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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The stuff of nightmares

I wonder if the archaeologists ever wake up in the middle of the night and ask themselves the following questions? 

1.  If Stonehenge was built by people who literally travelled hundreds of miles to collect stones from far distant places, how come nobody else did the same thing?  Were these fellows just that much stupider, or smarter, than everybody else?

2.  How come all the sites they chose for their "bluestone quarries" were far away, in the west?  How come they were not at all interested in other perfectly nice stones, closer to hand, to the south, east and north?

3.  Since we know that there are about 30 different rock types at Stonehenge (in the standing stones, stumps and debris) does that mean that there are about 30 sacred sites, and 30 quarries?

4.  If there were 30 sacred sites out there somewhere, how come nobody else thought they were sacred too?

5.  If these splendid fellows were so keen on spotted dolerite, how come they carried so many other "rubbish stones" to Stonehenge as well, only to smash them up when they got there?

Just asking, not for the first time, and still waiting for the answers.......


T H said...

Perhaps we now have evidence for some kind of early Woolworth's display - at Stonehenge!

Remember the old "pick-and-mix" sweet displays in Woolies? Well, there ARE about 30 different rock selections at Stonehenge.

Wait a minute......Woolworth'S stores crossed the Atlantic from the U.S.A. in order to start up here, didn't they.......??

Does that mean, by analogy, that it's TRUE..........and there really was something far away to the WEST that really got 'the whole show on the road', back then??? But it was further west than any of us thought......dreamed?!! Beyond Wales, beyond Ireland....

You couldn't make this up, could you! [I did]

Constantinos Ragazas said...


Without questions there wont be any answers to any of this!

Sometimes the asking of the question is more difficult than the answer itself! So keep on asking! As I keep on asking!

Logic compels us! We can do no less!


Anonymous said...

I was attracted to your site because you seemed genuinely convinced and spoke intelligently about how glaciers may have played a significant role in transporting the bluestones to the Stonehenge area ( I have not been convinced)but the tones of some of your recent post are hurting your cause.
I hope you can continue to make post to support your theory and wish you could stay away from this kind of post.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- sorry if you are disturbed by this post. I'm not sure why anybody would feel it to be offensive or "having the wrong tone" since it seems to me to be perfectly innocuous. These are valid questions which have to be asked -- and if they are not answered, they have to be asked again. Somebody has to do it....

This blog seeks to investigate all sides of the Stonehenge bluestone debate (not just the "glacial transport theory") -- but I hope that I subject my own ideas and those of the geologists to scrutiny that is no less rigorous than the scrutiny given to the archaeologists.

So I'll continue to flag up issues as I see them -- and you are more than welcome to raise whatever issues you like, in response. All I ask in return is that you maintain good humour and steer clear of personal abuse! Repetition and bees in bonnets are rather more difficult to avoid....

Anonymous said...

You are being disingenuous or are not listening (a fault you point out (correctly) in the major archies). Thirty is far too many stones as you agreed in an earlier post even with the more realistic number, 15 say the point is well made
But, but, but, quarries, if there be quarries, then they are only needed for orthostats- the altar stone is a singleton so does it need a quarry?
You need to be more of a clumper than splitter then you come to the need for ‘quarries’ for the dolerites, Rhos-rhyolites and …..who knows the data are not yet in and a couple of years away.
I have to agree with anon and his comments-less is more and sadly for you but good for us the glacial slide of your blog is by far the better and more measured and hence has more interest.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob -- I will happily disagree with you about the significance of the smaller stones. OK -- say we have 15 different orthosats sources, and the need for 15 quarries, but we still have a need to show how the other stone types got to Stonehenge. There do seem to be another 15 or so -- although going back to the original sources on identifications is difficult because of the manner in which geological names have changed.

So how did those smaller stones (represented in lumps, flakes and fragments of all sizes) actually get to the Stonehenge area? It is perfectly reasonable to ask the archaeologists to explain their presence. Were these smaller stones carried to Stonehenge from distant parts by the builders? Why on earth would they bother to do that? Mini-tokens? And if many of the fragments are from destroyed orthostats, why would they carry fragile orthostats all the way to Stonehenge, just to destroy them when they got to their destination, or a bit later when they discovered that they were useless? I'm not the only one to ask these sort of questions -- I recall Aubrey Burl did the same many years ago, not to mention the OU team in the late 1980's.

In the spirit of enquiry, and out of respect for Aubrey Burl, we need answers to these questions. As far as I am concerned, the presence of MANY different rock types in the Stonehenge "erratic assemblage" (ie erratic in the sense that they are stones that shoudn't be there) is entirely consistent with the glacial transport hypothesis.

T Hinchliffe said...

