Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Hot news from America

Hot news from America (well, not actually all that hot -- but news travels slowly across the Atlantic) -- apparently the two Profs (GW and TD) are now so convinced that the "important person" who may or may not have been buried beneath that little pile of stones on Carnmeini has something to do with Stonehenge that they are directing further research at the problem of how he did it, and when, and why.  They say that this splendid fellow "played a crucial role"  since he was buried on top of a "ceremonial stone circle."   So there we are then.  There is probably a research proposal in the pipeline as we speak.  How on earth they propose to demonstrate all of this is a closely guarded secret -- but maybe they have a direct line to the spirits of the ancestors or to Gwlad y Tylwyth Teg?

 From the latest edition of the American Welsh Newspaper called NINNAU:

ARCHAEOLOGISTS ARE researching the grave of an important figure they believe may have played a crucial role in the construction of Stonehenge. The burial chamber is located above a ceremonial stone circle in the Preseli hills in west Wales, where it is believed bluestone was quarried before being taken to Stonehenge. More research will be done to establish if the important person buried there played a role in the moving of bluestone 190 miles from West Wales to the Wiltshire monument. The find has been made by Professors Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who have spent the last IO years trying to establish how and why the blue- stones - or spotted dolerite - were transported from the Preseli hills to Stonehenge.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Bluestone Transport Lexicon

Many thanks for the kind comments -- on and off the record -- about the pictures I have posted which purport to show how bluestones were transported across land and sea.  The two pages are here:

I have already added a few pics since the original posts were made -- and if anybody knows of any I have missed, please let me know.  I will be happy to incorporate them.

Sunday 27 November 2011

New pics added

I have added some new pics to the post called "Danger -- engineers at work".........  Enjoy!

Even more danger -- marine engineers at work

By popular request, here is my gallery of wacky transport systems designed for carrying 82 bluestones from Pembrokeshire to either the mouth of the Somerset Avon or the Hampshire Avon.   There are almost as many proposed transport routes as boat designs.........

This is the daddy of them all - Alan Sorrell's famous illustration done for the 1959 edition of Atkinson's book on Stonehenge.  It's a simple sailing and rowing raft -- shown here with 2 bluestones lashed in place.  I suppose the original idea was to show that sea-based transport was possible, but since this raft is about to be shipwrecked in a severe storm, I suppose it might have demonstrated for many people that this sort of transport was impossible, rather than possible.  However, undeterred, we have a veritable host of others who have entered the fray.

Atkinson -- triple wooden punts with a stone strapped to a top decking

Len Saunders -- simple raft with a bluestone pillar "underslung" -- at the water-line

The Ferriby Boat -- built of wooden planking.  Strictly Bronze Age, but some think the technology was available in the Neolithic too

The "curragh pontoon" used during the Millennium Stone fiasco.  These specially built curraghs were first fitted with decking to take the stone, but when this proved unstable, a rig was built so that the stone could be slung in  a harness below the water line.

Castleden's idea -- triple dugouts with a top decking lashed on, for the support of the stone

Single curragh with underslung stone, lifted off on a rising tide

Blunt-stern curragh, wide enough to take a bluestone sitting in the bottom of the boat 
(Michael Bradley)

And now the greatest of all -- Robert Langdon's reed boat -- a catamaran made of reeds -- with the Stonehenge harbour in the background.  No comment.

And here's the latest, courtesy of the Daily Mail -- the two-man bluestone punt, just perfect for shifting very large lumps of stone from Milford haven all the way up the Bristol Channel to the mouth off the Avon.  No doubt the stout fellows used punting poles at least 50 feet long.  And the practicalities?  Maybe the newspaper should consult t maritime transport engineer next time.........

Seahenge and Stonehenge

A number of people have asked for a post on Seahenge, Norfolk -- presumably on the basis that it might give us some insights into the age and purpose of Stonehenge.  I must admit to ignorance re this site, except that I do recall all the fuss that went on at the time of its excavation -- with our friend Geoff Wainwright at the centre of it.......   Anyway, for better or for worse, the site was cleared, and the timbers are now preserved and on display in the Lynn Museum.

For those who are interested in drawing parallels with Stonehenge and otherwise discussing the significance of Seahenge, over to you.....

