Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Does Stonehenge really make all men mad?

Thanks to Tim for drawing my attention to these pieces -- the Times article (or some of it) and Mike Pitts's comments on his own site.  I am amazed -- the work at Rhosyfelin does NOTHING to enhance the human transport theory, and it does NOTHING to increase the likelihood of Neolithic quarries being found.  Have all of these people lost the capacity for rational thought?  More on this in due course.....

If Rob is correctly quoted here, I am appalled.  And if he is misquoted, I wonder what he proposes to do about it?


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Bluestones theory is now frozen out

The Times

Bluestones theory is now frozen out
Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent
December 17 2011 12:01AM

The long-running debate about the origin of the Stonehenge “bluestones” and how they got to Salisbury Plain some four millennia ago has taken another turn: a precise quarry source for much of the Stonehenge rock has been pinned down to a few square metres in southwestern Wales. This supports the notion that the bluestones were taken by human agency all the way from Pembrokeshire to Wiltshire, rather than helped along their way in the Ice Age by glacier transport.
“The glacial theory is frozen out by this new evidence,” Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University told The Times. If the stones had been transported east of the Bristol Channel by glacial action, a much wider range of sources would be expected. The pinpoint sourcing that has now been done argues strongly for human quarrying and transport of the bluestones, whatever the motivation and precise route employed.........
Three major rock types and two minor ones can be identified within the “bluestone” range using both the entire stones and waste chips known as debitage which result from trimming the slabs on site at Stonehenge. The three major groups, originally thought to be from different geographical sources, can now be shown to be from the same locale.
The area of the new find lies at Pont Saeson on the northern flank of the Preseli Mountains, long known as the general source of the bluestones, some 6.5 kilometres (four miles) from Newport in north Pembrokeshire. The discovery follows the use of zircons included in the rocks to identify an area near Pont Saeson as one likely source of Stonehenge material by Dr Ixer and his colleague Dr Richard Bevins of the National Museum of Wales.
“Almost all — 99.9 per cent — of the Stonehenge rhyolitic ‘debitage’ can be petrographically matched to rhyolitic rocks found within a few hundred square metres at Pont Saeson and especially to those found at Craig Rhosyfelin.
“However, it is possible in a few cases, where the petrography of these Welsh in situ rocks is so distinctive, to suggest an even finer provenance to within square metres, namely to individual outcrops,” Ixer and Bevins report in Archaeology in Wales.
The outcrop itself is some 70 metres long and has many tall, narrow slabs up to two metres (6.5 feet) high as the dominant feature, splitting off from the parent rock and reminiscent of the Stonehenge bluestones. One of the Stonehenge shafts, known as SH32e, can be matched very closely to this outcrop, and must have been quarried there, not transported by a glacier.
The dispute over natural versus human transportation for these elements of an early and important phase of Stonehenge now seems to be settled —as Ixer says, the glacial theory is out cold.

May be more.......

Archaeology in Wales Vol. 50 pp 21-31


Bluestones – proof for human transport to Stonehenge?

Norman Hammond’s piece in Today’s Times (“Bluestones theory is now frozen out”) highlights the work by Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer on the precise origins of the Stonehenge bluestones. This is landmark stuff, and worth trying, briefly, to summarise.

There’s a lot of stone debris under the ground at Stonehenge, and more in the area around. For much of the 20th century the former was known as the “Stonehenge layer”. William Hawley associated it with the original dressing of megaliths (hence, any pits found below it were said to be older than the standing stones), while Richard Atkinson thought it derived from destruction of the stones, and was largely post-medieval or modern. As I found at my small excavation on the roadside in 1980, at least some of this debris almost certainly is prehistoric. At the time, I claimed it was contemporary with the carving of the stones. Mike Parker Pearson and Tim Darvill would now like to associate it with prehistoric stone destruction; on available evidence, I think it’s impossible to be certain either way. However, while the debris across the site is likely to have a variety of different origins, most of it, at least, probably does come from stones used for megaliths. So it’s an extremely important resource for understanding Stonehenge.

At last, we have some substantial modern studies of this material. Hammond quotes the most recently published, by Ixer and Bevins in Archaeology in Wales. Other articles include theirs in the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, and one they authored with Nick Pearce in the Journal of Archaeological Science (see references). They bring an important insight: the great bulk of the non sarsen stones at Stonehenge (but not all), come from a very restricted region in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales. So restricted, that Ixer at least is confident in saying that this alone points to human transport as the only likely mechanism for the stones having got to Stonehenge.

