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Sunday 9 October 2011

Did the Aubrey Holes hold 56 bluestones?


I found this report from 2008 on the research council web site -- and it struck me that the discovery in Aubrey Hole 7 of "crushed and compacted chalk" by MPP and his team is about the only evidence we have that the holes once held bluestone pillars.  The report says that a similar feature was also found in 3 other Aubrey Holes in earlier excavations.  But how do we know that this compaction was not simply done by a ramming device, with the purpose of creating a firm base in the hole for whatever was due to be placed in it?  (eg cremated remains).  No bluestone fragments, as far as I know, have been found in the Aubrey Holes -- so the pillars (if there were any) could well have been small sarsens rather than bluestones.  But MPP builds up a large hypothesis here -- not for the first time -- on what seems to me to be very flimsy evidence.  He even speculates now that the stone circle of 56 bluestones had a diameter of 87m -- and that that stone circle might well have been carried from Preseli, where it was previously set up at Waun Mawn.  He also says that when the Neolithic transport gangs had carried that stone circle lock, stock and barrel (or maybe minus the 3 stones that are still there) from Waun Mawn to Stonehenge, and put them all up in the Aubrey Hole setting, they later dismantled the whole thing and moved the stones in towards the centre of the monument, where they were supplemented by another batch of stones from the wild west (bringing the total up to 82), and then built into the later bluestone circle and horseshoe settings.

Type in 'Waun Mawn" in the search box for my previous posts on this topic.......

Does anybody know of any other evidence that supports this wacky theory, or is is just as wild as I think it is?


From the AHRC web site -- a report of a project funded with £500,000.

Changing the meaning of Stonehenge 

 09 Oct 2008
  AHRC-funded excavation of Aubrey Hole  could change Stonehenge’s meaning

A new excavation of Stonehenge, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has revealed that an Aubrey Hole – one of a circle of pits surrounding the stones at Stonehenge – had probably held a standing stone.
The excavation of Aubrey Hole 7 was directed over one week in August 2008 by Mike Parker-Pearson, Mike Pitts and Julian Richards for the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The project, sees a collaboration involving five UK universities and over 200 archaeologists, and is funded by a £500,000 research grant from the AHRC.
Professor Mike Parker-Pearson at the University of Sheffield says, “If all 56 pits had held stones, this would have been one of the first and largest stone circles in the country, made of Welsh bluestones in 3000BC. A recent claim that these stones arrived at Stonehenge in 2300BC would then relate to the time when the bluestones were moved into the centre of the site 700 years later. Stonehenge’s history as envisaged since the 1950s is overturned.”
The pit had already been excavated twice: when discovered in 1920, and again in 1935 when all the cremated human bone found earlier at Stonehenge was reburied. Recovery of this bone for modern examination was the prime goal of the new dig (the bone was in excellent condition, and study will begin over the winter).
Another reason was to look at the Aubrey Hole itself – the first to be seen open since 1950. It was believed that these pits had been dug for oak poles, but Parker-Pearson had revived an old interpretation that they had held bluestones: the evidence of crushed and compacted chalk had been recorded in 1920 in three of the pits. He says, “Aubrey Hole 7 had crushed chalk on its base indicative of a standing stone. This had been missed by archaeologists twice before: it seems likely that similar evidence still survives in other Aubrey Holes. We propose that very early in Stonehenge’s history, 56 Welsh bluestones stood in a ring 285 feet 6 inches (87m) across”. He concludes, “This has sweeping implications for our understanding of Stonehenge.”
The new evidence from Aubrey Hole 7 suggests megaliths were present throughout Stonehenge’s existence. The first three radiocarbon dates for human cremation burials, obtained in May from the only bones then available for study, range between about 3000 and 2300BC. Contrary to claims made in the recent BBC Timewatch film, which promoted a theory of Stonehenge as a healing centre built after the practice of cremation burial had ceased, standing stones and burial of the dead may have been prominent aspects of Stonehenge’s meaning and purpose for a millennium.
Media Contact: Emi Spinner, Communication Officer,  tel: 0117 9876 770 / 07854 005662

