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....
To order, click

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Soils of the Stonehenge Area -- no trace of Noah's Flood

 This is from the excellent Wessex Archaeology volume 2008 -- lots of interesting detail, but no trace of a flood either in the Mesolithic or Neolithic.....

Archaeology on the A303 Stonehenge Improvement
By Matt Leivers and Chris Moore
With contributions from
Michael J. Allen, Catherine Barnett, Philippa Bradley, Nicholas Cooke,
John Crowther, Michael Grant, Jessica M. Grimm, Phil Harding,
Richard I. Macphail, Jacqueline I. McKinley, David Norcott, Sylvia Peglar,
Chris J. Stevens, and Sarah F. Wyles
and illustrations by
Rob Goller, S. E. James and Elaine Wakefield

Wessex Archaeology 2008
This volume is available from Wessex Archaeology

Appendix 1: Soil

Richard I. Macphail and John Crowther
(Editorial note: this report was prepared before the analysis of the lithics from the site had been
completed. Interpretative differences between this report and the main text are due to the finer
dating that resulted from the lithic analysis)

Soil micromorphology, chemistry, particle size and magnetic susceptibility

Six thin sections and four bulk samples were analysed from two sites near Stonehenge. Remarkably,
the investigated soil sequences record rare examples of a prehistoric decalcified soil cover, in a now
generally rendzina-dominated landscape which reportedly has been extant since the Neolithic. At
Site 54379 in the valley of the Avon, Early Neolithic phosphate-enriched animal trampled soils
developed over river alluvium. Ensuing probable local cultivation (alongside likely continuing stock
management) led to colluviation, and evidence of in situ ard-cultivation in the accreting soils is
recorded. At site 48067, a bisequal soil profile had formed in reddish clay (of weathered chalk
origin) and silt (loess), by the early Holocene. This soil was buried by a prehistoric humic
colluvium of probable arable origin. These two soils give rare insights into an environment that is
generally believed to have been an open pastoral rendzina landscape by the Neolithic, and where
any cultivation impact has not been evident. These are also unique examples of in situ animal
herding and cultivation, and demonstrate how any remaining post-glacial decalcified brown soils
could have been eroded under human impact from Neolithic times onwards.

Three soil monoliths from the A303 Stonehenge Improvement, Wiltshire were received from
Wessex Archaeology. Monoliths 30 and 31 came from a 0.46 m thick soil sequence containing a
Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic flint scatter at Site 54379 (NW of Amesbury), which overlies
alluvium and is sealed by some 0.70 m of later soil/colluvium. Monolith 15000 at Site 48067 (300
m south of Stonehenge)sampled the soil in a solution hollow in chalk, and up through the palaeosol
into stony colluvium(?). This soil, which contains less well dated prehistoric flints, occurs below
some 0.35 m of later soil/colluvium and topsoil.


There are models of land-use for the topographic variations present in the chalklands of southern
England (Barker 1985, fig 74; Whittle 1997), and a variety of soil types have been investigated
from Neolithic and Beaker sites, which include valley silty gleys (Silbury Hill), rendzinas, and
calcareous brown earths, and occupation sites (Belle Tout, Easton Down, Maiden Castle, Windmill
Hill; eg, Evans 1972; Macphail and Linderholm 2004; Cranborne Chase and Durrington Walls;
French and Lewis 2005; French et al. 2007; French pers. comm. 2008). At the two A303
Stonehenge sites, there are unusual examples of non-calcareous soil accumulations in a landscape
that is generally rendzina-dominated (Icknield soil association; Jarvis et al. 1983), and one that is
thought to have produced very little colluvium (Allen 1992), presumably because it only had a thin
decalcified drift cover. The rendzinas of the region have a silt content that is believed to have a
loessic origin (Catt 1978). This is also an area where a stable, rendzina-dominated pastoral
landscape was often formed by the Neolithic, as based upon numerous soil studies in the area (see
above; French pers. comm.). These two A303 prehistoric locations, including the Late
Mesolithic/Early Neolithic site, thus provide some unique insights into the use, and impact upon,
decalcified brown soils prior to the almost universal development of shallow calcareous rendzinas
and brown calcareous soils. Moreover, these two decalcified brown soils have effectively recorded
ancient land use.

