Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Saturday, 26 November 2011

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.


Tony H said...

Never trust an inventor-engineer named Bruce, let alone two (Bedlam & Bradley). Sounds too much like those Australian outdoor types beloved of Monty Python! Perhaps there's a cottage industry of Bruce's?? Heaven forbid. Maybe the Python Canadian lumberjacks will get to work on building multiple replicas of the Durrington Walls/ Woodhenge circular buildings. John Cleese has just switched the Christmas lights on in Bath, so he's available locally.

Anonymous said...

Primitive tools used by modern people says absolutely nothing of the capabilities of primitive people. The difference between modern and prehistoric is more than the dress style. But it does show the lengths some people would go to make such connections.

Anonymous said...

don't forget stone rowing!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kindly explain yourself, Anon. I'm not sure what you are trying to say here......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Pete --yes, I'm aware that there is a whole new area of fantastical engineering solutions there, too....... One day I'll get round to collecting the images together.

The Stonehenge Enigma said...


I'm having difficulty following your reasoning.

You suggest none of these methods work therefore all stones must have been found within a 'unspecified' distance of the site.

So are you taking metres or miles?

If a method can bring stones 'a mile' then it can bring stones any miles with more time.

If you are say that these methods can only work over 'metres' - then your saying all the stones come from the site itself?

Are you separating the time period and technology of the Bluestones and the Sarsens? - if so how did they move the Sarsen stones?

If its the same technology and it can only move metres are you also suggesting that Avebury stones were also laying on the site and stone circles are built not by choice, but at random where the stones lay clumped on the ground?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- you are doing a lot of misunderstanding these days. It is self-evident (to everybody except Kostas) that the sarsens and the bluestones at Stonehenge, and the sarsens at Avebury, have been moved using mechanical devices. we don't know what the distances were. what I am suggesting is that the nature of the terrain was more of a limiting factor than distance. Is that clear?

The Stonehenge Enigma said...


I was wondering if Kostas had changed your point of view!

Then you reasoning is flawed as if you stating that one of these system can move stones - some distance (although you wont state how long) but they can't do longer distances as the terrain changed.

Most archaeologists will argue that these stones were moved small distances to boats then small distances to the site - which clearly you agree with and that is the basis of 'human transportation' theory for the Bluestones.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- ever heard of cost / benefit analysis?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- I have deleted your latest comments. I have not the slightest intention if itemising vast numbers of pieces of evidence simply because you can't be botherered to read the literature for yourself, or because, having read it, you simply refuse to believe it.

Tony H said...

Your picture of Bruce's balls came to mind when I opened the current Radio Times & saw (p.22), within a feature about Channel 4's "Digging The Great Escape" (Monday, 9 p.m.), a photo of Frank Stone (89) who escaped with 76 others in 1944. He is lying on a mock-up of the escape railway.

Apparently the Salisbury Plain's M.O.D.archaeologist, Richard Osgood, took part in the modern dig which made astonishing finds 70 years later.

Tim Daw said...

Of course the one that is most visible is in the tunnel leading up to the monument - a bit Village People meets The Egyptians.