 This info is from the Lynn Museum website:
Prehistoric timber circle from Holme

In the summer of 1998 the shifting sands of Holme beach on the
north Norfolk coast revealed something extraordinary. Preserved in
the sand were the remains of a unique timber circle dating back
over 4000 years, to the Early Bronze Age. Although discovered on
a modern beach, the circle was originally built on a saltmarsh,
some distance inland.
The discovery captured the imagination of archaeologists and
public alike and the site soon became known as ‘Seahenge’. The
timbers came from a circle 6.6m (21 ft) in diameter, comprising 55
closely-fitted oak posts, each originally up to 3m (10 ft) in length.
At the centre of the circle was a great upturned tree stump.
Scientific dating methods showed that the trees were felled in the
spring or early summer of 2049BC. Whilst we can never be certain
why the site was built, it was probably used following the death of
an important person, with a body laid out on the upturned stump
so birds and animals could pick the bones clean. They were
removed for burial elsewhere. We do know that after only a short
period of time, the entrance to the circle was sealed.

Saturday 26 November 2011

John Speed's ruinous Stonehenge

I found this delightful illustration of Stonehenge (top pic) -- from the John Speed Atlas, dated to 1611 but incorporating bits of artwork which might well have been completed up to a decade earlier.

It's instructive to compare the illustration with the Lucas de Heere illustration, first published around 1575 but maybe drawn around 1550.  So there may be a 50 year gap between the two portrayals of the ruinous old site.

It's often assumed that the Speed illustration is simply copied from the de Heere picture -- but I'm not quite sure.  The wondrous mountains in the background are clearly very fanciful, and suggest that the artist may never have been near the site -- but note the subtle differences between the illustrations.  In each one there are only ten lintels in place,  but in the Speed picture there is a fifth bluestone, leaning at a crazy angle.  In each picture there are fewer than 30 standing sarsens, with seven or so leaning or fallen.

As we all know, the "immaculate Stonehenge" is supposed to have had a total of about 160 stones on the site -- about 80 bluestones and about 80 sarsens.  Vast numbers are missing in these early illustrations -- well before the "seventeenth century stone collecting mania" which we hear about in the literature as an explanation for missing stones.  If there were so few stones here on the site in the Sixteenth century, I think it fair to assume that they were never there in the first place.

Danger -- engineers at work

Dick Parry's rollers
Cliff Osenton's supporting frame and log rollers
Richard Atkinson's sledge 1958
 Cuban "wedge sledge"  -- Len Saunders
Bruce Bedlam's roller
Garry Levin's wickerwork roller
 Bruce's balls
The Millennium Stone sledge 2000 -- used on roads with low-friction netting

 Above -- Alan Sorrell -- 1958 for Atkinson et al -- rack and rollers, and lots of strong men with very long ropes.......

The Millennium Stone Pull, 2000.  Note the vast amounts of low friction Netlon being used to enable the sledge to slide properly.  On this day (when I was involved!) the sledge went out of control on the hill you can see in the background, and this pic was taken shortly after the crash.  There weren't enough people with braking ropes at the back. 
Luckily nobody was hurt.... 

Rodney Castelden's ox sledge and bogey -- needing 24 oxen for the haulage of a sarsen.  Presumably the haulage of bluestones would have needed fewer oxen and a simpler rig?

The "conveyor stone" system, in which a row of bluestones acts as a "firm roadway" for other stones to be moved along from the back of the row to the front, through the use of rollers.  Nice idea, but on rough terrain, with rough and irregularly shaped stones....?

 Phil Morgan's Contraption.  Basically a rocking A-frame capable of moving a bluestone on a sledge forward by a few feet at a time.  Tested July 2011 at St Fagan's.


I have been pondering on what a splendid cottage industry we now have in the UK, involving enthusiastic teams of engineers and presumably underwritten by substantial quantities if public money.  Not that I'm complaining -- I'd rather see money spent on this than on Trident submarines, for example.  But just think of the thousands and thousands of hours of intellectual effort have gone into all of this -- not to mention the sweated labour (usually involving groups of students.)

There are a number of interesting themes coming through here. 

One -- some of the experiments don't use stones at at all, let alone irregular stones such as those in the bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge.   