Nothing wrong with injecting some humour into your arguments, Brian.
You always did possess a good sense of humour at University. I know for a FACT that Mike Parker Pearson also likes a good joke, and I've heard him use it, in a "serious" archaeological talk to the gathered throngs, about his Stonehenge Riverside Project, with reference to his "rivals", also illustrated with cartoons similar to your cartoon attached. As long as it's done in GOOD NATURE, it can certainly be used effectively against academic 'opponents'. "It's keeping cheerful what keeps us going!"

In general, fanatics possess no, or a very limited, sense of humour. Let this be a lesson to us all.

Anonymous said...

I do not for one moment disagree with you on much of what you say (different from agreeing) but I think the rarer smaller stones, and I have the advantage of having washed and identified over 6000 of the little b...s (stands for bluestones of course)so know their numbers and relative importance, are noise-now be that the sound of glacial action, Romans, New Age clowns, Kali etc is of some importance but not much.
Ironically for a couple of decades I told people that the numerically rare non-dolerite bluestones held the key to SH (not knowing that they are a major contributor to the debitage until I got to the sink!)but am now saying that the numerically, and they ARE numerically, minor lithologies (snmall stones) are unimportant.
There is a lot of post-Med. lithological rubbish close to the surface of SH as the Victorians and the 2008 excavations discovered and many of the ''exotic'' stones are amongst them.
You are safer arguing on the orthostat material -my definition of a bluestone.
Nutters with axes to grind have been chipping at SH for centuries/millenia.

Anonymous said...

" All I ask in return is that you maintain good humour and steer clear of personal abuse!"

Sorry if any of the comments I made offended you.

Regarding your questions...

Maybe some of these questions can be answered by discussing the process for which the Neoltic people used to build Stonehenge.

Stonehenge had a plan, it required X amount of stones that had a similar shape and size.

1. If Stonehenge was built by people who literally travelled hundreds of miles to collect stones from far distant places, how come nobody else did the same thing? Were these fellows just that much stupider, or smarter, than everybody else?

1. response
Not a great question,it can easily reversed and asked to the people supporting the glacier transportation theory- and I don't think they will be able to answer it.

2. How come all the sites they chose for their "bluestone quarries" were far away, in the west? How come they were not at all interested in other perfectly nice stones, closer to hand, to the south, east and north?

See above

3. Since we know that there are about 30 different rock types at Stonehenge (in the standing stones, stumps and debris) does that mean that there are about 30 sacred sites, and 30 quarries?

No, as you pointed out in a earlier post, It appears the some of these stones may have been in close proximity to each other.

4. If there were 30 sacred sites out there somewhere, how come nobody else thought they were sacred too?

4. Response
Again,not a great question and most likely cannot be answered by anyone.

5.If these splendid fellows were so keen on spotted dolerite, how come they carried so many other "rubbish stones" to Stonehenge as well, only to smash them up when they got there?

Rubbish stones may have been usable stones that got damaged in the process of moving the stone to Stonehenge (can you imagine the disappointment,moving a large stone a great distance only to have it break on the doorstep to its destination !)and then were recycled for needs elsewhere in the project.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sorry folks -- broadband problems today. signal disappearing intermittently -- I think there are some chaps playing with the line up the road....

Rob -- point taken. Agree we must be very careful about "extraneous" stones brought in during roadworks, car park construction etc. Also, we must be careful about "inherited" stones from old conglomerates etc that might have been "let down" from previous strata now largely gone from above the chalk. But we must also be careful about assuming that "extraneous" stones were introduced by man -- some of them might well be genuine glacial erratics. It all comes down to detailed fieldwork and interpretation........ and it's good to see that you guys are doing that. I guess there will always be room for debate, even when patterns emerge! But we need to know stratigraphic positions as well as frequency.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- never fear -- not offended in the least. You should see some of the comments I have had thrown in my direction on some of the more "esoteric" Stonehenge blogs!! Anyway, I treat all of this as a form of entertainment with a serious component to it. None of it matters in the least, when set alongside the big issues of life like war, famine and Irish rugby referees. So a lot of what I post is more than a little tongue in cheek!

Re your answers to my questions, forgive me if I put words into your mouth -- but what you seem to be saying is this: "Our Neolithic ancestors had a cunning plan. We don't know what it was, but they were certainly very clever fellows, and if they had wanted to shift lots of big stones over a great distance they could certainly have done it....."

Sorry, but that doesn't wash with me. This is -- sadly -- the sort of woolly thinking we have had from the archaeologists for years, and they have used it as a substitute for evidence.