The best known type of bluestone is the spotted dolerite, of which all the stones in the surviving inner arrangement at Stonehenge are composed. These are long known to have originated in the Preseli Hills. Ixer and Bevins have also examined specimens of the other main class, rhyolitic tuffs.

The work began principally with a study of the stone fragments picked up on the surface or excavated in test pits near the Cursus, just north of Stonehenge. Though several different types of rhyolitic rock were represented, they found that most “had a restricted and distinctive petrography both in terms of their mineralogy and textures”, and that “this petrography was unusual for south-west Wales, being only recognised from the Pont Saeson area”. In subsequent fieldwork, building on Bevins’s extensive knowledge of the area, they located outcrops at Pont Saeson, in a deep valley on the northern edge of the famous Preseli Hills. In the JAS article, they reported that some rhyolites from Stonehenge were the same as samples from Pont Saeson (on Craig Rhos-y-felin), and further detailed work confirming this is reported in the Archaeology in Wales article. The location is so precise, we have every reason to think that actual quarries should now be found, opening up exciting fieldwork possibilities.


“Craig Rhos-Y-Felin, Pont Saeson is the dominant source of the Stonehenge rhyolitic ‘debitage’”, by RA Ixer & RE Bevins, Archaeology in Wales 50 (2011), 21–31

“Stonehenge rhyolitic bluestone sources & the application of zircon chemistry as a new tool for provenancing rhyolitic lithics”, by RE Bevins, NJP Pearce, & RA Ixer, Journal of Archaeological Sciences 38 (2011), 605–22

“The petrography, affinity and provenance of lithics from the Cursus Field, Stonehenge”, by RA Ixer & RE Bevins, Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine 103 (2010) 1–15

“The detailed petrography of six orthostats from the bluestone circle, Stonehenge”, by RA Ixer & RE Bevins, Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine 104 (2010), 1–14


Anonymous said...

I stand by what I and Richard wrote in Arch in Wales.
and then discuss.
I do not defend what others write about my work.
speedy/Myris/Thomas Rhymer/Geoffrey of Monmouth

BRIAN JOHN said...

Speedy -- not everybody has the resources to read the primary literature, so crap reports in the media may be all they have to go on. If you are misquoted, you do have the opportunity (on this blog and elsewhere) to disown quotes attributed to you. You can even write to the paper and put the record straight. If you don't disown these quotes, all we can assume is that you are correctly quoted.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob has asked me to put this quote up:

“Even if all of the bluestones (and two thirds are yet to be sampled) were matched to their outcrops this still would not resolve the problem of their selection and transport. However, if it were possible to provenance to within an outcrop and show that significant numbers of the bluestones come from within metres or tens of metres of each other, this might suggest purposeful on-site selection (quarrying) and that the transport agency, for those stones at least, becomes obvious”.

That's from his 1996 paper called “Ore petrography and Archaeological Provenance”. (Mineralogical Society Bulletin 113, 17-19)

I disagree totally with that last statement, as I have said to Rob on many occasions. I cannot see any logic in it. If accurate provenancing ties down "a sgnificant number of bluestone orthostats" (or even significant numbers of rhyolite fragments) to particular outcrops, to within a few metres, all that tells us is that the geologists have done a quite impressive piece of provenancing. No more, no less.

GLACIAL quarrying is perfectly capable of removing considerable numbers of blocks from the same outcrop, moving them in a cluster, and then emplacing them in a limited area.

So the thesis that there has been "purposeful on-site selection", and that a human transport agency becomes "obvious", is not strengthened in the least by the new work.

Another example, I fear, of "geology in the service of archaeology." If this had been a matter of "geology in pursuit of the truth" I suspect that Rob would never have made that statement in 1996.

Tony H said...

Speaking as a 'Jack of all trades, Master on none' rusty Geographer,Paul Simon's "The Boxer" (what an apposite title for his song in the current context!) springs to mind yet again:-

'A man sees what he wants to see
And disregards the rest'!!

I fear we are all subject to subtle psychological pressures from others, who may be from a completely different discipline, and, before we know it, without realising, we have virtually had words, or our choice of words, put into our mouths by a 'helpful' associate or associates.

T'was ever thus.

Anonymous said...

