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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Sunday, 27 February 2011


This is my current take on the situation, building on the press release from the University of Leicester.  I know this goes further than Dr Rob Ixer and Dr Richard Bevins would wish to go, but I think my main points are strongly evidence-based.

Press Notice
26 February 2011


The theory that the Stonehenge bluestones were transported by glacier ice rather than by Neolithic tribesmen has received a massive boost following recent geological work by scientists in Leicester, Cardiff and Aberystwyth.

Dr Rob Ixer, Dr Richard Bevins and Dr Nick Pearce have just published a paper (1) which confirms earlier suspicions that some of the bluestones at Stonehenge have not come from the Carn Meini area in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, but from low-lying land to the north, close to the village of Brynberian.  This follows a number of other recent geological publications from Ixer and Bevins which lead inexorably to the conclusion that the bluestones have come from many different sources, some of which are still unknown.

Recent press releases from the University of Leicester (2) and from the National Museum of Wales and Aberystwyth University (3) throw serious doubt on the long-standing theory that the bluestones were quarried from the Carn Meini area and man-handled all the way to Stonehenge as part of a great stone-collecting enterprise.  One of the geologists, Dr Rob Ixer, says that there are three key conclusions from the recent work:

1.  The  huge sandstone Altar Stone does not come from Milford Haven but from somewhere between West Wales and Herefordshire and has nothing to do with the Preseli Hills. This calls into question the proposed transport route for the Stonehenge bluestones.

2.  Much of the volcanic and sandstone Stonehenge debris does not match any standing stones.  This suggests that the stony detritus in the soil is all that is left of standing stones that have now been lost.

3. Many of the Stonehenge rocks have not come from impressive outcrops high on the hilltops of Preseli, but in less obvious places, including hollows and deep valleys.

These conclusions clearly contradict the idea that the stones were quarried and collected by tribesmen from "sacred" sites where magical or healing stones could be found.  On the contrary, they support the idea that the Stonehenge bluestones are glacial erratics, transported from West Wales towards Salisbury Plain by the huge Irish Sea Glacier maybe 450,000 years ago.

Dr Brian John, whose book The Bluestone Enigma (4) argues the case for glacial transport, says that the new work is timely and that it adds detail to the conclusions of many geologists over many decades -- conclusions that have been marginalized and even ignored by archaeologists who have been intent upon perpetrating "the Stonehenge myth" for a variety of reasons.

"We now know that the erratic or bluestone material at Stonehenge, of all shapes and sizes, has come from at least 30 different sources," he says.  "On that basis alone it is entirely logical to assume that the stones have been transported by ice for most -- but not necessarily all -- of their journey to Stonehenge.  Another fact that has been conveniently ignored by archaeologists is that the stone sources identified in the recent work are all in a narrow strip of land running approximately NW-SE across north Pembrokeshire.  That is precisely the direction followed by the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier as it crossed Pembrokeshire -- and the stones have come from exactly the right locations where one might predict glacial erosion and entrainment of rocks and smaller debris.  It is also likely that the Altar Stone is a massive glacial erratic, carried by Welsh ice flowing southwards and then eastwards towards Somerset.

"Following this new research, I do not believe that the human transport theory is still credible.  Researchers now need to address two big remaining questions:  First, exactly when did this glacial episode occur? And second, exactly where was this assemblage of bluestones and glacial erratics dumped?"


Dr Brian John


(1)  Stonehenge rhyolitic bluestone sources and the application of zircon chemistry as a new tool for provenancing rhyolitic lithics is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 38, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 605-622.

New Discovery ‘will rewrite Stonehenge’s history’
Geologists question ‘sacred hills’ origins of famous bluestones (25 February 2011)

New Discovery in Stonehenge Bluestone Mystery (22 February 2011)

(4)  The Bluestone Enigma. Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age.
by Brian John.   Greencroft Books , 2008
£9.95 pp160 pb  ISBN 9780905559896.


Oswald said...

Why only one Altar Stone?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Why only one large gabbro erratic in my garden?


All true Academics, of all disciplines, should take serious notice of your conclusions.I wish you well in communicating this as a Press release. This Press Release should include the two most popular general Archaeology magazines, Current Archaeology and British Archaeology.If they disseminate your conclusions as I believe they must (most of their audience being enquiring, intelligent people), you will start to make some real progress in
making us all reassess "received wisdom" from our forefathers.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


You must feel totally vindicated by the recent geological evidence! Have there been counter claims by the 'human transport theorists'?

I am, as you know, totally convinced of the ice transport of the Stonehenge stones. But how does your glacier transport theory account for the following?

Dr. Ixer states,

“Many of the Stonehenge rocks have not come from impressive outcrops high on the hilltops of Preseli, but in less obvious places, including hollows and deep valleys.”

Doesn't this go counter to your explanation of glacier flow and calving of stones from the land? It's hard to explain how huge stones could have been calved from such hollows, enclosed and protected from glacier flow.

This, of course, is no problem if we consider the agency of 'local ice' formed by bodies of frozen surface water. Clearly, such bodies of frozen water would be found in “hollows and deep valleys” and not at “impressive outcrops high on the hilltops”.

Dr. Ixer also asserts,

“Much of the volcanic and sandstone Stonehenge debris does not match any standing stones. This suggests that the stony detritus in the soil is all that is left of standing stones that have now been lost.”

I take the facts, but question the conclusion. A more sensible explanation is that these debris of chipped stones and pebbles were deposited in the Stonehenge Layer by streams of runoff water. There is ample evidence of alluvial characteristics both with The Avenue as well as with the Layer.

If it is accepted that the part of the Avenue leading to Avon River shows alluvial characteristics, why we question the same evidence with the Layer and Avenue at Stonehenge?

I know! Because Stonehenge sits at the side of a hill and boggles the mind that there could have been a stream source from the side of a hill running in a straight line for some 500 m and then to Avon River.

These enigmas have simple explanation, however, if we consider that present day Stonehenge was a retaining basin formed by ice and the Avenue was the stream of melt water that flowed out from this collecting melt water basin.

This explains all these puzzling facts. Including why there is no evidence of a landscape strewed with various size erratics as would be expected otherwise. All these simply washed away over an ice cover that covered and protected the land. It's also what kept the land young and underdeveloped.

Brian, if the evidence calls on us to meet at Stonehenge, and not somewhere in the middle, will you be there?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- glaciers can entrain boulders or slabs of rock almost anywhere where the basal ice is moving on a rocky bed, or even on a sediment bed. It is not at all surprising that entrainment should occur in low-lying areas or on rising slopes -- these are areas where shearing can occur within a glacier, transporting debris up into the body of the glacier.

As you know, I don't accept any of the ideas you and Robert have about the role of water in the transport and emplacement of the bluestones....