if you go to the trouble of cutting mortice and tenon joints on the only 'full sized' stones you can find?

Would you not collect all the stones you need before cutting 'impossible' joints?

More interesting is that the small stones have been removed for 'other projects' and the largest ones still remain - what technology did they have which we don't to move these stones - remembering that the site was only protected in the last 100 years.

Or has the landscape altered so much that we don't see how easy it was to move these stones in the past?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Anon -- thanks for the comment. I'm not the only one who has referred to the "half finished shambles" -- in fact even Atkinson and other august archaeologists have referred to Stonehenge as being "unfinished", although Anthony Johnson's promotion of the idea of the immaculate monument has rather taken over in recent years.

Of course the people responsible for the final phase of Stonehenge must have had a cunning plan -- but I don't see any reason at all for assuming that ALL of the proposed lintels will have been assembled before starting to cut all those joints. Pure speculation.

And where is the evidence that small stones have been taken away from the site and the big ones left behind? My whole point is that there was always a shortage of stones. The "missing" small stones were never there in the first place -- and I'll carry on believing that until somebody brings me some facts that demonstrate otherwise.

Catherine Perigo said...

I must agree that there is nothing 'half finished' or 'shambolic' about stonehenge. I feel that part of the reason why we find it such a mystery is because we don't look at how 'we' would have thought and behaved back then - it is not enough to transpose our modern minds upon Neolithic people who were pretty much still tribal. Ritual behavior back then would mean that every single thing we would have done would have a significance, not an intellectual or rational reason but a symbolic act that influences luck and destiny (magical consequences).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Don't follow this at all, Catherine. Why should "every single thing" have had ritual significance back in the Neolithic, but not now? I don't accept for a moment that everything that our ancient ancestors did had ritual or magical significance. If they were human they probably did a lot that was mundane, a bit that was driven by belief and ritual, and quite a lot that was experimental and even incompetent.

If you WANT Stonehenge to be full of magic and significance because that makes you feel better, that's fine by me. It's just that I prefer to look at what's on the ground today, and try to work out what was there (or not there) to start with.

Anonymous said...

You say " if there really was at one time a ring of standing stones at... Bluestonehenge, it now looks increasingly unlikely that these were bluestones, since there are no bluestone chips or fragments on the site. So these must MUST HAVE BEEN small sarcens."

The Stonehenge Riverside Project Report on the "Bluestonehenge" site (see www.eternalidol.com and many other sources) states:-

"9 stone holes were identified, part of a circle of probably 25 stones.
The imprint of the stones' bases and the shapes of the sockets from which they were withdrawn indicate that these were too small to have been sarcens.
They compare exactly with the dimensions of the bluestones in the inner oval at Stonehenge. The stones were extracted whole and were not broken up (as was the case in the medieval period). As a result, only two (2) bluestone fragments were found, both of spotted dolerite.

Mike Parker Pearson has also stated at a Devizes Museum Lecture to the members of the Wiltshire Archaeological & natural History Society, 10/10/2009, that Stone 68 at Stonehenge may be a match with one of the Bluestonehenge imprints.

How do you answer these statements and reports?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Anon

That report contains loads of wishful thinking. Quote: "The imprint of the stones' bases and the shapes of the sockets from which they were withdrawn indicate that these were too small to have been sarsens." What that means is that they were too small to have held BIG sarsens -- they do not appear to have considered the possibility that small sarsens might have been there. MPP and his team obviously WANTED this site to have been occupied by bluestones -- whatever the evidence may be on the ground.

Quote: "9 stone holes were identified, part of a circle of probably 25 stones." They are simply guessing that there were 25 stone holes, and guessing that all the stone holes held stones at the same time. There is nothing to show that all of the holes were occupied by stones at the same time -- look at Stonehenge. Stone holes everywhere. Some of the holes held some of the stones for some of the time.

Quote: "They compare exactly with the dimensions of the bluestones in the inner oval at Stonehenge." Meaningless statement -- the bluestones are so variable in their dimensions that you simply cannot make a statement like this and hope to get away with it.

Quote: "only two (2) bluestone fragments were found, both of spotted dolerite." The geologists now say that there were no spotted dolerite fragments discovered at Bluestonehenge. In fact, the two foreign fragments do not seem to match ANYTHING found at Stonehenge.

MPP and his team must do better......

Anonymous said...

Following my comments immediately preceding this post, I have found a much fuller report on "Bluestonehenge" in British Archaeology, Jan-Feb 2010, regarding the stone holes.

"The holes were wider and shallower than any dug for Neolithic posts from nearby Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. These pits had once held uprights of stone, too small to have been slab shaped sarcens.
The standing stones had been placed on individually-tailored cushions of river clay and pads of packed flint nodules.
Each pit was different, suggesting that the cooperative activity of erecting a stone circle had been carried out by separate teams assigned to each stone. One stone had sat on a carefully constructed nest of nodules. Others had merely a thin cushion of clay between their bases and the chalk. Another sat on a rock-solid pad of nodules and rammed clay.
The bottoms of five of the holes contained IMPRINTS of the stones, pressed through the clay cushions into the soft chalk beneath. Whilst the profiles of the robbed-out holes had already indicated that they had contained neither posts nor sarcens, it now became patently clear from the IMPRINTS in their bases that they had held stones whose SHAPES closely matched the Stonehenge bluestones, with their VARIOUSLY CURVED,INDENTED AND STRAIGHT EDGES."

This fuller report contains much more precise information than the earlier-quoted press release, and I think you will agree the statements are more objective and reasoned, clearly based upon careful observation. Press releses, by their nature, tend to be first and foremost eye-catching, and the generality of some of their statements can, indeed, appear meaningless.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks, Anon. Very helpful. I'm intrigued by this:

".........it now became patently clear from the IMPRINTS in their bases that they had held stones whose SHAPES closely matched the Stonehenge bluestones, with their VARIOUSLY CURVED,INDENTED AND STRAIGHT EDGES."

Does this mean they are matching imprints to individual known bluestones from Stonehenge? I suspect not -- I suspect that since the shapes of the imprints vary they are simply making a deduction which may or may not be reliable. (Their reasoning seems to be that all sarsens are rectangular by definition, and at anything which does not conform is by definition a bluestone!!)

Anyway, will await further info with interest......

TONY said...

Some comments on the Eternal Idol website from December 1st to 3rd are relevant to the search for EVIDENCE of bluestones (or not) at
"Bluestonehenge". In particular, December 3rd's comment that Bluestone 68 does, indeed, possess a fairly unique shape. As I said as "Anon") on Brian's website here on November 28th 2010, Mike Parker Pearson told some of us at a Devizes Lecture to the Wiltshire Archaeology Society in December 2009 that Stonehenge 68 MAY be a match for on of the 9 hole imprints, as revealed by laser scanning.
MPP also said a state-of-the-art machine was being used to analyse the chemical constituents of the soil, whilst excavation was taking place.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tony. Await developments. Wow! I woonder what this space-age machine is, that can tell whether a bluestone has been in a hole, or not?!!