The argument is glacial transport involves vast number of stones from vast areas over vast distances. The evidence traces few specific stones to a narrow specific location.
The conclusion is this can only be explained by human agency.
Without questioning the validity of the conclusion, the question is can any other natural transport mechanism explain the evidence?

Anonymous said...

“Almost all — 99.9 per cent — of the Stonehenge rhyolitic ‘debitage’ can be petrographically matched to rhyolitic rocks found within a few hundred square metres at Pont Saeson and especially to those found at Craig Rhosyfelin.”

If the Stonehenge rhyolitic debitage can be matched to Craig Rhosyfelin but cannot be matched to any Stonehenge orthostats what does this tell us about the provenance of the Stonehenge orthostats or their transport? NOTHING! But it does raise the most crucial question. How did this rhyolitic debitage get to Stonehenge?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon No 1: You say:
"The conclusion is this can only be explained by human agency."
I disagree with that conclusion.
You say:
"Without questioning the validity of the conclusion, the question is can any other natural transport mechanism explain the evidence?"

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon No 2:
Remember that we are talking here about the "rhyolitic debitage" in the places where work happens to have been done and where holes have been opened up. And there is plenty of other material in the debitage as well -- sarsen debris, flint, dolerite, sandstone etc.

I would personally never make a statement like this: "Almost all — 99.9 per cent — of the Stonehenge rhyolitic ‘debitage’ can be petrographically matched......" That is tempting fate to an extraordinary degree, and I expect it to be disproved when other areas are investigated.

We must either be talking about destroyed orthostats or morainic debris consisting of smaller rhyolite stones that have been broken up because they were inconvenient and in the way. Another possibility, I suppose, is that the debitage is what's left from stone axe production -- but I doubt that this particular rhyolite would be much good for stone axes.

At the very least, this draws attention again to the "Stonehenge Layer" -- and that has to be good.

Anonymous said...

The 'conclusion' is not mine. The authors of the articles in your post conclude the recent evidence can only be explained by human agency. I disagree with them. While I agree with you.

We need to keep an open mind to all possible transport mechanisms. What others can you think of besides 'human transport' and 'glacier transport' that can explain the specificity in the evidence?

Anon 1

Anonymous said...

The quote in my post came from the article in your post. The 99.9% is not my estimate and this indeed would tempt fate. I agree.

Why and how could prehistoric men destroy to such small fragments orthostats or smaller inconvenient debris? Why not move them out of the way! Stone axe production? Really? Does not make sense to me! Does it make sense to you?

The most crucial of all questions, “how the rhyolitic debris get to Stonehenge? ”, remains unanswered! And a BIG problem for the 'human agency' proponents. What is your explanation?

Anon 2

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon 1 -- thanks for that.

As for specificity of evidence, I don't think any of it supports the human transport theory in any way. In other words, there is no evidence to support it. If we accept that the mere presence of a collection of "foreign" stones at Stonehenge does not constitute "evidence" for any transport mechanism, but is simply a fact to be explained, there isn't anything. In fact any related evidence that we might adduce points away from human transport, not towards it -- eg the use of locally sourced stones in all other Neolithic monuments, the lack of physical traces of human transport, limiting technology, incredibly difficult terrain etc.

In the other hand the limited evidence we have for glacial transport, while not of "killer fact" status, is suggestive. We know from quite independent evidence that the ice flowed across Pembs, up the Bristol Channel and into Somerset. The source (or entrainment) areas seem to be in a relatively narrow band that coincides with the direction of ice movement as we understand it. The glaciological modelling indicates that it is possible that the ice extended into Wiltshire. The entrainment sites (including Pont Saeson) make sense glaciologically.

The evidence that we have isn't as powerful as we would like, but it's better than nothing.....

And I can think of no other physical process capable of moving lots of stones in this particular direction, from A to B.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon 2 -- I agree that the nature and age of the Stonehenge Layer -- and the concentration of small flakes and fragments that appear (at least in part) to be contemporaneous with the stone settings (and not much later) is quite puzzling.

Goodness knows what was going on. A lot of fellows must have spent a lot of time chipping happily away at big stones and making them smaller -- quite bizarre, really.

Geo Cur said...

The presence/abundance of the rhyolitic debitage sourced from Craig Rhosyfelin and with only one possible candidate for a remaining orthosat (SH 32e) is intriguing but as I've mentioned before it is not without a relatively local precedent .The central structure of the Mount Pleasant earthwork had four sockets which probably had held sarsen monoliths but on excavation what was discovered was the fragmented remains of the sarsens with only one stump left , further sarsen flakes were recorded from shallow pits in the immediate area .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

Your reporting of other fragmented remains and sarsen flakes at Mount Pleasant is very interesting. So clearly this phenomenon of fragments and flakes found at sockets but no standing monoliths occurs at other places as well.

