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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Boles Barrow Bluestone

 The famous bluestone in the garden of Heytesbury House (thanks to Pete G)

On Edward Watson's Hobgoblin blog called "The Ancient Art of Enchanting the Landscape" there is a long analysis of the Boles Barrow bluestone enigma.  The post was put up on 13 April 2011.  It's fair to say that Edward and I do not see eye to eye on many issues relating to Stonehenge, but in the true spirit of enquiry I encourage you to read the article.  Of course, it would be very inconvenient to Edward if the Boles Barrow bluestone really was a piece of spotted dolerite collected from the vicinity and built into the barrow well before the builders of Stonehenge were alive, let alone dreaming up great plans for the iconic monument.  He argues that there were TWO stones (one little, one large) which have, over the years, become confused with one another, and of course he sides with Chris Green et al, who argue that the boulder in Salisbury Museum really came from Stonehenge -- and not from Boles Barrow -- via Cunnington's garden in Haytesbury.

This is a convoluted and interesting story, well told by Edward.  But I am not convinced by his arguments -- based upon the idea that the provenance of the stone is disputed.  He argues that the big bluestone found its way to Heytesbury after being robbed from Stonehenge, more than ten miles to the east;  but there is absolutely no evidence to support that contention, which was examined and rejected by Aubrey Burl.

I'm not sure that we ever will get to the bottom of this one.  It suits me to believe that the Salisbury Museum stone did come from Boles Barrow, and it suits Darvill, Wainwright and many others to think that it was stolen by Cunnington and his friends from Stonehenge.  All good fun.  See my post of 23 March 2011, which contains a detailed discussion with useful info from Tony.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

On your earlier post of 23 March 2011, there was indeed a detailed discussion. What I did not include were some further revelations Mike Pitts made, which shocked him.

He read about further excavations at Boles Barrow, recounted in the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine of 1889 [Pitts,M., "Hengeworld", 2000, which I quote from below, pp 202-04].

They were conducted by the original William Cunnington's 2 grandson archaeologists, brothers William & Henry.

With 4 workmen, the brothers dug down, 'in the face of much difficulty, the barrow consisting....mainly of rubble and large stones'. Before them, in 1864 John Thurnham had been there, and found the skeletons that William Cunnington I & his men had left in the ground. Now, in 1886, when they reached the old soil buried under the mound of chalk & rubble, over 3m from the top of the barrow, they found more skeletons 'which had not previously been disturbed'. Like all those found before, the bones were in a 'condition of utter disorder'.

They also found a stone cist, on oblong burial chamber they say little about, which was 'quite distinct from the general interment of bones'. The poorly preserved bone fragments they found around the cist were unlike the other bones. By any definition, the latter made up an extraordinary collection. They were a mess, There were three skulls standing up on their lower jaw - having been removed from the rest of the body. But it wasn't just the heads that were disarticulated: 'in every instance the bodies must have been dismembered before they were interred'. On analysis, all the bones they could sex turned out to be men, There were a few too young to tell,.......but from the 'several young men under 25 years, to the elderly, when identifiable, the sex was masculine.

Remarkable enough [Pitts continues]. But [he says] it's the apparent WAY in which most, if not all, these men died that is truly shocking, 'The majority of these, there can be no doubt,' wrote William Cunnington III, 'were killed by severe cleavage to the skull'. Of course he could have been mistaken. His evidence could in reality have consisted of natural breaks, bones and skulls crushed beneath those rocks. 'Much of the breakage', he said, 'must have been due to the ponderous stones which were pile upon them.' These wounds were something else. You only need look down at the long list, grim as it is.

'Cleft in orbit of left eye.....Extensive cleavage of left side of skull...........Fragment of left cheek bone, Cleft nearly horizontally.'

Thurnham [in 1864] found this too, in his smaller collection, and illustrated a skull with what looks convincingly like a deep cut wound on, again, the left side of the head. The Cunningtons found something else. Many if the wounds had been gnawed. The 'marks of the teeth correspond in width with the incisor teeth of the common rat'. And one bone, a neck vertebra, had been cut clean in two 'by some sharp instrument' A beheading. It looked as though there had been some sort of massacre, almost as though all the men in the community had been lined up and murdered, and the bodies left to rot, so that carnivores had been at the flesh and scattered the bones by the time anybody was able to bury the remains.

These wounds could only have been inflicted with a metal weapon, perhaps a sword. The weapons could not possibly be older, or indeed as old, as Stonehenge. Maybe the stone cist contained the bodies for whom the mound was originally built, and the others were added centuries later. Perhaps, and it's only a guess, they were Saxon. And they were found, and all the excavation records seem quite clear on this point, beneath the mound of stones inside the barrow, Beneath the stones that included, possibly, the bluestone of the Stonehenge rock. The Boles Barrow bluestone, if it did come from the barrow, may have been put there when Stonehenge was already a ruin.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Gruesome -- and more and more intriguing...... but surely Mike Pitts is not suggesting that those nasty fellows from the Bronze Age carted a big boulder all the way from Stonehenge just in order to throw it into the middle of an ancient and smashed-up long barrow?

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I think Pitts is just sticking to deductive logic based upon examining these Nineteeth Century Century Reports. Personally, it seems quite likely that the Anglo Saxons utilised this prehistoric barrow and shoved their executed enemies in there, as has definitely happened elsewhere. Furthermore, I believe Boles Barrow is on an ancient boundary which the Anglo Saxons also favoured for their executions and burials. I do know (mentioned before) Mike Parker Pearson has said publicly he'd quite like the barrow bones to be analysed to see if any of the incumbents might be linked with West Wales, like the Boscombe Bowmen have been (albeit somewhat controversially) based upon analysis of teeth.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, I feel a new story coming on.......

Once upon a time, a little band of hairy Welshmen were heading eastwards towards the great temple of Stonehenge, bearing with them a nice big chunk of bluestone which they called Uncle Dafydd, and which was intended as a tribute to the mighty chieftain who dwelt upon Salisbury Plain. The night was dark and stormy, so they stopped to sleep amid the trees near Heytesbury. But lo! As they slept they were set upon by a bunch of uncouth fellows, who killed them all with their bronze weapons and hacked them to pieces, and who then robbed them of all their possessions. They lobbed all the body parts, and Uncle Dafydd, into a ruinous old burial place reputed to contain the bones of Grandpa Bole, and covered them all over with rubble and stones, in an attempt to hide the scene of their dastardly crime.......

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Now I am CONVINCED you are in the pay of English Heritage!!! (or is it the Welsh equivalent?)

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'll work for anybody, Tony -- it all depends who pays the most..... I'll even concoct a nice new story for MPP, if he is feeling generous enough.