Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

My conclusions.......

Almost 3 years have elapsed since I was hard at work on the text for The Bluestone Enigma. So what has changed during that time? Not a lot, to be honest, except that more evidence has stacked up in support of what I suggested. I have added some notes below, in red.


These were my conclusions in The Bluestone Enigma, published in 2008:

** The bluestones have come from at least fifteen different localities in West and South Wales, and other areas as yet unidentified. It is inconceivable that a series of Neolithic "stone collecting expeditions" can have collected all these stones, of many shapes and sizes, from so many different (and geologically unrelated) locations.

Having gone through the literature, ancient and modern, I am now quite sure that the foreign material at Stonehenge has come from at least 30 different locations, including Pont Saeson and other locations within the outcrop area of the Fishguard Volcanics in North Pembs.

** There is no evidence for any cultural, political or economic motive which would have driven Early Neolithic man to undertake any “bluestone collecting expeditions” in the far west of Wales.

This is still true.

** No cultural links have ever been established between West Wales and Wessex that might demonstrate any affinity or preferred trading contact between the two areas. Their tombs, stone settings and tools show that Pembrokeshire had strong links with tribes around the Irish Sea and St George’s Channel, but not with tribes in England.

This is still true.

** It has never been demonstrated that the Neolithic tribes had the technical ability or the mental maps which would have enabled them to undertake the proposed stone collection enterprise.

Still no evidence to contradict my statement on this.

** The bluestones were present on or near Salisbury Plain at least a thousand years before the first stone monument was built at Stonehenge.

People still go on about the provenance of the Boles Barrow bluestone, but I see no reason to doubt its authenticity.

** Some of the bluestones at Stonehenge (for example, those made of volcanic ash) are "rubbish stones" which would never have been selected for incorporation into a megalithic monument. They were used simply because they were conveniently located close to the building site.

The new geology on the rhyolite orthostats and debris (by Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins and colleagues) confirms this, although they do not address this issue directly.

** There is no evidence that the "spotted dolerite" so beloved of archaeologists was ever viewed as sacred or magical. It was never used preferentially, either in Wales or Wiltshire, in megalithic structures.

I have confirmed this by further research in the literature -- the spotted dolerite was NOT a special stone.

** It follows that if spotted dolerite was not viewed as a healing or magical rock, the idea of healing springs associated with spotted dolerite outcrops is equally fanciful.

I still think this -- although certain senior professors keep on claiming (on the basis of NO hard evidence) that there were assumed healing properties.

** The idea that the bluestones at Stonehenge were carried to the site as “petrified embodiments” of the ancestors of Neolithic people is also fanciful, and smacks of attempting to justify an unproven assumption.

This might be a fine theory in Madagascar, but there is nothing to support it in the UK.

** Studies of axe-heads made of spotted dolerite and found in England suggest that they were actually made from the same group of stones that were built into the monument. In other words, Stonehenge was probably at one time the site of an axe-head factory.

This idea might need some revising, when we know more about the distribution of rock types through the Stonehenge layer and in other detritus.

** None of the stone settings at Stonehenge was ever finished. Whatever might have been the grand designs of the "architects", the builders never had enough stones to finish the job.

Nobody has come up with any evidence to contradict this. And my YouTube Video called "Stonehenge Unhinged" is thus far unchallenged except by those who are outraged by the very thought of such sacrilege!

** The ice of the great Irish Sea Glacier came in from the west and reached at least as far east as Bath, the Mendip Hills and Glastonbury. It is still uncertain whether the ice covered Salisbury Plain.

These statements still stand -- but I am tending towards the idea that the ice edge may have been somewhere near the chalk scarp.

** An "erratic train" of stones of all shapes and sizes was left in the landscape to the west of Stonehenge. It was an easy matter for the Stonehenge builders to follow this trail westwards, and to collect up one stone after another, until they were all gone.

This idea, which I developed in the EARTH article with Lionel Jackson, is still a good working hypothesis.

** It follows that the Neolithic builders of Stonehenge had no idea where the stones had come from. They had no need to know. They may have revered them because they were “different” from the sarsens, but not because of any association with a “sacred place.”

This is still perfectly reasonable, and I still believe this.