Two -- there is frequent "cheating" especially through the use of modern ropes, used in great lengths both for lashing rollers and frames together, and for pulling sledges along.  OK -- so what these guys are doing is attempting to "establish a principle" that works -- but can you really imagine Bruce Bedlam's roller working, for example, with Neolithic ropes made of twisted bramble stalks or animal gut?  Hmmm.......

Three --  the use of asphalt roadways or hard surfaces is rather too common for comfort.  And on the Millennium Stone pull, in which I was involved, the organizers had to resort to the use of low-friction nylon netting to facilitate the movement of the sledge with its bluestone, and used just asphalt roadways and good farm tracks for the haulage route.

Four -- there are some other wonderful impracticalities, the most wonderful of which is Bruce Bradley's ballbearing and railway track idea, which requires not only a trackway with a near-perfect groove cut in it, but also large quantities of IDENTICAL stone or wooden ballbearings.  Now that's something I really DO object to taxpayer's money being used for......

Five -- too many flat and even fields and rolling chalk downs for comfort.  One or two of the trials did involve haulage up slopes, but not one of the tests thus far has come anywhere near replicating the assumed haulage of stones across a heavily-wooded landscape with peat bogs, rocky outcrops and stone litters, sticky clay depressions, steep slopes, waterlogged woodland clearings, cataracts and streams with alternating torrents and shallows.  Some of the experimenters need to come to Pembrokeshire and have a look round.... I will be happy to act as a local guide, just in case the natives prove to be hostile and choose to target them with spears and arrows......


Sorry guys -- you have had fun, and some of your techniques might have worked on Salisbury Plain, but I have seen nothing yet, in all the info about these engineering experiments, to convince me that large numbers of bluestone pillars could have been moved for one mile through the Neolithic jungles of central Pembrokeshire, let alone for the epic journey so beloved of EH and miriads of otherwise sensible people.  The more I think about it, the more convinced am I that ALL of the stones used at Stonehenge were gathered up and transported across a relatively limited area of Salisbury Plain.  Even there, the Neolithic terrain would have been far more difficult than it is today, so that might well have placed a real constraint upon the maximum distance across which the haulage of stones was worthwhile.

Secret history of Stonehenge revealed -- again, and again, and again.....

Haven't we heard all this a thousand times before?  Well, yes we probably have.  This is a piece from David Keys in "The Independent" -- no doubt based upon a University of Birmingham press release.  It's almost impossible to say whether this is saying anything new, or not.  All of these research teams feel that they have to flag up their "findings" with maximum hype, and I recall that not long ago Mike Pitts had a real go at this particular team for -- shall we say -- over-egging their latest pudding to a considerable degree.  Anyway, it's good to see that work is still going on -- and I do like the thought that a wide survey across the Stonehenge landscape might reveal previously unknown sites, stone or post holes and even buried stones made of sarsen or bluestone..........  and who knows, they might even find a moraine or another cluster of erratics!

Secret history of Stonehenge revealed

Ancient site may have been place of worship 500 years before the first stone was erected

David Keys
Saturday 26 November 2011


Extraordinary new discoveries are shedding new light on why Britain’s most famous ancient site, Stonehenge, was built – and when.

Current research is now suggesting that Stonehenge may already have been an important sacred site at least 500 years before the first Stone circle was erected – and that the sanctity of its location may have determined the layout of key aspects of the surrounding sacred landscape.

What’s more, the new investigation – being carried out by archaeologists from the universities’ of Birmingham, Bradford  and Vienna – massively increases the evidence linking Stonehenge to pre-historic solar religious beliefs. It increases the likelihood that the site was originally and primarily associated with sun worship

The investigations have also enabled archaeologists  to putatively reconstruct the detailed route of a possible religious procession or other ritual event which they suspect may have taken place annually to the north of Stonehenge.

That putative pre-historic religious ‘procession’ (or, more specifically, the evidence suggesting its route) has implications for understanding Stonehenge’s prehistoric religious function – and suggests that the significance of the site Stonehenge now occupies emerged earlier than has previously been appreciated.