Editors Notes

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

Contacts on the project

Mike Parker Pearson, professor Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, director Stonehenge Riverside Project
07790 254237
011 4222 2908
Mike Pitts, editor British Archaeology, director excavations at Stonehenge 1979–80, author Hengeworld (Century 2001)
07940 591422
01672 512130
Julian Richards, writer and broadcaster, director Stonehenge Environs Project 1980–90, author Stonehenge, the Story So Far (English Heritage 2007)
07974 913878
01747 851531

Aubrey Holes

56 pits named after the 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey, were discovered by archaeologists in 1920. Thirty four were excavated 1920–1924 and two in 1950. They average about 3.5 feet across (1.1m) and 3 feet deep (0.9m) – similar to pits in the centre of Stonehenge known to have held bluestones. Their contents included mostly undistinguished artefacts, and pockets of cremated human bone and ash.
The pits’ purpose has been much debated. The original excavators first thought they were dug to hold small standing stones (the Welsh bluestones): the great Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie suggested they were a war indemnity paid by a Welsh tribe. But debate followed on whether they had held stones or wooden posts. After the 1950 excavation of two pits, they were believed to have been only for the placement of ritual deposits, with no stones or posts. In the 1960s astronomers suggested they may have held markers to predict eclipses. Since 1995, the standard interpretation has been that, when first dug, they held tall oak posts that had no astronomical function.

Cremation at Stonehenge

About 60 finds of cremated human bone are recorded at Stonehenge, representing some 50 people. Most of what survives has now been recovered in the excavation of Aubrey Hole 7. All such remains had originally been buried in or near Aubrey Holes or the ditch beyond. Pitts has suggested that in total, the cremated remains of some 240 people were buried at Stonehenge. This is by far the largest cemetery of this era we know of in Britain.
After the 1920s excavations had ended, no institution wished to curate the cremated bone, and in 1935 Wiltshire archaeologists William Young and Robert Newall buried them in Aubrey Hole 7. A lead plate with an inscription briefly describing the event was found in August. Today we expect to be able to learn a great deal from these remains, identifying sex, age and health of the individuals, and with a new process we can radiocarbon date them.


The great majority of researchers agree that almost all the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge by people from a small area of Pembrokeshire around the Preseli Hills. There are no stone chips at the bottom of the Aubrey Holes, but large numbers elsewhere on the site. It may be that 56 stones were brought to Stonehenge as natural boulders around 3000BC, and erected in the Aubrey Holes. Only later were some of them (not all) carved to shape, and further bluestones must have been brought to Stonehenge either then or before.
The total weight of all original bluestones at Stonehenge was around 260 tons. The total weight of the sarsens (the larger stones, brought from some 20 miles away) was around 1,700 tons.

BBC Timewatch

These new claims conflict with those made by Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who excavated at Stonehenge in April. In a BBC broadcast on September 27, they said the first bluestones arrived at Stonehenge in 2300BC, by which time cremation burial had ceased.
We cannot support the 2300BC radiocarbon date. It was obtained from a single cereal grain, which most archaeologists would find unacceptable. Items this small can be moved by burrowing animals – Charles Darwin showed the burying power of earthworms specifically at Stonehenge in 1877. It also conflicts with other radiocarbon dates and the known sequence of megalithic construction at the site, which together place the first erection of bluestones in the centre of Stonehenge at an unknown date before 2470BC.
There are currently only three radiocarbon dates for cremation burials. It is statistically unlikely that the last burial that took place at Stonehenge is amongst those dated, so the most recent date of 2470–2300BC should not be read as dating the end of that tradition.

Stonehenge Riverside Project

Responsible for major excavation within the Stonehenge world heritage site over the past five summers. Directors are Mike Parker Pearson (Sheffield University), Joshua Pollard (Bristol University), Colin Richards and Julian Thomas (Manchester University), Christopher Tilley (UCL) and Kate Welham (Bournemouth University).
Website at


Alex Gee said...


Do you know the position in the Aubrey Holes of the cremated remains/artefacts? and their condition?.Were they found at the base of the hole?
Having installed a lot of fence posts, a thought that occurs to me is: To install a fence post, you excavate a hole to the required depth to ensure stability, insert the post/stone and backfill it with the excavated material.

