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Sunday, 2 October 2011

The bluestone boulder -- or two? Or ten?

 Photo:  thanks to Pete G.  Is this really the one?  And does it really weigh more than 1,000 lb?

Further to our recent discussion about the Boles Barrow bluestone, its provenance and its dimensions,  I have various older posts on this.  Just type in "Boles Barrow" into the search box.  One entry is here: post

There is an interesting discussion on our friend Hobgoblin's blog.  This is the final piece of his text:

From Hobgoblin's blog:

One Stone or Two?

It's all very confusing. Of course the bluestone taken to the museum from the garden of Heytesbury House need not be the Boles Barrow bluestone; as a collector of finds from his barrow diggings, Cunnington very likely had many other artefacts at his residence. However, from the information we have available is it possible to say which stone is which, or indeed was found in the garden of Heytesbury House by Ben Cunnington in 1923?

Cunnington first recorded that he removed ten stones from Boles Barrow that he described as the same as the sarsens, the 'upright large stones'. He then added a note to one of his letters that he had found a bluestone amongst them. Cunnington was an able geologist for his day and should have been quite capable of identifying between sarsen and bluestone.Yet this does not satisfy the question why only one stone from the ten found in Boles Barrow, local or exotic, was taken from Cunnington's garden to Heytesbury House and the question of where are the remainder.

Furthermore, this still does not explain the huge difference in weights, more than 1,000lbs, between the Boles Barrow stones (28 – 200lbs) and the specimen in the Salisbury Museum (1,338lbs). Taken solely on the evidence of the weights of the stones we can conclude with a reasonable degree of confidence that the bluestone on display in Salisbury Museum cannot therefore be the stone from Boles Barrow.
And yet the bluestone from the garden of Heytesbury House known to the occupiers as the “Stonehenge stone” sounds suspiciously as exactly that – a stone removed from the stone circle on Salisbury Plain. In a letter of 1933, R S Newall, assistant to  William Hawley in his excavations of Stonehenge between 1919-1926 and discoverer of the Aubrey Holes, stated he found a large piece of spotted dolerite in a cottage garden near Lake House. Newall described it as a rough cube of about 18 inches each way, which might have been broken off the top of a worked monolith of the bluestone horseshoe. The owner of Lake House, near Wilsford, south of Stonehenge, donated the bluestone to the Salisbury Museum. [25]

Are there two bluestones in Salisbury Museum; one from the garden of Heytesbury House and the other from Lake House, both sounding suspiciously like a stone robbed from Stonehenge? There is only one on display claiming to be the Boles Barrow Bluestone. Is there another hidden in the vaults? Although Newall does not specify when the Lake House bluestone was taken to the Museum it must have been before he wrote in 1933. Therefore, it cannot be the same stone as the bluestone from Heytesbury Garden donated to the Museum in 1934.

The so-called Boles Barrow Bluestone in Salisbury Museum is the only foreign rock from south west Wales found in Wiltshire not at Stonehenge that can be considered more than a fragment. Yet the archaeological context of the specimen in the Salisbury Museum is uncertain and cannot be considered secure evidence in any argument.

The Boles Barrow Bluestone remains elusive.


Tony H said...

Perhaps Gordon Sumner (b 1951), C.B.E., knows something about R.S. Newall'c claim to have found a stone in a cottage garden near Lake House before 1934.
Gordon lives at Lake House some of the time with his wife Trudie. Better known as Sting, the singer/ songwriter is known to be interested in archaeology, so much so he had an Iron Age excavation take place in his own grounds, which was later written up in a volume of the Wiltshire Archaeological Society. Perhaps we should send him a "Message In A Bottle" and ask him what he knows?

Tony H said...

Of course, Lake House, it now transpires, is only about a mile and a half from the newly discovered 'bluestonehenge', and so far closer than Stonehenge itself.

Tony H said...

For 'about a mile and a half from...' please read 'about a kilometre and a half from....' And both are sited close to the River Avon.

chris johnson said...