So what explains all this? A prehistoric dereliction of erecting and then destroying megaliths?

I think there is a better and more natural explanation! This all fits my hypothesis!


Geo Cur said...

Kostas , I had previously mentioned other examples of destruction but importantly all were centred around much the same period and in one case ,the destruction of the smaller stones of the Berrybrae recumbent stone circle and ring cairn also saw a beaker and freshly broken urn sherds left in a niche of the wall built to cover the stumps .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

This is getting more interesting by the hour! You seem to stress “ other examples of destruction but importantly all were centred around much the same period” .

This does not surprise me! Nor do the “ freshly broken urn sherds left in a niche of the wall”. But should surprise you and others who see 'human agency' in all of this!

Any supporting evidence and explanation for all that? Or that patch in the narrative has not been fabricated yet!


Geo Cur said...

Kostas , of course there is supporting evidence .Read the Aubrey Burl's excavation report , in fact read 50 excavtaion reports you might start to understand something about B.A. monuments .What do you mean by "Or that patch in the narrative has not been fabricated yet " Unlike you I provide evidence .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

By “evidence” I mean of “human agency” for the stone fragments now found in many sockets and pits. From your reporting on this in this and other posts, the “explanation” for all the stone fragments is that Neolithic Britons went through a stage of “stone destroying” (somewhat arbitrarily adapting the Easter Island tragedy).

When I ask “where is the evidence for that” I mean just that! Since an explanation has not yet coalesced to become acceptable, the “patch to the [archeological] narrative has not been fabricated yet”.

I reserve the right as a free thinking being to question the explanations provided for the evidence given. Perhaps even sometimes proposing explanations for the evidence that make more sense to me. And perhaps help others make more sense too!


Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

Unlike you I provide sensible explanations!


Geo Cur said...

Kostas , I mentioned a few examples not "all the stone fragments from the Neolithic " most were B.A. I have supplied you with countless references ,that is where the evidence lies , rewad them then argue with that detail I doubt you have read one apart from look at pictures on Wiki . Only once I asked you for a ref and you told me me to look back through the posts ,I continued to provide the same for you ,I no longer will bother ,it is clear that you have no interest in broadening your understanding of the monuments, period or peoples all that matters is proving your evidence free "idea " .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

What we need are more explanations that make sense! Not more references! Sorry I frustrate you with my doubting probing questioning. If I could only convince you of my sincerity and integrity behind all my discussions with you and others, perhaps you would feel better.

Does it make sense to you that prehistoric people would carry megaliths over long distances to have them erected and then later destroyed? And not just toppled, as with Easter Island, but broken down to little pieces with stone hammers! Common sense says NO! Eminent archeologists say YES! I trust my senses on this!

My reasoning is deeply rooted in evidence and experience. But the evidence I most value are the raw and indisputable 'facts on the ground'. Like stone alignments, and stone circles, and concentric designs, and segmented ditches, and aligned avenues, and incomplete quarters, and foliated rhyolite fragments, and empty sockets, etc, etc. No references needed! All can apply!


Geo Cur said...

This really is the last time Your questions are not deep or probing . You do not have any evidence . The refs are there to be read then dissected something you have never done By your admission you know next to nothing about the periods or monuments as for the behaviour of anyone in prehistory when appeals to common sense or searching for truth are trotted out MY (shit , I’ve descended to using unnecessary caps ) common sense tells me the appealer knows little about people or science .Nothing personal (I know it usually suggests it is ) but until you have read and understood some fundamentals ,excavation reports and relevant literature , if you stick in maybe by this time next year , I am going to be snotty and not discuss anything to do with your ice idea and will ignore any response to this post . I will be only too happy to chat away about other subjects , fashion , drugs , nougat , moisturising etc , but they would not be appropriate for this blog .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have wondered, Geo, when you might reach the end of your tether! I reached mine some little time ago...

Geo Cur said...

I know Brian ,I hope it isn't viewed as being personal,when it is more tonsorial and temporal .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Understood -- in our small blogging community we are probably all quite fond of one another, although there are some who are intensely irritating. All human life is here...... well, some of it, at any rate.