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Friday, 25 November 2011

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...............


The Stonehenge Enigma said...


Unfortunately, until you can either find these bluestones scattered between Preseli and Stonehenge or show us evidence of glaciation taking just a handful of 'selective' stones and transporting them at least 200 miles away form source.

Then its like Kostas hypothesis just 'another theory' without evidence.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

I guess this is a case of supposedly academically-minded people (whom we cannot identify from this article alone) leaping at some stage later to a false conclusion. Initially, the work was about glacial movement of Pembrokeshire erratic rocks, and it was agreed they had thus been moved southwards and eastwards within the County.

Then at some, unspecified, time, we hear from HHT that the Stonehenge bluestones couldn't have reached Wiltshire or its borderlands other than by human agency.

Paul MacCartney, after he left The Beatles, wrote a song called "Don't Go Jumping Waterfalls". The lyrics were apparently based on a Japanese proverb, about not jumping to conclusions, etc!!

Quite an apt geomorphological metaphor for what Mr HHT did 'all those years ago',again, to quote another Beatle, George - he was writing about "When We Was Fab".

Not sure Mr HHT is still "Fab".

Anonymous said...


Pity, isn't it, that yet again, you have failed to show us that you are capable of constructing a proper sentence [even if it is a long one].

Nice hat, though.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- you have not been paying attention. A single block of white limestone from Northern Ireland in the glacial deposits near Kenn, Somerset. The giant erratics on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The picrite boulder (source unknown) on the cliffs near St Davids. The Darwin Boulders of Patagonia. The Foothills Erratic Train in Canada. It happens all the time.......

And the evidence of ice movement directions across Pembs and up the Bristol Channel and into Somerset has been known ever since the mid 1800's. Much more than "just another theory."

I freely admit that there is no "killer fact" -- but the evidence is nonetheless more powerful and consistent than it is for any of the rival theories.

Anonymous said...

By the cosmic laws of 'Agios Murphy.
A paper has just been accepted in JAS today that show that Carn Alw is not the source of any SH rhyolite so far recognised.

The Cosheston sst has been shown not to have anything to do with the Altar Stone or any other Palaeozoic sst from SH for nearly 4years now.

The Stonehenge Enigma said...


'One swallow does not make a summer'

One small block from Northern Ireland... Please!!

None of your example have taken 50-60 4 tonne rocks from A to B with leaving traces on the way and it's these traces that confirm these ice movements.

What did you call it in the past 'pseudoscience' ?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- once again you are not paying attention. It is very rare for glaciers to "lay trails" of erratics. Isolated erratics and isolated clusters of erratics, far from their source areas, are found all over the world. Kindly read my posts more carefully, and you might learn something.

Anonymous said...

One Swallow certainly does not make a summer. However, we regularly see a be-hatted narcissistic Peacock displaying himself on this site, uttering unmelodic and meaningless drivel, as if ha had hope of attracting a mate ot two.

Chris johnson said...

There are NOT "thousands" of blue stone monoliths marching toward Maenclochog from the famous bluestone outcrop. To my eyes the outcrop is rather modest and unlikely to have produced thousands of monoliths even in a glacial heyday.

I suspect academics were well aware of the value of a good story 100 years ago, as today.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I agree. That is, unless you include the famous stone stream in the valley, which probably DOES have thousands of bluestones in it.

I have done many earlier posts on HH Thomas and the things that motivated him to say the things he said...... use the search facility to look them up, if you like.