The crucial new archaeological evidence was discovered during on-going survey work around Stonehenge in which archaeologists have been ‘x-raying’ the ground, using ground-penetrating radar and other geophysical investigative techniques. As the archaeological team from Birmingham and Vienna were using these high-tech systems to map the interior of a major prehistoric enclosure (the so-called ‘Cursus’) near Stonehenge, they discovered two great pits, one towards the enclosure’s eastern end, the other nearer its western end.

When they modelled the relationship between these newly-discovered Cursus pits and Stonehenge on their computer system, they realised that, viewed from the so-called ‘Heel Stone’ at Stonehenge, the pits were aligned with sunrise and sunset on the longest day of the year – the summer solstice (midsummer’s day). The chances of those two alignments being purely  coincidental are extremely low.

The archaeologists then began to speculate as to what sort of ritual or ceremonial activity might have been carried out at and between the two pits. In many areas of the world, ancient religious and other ceremonies sometimes involved ceremonially processing round the perimeters of monuments. The archaeologists therefore thought it possible that the prehistoric celebrants at the Cursus might have perambulated between the two pits by processing around the perimeter of the Cursus.

Initially this was pure speculation – but then it was realized that there was, potentially a way of trying to test the idea. On midsummer’s day there are in fact three key alignments – not just sunrise and sunset, but also midday (the highest point the sun reaches in its annual cycle). For at noon the key alignment should be due south.

One way to test the ‘procession’ theory (or at least its route) was for the archaeologists  to demonstrate that the midway point on that route had indeed a special relationship with Stonehenge (just as the two pits – the start and end point of the route – had).  The ‘eureka moment’ came when the computer calculations revealed that the midway point (the noon point) on the route aligned directly with the centre of Stonehenge, which was precisely due south.

This realization that the sun hovering over the site of  Stonehenge at its highest point in the year appears to have been of great importance to prehistoric people, is itself of potential significance. For it suggests that the site’s association with the veneration of the sun was perhaps even greater than previously realized.

But the discovery of the Cursus pits, the discovery of the solar alignments and of the putative ‘processional’ route, reveals something else as well – something that could potentially turn the accepted chronology of the Stonehenge landscape on its head.

For decades, modern archaeology has held that Stonehenge was a relative latecomer to the area – and that the other large monument in that landscape – the Cursus – pre-dated it by up to 500 years.

However, the implication of the new evidence is that, in a sense, the story may have been the other way round, i.e. that the site of Stonehenge was sacred before the Cursus was built, says Birmingham archaeologist, Dr. Henry Chapman, who has been modelling the alignments on the computerized reconstructions of the Stonehenge landscape

The argument for this is simple, yet persuasive. Because the ‘due south’ noon alignment of the ‘procession’ route’s mid-point could not occur if the Cursus itself had different dimensions, the design of that monument has to have been conceived specifically to attain that mid-point alignment with the centre of Stonehenge.

What’s more, if that is so, the Stonehenge Heel Stone location had to have been of ritual significance before the Cursus pits were dug (because their alignments are as perceived specifically from the Heel Stone).

Those two facts, when taken together, therefore imply that the site, later occupied by the stones of Stonehenge, was already sacred before construction work began on the Cursus. Unless the midday alignment is a pure coincidence (which is unlikely), it  would imply  that the Stonehenge site’s sacred status is at least 500 years older than previously thought – a fact which raises an intriguing possibility.

For 45 years ago, archaeologists found an 8000 BC Mesolithic (‘Middle’ Stone Age) ritual site in what is now Stonehenge’s car park. The five thousand year gap between that Mesolithic sacred site and Stonehenge itself meant that most archaeologists thought that ‘sacred’ continuity between the two was inherently unlikely. But, with the new discoveries, the time gap has potentially narrowed. Indeed, it’s not known for how long the site of Stonehenge was sacred prior to the construction of the Cursus. So, very long term traditions of geographical sanctity in relation to Britain’s and the world’s best known ancient monument, may now need to be considered.

The University of Birmingham  Stonehenge area survey - the largest of its type ever carried out anywhere in the world – will take a further two years to complete, says Professor Vince Gaffney, the director the project.

Virtually every square meter in a five square mile area surrounding the world most famous pre-historic monument will be examined geophysically to a depth of  up to two metres, he says.

