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....
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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Phil's Contraption

Thanks to Phil Morgan for drawing my attention to his contraption -- basically a rocking A-frame -- which was demonstrated last July at the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans, on a sort of experimental archaeology day.

There is a short writeup and photo on Andy Young's blog site.

You can see how it works -- the reinforced A-frame rocks on its base, and by pulling it forward you can drag along a sledge with a heavy weight (or a bluestone) by a few feet at a time.  Then you reposition the rocker by pulling on the rear rope, and once it's in position you pull on the front rope again. And the sledge moves forward again.   As Andy says,  this might be practical for moving heavy stones on a building site -- but I would have serious doubts about the utility of the technique over a long distance, and in rough terrain.


Anonymous said...

Load of old bullocks!.......

Instead of the a-frame.

Ann Other

BRIAN JOHN said...

...or a load of old bullocks AND a rocking A-frame?

The Grimm Reaper said...

Reminiscent of Mr. G. Norton and the One Show --- If you haven't got a clue, try to laugh it off with a cheap joke.

Ho, Ho, Ho.

BRIAN JOHN said...

No joking from me -- if you want to move a stone this way, a team of oxen permanently tied to the front rope would greatly increase the pulling power.

The Grimm Reaper said...

Good to see that you are not joking.
It was noted that during the Millenium Stone fiasco, control was lost when a large team of humans was permenantly tied to the front rope of the the sled carrying the stone. Importantly, the team included some highly intelligent individuals.
Would oxen have fared any better?

From your description it appears that the device moves using a stop/start motion.
Aubrey Burl, Stonehenge, A Complete History And Archaeology Of The World's Most Enigmatic Stone Circle, 2007, page 232, states, "Oxen may have been used for pulling the load, but the advantage of their strength is discounted by their slow brains and slow reactions in a crisis. Good traction animals when ploughing a level field, they are liabilities on slopes and twisting trails".
If oxen are not the most responsive of animals, does this not raise doubt regarding their ability to operate in a stop/start manner?

The 'A' frame in the photograph would impart a mechanical advantage to the system of about 3:1, which, when combined with rollers, would significantly reduce the number of people required, and the stop/start motion would give greater control.
Additionally, if the people tugging on the front rope are facing the device, they can see when to stop pulling; oxen, however, would not have this advantage.

The Grimm Reaper

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with much of that -- but far be it from me to get too deeply involved in this. Perhaps, if Phil is reading this, he would care to explain the technical details?

Anonymous said...

"the team included some highly intelligent individuals" - get real these are students and academics, half of which could not do their shoelaces up without assistance!

A third world farmer could do a better job - so who's the more intelligent?

Ann Other

The Grimm Reaper said...

Dear Anonymous,
For your enlightenment the team included Dr. Brian John, who I'm sure you would agree could be classed as highly intelligent.

There's an old saying that says ---"before exposing yourself to the attention of the public, you should check the relative positions of your arse and your elbow".

Happy New Year to you.

The Grimm Reaper's Granny

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dear Granny

Well, I can't claim to have tried out Phil's contraption, but I did help with the famous Millennium Stone Pull in the year 2000 -- and hilarious it was too. (In case you had forgotten, we needed low friction netting, JCBs, heavy lift cranes and the Royal Navy pontoon plus divers in order to get the stone to Milford Haven and from there onto the bottom of Milford Haven.) It never did get any further on its wonderful journey.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected - the team excluding the famous third world oxon farmer, dr brian john, did not know their arse from their elbow.

Happy now dead ghost of academc past?

Geo Cur said...

When it comes to moving large stones using only the methods available at the time , it’s hardly a balanced playing field for the moderns . Why should it be expected that a group of super fit , super intelligent 20 th Cers could compete at something they have no experience at , with similar from 4,000 years earlier ? The moderns would be way out of their depth just as eleven super fit upper intelligent Bronze Agers would be when confronted with a village football team .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Goats and sheep I know about, but I wouldn't know an ox from a bullock.

BRIAN JOHN said...

That's an interesting point Geo. But why do you assume that the people who moved the stones about (whether over short distances or long ones)in the Neolithic actually knew what they were doing? They were quite possibly just as clueless as you or I might be when confronted with a big stone today.....

Geo Cur said...

Brian, moderns never have to do it , we know the people in the past did .Apart from Adam it is hard to imagine they were ever as clueless as us .There would have been a time ,say in the Mesolithic , when stone working skills was much less important on a daily basis than it was to become in the Neolithic , by then not only were stones being moved , skillfully erected and complex architectural techniques like corbelled roofs being used for for large scale projects e.g. Stonehenge , megalithic tombs , but also family/clan monuments were being built but on a much smaller scale , they even carved it too . It needn't have been easy but the skilled and experienced do make it easier than the innocent .

Phil M. said...