Catt (1978; 1979; 1986) has suggested that much of the loess cover of southern England had
been eroded into valleys by the early Holocene, and clearly Neolithic Silbury Hill buries a valley
gley formed in loessic silt (review of Ian Cornwall’s thin section in Macphail 1986, and
unpublished report to Cardiff University). South of Stonehenge, Site 48067 records both the
presence and character of the bisequel (clayey ß/Bt and silty Eb&Bw) late glacial/early Holocene
argillic brown earth, with the overlying prehistoric humic hillwash apparently recording the erosion
of this decalcified soil cover. Traces of such loessic brown soils occur as decalcified turf fragments
in ditch fills at Neolithic Millbarrow, Wiltshire (Macphail 1994), while Neolithic clearance and
cultivation(?)-induced erosion of loess was reported at Pegwell Bay, Kent. Unfortunately, the
assumed cultivation and associated hillwash at site 48067 can only be broadly dated to prehistory
(Barnett and Norcott, pers. comm.).
At site 54379, however, soil accumulation which can be dated from the flint scatter to the
Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic seems to be associated with a primary land-use of stock
management and their passage effects at this location, presumably associated with grazing and
drinking along the valley of the Avon. This is both consistent with models of Neolithic valley land
use on chalklands (Barker 1985, fig. 74; Whittle 1997) and on floodplains in general (cf. Neolithic
Raunds, Northamptonshire; Macphail and Linderholm 2004). Ensuing local (upslope) cultivation is
presumed to have triggered additional colluviation that deposited flints, and which produced a
colluvial soil that was ard-ploughed in situ. The 302, 303, and 304 sequence thus records: stock
concentrations (304), presumed cultivation-induced colluviation (303) and in situ cultivation of this
accreting colluvium (302), with the likely continuing presence of stock throughout (303 and 302). It
has been suggested that after clearance of the Mesolithic woodland, soils of this chalkland region
were primarily stable rendzinas used for pastoralism (French and Lewis 2005), and there are plenty
of other buried soil records to support this view (Evans 1972; Macphail 1987; Macphail and
Linderholm 2004). Nevertheless, some Neolithic cultivation of ‘upland’ chalk soils was inferred at
Easton Down, Wiltshire (Macphail 1993), and here near Amesbury, there are clear indications that
cultivation was taking place in the Early Neolithic which was causing active erosion of a locally
present decalcified brown soil cover in the Avon valley.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

I note French is quoted as a source for some investigations & a personal comment (below 'OVERVIEW'). This is, no doubt, Charley French, who works on the MPP-led Stonehenge Riverside Project and who is based at a Cambridge University environmental establishment, whom I have remarked on previously as having investigated the vicinity of The Stonehenge Avenue on an environmental/ geomorphological basis.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I did a series of posts on the periglacial stripes last year. I think Charlie was involved in the interpretation of the "stripes" at Bluestonehenge -- which I am still a bit mystified by....

Constantinos Ragazas said...


Quoting from the article in your post:

“Remarkably, the investigated soil sequences record rare examples of a prehistoric decalcified soil cover, in a now generally rendzina-dominated landscape which reportedly has been extant since the Neolithic.”

Interestingly, I have the exact same quote in my paper, “The un-Henging of Stonehenge”.

Some thoughts on this …

1)The pollen evidence for me is inconclusive of an extensive forestation of Salisbury Plain.
2)The soil evidence does seem to suggest early soil development.

Question: What can cause a decalcified soil cover?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Soil science is not my field, but I assume that the decalcified soils are based largely on loess or windblown sediment which is later leached and affected by animal husbandry. Early soil development? Well, as long as the climate isn't glacial or periglacial, and as long as there is vegetation around, soils will develop -- even though they may not be very thick or well developed.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian, you write

“ as long as the climate isn't glacial or periglacial, and as long as there is vegetation around, soils will develop”.

