Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Sarsens -- quarried or just collected?

The new report by Field and Pearson seems to come down quite heavily against the idea that the sarsens at Stonehenge were collected from the Marlborough Downs and transported very laboriously all the way to the site of the monument.  They see that hypothesis as unnecessary and redundant.  They suggest that the stones were collected from the vicinity of Stonehenge -- and they make the point that this suggestion has been made many times before, by many Stonehenge investigators over the past 200 years or more.  Further, they suggest that the builders were indecisive, or changed their minds about the stone settings they were trying to build, over and again.  They also seem to accept that the sarsen monument was never finished, or completed in the manner envisaged by Anthony Johnson and the great majority of modern archaeologists who have worked on Stonehenge.  Another attractive idea is that the sarsen monument was intended to be horseshoe-shaped, rather than circular.

Most of that is what I have been saying as loudly as possible -- without any amplification from the archaeology establishment or its journals -- for the last few years.  We get there in the end.....

The really interesting area of debate on the sarsens now centres on the question of whether they were quarried, or excavated out of the ground, or whether they were simply collected up from a surface litter.  Field and Pearson seem to favour the idea that the stones were soft when they were dug up, on the basis that the shaping of the stones (which is extensive) could have been done easily if the stones were fresh, but not very easily if they had been lying around on the surface for many thousands of years.  They cite the fact that there are hollows in the Stonehenge area that might have been "sarsen quarries" -- now very much denuded. 

I don't have any strong ideas on this, since I don't know the landscape or the sarsen geology details, but I do wonder whether large sarsens littering the surface might have had hardened upper faces and relatively soft downward faces -- allowing the shaping and smoothing of one face but not the other.  It has been noted many times that the outer faces of the sarsens (ie the surfaces facing outwards in the stone settings) are rough and untreated, whereas the inner faces (towards the centre of the monument) are often smoothed or shaped in some way.  This is often explained as a cosmetic or aesthetic feature, created for effect by the builders.  But maybe this architectural / design feature was an instinctive response by the builders to the one rough hard face / one smooth soft face phenomenon?

Worth thinking about.......


Tony Hinchliffe said...

Hopefully, Field and Pearson's views will gradually percolate into the thinking of the new generation of archaeologists who then need not feel hide-bound by the Michael Palin-like public schoolboy tales of sturdy hairy lumberjack-types lugging the sarsens via several possible routes from Overton Down or thereabouts 26 miles to Stonehenge. The only question in their minds then was: WHICH route did our hardy heroes take? A new generation of English Heritage archaeologists, including the likes of Jim Leary, who has worked recently closely with Dave Field at Silbury Hill and Marden Henge, are much more likely to "wipe the slate clean" when thinking of the old sarsen - collecting hypothesis.

Others, such as Mike Parker Pearson, may find it harder to shake off the old, old story, if only because they have been taught it as children when visiting Stonehenge, and thus it becomes a charming legend, part of an in-built cerebral mythology similar to that Brian has described (in Chapter 7 of his book) as occurring in North America amongst the Blackfoot people to explain the Foothills Erratic Train's formation.

Although I am fairly well read on Stonehenge, I had never heard of the notion that the stones could indeed have been soft, and therefore much more easily dressed, when they were dug up: I guess this just shows what a good job The Establishment has made of hiding all the possible circumstances before the stones were erected!

The Stonehenge Enigma said...

Let me put you out of your dilemma Brian.

The stone circle is not a circle, its not a horseshoe, its a crescent moon - hence no stones missing!

The moon signifies death and that's what the structure was constructed to be a kind of mortuary - excarnation site to be precise.

The first phase of the site pointed to the North West (Preseli) and was made of Bluestones and the Mid-summer SUNSET and MOONSET!!

The Second Phase (Sarsen Stones) aligned with the mid-winter SUNSET and MOONSET!!

(from 'The Stonehenge Enigma')

Whether, the Sarsen stones came from somewhere or was quarried is so immaterial - they are just cheap foundation blocks to a building, hence the use of mortise and tenon joints and the rough outer surfaces in the structure.

How tall was this structure and why did they put a roof on it - is in my next book 'Dawn of the lost Civilisation' out next year.

Let me know if I can help you further.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah Robert, thank you for your assistance. It's always good to know that those of us who remain in outer darkness can depend upon those who have achieved enlightenment to guide us towards the truth.....

One book after another... and yet more exclamation marks!! I'm sure that the Daily Express's renowned archaeology journalist will keep a good lookout for it.

Anonymous said...

I see he's stuck his head (and hat) above the parapet again.White man speak with forked tongue.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- thanks for the comment -- but I'd rather stay clear of detailed debate on that particular topic..... too much of a distraction, when there are more important things to discuss!

BRIAN JOHN said...

White man very busy -- probably needs to sell some books.....

Tim Daw said...

I have followed up the idea that sarsens may be soft when quarried with the all the sources including Isabel Geddes and the stones revealed by the M40 cutting. I haven't found a source who has actually found one of these soft stones rather than hearing of someone who has.
Among other things I am a farmer on the edge of the Marlborough Downs and have ploughed up virgin sarsens, as have many of my farmer friends. We have never found, to our cost, that they are soft in the ground.
Sometimes they have a closely packed layer of chalky subsoiled compacted around them that flakes off. And of course Sarsen as a term encompasses a wide variety of stone with different coarseness of grains and hardness so some are harder than others.
If anyone has any source material on this idea they could share I would be very grateful.