I don't deny for a moment that we who subscribe to the glacial transport theory have our own "stuff of nightmares" -- and life would be a great deal easier for us if there was a lovely trail of erratice leading all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, and a nice big terminal moraine with bluestones sticking out of it, 500m away from the site of Stonehenge.

But nature is much more subtle, especially when it comes to very ancient landscape features and deposits.

None of us is in possession of a "killer fact" -- and so we will carry on for the time being with these jolly debates.....

The Stonehenge Enigma said...

Poor old Brian!!

I think your simple questions deserve answers:

1. You are no doubt referring to the bluestone phase I building from Preseli - the answer is in the function of the site and the perceived use of these stones - most 'progressive' archaeologists agree that it was a 'hospital' for the sick and the stones aided recovery.

As no other sites used bluestones then you need to conclude that there was only one hospital - this is reinforced with the fact that at the time of construction the population level was low and the thousands of hours needed to build other hospitals unnecessary.

2. As the stones are used with water the chemical content of the stones are of use, not the shape or colour - consequently this maybe the only source.

3. The 'other' stones were used for building purposes - so the quality and source is unimportant. NB. The Sarsen building was added some thousands of years later for a different purpose.

4. Why does it matter how many sites or quarries? - when you look at St Paul's the last thing you wonder is were they got the stone from!

5.See 1 again - there are 3,600 bluestone chippings found to date (remembering only half of Stonehenge has been excavated) clearly they were deliberately broken up to be placed in the watery ditch like 'bath salts' - so breaking them down was a necessary process, the larger ones that have survived were originally placed whole in the bottom of the ditches, in socket holes which were located by Hawley in the ditch/moat - its all in the book ;-)


Constantinos Ragazas said...


Only you could raise this controversy! Others would have been simply ignored. But the controversy you have raised, fortunately, has an answer. It is buried in the Stonehenge Layer!

The pictures I've seen of the Atkinson excavations show a thick layer (a couple of meters thick!) of many variety and size stone fragments and pebbles, some rounded some not, all uniformly mixed in with top soil. In a previous post on this, Geo Cur quotes Atkinson as describing the Layer as “remarkably uniform”.

Geo Cur said... ( )

Hawley , the first to describe it , says the layer was more or less evenly distributed over the whole surface at Stonehenge . Atkinson described it as “remarkably uniform “ .

11 October 2011 10:08

This cannot be the results of stone fragments from orthostat polish. Or stones carried by men for road work.

The key question is: How did these stone fragments get to Stonehenge?

The human transport explanation for orthostats cannot answer this! So Nature is the only other alternative! And anyone truly interested in knowing the truth about Stonehenge will not dismiss this question so instinctively!

I must add, however, that if it turns out that the Stonehenge Layer does not extend far beyond the Stonehenge circle to the surrounding countryside in an amorphous area, than I argue it is difficult to explain these many stone fragment erratics as glacier deposits.

More likely, the Stonehenge Layer is what remains of an ice retaining basin at Stonehenge. With meltwater collecting and leaving these deposits in the bottom and eventually draining through the Avenue!

That has been my hypothesis now for a long time now, as you well know and strongly disagreed in the past. (Kostas 10 October 2011 14:17 )

This day, Brian, had to come! We just cannot escape from the truth. But the longer we try, the more painful and difficult it becomes to accept it!


Anonymous said...

You are pretty correct with your comments but in a nutshell isn't that what actually happened?

"forgive me if I put words into your mouth -- but what you seem to be saying is this: "Our Neolithic ancestors had a cunning plan. We don't know what it was, but they were certainly very clever fellows, and if they had wanted to shift lots of big stones over a great distance they could certainly have done it.....""

Someone or group of people planned this project and set in motion activities to complete it.They had an idea of how many and how big the stones needed to be and they had a source from where the stones could be found,yet to be determine.

I'm not sure what you meant by
"Sorry, but that doesn't wash with me." but I thought you believed Stonehenge was man made, maybe it is just the distance of travel of the bluestones you were commenting on?

Speaking of bluestones....
What's the deal with Bluestone Henge,could it have been just a temporary storage facilty were stones were placed until enough were needed for Stonehenge?

Just another thought...

George Paterson said...

Hello Brian,
Now that we can all Google geological maps at BGS Lexicon, I would like to introduce a different view on the source of some of the bluestones transported by either human or natural agencies.
Tonight I shall favour the human theory.

If you look at the geological map of the Carn Menyn area you will see a small pink, sausage shaped band of rock that mimics the curved shape of the well known Carn Menyn dolerite outcrop. This band of rock is classed as an 'unnamed igneous intrusion, Ordovician microgabbro', as is Carn Menyn.

Perhaps Dr. Ixer can give advice on the following thoughts.