Right! My 'ice cover theory' agrees with your assessment. Such glacial or periglacial conditions I claim existed at Salisbury Plain around the Mesolithic. And that is why the soil at Salisbury Plain is at an 'early stage of development'.

Concerning decalcification of soil, I found this article that may have some baring on explaining the process of decalcified soil surprisingly found at Stonehenge.

Below is a summary of the scientific results in the article:

Summary. Intense decalcification of fine-grained organic-rich soils subject to periodic oxidation and reduction takes place in the Biesbosch, a freshwater, tidally influenced wetland area in the Rhine–Meuse delta in The Netherlands. Soil chemical (sulphide concentration and pore-water characteristics) and hydrological variables (drainage) were measured in three representative Fluvisols differing in hydrology to identify processes inducing calcium carbonate dissolution. Both oxidation of previously formed iron sulphides during periods of low ground water and infrequent inundation, and increased carbon dioxide pressure in the soil during periods of waterlogging combined with drainage of pore-water solutes, contribute significantly to decalcification of the hydric soils. The effects of these individual processes on decalcification are in the same order of magnitude in the studied soils. Depending on site-specific hydrological conditions, approximately 0.1–0.3% calcium carbonate may be dissolved per year by a combination of these two processes, which is comparable to actual decalcification rates at these sites. Estimates of long-term decalcification rates, based on knowledge of the hydrogeochemistry, may be used to assess the risks accompanying the conversion of agricultural soils into wetlands.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas, this is not evidence of glacial or severe permafrost conditions on Salisbury Plain during the main part of the Mesolithic. You may choose to disbelieve the pollen evidence, but it points to a birch - pine (ie a cool climate) vegetation at the time of the Younger Dryas, and at about 9800 BP there began a rapid climate amelioration, which continued through the Pre-Boreal period into the Boreal period.

As I have said before, there was probably seasonally frozen ground in Southern England during the Younger Dryas -- but that does not mean there was no woodland on Salisbury Plain. In many parts of the world, forest is underlain by permafrost today.

When did the Mesolithic start in this area? Some authorities say that the Palaeolithic - Mesolithic transition occurred around 12,000 - 11,000 years ago. So Mesolithic sites were probably occupied at the time of the Younger Dryas "cold snap." There would have been very few people around at the time. There is no evidence for your sheet of ice either during the Younger Dryas or afterwards.

The soils in the Rhine - Meuse delta region are very different from those on Salisbury Plain -- I don't think they tell us anything of use.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


What this study shows is that rapid rates of decalcification can occur through “hydrological conditions” acting on the soil. This agrees with the conditions I claim in my 'ice cover theory'.

My theory can explain the existence of the “remarkable rare examples of a prehistoric decalcified soil cover” at Salisbury Plain. What is your explanation? “loess or windblown sediment”?

Quoting directly from the link you included in an earlier post on pollen studies:

Summary (by Sylvia Peglar )______________________
Ten samples from two non-feature sequences identified in evaluation trenches placed along a proposed change to the A303 near Stonehenge were assessed for their potential for pollen analysis.

Pollen was found to be at very low concentrations and poorly preserved in all samples. Full analysis was not feasible, but ‘extended assessments’ were made on four samples from sample 15000 and one from samples 30/31.

Herb pollen accounts forc. 65% total land pollen and spores, but withc. 15% tree and shrub
pollen, and 20% Pteridophytes (ferns and fern allies). The pollen assemblages are dominated by
grasses (Poaceae undifferentiated), dandelion-type (Taraxacum-type), and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), together with other herbs characteristic of chalk grassland – evidence of the land having been cleared. However, some woodland, particularly of oak (Quercus) and hazel (Corylus
avellana), was still extant in the area. There is evidence of probable cereal cultivation and open, disturbed ground/footpaths nearby.

The pollen assemblages show that the sediments from both sequences were laid down post the ‘elm decline’ (ie, afterc. 5000 BP) and post the ‘lime decline’, possibly dated toc. 3600 BP nearby, suggesting a Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date for the buried soils.