If the Aubrey Holes had been the original setting, for bluestones, weighing between 4.9-5.75 metric tons.

Then given the weight of the stones and the burial time, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me. To suggest that crushing of the Chalk should be apparent in all of the Aubrey Holes, and that any cremated remains/artefacts at the base of the holes, would consist at best of a very thin Laminae at the base of the Hole.

Are the cremated remains and artifacts in this condition? or are they better preserved?

Alex Gee said...

surely the surname Spinner as communications officer is a wind up?

Bob said...


I would support the 56 bluestone theory.

The original site was facing the NW towards presili and the mid-summer sunset/moon-set. The Q & R stones are a semi circle (or as I call it a crescent moon) where bodies were laid out for excarnation, before being gathered and placed in Long Barrows (boats to the afterlife).

56 Holes is very important for moon temples as you can predict the moon calendar and hence the river and sea tides.

28 holes which most of us believe is a Luna month is only 98% accurate a 56 hole calendar is 99.8% accurate - not bad going for a bunch of so called fur covered, spear carrying hunter-gatherers ?


Geo Cur said...

RJL ,some years the moon will set in the NW at the summer solstice others it won't .If 56 is important for moon temples can you tell us of another that has this important number ? There is no evidence for excarnation at Stonehenge .We don't know the shape of the setting from the Q&R holes , a short section of eight pairs at the SE and another couple of pairs to the west does not suggest a crescent .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Re Alex's question. I don't know the answer to that -- but I agree that if the cremated remains are flattened into a very thin layer then they must have been there before any pillars were placed into the holes. If they are "coherent" rather than crushed, then they went in after any stones were taken out -- if they were there in the first place. My assumption is that MPP thinks the cremated remains were put into the pits rather late, after the stones were removed -- but I have not seen any DETAILED evidence that might support that contention. Does anybody else know the answer? Has MPP published his actual field observations yet?

Geo Cur said...

The only Aubrey Hole with a likely cremation in the lower fill is AH 32.It has produced an RC date of 3030 -2880 BC (95% probability ) .
MPP considers the diameters of the Aubrey Holes and Q and R holes to be so similar as to suggest that the Aubrey Holes held bluestones ,that is the "evidence" for the " strong case "

Tony H said...

Emi Spinner is NOT a wind-up toy, Alex, I've just googled her + AHRC, and she's kosha alright (have I spelt kosha right, anyone?) AND her phone number at work is a Bristol one.

Bob said...

Geo Cur

Are your one of those strange astro-archaeologists? The exact setting of the moon is not important as its symbolic.

As in other prehistoric temples to the dead in Egypt, Greece and other Mediterranean islands - they face the west for the sunset - for the moon comes when night falls.

Q&R are 2m long - mortuary slabs - the palisade was built across the peninsula to keep out wild animals and the Y and Z holes with that strange kinked entrance between post holes 9 & 10 (as seen at woodhenge) as a wooden fenced private entrance to the slabs not overlooked by anyone as we would do ourselves today.

Not quite rocket science - its practical science a good reason for everything our ancestors constructed without using the word 'ceremonial'.

Cricky if that's not enough evidence for you - you need to borrow the doctors tardis and go see yourself!


Bob said...


Your fence posts are in holes with loose material around them?

If so you better get a builder it before the winds come as they will be flattened before christmas.

Try a post hole - your find most farmers will sharpen the post then just bang it in - much quicker and more stable - you only use the procedure you indicated to place a weight on top of the posts (the stone stops it sinking!!) and its the weight that gives it stability.

Enjoy the gardening! Unless of course your Neolithic's invented cement??


Anonymous said...

I am concerned that the AHRC says proudly it funds arts and humanities projects " from archaeology and english literature to design and dance"! WHERE is the link, then, between Archaeology and Science? Yes, of course there is one in modern archaeology, but the AHRC's "cover wrapper" statement is not very reassuring, is it, when they have splashed half a million quid on the whole Stonehenge Riverside Project. And the now middle-aged blokes who assisted MPP in the examination of Aubrey Hole 7, Mike Pitts and Julian Richards, are both much better known for their publications than they are for their current archaeological skills in and out of the laboratory.

