I have been quite intrigued recently, on going through some of the literature, to see that the experts seem to think that in the early Bronze Age there was no knowledge of sails or sailing techniques in Western Europe -- and that means the waters around the coasts of Britain. If that was the case, then there would certainly have been no sailing boats around in the Neolithic, when our heroic ancestors are supposed to have transported 82 bluestones over land and sea from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge. Apparently the technical challenge which these earlier boatbuilders had not overcome was that of bedding a mast foot into the bottom or keel of a boat, so as to cope with the enormous stresses involved in catching and using the wind, often in rough sea conditions. So this famous illustration by Alan Sorrel is probably up the creek...
See my post dated 27 November 2011 on the "Bluestone Argonauts" and their sea-going vessels.
I recall that Herbert Thomas, the man who started this whole hare running, was no great believer in the marine transport of the stones, and many others have shared that view, on the basis that the technical challenge would have been far too great for the Neolithic tribesmen to cope with. Aubrey Burl shared that view, and analysed the maritime transport idea in some detail in more than one of his books. HHT thought that the stones must have been transported overland, all the way. It was Atkinson -- ably assisted by Alan Sorrell -- who enthusiastically promoted the idea of sea-going rafts and naked heroes braving the elements on a stormy shore..... By God, sir, they were a tough bunch in those days......
Not only do we have to cope with the technical challenge of making a seaworthy vessel large enough to take a stone weighing up to 8 tonnes (we have to assume that the Altar Stone travelled the same way as the others) -- but we also have the technical challenges associated with sails, ropes and paddles, and paddle fixings. Then there are the problems -- flagged up by Aubrey Burl -- on navigation and mental maps; and he quite rightly asks whether Neolithic tribesmen would have had the capacity to identify a source area in West Wales, to map out in their minds how to travel there and back on many different occasions, and to cope with all of the navigational hazards which we all know about around the Pembrokeshire Coast, in Carmarthen Bay, and in the Bristol Channel
-- areas of high seas, rapid tide races and currents, and very high tidal ranges.
I think that in this part of "The Great Stonehenge Story", more than in any other part, we are guilty of seeing as our heroes modern men in fancy dress.