It’s anticipated that dozens, potentially hundreds of previously unknown sites will be discovered as a result of the operation.

The ongoing discoveries in Stonehenge’s sacred prehistoric landscape – being made by Birmingham’s archaeologists and colleagues from the University of Vienna’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute – are expected to transform scholars’ understanding of the famous monument’s origins, history and meaning.

Friday 25 November 2011

Milford Haven -- the great bluestone hunt

One of the interesting sections in that film (see previous posts) was to do with the great efforts made by the film's producers to find bluestones on the bed of Milord Haven, in order to validate a find made around 1970 by a diver called Pinot Antoniassi (correct spelling?).  When diving in the Haven in association with a big project to deepen and widen the deepwater channel used by oil tankers, he discovered what he thought were 3 bluestones, in about 30 feet of water off Angle Bay.  He assumed that these "bluestones" had slipped off a raft or other Neolithic vessel when rough water was encountered near the mouth of the Haven.  The find made great headlines in the local press at the time, and perpetuated an old myth about "lost bluestones" on the bed of the Haven.  Well, went the theory, for all the stones that made it following the hazardous voyage from Milford Haven, there must have been many more that were lost -- and where better to be lost than just off Angle Bay, where the swells from the open sea were first encountered by the voyagers?

For the film, a team of divers did a lot of sonar scanning work, and looked through the sedimentary records associated with the channel deepening project, before coming up with a list of 21 sites where large stones seemed to be sitting on the sea floor.  They homed in on the best of these, near the edge of the deepwater channel.  They dived down, found the stones, and saw immediately that they were not at all pillar-shaped, but very irregular, with jagged edges.  They seem to have decided immediately that they were not "lost bluestones" at all, but probably shattered boulders of bedrock which were by-products of the blasting work in the channel.  At any rate, in order to keep the interest of the viewing public alive, they took a large sample off the biggest stone and brought it ashore.  Prof Bowen must have known it was local Carboniferous Limestone the moment he set eyes on it, and he could have tested it with a few drops of acid,  but of course in a dramatic gesture he had to cart it all the way up onto Carn Meini, where (for the cameras) he compared it with a lump of spotted dolerite and declared it to be a red herring, or a lump of Carboniferous Limestone, or whatever -- much to the disappointment of all concerned. 

So that was that.  An interesting episode, but singularly unhelpful to the cause of those who believe in heroic Neolithic seamen taking 80 or more stones out of Milford Haven and across the Bristol Channel.  Almost as chaotic, one might think, as the great Millennium Stone Fiasco of the year 2000, in which many enthusiastic folk (including me) tried to deliver a lump of bluestone from Mynachlogddu to Stonehenge.  That one ended up on the floor of Milford Haven too........ but that's another story.

Stonehenge -- secrets of the stones

This has recently been posted on YouTube -- but as far as I can make out, it was first shown in 1998.  I'm not sure who made it, or where it was shown.  It lasts for almost 50 mins, and there is a lot of interesting info in it......

By the way, there is at least one more programme with exactly the same name.

Those famous Chlorine 36 dates

I've been looking at the film called "Stonehenge -- Secrets of the Stones."  Thanks to Pete for drawing attention to it.  I'll put up another post with a YouTube link on it, in case anybody is interested.

One of the interesting sequences in the film (produced in 1998) is the bit featuring Prof David Bowen, who wanders about in the monument patting sarsens and apparently thinking that they are bluestones, and then produces two lumps of stone which he wants to date, using the chlorine 36 technique.  He says that the stones have come from the 1958 dig -- so presumably they have come from the collections made in the Richard Atkinson excavations of that year.  God only knows where they came from on the site, and what their history might be.  That would be quite enough to put most people off, but not Prof DB.

Look at the stones in these pics.  The smaller one is obviously a piece of spotted dolerite -- but what is the other one?  Looks like a bit of Chilmark stone to me --  please correct me if I'm wrong.  Could it be a piece of volcanic ash?  Or a piece of rhyolite?  Anyway, we don't hear anything more about the big lump on the TV programme -- but the smaller one ended up being crushed to a powder in the USA (at Purdue University) and subjected to Chlorine 36 dating.  The date apparently came out as showing that the stone was first exposed to the atmosphere around 40,000 years ago.  On that basis the good Professor says -- on the film -- that "there is no way that this rock could have been transported by glacier ice from Preseli to Stonehenge."  He says that the last ice sheet that might have affected this area was in existence about 650,000 years ago -- goodness knows where he got that date from........