I understand that, regardless of whether the dolerite pillars are formed in a dyke,(?Carn Menyn), or a sill, (?pink sausage), they will assume a vertical, or near vertical structure.
As an old mining engineer, if someone offered me a good incentive to mine, quarry or scrounge a commodity of value, I wouldn't search for it where it's absent or worked out, I'd search where it exists. Now reversing that logic if you want to find the source of an item, you look where it is no longer visible.

The 'pink sausage' band of rock lends itself to being worked in the manner of a low advancing rock face. It would be far easier to manipulate the rocks at ground level, than remove them from the steep sides of the Carn Menyn outcrop. I fear that 4 ton of dolerite, free-falling from a height of several metres would rapidly change the priorities of the workies. The trench left behind as the rock face advanced would form some protection from the weather, however, because of its shallow and narrow nature it would, over the years, fill in, leaving little obvious trace of rock extraction.

What is the possibility of the constituent parts of the rock varying over the length of the 'pink sausage', would it be sufficient to account for different types of blustone?

I suggest that a possible source for some of the bluestones is the microgabbro band below Carn Menyn.

My wife suggests that all the various small pieces of bluestone found at Stonehenge form the contents of a 'sample bag' brought for the wife of the chief to select her stones, the problem is she may be correct.

Geo Cur said...

Kostas , Hawley also said of the layer that it was one inch to 15 inches deep .(2.5 cm -38 cm ) fwiw he believed it to be the accumulation of stone dressing ,Atkinson believed it to be from the later destructive period .Cleal believes the bulk is from the 20 th C.
RJL , there were no bluestone fragments of any size found at the bottom of the ditch .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Lots of points here -- some already answered. Anon -- re the "cunning plan" of the builders. I do agree with you that we don't know what that cunning plan actually was -- maybe there were several, as the builders changed their priorities and adapted to circumstances (such as the lack of stones for finishing the job). My point is that we can't use our lack of knowledge about the cunning plan to argue for a complete abandonment of one of the great principles of Neolithic megalithic culture -- ie to ALWAYS use whatever raw materials were conveniently to hand.

BRIAN JOHN said...

George -- I'll leave the geology to Rob, if he's tuned in on this one. But the idea that the assorted visitors to Stonehenge who came from the far west brought with them little bucketfulls of rock samples so that the great leaders of the building project could choose the rocks that best suited their purpose -- that is quite wonderful. I like it!!

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Geo Cur,

Hawley may have said the Layer was 1 to 15 inches deep, but from the Atkinson photos of the much deeper excavations we can SEE that the Layer is much deeper – judging from the people working next to these.

I do agree that a layer just a few inches deep may be more recent and have different explanations. But I just can't see how the Layer in the Atkinson photos be formed by anything but fluvio-glacier processes.

Addressing a point to Brian made by Dr. Ixer. I have no ax to grind over SH but the truth. If it can be convincingly argued that SH was built by people, that would be fine with me. But what we have are explanations that don't add up. And the more we insist and try to put the 'facts on the ground' together using 'human agency', the more extreme fabrications we are forced to invent.

Like Stonehenge being the one and only prehistoric hospital with bluestone chips used as mineral bath salts for medicinal purposes.

If your sensible conscience does not revolt over this, mine does.


Geo Cur said...

Kostas , afaik neither Atkinson or Cleal or anyone else who has excavated the site has contradicted Hawley's figures .
I had already commented earlier fwiw that I don't accept the "healing centre " idea but it doesn’t “revolt my sensible conscience “ to quite the same extent as the idea that Stonehenge and other monuments were not built by human agency . You have yet to provide anything approaching any type of evidence for this and have avoided responding to the clear evidence against it .

Anonymous said...

My comment about nutters having axes to grind was an academic in-joke centred on the origin of the Implement Axe Group VIII axes and was for the momentary pleasure of some of our hidden readers rather than an attack on anyone who contributes, (my views on them and even on the exotic spelling of axe are only privately transmitted).
I shall repeat re the Stonehenge Layer and the bizarre 3600 number of bluestones (I habe counted and washed more than that myself!) READ THE ORIGINAL LITERATURE.
The 1:50,000 map is the old-style one inch to the mile map and is of very very very very limited use in this sort of provenancing. The minimum level of mapping is six inches to the mile and locally 25 inches to the mile is the correct scale. Arguing from it is scientifically naive.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


We must be able to peal off layers of belief to arrive at the kernel of truth. That's what Brian is doing!

You say no one has “contradicted Hawley's figures”. I am afraid the Atkinson photos do! Seeing is believing!

But at least, if I was to read between your lines, you do admit that the thickness and composition and shape of the Stonehenge Layer is very relevant here.