Dear Brian, Geo and all Annons,

There are some misconceptions relating to moving heavy loads, with basic machines, constructed from fundemental materials.
One of these misunderstandings has been highlighted by Geo when he said --- "Why should it be expected that a group of super fit, super intelligent 20th Century people could compete at something they have no experience at, with similar from 4,000 years ago".
A year ago I would have agreed with Geo whole heartedly. However, two months prior to the Festival of British Archaeology event referred to in the header of this blogg, a smaller scale event was held at the National Museum of Wales' St. Fagans site. This occasion was designed to involve several boys aged between 12 and 14 years, together with their mothers, in various activities for them to gain experience of some of the things that the Museum has to offer. As a bonus it provided an opportunity for a low-key trial run for the July event.
While the visitors were looking at the Museum's exhibits four methods of moving loads were set up in a field. The loads were represented by 2 x 25kg bags of wood chip and the methods used were:
1. dragging a sled with a rope;
2. using log rollers;
3. using footballs as rollers, and
4. wrapping the bags in 'log-rolls' to simulate wicker baskets.

Good fun, with much cursing, and then a smaller version of the frame in the picture was unveiled. This machine used a single 'A' frame and was loaded with 0.33 tonne of wood chip.
Within five minutes the boys (6 pulling), had worked out how the machine operated and were easily transporting the load. Their mothers then wanted to have a go and were just as successful.

This exercise demonstrated that provided the method is efficient, simple and safe to operate, then super-fit, highly intelligent and experienced teams are not a requirement for moving heavy and awkward loads. It should also be kept in mind that in Neolithic times, at 12 to 14 years of age the boys would have been classed as young men.
Tara for now.

Geo Cur said...

Phil ,I menrioned physique and intelligence not as prerequisite but to show that even with these "advantages " previously mentioned by others it still wasn't good enough .
If the device is significantly better than previous attempts at moving loads does it not suggest that it's a case of homo saps getting better at the job , as they usually do when confronting a problem with a bit of mental and physical effort. If it was a necessary part of their life skills they would learn even quicker .
Wouldn't the Bronze Age football team given a couple of decades to look at tactics and hone certain skills start to improve to and maybe make the 12 year old village team second team begin to feel a bit less comfortable ?
You probably have seen this from a long time ago but Wally has yet another method

chris johnson said...

I suppose if we were today asked to construct the bank around Avebury (20 metres high according to some), or Silbury Hill, or Durrington Henge, using red-deer antlers... We would recoil and proclaim it impossible. Yet these things happened, we are fairly sure.

One thing our ancestors were very good at is making earth works. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that they could not have made a long track in the direction of Salisbury plain? The best place to look for such a track is between the Sarsen fields and Stonehenge/Avebury - this feat receives much less attention but is phenomenal too. Or the path leaving Rhos-y-felin, although I suspect this was the river.

Also the feat of felling and shifting thousands of multi-ton oak logs to erect the wooden monuments is amazing - no glaciers involved here methinks, and we have no idea how this was done - as far as I know .

Using oxen to help move a load is feasible, but I have worked with cattle and when they start to move you need to keep them moving at a steady pace. Some kind of path or flattish even ground is essential.

Phil says that even adolescent humans could help move the load, given a path. Where are the paths?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- "Or the path leaving Rhos-y-felin, although I suspect this was the river......" Forget it, Chris. Have you looked at the terrain and tried to imagine what the environment was like in the Neolithic?

Chris johnson said...

I have been there and understand your point - I think. Today the river is shallow, even down to Nevern, and then there is still some way to go to the sea where you live.

How it might have looked in the Neolithic is a puzzle to me but then I don't know much except that it might have varied considerably depending on the climate and time of year. These days the upland are retentive of water but I suspect in the neolithic the uplands would have been under cultivation, deforesting, and the run-off would have been much greater - so higher water levels.

I would appreciate to learn from your opinion which is much better founded than mine.

Phil M. said...

Hello Geo,
I agree with what you say, for the device in the photo was the culmination of 2 years model making as various incarnations of an original thought were investigated. All had their potential applications, with this version being more suited to stone-moving.
The link to Wally highlights a problem encountered when trying to shift heavy loads today. Long lengths of fresh, as opposed to brittle 'kiln-dried', hardwood timber is extremly expensive, and suitable sites for meaningful trials are difficult to come by. There is also, and rightly so, the ever present Health & Safety to comply with. These problems didn't exist in Neolithic times but I suppose they had others to contend with.

Hello Chris,
If the 'stone' is replaced by a container resembling a skip, then the device can be used for transporting loose material for dumping at the required spot. Incidentally, old colliery waste tips were constructed by transporting discarded material straight up the side of the tip, as opposed to taking a spiral route around the outer face of it. Once on the flat area of the truncated cone the rubbish could be dumped. Silbury Hill would be a good candidate for this method of construction.
In your post you ask "where are the paths?", there is an answer to your question, but future publication stops me from going down that road, (sorry, no pun intended).
However, they would probably have required a path about 2 metres wide with any overhanging branches lower than about 4 metres having to be removed. Reasonable variations in gradient, and turns of greater than 3-4 metres radius, pose no problems.