This finding was widely purported in the media to demonstrate conclusively that glaciation could not have moved the bluestones to Stonehenge.  of course, it does nothing of the sort.  It does not even support the human transport theory.

Prof Bowen's dating exercise -- also involving other dates, with two from Carn Meini,  has been heavily criticised by other geologists. It is in my view entirely useless -- we do not know where the sample came from either at Stonehenge or at the place of its origin.   fUnless you know precisely where a sample came has come from, ie what its exposure to cosmic radiation and weathering might have been over many thousands of years, you can say NOTHING reliable or scientific about the age of the stone surface you are purportedly dating. And to say anything sensible, you need at least two different dating techniques, based on the characteristics of the rock.

This was pointed out by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and others some years ago.  I'm a bit confused, because there is another date (for the big sample in the picture?) that was published in 1994 --- around 14,000 years BP.    Other dates for rock surfaces at Carn Meini were 5,400 BP and 4,900 BP.  Which rock surfaces?   Chosen because they looked fresh, or because they looked old?  facing east or west?  On top of a cliff or in the shadow of a cliff? We have no idea................

PLEASE will somebody do some sensible cosmogenic dating one day, to help us to understand what has gone on at Stonehenge? 


Antiquity, Volume: 69  Number: 266  Page: 1019–1020
Chlorine-36 dating and the bluestones of Stonehenge
Olwen Williams-Thorpe, D. Graham Jenkins, Judith Jenkins and John S. Watson

Chlorine-36 dating and the bluestones of Stonehenge

by Olwen Williams-Thorpe, D. Graham Jenkins, Judith Jenkins, John S. Watson

Chlorine-36 dating has important potential for archaeology, but recent Chlorine-36 dates on `bluestones' of Stonehenge have been misinterpreted. Professor D.Q. Bowen of the University of Wales, Cardiff and colleagues have dated a fragment of igneous rock reported as having been found at Stonehenge (exact type unknown, but not a spotted dolerite) at 14,000[ or -]1900 years, and surfaces of outcrops at Carn Menyn in Preseli at 5400[ or -]400 and 4900[ or -]400 years (Bowen et al. 1994; Bowen 1994: 211). This information has been interpreted as indicating that the bluestones of Stonehenge could not have been transported to the site of Stonehenge by ice, because the ice sheets were extensive enough only at c. 400,000 years or earlier, when the fragment and outcrop were apparently still buried or covered, and not exposed for ice transport (Bowen 1994: 211; Hawkes 1994; British Archaeology News 1995).
Chlorine-36 dating gives an estimate of the length of time that a rock surface has been exposed to the atmosphere, by measuring the amount of Chlorine-36 produced by exposure of the rock to cosmic radiation. If the rock or surface has been covered or buried, the date obtained will reflect the reduced time of exposure to air. Thus a Chlorine-36 date may reflect either recent exposure of a surface due to processes such as frost shattering, or an original exposure date. This difficulty of interpretation is why Chlorine-36 dating is normally done on boulders or lava surfaces whose erosional history is known (e.g. Phillips et al. 1991).
Professor Bowen and colleagues have obtained a date of c. 14,000 years exposure time for the fragment from Stonehenge. However, it is not possible to tell if this is an original exposure date, or if the fragment was brought to Salisbury Plain by ice 400,000 years ago or earlier, and was subsequently buried within superficial deposits on Salisbury Plain for part of its history. Or it could have been broken off a larger erratic lying on Salisbury Plain, by natural processes such as frost shattering. The rock type of this fragment is unknown, and the sample now completely destroyed (Professor D.Q. Bowen, in discussion at the meeting of the Lithic Studies Group, Cardiff, 28 January 1995), so it may be nothing to do with the bluestone monoliths.
Carn Menyn loses material from outcrop surfaces every year through frost shattering. This will reduce the date obtained on an outcrop. A date of 5000 years could represent a preserved quarried surface (in which case it might be expected to show quarry marks), or it could be a frost-shattered surface. Even if it is a quarried surface, its relevance to Stonehenge is questionable, because the bluestones were erected there about 4000 years ago.
Thus, even if it is considered that the bluestones were moved by human transport, the Chlorine-36 dates do not tell us at what era that movement might have taken place.
The article in British Archaeology suggests that dating a monolith surface of a bluestone at Stonehenge will resolve the problem. Unfortunately, it will not. At least some of the bluestones were dressed and the argument continues about which, and how many were altered in this way. Some have also been damaged by tourists. A dressed or damaged bluestone will give a Chlorine-36 date reflecting total exposure time - for example, about 4000 years if it is dressed but not subsequently damaged. A variety of older dates could be obtained, depending on whether the bluestone was removed from Wales by a glacier as an erratic, buried for part or all of its glacial transport, or broken up by erosional processes in post-glacial times.
We welcome further evidence in the Stonehenge debate, but are concerned about misinterpretations. Chlorine-36 dating might help the debate by obtaining large numbers of dates on Preseli outcrops (to give a mean date of oldest exposed surfaces). Dates on monoliths at Stonehenge could be useful if obtained for undressed and undamaged surfaces, but even these would be subject to interpretation. In the meantime, Chlorine-36 dates give no evidence either for or against glacial transport of the bluestones of Stonehenge.