I gave you my explanation for the Layer. What is yours?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob --
you seem to be making some pretty definite statements about the frequency of certain types of lithologies represented in the debitage / Stonehenge Layer. But am I right in thinking that all of the stones and fragments you have been looking at have come from the Darvill / Wainwright 2008 dig at Stonehenge? That dig did have quite limited extent. How confident are you that other parts of the site do not have quite different lithologies represented, or at least different proportions? If, for example, a lot of the debris has come from destroyed orthostats or even orthostats that have been shaped or whittled down to size, you might then expect there to be a lot of rhyolite debris adjacent to rhyolite stumps etc and a lot of dolerite debris adjacent to dolerite stumps.

The 3600 fragments that you looked at -- did the collectors identify which parts of the dig they had come from, or were they all just chucked into a big box and sent off for you to look at?!!!

If we are genuinely interested in sorting out both stratigraphy and spatial distributions, this is quite an important point.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- you may take it from me that the Stonehenge Layer does not look in the slightest like a fluvio-glacial layer. Believe me -- I have spent my academic life looking at such things.

Anonymous said...

A proper question.
I have looked at the bluestones from the April and September 2008 excavations i.e. The D and W dig, the MPP digs including the Avenue on other side of the Heel Stone, the Heel Stone area Pitts 1979/80 excavations, the Stonehenge Great Cursus material (Stones' stones)the MPP Cursus Field material, the Aubrey Hole 7 material, Silbury Hill, Bluestonehenge,
the sectioned material at the Nat Hist Museum collected/excavated in the 19th cent. The sectioned material held at Taunton for the Inplement Petrology Group.
And perhaps more but I do not want to weary you with a full catalogue of all my good works.
I can detect NO 'regional' differences no sites of especial knocking.
I would not be specific were I not in a position too be so- no fun in that.
I think the number may be far greater than 3600 but it would waste an afternoon counting them up.
Then there is the natural in situ Welsh material that I have looked at and the possible English lithologies......

Anonymous said...

Oh and all the sampled orthostats and the OU material both orthostat and the Pitts Vatcher material.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Rob Ixer,

Thanks you for clarifying your “ax comment”. I do appreciate all your scientific work re: the provenance of Stonehenge stone fragments.

I am not a geologists so I draw mainly from what Brian has reported on this in this blog. I value his scientific views and knowledge on this.

I have also seen several of the Atkinson photos of his 1958 Stonehenge excavation. These clearly show a Stonehenge Layer that is considerably deep (I estimate two meters thick), pervasive over the entire Stonehenge circle, and uniformly mixed in with topsoil. Some photos also show a variety of different size and shape of stones and pebbles. Some rounded and some not. These I take to be 'facts on the ground'. Correct me if I am wrong.

Taking these characteristics of the Stonehenge Layer, what is your explanation as a geologist for the Layer? Clearly the uniformity and thickness rule out 'stone contamination' by humans. And if your work traces some of the stones found deep in the Layer to various places at Preseli but not to any of the megaliths at Stonehenge (whether standing, laying, buried or stumps), than what 'human agency' can account for all these 'facts on the ground'?

Shouldn't nature and glacier transport be seriously considered here?


Constantinos Ragazas said...


By 'fluvio-glacier' deposit I only mean the type of deposit that would be left behind when a meltwater retaining basin drains and dries up.

Either I am using the wrong term or I am wrong. You can clarify which of these I am by describing for me what kind of deposit you see forming the Stonehenge Layer.


Constantinos Ragazas said...

Rob Ixer you write,

“I can detect NO 'regional' differences no sites of especial knocking.”

My understanding of the findings is this. Correct me if I am wrong.

1) The stone fragments at the Stonehenge Layer, Great Cursus, Silbury Hill, Bluestonehenge, etc. show no characteristics as to type, size, shape and relative frequency that would identify them as taken from a particular monument. Leaving aside questions of their provenance.

2) There are some stone fragments at the Stonehenge Layer that cannot be traced to any Stonehenge orthostats. But perhaps may be traced to bluestone stumps buried in the Layer. These fragments can, however, be traced to locations in Preseli.

3) Concentrations of stone fragments as found in the Stonehenge Layer, etc. are not wide spread over Salisbury Plain but are specific to such monuments. Salisbury Plain plainly lacks such evidence of glacier deposits.

If my understanding is correct, then all these findings are consistent with my 'local ice cover' theory and inconsistent with the 'human transport' theory (whether total or partial). I have a very long list of 'facts on the ground' that can simply, sensibly and consistently be explained by my theory.

No need to fabricate new patches of narratives to mend the holes in other theories. Like arguing, for example, that the megaliths were carried to Stonehenge by humans, but the stone fragments are 'site contamination' and inconsequential – needing no explanation whatsoever.