** The larger erratics were used as monoliths in stone settings while smaller stones were used as packing stones, mauls and hammers, and for the manufacture of hand axes. The evidence of glaciation on Salisbury Plain is not missing or destroyed; it has simply been moved from one place to another through a stupendous human effort.

Nobody has seriously disputed this.

** This is all entirely consistent with what we know of Neolithic monuments, whose locations were always determined by the availability of nearby raw materials. So far from Stonehenge being “the grand exception to the rule”, it conformed to the rule in all important respects.

This still stands, and is backed up in the literature.


And from the point of view of the glaciology and geomorphology, recent literature has confirmed that in the earlier glacial episodes (if not in the Devensian) the Irish Sea Glacier (or ice stream) behaved more or less as described, sweeping across Pembrokeshire and the Presely Hills, moving eastwards up the Bristol Channel, and pushing inland into Somerset and Avon. Nobody -- not even James Scourse or David Bowen) has suggested otherwise. This MUST have happened if we are to explain the existence of glacial deposits in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. The BRITICE models support the idea of a very extensive glaciation at this time, including small ice caps over the uplands of SW England. And my investigations of isostatic / eustatic interactions lead inexorably to the conclusion that the giant erratics of the Channel coasts can only be explained by a BIG glaciation which included isostatic depression of the crust in Southern England......

The more we know about the sources of the rhyolites and dolerites which have ended up at Stonehenge, the more confirmation there is for the entrainment of glacial erratics by ice moving upslope on the northern flank of Presely, in a "contact zone" between Welsh ice and Irish Sea ice. The band was a remarkably narrow one -- and explains the petrology of the Stonehenge bluestone orthostats quite neatly. Nobody has thus far come up with anything from glaciology to contradict my conclusions on bluestone entrainment, transport and deposition. It all fits.



I think it may well now be time for you to produce the SECOND Edition of "The Bluestone Enigma", 3 years after the First. Ever so slowly, you may gradually win over even the most ardent, non-Scientific adherent to the Old Religion. "The Times They Are a Changing" indeed. That Ph.D was well worth doing, and following up, all these years later.Good on you, Brian.

Robert Langdon said...

** There is no evidence that the "spotted dolerite" so beloved of archaeologists was ever viewed as sacred or magical. It was never used preferentially, either in Wales or Wiltshire, in megalithic structures.
I have confirmed this by further research in the literature -- the spotted dolerite was NOT a special stone.
** It follows that if spotted dolerite was not viewed as a healing or magical rock, the idea of healing springs associated with spotted dolerite outcrops is equally fanciful.
I still think this -- although certain senior professors keep on claiming (on the basis of NO hard evidence) that there were assumed healing properties.

Brian you seemed to have missed (like most!) the bluestone connection with Stonehenge - I have tried to 'educate' your readers with the reason bluestones are regarded with such reverence but you have 'censored' my previous posts on this subject - hopefully you will allow this post.

The selection and locality of the type of bluestone is immaterial although it seems bordering on obsession with your geologists!

Bluestones only work with water!! as this poem by Layamon inspired from accounts of the 12th century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in 1215:

The Stones are great
And magic power they have
Men that are sick
Fare to that stone
and WASH that stone
And with that water bathe away their sickness

So it really does not matter what kind of bluestones they are or where they came from, the link is water, which surrounded the site in the stonehenge moat - think about that when you next add rock salts to your bath.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert, stones of all types and from many different locations, were deemed to have magical or healing properties in the Middle Ages -- and indeed up to recent times. I have collected many folk-tales involving healing stones, some of which were ground up into powders and consumed by sick people, no doubt with lethal consequences. Where there are gullible and desperate people, there will also be charlatans intent on making a quick buck.

Geoffrey of Monmouth of course trotted out this sort of stuff about the Stonehenge stones -- but he did not differentiate between the bluestones and the sarsens. I imagine that almost every "strange" stone in the country will have had a similar mythology attached to it at some time or other. Well-travelled and educated men will have known about mineral springs, mineral salts, warm springs (as in Bath) and it is natural that they might have assumed that the "healing properties" came from the stones surrounding the springs. This is of course the belief system that our friends Darvill and Wainwright have homed in on.......