Bowen D.Q. 1994. Late Cenozoic Wales and south-west England, Proceedings of the Ussher Society 8: 209-13. 
Bowen, D.Q., F.M. Phillips & D. Elmore 1994. Chlorine-36 dating British ice-sheets, Abstracts of the American Geophysics Union, 1994 Fall Meeting: 226. British Archaeology. 1995. 
Dating gives clue to Stonehenge riddle, British Archaeology 1 (February). 
Hawkes, N. 1994. Stonehenge dating dispels icesheet theory, The Times: 5 December 1994
Phillips, F.M., M.G. Zreda, S.S. Smith, D. Elmore, P.W. Kubik, R.I. DORN & D.J. Roddy. 1991. Age and geomorphic history of Meteor Crater, Arizona, from cosmogenic [Cl.sup.36] and [C.sup.14] in rock varnish, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 55: 2695-8.

The Bluestone Transport Myth -- how it all began

Yesterday I gave a talk in Cardigan (about my novels, not about Stonehenge) and a gentleman came up to me and gave me a copy of a translation from an article written (in Welsh) by Prof OT Jones in 1966.  He thought I might be interested in it -- too right!!  I had never seen it before, and indeed I had no idea that the article existed.

The article is reproduced above -- click to enlarge.

Jones was one of the team which was doing the original geological survey of Pembrokeshire in the years before the First World War, and in this article he describes a trip by Thomas, Cantrill, Dixon, Jones and Evans to the Preseli Hills in 1908.  The geologists were involved in an erratic hunt, trying to track down the source of the spotted dolerites which they had found scattered across the countryside in SE Pembs and Carmarthenshire.  The found the source area around Carn Meini, and Jones describes "thousands of blocks lying loose on the ground and extending along the hilltops towards the road to Maenclochog."  Note this statement:  "..... there was no argument that it was from this spot (Carn Meini) that the stone had been carried by ice towards the southern part of the county."  Note too that this was strictly a geological expedition -- there is no mention anywhere of archaeology or indeed of any use of the stones in prehistoric structures.

Jones describes how HHT later received a "parcel... containing a large number of specimens" of rock with a request that the source area might be found.  These specimens had been collected at Stonehenge -- and neither HHT nor OTJ was in any doubt that they matched the spotted dolerites they had seen at Carn Meini some years earlier.  Thomas visited Stonehenge and looked at the bluestone monoliths,  and although he was convinced that the majority had come from Carn Meini he spent 3 years checking to see if there might be other source areas in Ireland, Wales, England or Brittany.  He didn't find any, but he did satisfy himself that the rhyolites at Stonehenge had come from Carn Alw -- and that association of the two rock types both at Stonehenge and on the Preseli Hills convinced him of the "match" between source area and final resting place.  "This settled the matter absolutely" wrote Jones -- of course, as we now know, it did nothing of the sort, but this was after all a long time ago.  He was also convinced by HHT's identification of the Altar Stone as coming from the Cosheston Sandstone beds on the shores of the Daugleddau (the inner reaches of Milford Haven.)