Brian, can we agree that the pollen count studies of Salsibury Plain are inconclusive as to the existence of an extensive wooded cover of Salsibury Plain? Even the date period in these studies does not extend beyond the “Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age”.

What this leaves us with is that we don't have any pollen evidence either proving or disproving there was an extensive 'wooded cover' of Salisbury Plain during the Mesolithic or Paleolithic.

But an 'ice cover' can explain so many facts on the geomorphology of the land that becomes compelling to accept. Are you “still a bit mystified by....” the “stripes” at Bluestonehenge”? I am not!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas, you are being a bit disingenuous here. No, I do not agree that the pollen studies are inconclusive as to a tree cover on Salisbury plain. if you just read on in Sylvia Peglar;s account, you will find these words in the Conclusion:

"The two sequences from A303 Stonehenge both appear to date from after theTilia decline, and
show that widespread woodland clearance had already taken place in the vicinity, although some
trees and shrubs, either as scattered trees or copses locally, or woodland further away (with oak and hazel particularly), were still extant in the area. The vegetation on both sites seems to have been
chalk grassland with a wide variety of herbs growing in the sward. Arable fields and waste
ground/footpaths were probably close by. The pollen assemblages suggest that the two sequences
may be of Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age date."

She is in no doubt that there was extensive woodland before the clearances, and that is supported by many other studies -- mostly of land mollusca (since good pollen records are rare on chalklands.)

The Mesolithic / Neolithic environmental story on Salisbury Plain is consistent with the evidence from elsewhere in Southern England.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


A “widespead woodland clearance” is no proof of “widespead woodland”. It simply states that there were no “woodlands” found in the pollen studies and further makes the assumption that this is due to “woodland clearance”!

Where is the evidence? Not in the pollen studies! But if some other solid scientific evidence shows conclusively the existence of woodland during the Mesolithic/Paleolithic at Salisbury Plain (which Sylvia's study does not cover), I am open to consider these.

As for the “mollusca” evidence for an extensive woodland cover, I am skeptical. There are also mollusca in wetlands.


BRIAN JOHN said...

You believe what you want to believe, Kostas. I prefer to go on the evidence over a wide area -- and you seem intent in reading what you want to read in conjunction with one very small study. There are not many pollen sites on the chalk downs, because chalky soils are not very friendly for pollen. But there are literally hundreds of sites across southern Britain where the story of woodland expansion is revealed through pollen sequences in peat bogs etc -- there are 33 Holocene pollen analysis sites in Wales alone. See the QRA Field Guide to West Wales, 2001. The story is perfectly consistent -- tundra and birch scrub and juniper initially, then pine and evolution of a mixed deciduous woodland by 9000 BP. This woodland -- probably with more southern species -- extended right across Southern England. No sheets of ice to be seen anywhere.....

Please do some serious reading on this, Kostas. The literature is abundant. I know you have your precious hypothesis to defend, but you just cannot dismiss a mountain of evidence accumulated over many decades of palynology.

Bob said...

"Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic flint scatter at Site 54379 (NW of Amesbury), which overlies
alluvium and is sealed by some 0.70 m of later soil/colluvium."

Like you Brian I'm no soil scientist (far too geeky for me!) but I know what Alluvium is - water residual!

And as your conversation with Kosta is showing whatever you find can be questioned, unlike the carbon dated boat mooring we have found in the Car park with Bluestones in the back fill dated at 7500BC - a touch more substantial than these soil samples.


Constantinos Ragazas said...


I thought we were discussing Salisbury Plain! Not the entire region of West Wales and across southern Britain. Were there wooded areas at other places in the UK at some distant past? Of course there were! But the evidence I don't believe demonstrate that Salisbury Plain specifically was covered by dense forest.

If the soil of Salisbury Plain was able to grow such tree forests, which were later cleared by men, why is the soil of Salisbury Plain now at “early stages of development” as the scientific evidence demonstrates? My explanation is that the ice cover and subsequent permafrost conditions prevented or retarded soil development. What is your explanation?