I don't know if this is the right place to post this but I was reading up on the Orkney work and it seems there is lots of evidence there for moving stones from distant quarries. Combined with what we know about Newgrange I wonder if you are still so convinced that ancient peoples did not transport stones over difficult distances?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- if we are to believe what we are told, the stones transported to Newgrange were quite small quartz stones used for the facing / ornamentation of the monument. I'm not aware that any big stones were moved over a great distance. I'm not aware of the Orkney evidence. I have no problem with stones being moved over quite a few miles on a nice firm and reasonably level surface -- it is self-evident that the stones built into the Stonehenge monument were "gathered and moved" from the places where they were found to the places where they were used. I'm not quite so mad as to INSIST that the stones were all positioned exactly at Stonehenge and used right there. on the other hand, I AM quite attracted to that idea, since it seems to be the only way of explaining the incredible collection of big stones, little stones and debitage that has been described over and again, by all those who have excavated at the site.

Geo Cur said...

The Orkney stones probably came from Vestra Fiold only 10 Km away and most of the journey could have been on water .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian you write,

“I'm not quite so mad as to INSIST that the stones were all positioned exactly at Stonehenge and used right there. on the other hand, I AM quite attracted to that idea, since it seems to be the only way of explaining the incredible collection of big stones, little stones and debitage that has been described over and again, by all those who have excavated at the site.”

We agree! The same processes that brought the big stones to Stonehenge also brought all the other stones there as well. It's the only way that all the stones found at Stonehenge can be sensibly explained.

But if you think of this process only in terms of glacier advances, you will have a big problem explaining how stones from different places and different glaciation episodes all wound up being dumped by glaciers at the same spot!

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! All the other evidence on the ground also point to this explanation you have learned to HATE and LOVE.

I am preparing a short paper on the alignment of Stonehenge with the summer solstice! As soon as I can get someone to do the 3-D graphics I will post it on the Internet.

All math and no myth!


Wendy said...

Some thoughts on transporting bluestones.

In one of the recent posts it was stated that Professor Parker-Pearson had said that 'he was coming round to the view that the bluestones were not transported during prehistoric times by sea', additionally, no mention of movement of stones by sea was made in the 'Digging for Britain' programme.
It was implied that these occurrances gave support to the glacial transport theory.
However, the diminishing support for sea-borne transport can have a second, and equally plausible interpretation, namely that the bluestones were transported overland by human effort.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, that's the MPP position, as I understand it. You say that idea is "equally plausible" -- I would argue that it's equally implausible.

Anonymous said...

The Inka carried andesite blocks (ashlars)from south of Cusco 1000Km yes 1000km to the very north of their empire as 'made-work'by hand.
Not Neolithic people but no wheel (they knew the wheel for toys) but no strong pack animals.
Fluffy alpaca being no use.
Also probably not a common event-Cusco was built from andesite blocks quarried 30km? south.
Manco Capac.

Geo Cur said...

There seems to be a problem with the naming of the various hypotheses.

There is one based on that of Prof Judd who suggested that the Bluestones were transported to Salisbury Plain by glacial action , i.e. the glacial hypothesis .
There is another suggesting human transport originally found in folklore and histories and later in archaeology , i.e. the human transport hypothesis
Another suggestion is a combination of these two i.e. glacial transport to Somerset and human transport to Stonehenge .To describe this hypothesis as glacial or human transport is problematic because of the association with the two earlier “strong “ hypotheses. Wouldn’t a new term be more helpful ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Good point. Any suggestions, Geo?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- a message in a bottle sounds a good idea to me. Have you got suitable bottle?

Geo Cur said...

The only things that comes to mind are glacio - human , it works chronologically and alphabetically, or Anthro -glacial ?

Tony Hinchliffe said...


You quoted my comments quite accurately. I was concerned to point out what I saw as a seeming shift in the thought processes of the Archaeological Establishment AWAY from the sea transport theory.