What interests me about this historic document is that HHT and OTJ and the other geologists at the time saw no archaeological significance in any of the work they were doing -- and that there was no question in their minds but that large numbers of spotted dolerite boulders and slabs had been picked up by glacier ice and carried southwards and eastwards.  We still don't know why, or when, HHT moved from that relatively simple position to propose that the stones "could not possibly" have been moved by ice over a distance of 200 km or so, from their source area to Salisbury Plain...............

Monday 21 November 2011

Altar Stone location

For those who are not familiar with the plan of Stonehenge, the Altar Stone is the flattish standing stone at the focal point of the bluestone horseshoe -- number 80 on the plan, and nestling beneath the tallest trilithon on the artists recreation.

I'm not saying I accept any of this -- but that is the EH version..........

The Altar Stone - where the glacier left it?

Desperate Dan wanted a nice colour pic of the Altar Stone -- and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, here we are:

Many thanks to Rob Ixer for this -- that's him pointing to the stone.  Note that the stones here are in exactly the same positions as they were in 1867 -- in spite of all of the reconstructions, excavations and stone stabilisations that have occurred over the years -- and especially in 1958.

The Altar Stone is such a strange shape, and is so solidly embedded into the ground, that one wonders whether it ever has been moved from anywhere else.  Now here's an idea -- could it be that the only stone at Stonehenge which is in its original position (ie after dumping by the glacier) is the Altar Stone?  And could it be that this stone was invested with such significance (because it was strange) that it became the focal point for the erection of the succession of stone settings which we now know as Stonehenge?

 Another picture of the Altar Stone -- not sure where I found it!  But it shows up well here.

Sarsen Speculations

Thanks to Tim Daw for drawing attention to his site, and especially the latest post, dated 31 December 2011 (which I believe is still in the future, but what the hell -- time has no meaning on this site, and we exist in a different reality from the rest of mankind).  This is about the route supposedly used for the transport of the sarsen staones from Fyfield Down to Stonehenge.

Tim publishes a little map showing the proposed transport route.  But he says:  "..........there is no other credible source for most of the stones than from around Fyfield Down to the west of Marlborough, 18 miles to the north of the monument, where many stones still remain on the surface to this day."

Sadly, he does not support that statement with any evidence, and he omits to mention that the current drift of opinion is that the sarsens have simply been collected up from the vicinity of Stonehenge (as proposed in the latest Field and Pearson work for EH).  In one of his posts, Tim cites this from Mike Pitts:

"...........sarsens are local to the area, and as far as we know it has never been glaciated. What we hope to find (though it may be a long shot) are pits where stones had been removed in neolithic times. As they would likely have used antler picks to dig them out, there’s a good chance we’d find one or more we could radiocarbon date, offering a more reliable date for stone moving (and presumbaly erection) than we’re ever likely to get from Avebury itself. If we found signs of stone dressing, then the stone would have been for Stonehenge (the only site we know with carved stones), offering huge insight into the technology and transport issues of the site."

Here are two maps, one showing the Tim Daw route and the other the Richard Atkinson route.

 As far as I'm concerned, this is all unnecessary speculation -- I have many posts on this blog about the sarsens and how they were collected.  But there are lots of other interesting things on Tim's site.  Well worth a look.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Altar Stone 1867

I found this splendid old picture (from 1867) of a couple of tidy fellows enjoying a day out at Stonehenge.  The Altar Stone is the one flat on the ground, beneath the two fallen sarsens.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Bruce Bedlam's Roller and Roundhouse

Thanks to Bruce for drawing attention to his new Facebook site -- he also has a web site which some may not know about. A number of interesting theories here.  One relates to the method for transporting large stones -- see the photos above.  Another is the idea (not new) that Stonehenge was a large communal building in which the stones were a key part of the circular design, supporting an elaborate timber structure which looked like this:

Here are two links to his pages:

There are also some videos on YouTube, which I haven't got round to looking at yet.  My first impression, when looking at some of Bruce's written material, is "nice ideas -- pity about the factual inaccuracies........."

More to follow....