Robert Langdon said...

Interesting reply although you avoided the point of my comment.

"There is no evidence that the "spotted dolerite" so beloved of archaeologists was ever viewed as sacred or magical."

The poem (about Bluestones not Saracens as you suggest) proves this conclusion FALSE!

If you are suggesting that 'folklore' can never be accepted as evidence, then where can you get this 'evidence' from?

Are you looking to find a long lost stone tablet under one of the Saracen stones dated at 3000BC with some form as hieroglyphs saying "bluestone from Wales mighty good for constipation?"

The fact they are called bluestones (bit of a give away dont you think?)is because of their colour when wet - one should then conclude that these rocks are familiar from being wet through their accepted use! As, unlike some geologists, not everyone stands around in the rain watching colour changes in rocks to decide what to call it.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Geoffrey did not, as far as I recall, distinguish between the big stones and the little ones. He certainly had no knowledge of the bluestones being different from the sarsens -- he probably never even visited Stonehenge.

Where are we going on this? All I am saying is that there is a frequent mythology about stones having healing properties, and that spotted dolerites are no different from any other stones in this respect.

Oswald said...

Does it matter? The geologists can identify a thousand different sites for the provenance of blusetones in all their varieties, but it fails to answer the fundamental issue here. What does matter is that, outside of Wales, these bluestones are not found in any other megalithic monument except Stonehenge. (Excluding the dodgy find at Boles Barrow)
We don't find them at the nearby sites of Avebury and we don't find them at Stanton Drew which seems very odd if the glacier had come in from the direction of Somerset as you suggest.
Odd also that bluestones have never been found in the Somerset levels where you would expect to find evidence of the glacial deposits if this is where the builders of Stonehenge collected their materials.
Surely the crux of the debate is NOT the mode of transport and however the bluestones got there, but why are they not found at any other stone circles in south west England?


Perhaps we should ask those archaeologists who firmly maintain their beliefs in the healing and mystical properties of spotted dolerite produce a new version (with new lyrics) of Don McLean's classic song "Vincent". This is more readily recalled as "Starry, Starry Night", and is a tribute to Vincent Van Gough's painting.


Robert, bluestones turn wet in the precipitation of the United Kingdom, i.e. rain. They do not require immersing in pools of water or your Stonehenge 'moat' for this colour to become apparent.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oswald -- regarding the apparent lack of bluestones in other megalithic monuments, why would you expect that? It is illogical to assume that bluestones should (if they were carried by ice) be scattered across the landscape and available for incorporation into lots of megalithic monuments. That's not how glaciers work, and that's not how glacial deposits are distributed. In any case, the builders of the megaliths, as I have argued many times, simply used whatever was most conveniently available to them. They used LOCAL stones -- of any type -- and if they could not find any local stones they either obtained them from as near at hand as possible, or simply didn't bother to build a megalithic structure.

OK -- that's a simple utilitarian take on things -- and it might offend those who are more romantically inclined -- but I think it fits the reality on the ground.

By the way, please see some of my earlier posts on Stanton Drew etc. the search facility works quite well -- I hope.

Oswald said...

Exactly my point Mr John, there are megalithic sites much nearer to the Somerset levels than Stonehenge. Therefore from your argument it is logical to expect these sites to contain bluestones.
But they don't, which seems very odd to me.
Why would only the constructors of Stonehenge collect these bluestones and not more local people for their own monuments?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oswald -- with all due respect, you make the mistake of assuming that erratics are always left in long trails or trains, or in fans spreading out from the place of origin. Not so. Erratic entrainment, transport and emplacement are very erratic matters! The location of "erratic dumping grounds" depends on a whole range of different factors hinging on glacier dynamics and the history of a particular glacial phase. I have tried to explain that in the book and on this blog.

Oswald said...

Yes, and you repeatedly assert that the bluestones would have been deposited in the Somerset levels, which, during the Neolithic period was waterlogged bog.
How on earth anyone would retrieve a considerable tonnage of stone from there with mere log boats is beyond me.
However, this is a fundamental flaw to your Irish sea glacier modelling = why are there no bluestones in Somerset?
Answer that and you'll win another supporter.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oswald -- why you should think it was easier for tribesment to transport 80 or so bluestones from the Preseli Hills to Stonehenge, rather than from Somerset to Stonehenge, is beyond me. Do you think that would have been EASIER? Have you looked at the terrain between Mynachlogddu and the sea?!!