The only hypothesis I make in my 'ice cover theory' is an ice cover of Salisbury Plain during the time when Stonehenge was built. From some of your previous posted charts of global temperatures, I surmise that was around the Mesolithic/Paleolithic period, say about 9000BC. The exact period is not too consequential to my theory.

Such ice sheet could have formed when there was a rapid melting of glacier ice followed by a rapid freezing that lasted some 1000 years. The rapid melting could have collected in Lake Salisbury, while the subsequent freezing resulted in the ice sheet cover of Salisbury Plain.

This theory is consistent with all the evidence I am aware of. This theory also provides sensible explanations to all the facts of Stonehenge without employing extraordinary powers – whether supernatural of human.

I am a zealot for Truth! Hypotheses come and go … If they are not faithful to Reason, I divorce them! Show me the photos, Brian!


Anonymous said...

SHOW US these bluestones associated with the wood in the car park-why are they not just road chippings!!!!!!!!!!
Proof of identity is needed. Prove them to be what you say they are or we shall have to assume they are misidentified.
GCU In two minds

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert, what's the big deal about alluvium and colluvium? The first is water-transported and the latter isn't -- but in any landscape you would expect to find both in abundance, depending on the precise geographical settings. If you are arguing that any alluvium on Salisbury Plain is evidence of some great inundation, then that would be plain crazy......

And as for: "the carbon dated boat mooring we have found in the Car park with Bluestones in the back fill dated at 7500BC." Your conviction is touching. Show us the colour of your evidence.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- I'm getting weary of all of this! As I keep on telling you, your great sheet of ice over Salisbury Plain around 11,000 years ago does not have ANY evidence to support it, and the evidence for around that time (Younger Dryas) shows patchy permafrost, tundra and "high arctic" scrub vegetation followed later by a rapid amelioration of climate and a spread of woodland. As I also keep on telling you, frozen lakes do not expand upwards -- they expand downwards until ice reaches the bed.

Some soils on Salisbury Plain are immature, bu elsewhere there is clearly very ancient soil, incorporating clay-with-flints and patches of pre-glacial material.

If you are a zealot for the truth, please stop cherry-picking your evidence...

Constantinos Ragazas said...


My debate with you reminds me of your debate with the 'human transport' theorists!

A point of intellectual integrity, however, since you raised this …

I may not know all the evidence, but I do seriously consider all the evidence I know! More evidence is the reason I am drawn to your blog – besides your 'charismatic personality'!

Point at hand: The quote I used, “Remarkably, the investigated soil sequences record rare examples of a prehistoric decalcified soil cover, in a now generally rendzina-dominated landscape which reportedly has been extant since the Neolithic.” comes directly from the article you linked in your post!

A “rendzina-dominated landscape” is scientific evidence of a 'dominant' soil in “early stages of development”. Your “ancient soil, incorporating clay-with-flints and patches of pre-glacial material” is not in itself “well developed soil” that can support dense tree forests. You may challenge the explanation I offer for this with your own explanation, but you cannot challenge this scientific fact!

O.K. Enough!


BRIAN JOHN said...

We are not going anywhere with this, Kostas. Time to move on.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

"The carbon dated boat mooring WE have found in the car park with Bluestones in the back fill dated as 7500 BC.." as quoted by "Stonehenge Enigma" above ( I capitalised the 'WE' to emphasise how legends begin - IF WE LET THEM).

To my knowledge, no bluestone has ever been reported in the backfill. At Bluestonehenge, near the Avon at the start of The Avenue, it was at first suspected that bluestone chips had been found, but this was subsequently dis-proved after geological analysis by Rob Ixer et al. Let us stick to the FACTS.

Anonymous said...


The water is wide
I cannot cross over
And neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two (or more)
And both shall row......

Again I would wander
Where false memories [fantastically] enfold me
There to the beautiful island of dreams
Far, far way to the island of dreams.

[With apologies to Dusty Springfield et al]