If that is so, why bother with the stone fragments in the first place? Would we be arguing the same if the findings were different? If all the bluestone fragments traced to the orthostats?

The question persists: How did the stone fragments at Stonehenge got to Stonehenge?


Anonymous said...

Mr Ragazas
Re Stonehenge Layer I can only repeat READ THE B.... PRIMARY LITERATURE then learn the definition of the Stoneheng Layer and then move on!.
Brian were the stones thrown in box in a heap and dumped in my front garden no- oddly I opened a provenancing paper years ago with the words. "The days of provenancing with a garden full of rocks and a hand lens are over -or should be" -sadly the object of my ire still is employed and still getting it wrong.
Of the thousands of lithics about 5are not full contexted and they are the ones that I removed from their bag and then forgot which bag it was.
They take great care of the material-it has taken months of discussion in order to physically handle the Alexander Keiller Museum's single bluestone sample.
Sweeping statements from me are based on a securly swept base.
It does appear that the debitage is the same whereever you look. The Stonehenge Great Cursus is a bit different.
Of course all this and facts from my earlier two post IS in the papers of Richard and I, were you to READ THE PRIMARY LITERATURE.
Honestly guys books and web-sites however well advertised are sirens leading to a rocky death. Think ancient Alexandria- Pharos and Library!!
or as the 'old man of the city' might have said
As you set out on your journey keep Alexandia in mind.
WE always return to the Illiad.
-pace Cavafy.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob -- thanks for addressing Kostas's points. In fairness to him and others, your papers are not universally available, given that some are in journals that libraries etc will not hold. Which of the articles are available online?

Anonymous said...

I did not mean mine ('though I feel they are really good value and well worth a read-not too racy but with a punch line at the end)but the 19th cent. primary Stonehenge excavation reports some are in the Ferret club mag (Wilts Nat Hist Mag) which is on-line.
My last comment about Alexandria was a not so oblique reference to the use of libraries; on-line is not the be-all and end-all and many of the data gathered there are unchecked/biased/foolish or wrong. (True for books also but they not being so 'democratic' are less endemically corruptable)
Brian, research as we both know is about care and effort, not about sitting clutching a mouse and misunderstanding/misinterpreting secondary and even tertiary sources. That way wastes everyones time (and I have enough trouble collecting the primary references for myself) and we might just as well be sociologists discussing the dermographics (sic) of washing-up liquid.
Learning to use and find references back to their source is one of the primary tools of any decent researcher.
I have exhausted myself on this topic.

T Hinchliffe said...

As a former Chartered Reference and Information Librarian I agree wholeheartedly with what Rob Ixer has just said. The use of a computer mouse to trawl disinformation from dubious sites leads to too spontaneous and often meaningless conclusions.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, spoken like a true librarian, Tony!!

I tend to agree with you and Rob, but with the proviso that something in print, in a library, is not necessarily any more reliable than something that might be searchable on the web. Even learned papers that are peer-reviewed can be crap, as we all know. A lot of published material is now available on the web -- that's no more "second hand" than reading a heavy tome in a library.

And bear in mind that not everybody has access to a library any longer -- and even if you do, it's probably not going to stock the rather obscure archaeo journals that we are talking about. So don't let's get too precious about this......

Anonymous said...

There are many points being overlooked here, not the least of which is that the Bluestones at Stonehenge are all re-used. The archaeological evidence clearly shows that some, if not all of the pillars, both of the Bluestone ‘Horseshoe’ and Circle once were part of a much grander monument. It’s not clear if it stood on the present site of Stonehenge or nearby, but it did employ finely worked Trilithons. It is not inconceivable that a structure which had elements shared with the later Sarsen construction (and may even had inspired Stonehenge) stood intact near to the original source of the Bluestones. Given some of the convoluted explanations from both the geological and archaeological camps this is by no means the weakest explanation.

If so why was it moved? Who knows, war trophy, gift exchange, perceived ‘magical’ properties, political statement, make up your own minds. But remember the Tower of London was built with Caen stone a political statement by William the Conqueror; we had perfectly good Stone of our own. How about Cleopatra’s needle, or the fact that most of the Kings of England were crowned sitting on a throne under which sat the Scottish sandstone block, the Stone of Scone (explain that with any rational or geological argument in the absence of the documented fact that it was removed from Scotland by Edward the First as direct confrontation to the Scots). I make these points only to emphasis that there are potentially many more ‘explanations’ to why we have Bluestones, or indeed any exotic stones at Stonehenge.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Dr Ixer,

Your criticism is well taken. But in fairness, isn't addressing specific questions to the author of an article going directly to the 'original source'?