Who says there are no bluestones in Somerset? We don't know that. They might be there, and they might not, under all that blasted peat!

robert langdon said...

Gentlemen let me correct some of your false assumptions.

Stonehenge was a place of healing and NOT a traditional stone circle (the Saracens stones remaining are a Stone monument to the Moon - a symbol of healing and death in most prehistoric cultures) hence the reason Bluestones at this site which are not seen in other 'real' stone circles.

The water connection is linked with the River Avon which was much larger and higher during the Mesolithic period. Once the waters subsided in the Neolithic the Bluestones were moved to 'Bluehenge' next to the current river level for the same healing purpose.

Stone circles (with or without rogue bluestones) had a very different purpose. They were sign posts to other sites in the locality (similar to the bronze landscape plaques we find on top of viewpoints today)- this has been identified by our authors beside myself.

So getting back to your point Brian, where does this get us?

It gets us to the conclusion that where the Bluestones come from or what variety is immaterial. What matters is why they were used for this site – and we know now that it was for healing and therefore they must have some kind of, what you call, ‘mystical quality or belief!”

Now, if you want to look at the crystaline structure and chemical compounds these stone contain that could allow healing - that would be progressive interest in the types of Bluestone used and a positive contribution geologists/chemists could make to the debate.


Oswald said...

Mr John, I don't claim that it was easier to move the bluestones from South Wales; as a local boy you keep going on about the terrain in Pembrokeshire. Having visited the area many times and walked the gentle hills I do not see it as rough as you make out. Snowdonia is much more extreme for example.
As an engineer I merely point out to you the difficulty in retrieving stones of some 4 tons from a peat bog from a log boat.
Afterall it's your theory.
However, no evidence has ever been found of any heavy lifting gear from the Neolithic.

Why do you say 80 bluestones when you propose that the monument was never finished therefore that figure seems extremely unlikely.

There have been no bluestones found in Somerset - period. After the levels were drained, extensive farming has failed to turnover just one. Unless of course the builders of Stonehenge found exactly the right amount submerged in the Somerset peat bogs and used them all in their construction on Salisbury Plain.
Seems unlikely that one or two didn't get away and get used in a local construction, stone circle or barrow, but no not one.
They are not even found in modern era houses.
Your blog, you'll always have the last word. Best wishes Ossy.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert, your confidence and certainty about healing does you credit! If only there was some evidence to support you.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oswald -- it's not the gentle rolling terrain of Preseli that's the problem. It's the deep wooded valleys, boggy areas, shoals and rapids, and Neolithic jungle between there and the sea that causes me a certain difficulty.

I said 80 stones because that's presumably what YOU want to believe. I have always said that there is evidence for about 43 bluestones at Stonehenge.

I agree that it would be wonderful to find some bluestones from Preseli in Somerset! I live in faith that they might be found -- but even if they are not, that does not invalidate the other evidence for glacial transport. There are glacial deposits in Somerset, and they were deposited by ice coming in from the west.


Brian, you say in your 2008 "Enigma" conclusions (which you have attached in summary for us) that "the ice.....reached at least as far east as Bath, the Mendip Hills & Glastonbury. It is still uncertain whether the ice covered Salisbury Plain." And you now add that you are tending towards the idea that the ice edge extended towards the [Salisbury Plain] chalk scarp.
So am I correct in deducing that you think the erratic train may have occurred somewhere near the edge of the Salisbury Plain chalk scarp? I seem to recall you have also considered at one time that Glastonbury Tor may have been the site of some glacial detritus also.Is it feasible that no erratics were deposited in a train as far west as the Somerset Levels?

BRIAN JOHN said...

All we know at the moment is that there is glacial material at the sites mentioned in the book on pp 118-122. Greylake, Bathampton Down, Kenn and other sites have old glacial deposits -- and simply from looking at the topography one would expect the ice to have extended at least as far east as Street. Where was that ice limit? At the moment we can only guess -- but erratic distribution will be only a part of the answer.