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Monday, 17 January 2011

Preseli -- bleak and barren in the Neolithic?

 Carn Goedog -- "woodland carn"

One of the assumptions that underpins the "bluestone transport" theory is that the eastern Preseli Hills in the Neolithic period looked much the same as they do today.  Indeed, a bleak and barren (treeless) landscape is almost a prerequisite for the easy collecting and downslope  transport of bluestones from the imaginary bluestone quarry at Carn Meini down into the valley of the eastern Cleddau river.  Herbert Thomas, Richard Atkinson and others were also greatly taken by the idea that the spectacular -- and even awesome -- skyline profile of the Carn Meini tors was in part responsible for the reverence accorded to these rock outcrops by Neolithic traders and engineers.  And this, in turn, may have driven the desire to collect the bluestones and cart them off to Stonehenge.

But what if Preseli was partly wooded at the time?  What if the tors, currently so clearly defined on the skyline,  were partly obscured by tall trees?

There is not a lot of pollen or other evidence to tell us what the Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape was really like -- but the educated guess among landscape historians is that 5,000 years ago there had not been much clearance of the wildwood forest, and that the slopes and summits of Preseli were quite thickly wooded.  The woodland was certainly more scrubby and patchy than that of the lowlands,  where we can reasonably describe it as jungle.  But there had not been much clearance by burning or tree felling -- there was just not sufficient population pressure in this area, unlike Salisbury Plain.

One interesting point is that "Carn Goedog" (now thought to be the main spotted dolerite source area for the Stonehenge bluestones) means, when translated, "Woodland Carn" -- and indeed there are bluebells around it -- another sign of a woodland habitat into relatively recent times.

The wide open spaces that we enjoy on Preseli today are man made -- or made by grazing animals.  The grassy moorland with acid bogs and flushes is not a "climax vegetation" pattern at all, but one which we can put down to many generations of grazing by sheep, cattle, goats and horses on the common land.

I have always said that the lowlands of Pembrokeshire (with deep valleys, impenetrable woodlands, cataracts, boggy areas and rocky river beds with many shoals) would have been virtually impossible to have negotiated with a single stone transport exercise, let alone 82 of them........ and I am increasingly convinced that the Preseli uplands would also have been hostile, rather than favourable, environments for the collection and moving of very large stones.

2 comments:

jon hudson said...

Hi, I expect you are aware of this but in case not - A PHD on the Preseli area over the last 12000 yrs

http://cadair.aber.ac.uk/dspace/handle/2160/3307?show=full
cheers jon

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thank you Jon -- yes, I was aware of Philip Seymour's work, but was not aware that it was available online. Will take a look at it, if my computer can deal with the size of the download......