I've listed very specifically my understanding of YOUR findings. If any of this is wrong, you would have pointed this out to me, wont you? So I take it that my understanding is on the whole correct. With maybe a word or two out of place or misspelled.

Would you consider the original Atkinson photos of his 1958 Stonehenge excavation original source? My comments about the debitage/Stonehenge Layer are drawn entirely from my observations of these photos.

I believe in 'raw evidence' and not conclusions based on premisses that can be questioned. The literature is full of 'cooked meat', while Brian's blog goes to the 'raw'! Perhaps not as palatable, but certainly more honest.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- of course, HH Thomas (the man largely responsible for all this fuss) thought that the "bluestone monument" was first erected not far from Preseli at a place called Cilymaenllwyd, and was then removed in its entirety from there to Stonehenge -- as part of some cunning plan or other.

I can see the merit in that argument, since you could do away with all this bluestone quarry nonsense. Glacial erratics (from 15 - 30 different sources) could be gathered up and built into the Cilymaenllwyd monument. and then -- if that monument acquired sufficient status -- it could become a valuable piece of real estate or sacred symbolism. If I'm going to express any support for a human transport scenario, that would be the one I would go for. All we need now is the discovery of a nice circle of socket holes, with no stones left -- I think the professors would be better employed looking for that, instead of hoofing about looking for quarries all over the Preseli hillsides.......

I don't think the argument of "bluestones re-used" gets us anywhere. We know they were moved about over and again -- and I'm personally quite convinced that many of the "bluestone sockets" originally held smaller sarsens -- some of which later ended up as lintels. All that tells us is that the builders never had enough stones to finish the job, and that they eventually gave up on it.

George Peterson said...

Just a thought ----- in previous posts it has been put forward that it would be ill-logical for the people who may have transported the bluestones to have carried them in their 'as quarried, collected or thieved' rough state, it would be more sensible to shape them prior to moving, to reduce the mass to be carried.
A sensible point, but it has also been stated, with reference to glacial transport, that lithics with a high thickness to length ratio, would be susceptible to breakage due to possible excessive bending stresses during glacial transport.
Again a sensible point.
However, the bending stress argument can be equally applied to the human transport scenario, in which case the bluestones would have been carried in their 'rough' state, regardless of the weight penalty. Better to have a fat, whole, stone at journeys end, than a skinny broken one.
The words 'bugger it' come to mind.

So if the stones were carried in their undressed, fat condition could the Stonehenge layer be the discard from the extra shaping on site?

Why do I feel a kick up the butt coming my way, again?

Constantinos Ragazas said...


You are right about pillar stones breaking up under stress when carried in glacier mass. Brian made that point in one of his posts. And he is the expert!

But it also doesn't make much sense that these pillar stones wont also have broken up under the stress of a long journey over hard terrain – whether 'fat' or 'dressed'! Leaving aside the 'how' and 'why'!

But there is another explanation how such pillar stones could have gotten to Stonehenge. ON THE SURFACE OF AN ICE SHEET. This is what I have been hypothesizing for a long time now. And as new evidence accumulates and old evidence is reconsidered, we'll see how well this hypothesis stands up.

Time will tell. In my view, the stones got to Stonehenge on the surface of an ice sheet and were 'dropped from above' by local people over a circular ice edge to be embedded into the chalk bedrock in a circle. This explains everything!


Constantinos Ragazas said...


To address your point that the stones got to Stonehenge in the rough and where dressed down on site creating the Stonehenge Layer from the chips and debris. How do we explain the very rough standing sarsens?

If you look at the Atkinson photos showing deep cross sections of the Layer, you will see the stone fragments are evenly and uniformly mixed in with the soil. Stone chips from work done on the standing stones would have fallen at the base of the stone and around its vicinity. And these would have formed a distinct layer. These are not the characteristics we see in the photos! Furthermore, there are stones fragments found at Stonehenge which do not trace to any of the standing stones. Though Dr Ixer would argue that they MAY trace to stumps buried in the Layer. Time will tell.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Fair point, George. No butt kicking from me......

I agree that very long pillars of rock would be subject to high stresses (and would therefore be liable to breakage) however they are transported -- in or on a glacier, or on a sledge, inside a wickerwork cylinder, or whatever.

This is a point that has been made by some contributors to the debate ----- but we still do have the problem of the components in the "debitage" that don't seem to relate to any of the known orthostats.

George Peterson said...

Basing a comment on my actions.