As Brian has remarked, Parker Pearson still may cling to the idea that bluestones could have been carried reverentially eastwards by land, because then those Good Ol' Boys were able to collect the Altar Stone (sandstone) en route. The appeal of this notion may be that the Good Ol' Boys were being ever so efficient: that is, they saved a lot of bother, as Michael Crawford might have said, by 'picking up' (not quite) the Altar Stone as they passed by its location, thus saving some manpower. Mike Parker Pearson has acknowledged the possibility of the use of a Land Route on his Sheffield University/ Stonehenge Riverside Project website, in respect to the evidence from the geological analysis of the Altar Stone showing that it did not come from anywhere close to Pembrokeshire, but was from South-East Wales.

My main point was that in my view, Brian has (with the eye of faith and plenty of optimism) had a big hand in dissuading the Big Minds away from Sea Transport and Epic Voyages (with or without the guidance of porpoises!).

Tony H said...


I wish I HAD got a suitable bottle to send to Gordon Sumner. The jokey answer would be to get one from The Police (remember them?).

This gentleman has at least 4 mansions around the world, so he may prove elusive. But.....where there's a will there's a way.....

Wendy said...

Hello Tony,
All is well,
I only wanted to show that there are two sides to most stories.

Can the third hypotheses be called the Gluman Theory, please, or will it come to a sticky end?

p.s. Brian is my hero.

Bob the Builder said...

The mention of wheels brought to mind a paper titled
'The Neolithic burial sequence at Flintbek LA3, north Germany, and its cart tracks: a precise chronology',
by Dr. Doris Mischka,
published in Antiquity 85 (2011) 742 -748.
The author discusses the excavation of a dolmen and the subsequent uncovering of cart tracks dating to 3300 BC. I shall quote only the parts that are relevant to this blogg.

"The Flintbek society was not unprogressive - they used the newest wagon technology before or during the construction of the last dolmen chamber. -------- Two tracks were observed, each about 60mm wide. The span between them of 1.1m to 1.2m matches roughly the axle spacing of later Neolithic wheels found in bogs. -------- They are slightly narrower than Bronze Age axles found in bogs in lower Saxony and the Alps. -------- More important for the interpretation was the recognition that the compression of the earth underneath the wheels was sufficient to generate iron-pan, which would be unlikely if a sledge had been used. -------- The earliest evidence for wheels is spread over large distances and we probably underestimate the occurrence of wheels and thus their functions within the Neolithic societies because of the poor preservation of wooden artifacts. More finds can be expected and better dates may come in earlier than 3400 or even 3500 BC. Data at hand imply a far reaching communication system. Was the rapid and widespread distribution due to the use of draught animals or were ritual purposes decisive in stimulating the use of cart models as symbolic depictions of real wagons in cycles of life or death"?

The full text is available at:

Did the wheel travel to Germany from the west, or vice-versa? Either way it had at least 700 years to reach Preseli.

Your thoughts please, on twenty pound notes addressed to Bob the Builder, (Who, it is rumoured, has a Police record).

Tony H said...

All is indeed well, for I have just become a grandfather!!!

I do like your posited 'Gluman theory' name. I suggest you patent it.

Soon we will be talking about the new sport (or IS it new?) of Bog Swimming in Cardiganshire and elsewhere............

Tony H said...

BOB THE BUILDER's reference to his 'inventing the wheel' comment is in fact:-

This provides a summary.

The Stonehenge Enigma said...

Did someone mention cart tracks?

Are we back to The Avenue again - the dates seem to match quite well?


Wendy said...

Hello Tony,
There must be something in the air for we have just become grandparents for the first time, and twins to boot.
We were thinking of calling them Alice and Neil but those names seem to be popular at the moment, archaeologically speaking!

I believe the term is 'Bog Snorkeling', which is very difficult if you are carrying a 4 ton bluestone.

Tony H said...

We'll put "the Stonehenge Enigma", RJL up for a test drive, he'll be up for it.

And interesting you mentioned you've had twins TO BOOT, another uncanny coincidence!, linked as that is to Brian's latest brainwave, the prehistoric welly-removing device.

And I'm sure Alice Roberts and Neil from 'Coast' would be delighted if the twins are named after them.Godparents??

Magnus Magnusson said...

Aah, Wendy and Bob the Builder.......and never the twain shall meet??!? Is there a multiple personality in the house?