Geo Cur said...

RJL , you mentioned that the Q and R holes are crescentic and face the NW where the moon sets at midsummer . Wrong on all counts .
You seem quite happy to use “symbolic “ as a get out then complain about “ ceremonial “ .
Because a setting faces the setting sun it doesn’t entail the same can be said for the moon ,however it is possible to argue for intentional alignments to the moon at major standstills .
The Q and R holes are just that , pairs of holes sometimes with a connecting araea to create a dumb bell shape , not mortuary slabs . Stonehenge , yes seems like an eminently sensible example of practical science .

Alex Gee said...

As usual Rob, garbled nonsense from yourself.

Not all posts are wooden or sharpened, did I say the backfill was loose?
How does a weight placed on top of a post stop it sinking or give it stability?.

As for sharpening a 5ton bluestone and hammering it in?.

Life really is too short

Bob said...

Geo Cur

I said "The original site was facing the NW towards presili and the mid-summer sunset/moon-set"

I should have said "The original site was facing the NW towards presili and the mid-summer sunset and winter moon-set.

Happy now? if you really want to be pedantic "Because a setting faces the setting sun it doesn’t entail the same can be said for the moon ,however it is possible to argue for intentional alignments to the moon at major standstills" is complete gobbledygook! - at least my comment can be easily correct yours needs complete surgery as it has no meaning!!


"To install a fence post, you excavate a hole to the required depth to ensure stability, insert the post/stone and backfill it with the excavated material".

The excavated material by its nature (as you have just dug it out) is loose.

The stone goes in the bottom of the ditch - not the top - to distribute the weight and stop the post sinking - see Geoff Carters blog site for details - I'm personally losing the will to live at this point!!


Geo Cur said...

RJL , at least you realised you made some sort of mistake ,sadly you havn't clarified or rectified it .Although t is clear you don’t understand lunar cycles . At the winter solstice at the latitude of Stonehenge , unlike the sun which sets at the same azimuth every year the moon can set at various azimuths ranging from at least 225 to 315 degrees .Rather than describe something that you don’t understand as gobbleydook you could always ask for it to be explained to you . There are also the other problems that have been ignored e.g. 56 holes being important ,with no other sites mentioned . The fact that Q and R holes are not facing the solstice , nor are crescentic or “mortuary slabs” ,evidence for excarnation etc never mind the comment about Long barrows being “boats to the after life “ ,and you complain about the use of the term ceremonial ?

Unknown said...

Is there any new evidence in the light of the Geophysical Survey by Birmingham Uni and publicised by the BBCs Operation stonehenge programme in sept 2014?

John Rollett said...

Discussions about the recent eclipse of the sun brought up the fact that the Babylonians were able to predict when they would occur; they had discovered that the pattern of lunar and solar eclipses repeats regularly. A solar eclipse takes place at new moon, and 223 lunar months later occurs the next solar eclipse, also at new moon; they were therefore able to predict to within a day when it would happen. All they needed was a method of counting and a method of recording the count.

As regards the Aubrey holes, thought to have been postholes for timber or standing stones, one might wonder why 56? Why not 60, or 64, either of which would have been easier to lay out? But since four times 56 is 224, if a marker stone is moved round from one post or standing stone to the next at each new moon, then at the new moon one month short of four complete circuits by the marker stone 223 lunar months will have elapsed. Thus, starting from one eclipse of the sun, the timing of the next can be predicted to within a day, the circle of posts recording the count, provided the number of circuits was also recorded.

It would seem then that those living around Stonehenge had the means to predict solar eclipses. Is it possible that, like the Babylonians, they were doing so five thousand years ago? What other activity or phenomenon would require a circle of precisely 56 posts or standing stones?

It seems likely that the Aubrey holes were first occupied by timber posts, which were gradually replaced by bluestones. It would also seem that after several hundred years eclipses were no longer of interest, and the bluestones were moved into the main megalithic monument which by this time had been completed. The holes were then used as burial pits for cremated remains.

John Rollett