When I travel to interesting places I frequently collect a small sample/s of stones found scattered around. The collection, which lives in my garden, includes examples from all over the UK, France, Malta and the Swiss Alps.
Now I wonder if it was custom and practice, a very long time ago, for visitors to Stonehenge to bring a small piece of their local rock and leave it on the surface at Stonehenge as perhaps a gift, offering or for luck,(Why do many people still throw coins into fountains?), or is the layer simply hardcore put down to stop people getting dirty boots?
I really am going to have to stop gathering stones ----- sad case.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You aren't alone, George. A friend of mine also gathers up stones from places that he visits, and has them assembled in his rockery at home. Mind you he has a nice big car with a spacious boot......

I have seen two ideas in print -- and I think MPP subscribes to one or both -- relating to the bluestones as tokens or totems. One is that the builders of Stonehenge went out and collected faraway stones because of the magic associated with them -- to strengthen their own status or prestige. The other is that visitors to Stonehenge brought stones with them as tributes -- to be handed over to the chieftain in order to maintain good relations, and to demonstrate subservience and loyalty. That's where the info about Madagascar comes into the reckoning -- although in that case the big stones are associated with ancestor worship. I have done various posts on this.

The problem with all of this is that all of the stones (so far as we know) have come from the west. Why no tributes, tokens or totems from the other compass directions?

Georg Peterson said...

Could it be due to the peoples of the east being superior to those of the west, then the tributes would only flow in one direction?

Sorry, I'm not ignoring you just very pushed for time at the moment.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Now then, George -- we are in danger of getting racist here!!

Tony Hinchliffe said...

A great amount of Bluestone Chippings was found by the Mike Parker Pearson Riverside Team towards the end of their project. They were found in great profusion to the west of the Avenue and beyond the Class A road which separates The Heel Stone from the rest of The Avenue. A specific zone was excavated in an attempt to find these bluestone chippings. They were put on display for visitors to see in the Tent erected near the car park of Stonehenge. The notion that there might well be a "dressing" site for bluestones came from people noticing bluestone chips in molehills in that vicinity over some time. I'd seen them in the molehills before MPP's Big Dig.

George Peterson said...

The thought never entered my head, you must have a suspicious mind!

An observation from George on modern day big chiefs in the east ----

If we put all the MP's, nose to tail in a big circle, would they have a clearer view of their responsibilities?

George said...

I was refering to Neolithic times in the original post so it should not have racist undertones.

Will I now have a kick in the butt?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Wouldn't dream of it. This is a civilised blog, in which we all try to respect one another, in spite of severe provocation at times.......

But of course -- as described in some of my posts re the "significance" of the Rhosyfelin "quarry" -- there are those who think that there was a great unification between the subservient tribes in the west and the dominant tribes in the east. MPP, no less.....

George said...

I have only just realized that my post could have been read as if I'm from the east.

What I constantly fail to remember is that this typing thing doesn't transmit accent, if it did everyone would soon realize that I am as Welsh as a Preseli bluestone, a true 'carreg glas Preseli'.

George said...

I am a little confused, which is normal for me.

I seem to have gathered the impression that tomb and monument building arrived first in Ireland, and then worked its way eastward into Wales and finally England.
If this impression is correct, I would have thought the people of the west, the established ones, would have been the more powerful, but I could be totally wrong.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


The totem/tribute stones put forth to explain the stone fragments in the Stonehenge Layer is an unnecessary stretch and an affront to sensible reason. Here is why:

1) Totem/tribute stones would be collected in a pile or in some designated area and not randomly all over.

2) Totem/tribute stones carried by people to Stonehenge would likely have markings on them identifying the individual and the reason for their visit.

3) Totem/tribute stones would likely be more specific and rare and not 'any old type will do'.

4) Totem/tribute stones would likely be more smooth and polished and limited in size and shape.

5) Totem/tribute stones would not be found uniformly and deeply mixed-in with soil but would be compacted in distinct layers.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

On the contrary, MPP avoids subservience/ dominance overtones, by regularly stating his conviction that the eventual builders of Stonehenge were REMEMBERING their origins and their ancestors to the West. He says they brought the bluestones over (to what was eventually Wessex) out of respect for the Ancestors. So he's no racist. He might even have a liking for Geography! One day, there may be a meeting of minds........

BRIAN JOHN said...

Don't worry, guys -- my comments about racist comments were very tongue in cheek ...... and I'm not accusing anybody of political incorrectness. Thanks for the reminder of the MPP view, Tony -- yes, that would accord with what he and colleagues were saying in the Newport lecture evening a few weeks ago. There was this great thing about "unification" --- of a political nature -- with the fetching and delivery of the stones having huge symbolism. That did seem to me -- and I think to most others in the hall -- to be a pretty vast leap of faith made on the basis if virtually no evidence.

But we have talked of this before -- and I see it as the current archaeological obsession with the question "why?" long before the facts of the matter are established.