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Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Mythology of Old Keig

I have been following up the material on these recumbent stone circles in Scotland, which are, as Chris reminds us, reputed to be  "monuments placed with care and accuracy."   Well, they are either that, or else monuments created around conveniently located large glacial erratics.  The myth about Old Keig is especially interesting, as Geo has reminded us, since over and again in the literature it is flagged up as a prime example of a RSC in which the recumbent stone (weighing in this case 53 tonnes) has been moved from the Don Valley, about 10 km away, including one steep uphill section, by our heroic ancestors.  That would mean the stone has been moved from the SE towards the NW -- in precisely the opposite direction to the assumed movement of ice at the peak of the Devensian Glaciation.

So how sound is all of that scientifically?  I'm not at all sure.  For a start, the sourcing of the stone is not as certain as we might assume.  The stone is made of a "sillimanite gneiss" which Gordon Childe (1933), who did the original dig, assumed might have come from "the Don valley between Kemnay and Tillifourie."  All he said was that "similar rocks" were to be found there.  No stronger than that.  But as far as I can see, that has been taken to be a definitive piece of provenancing, and has been used ever since in every succeeding paper or article.  I need to check that out, and am trying to look at the relevant material........

But far from being a tidy piece of provenancing, Childe also added (and this is conveniently forgotten) that "there are also areas of gneisses shown on the 1-inch map both to the west and to the north."  So he was admitting that the stone might have come from the west or the north.  This is confirmed when you look into the geology of the region.  Sillimanite gneiss seems to pop up all over the place, in a number of different geological formations -- and I am not at all sure whether these various examples of the rock type have been identified and differentiated to high modern standards.

Two recent maps showing reconstructed ice directions across NE Scotland.  Old Keig is a short distance to the west of Iverurie, in an area affected by ice that has flowed from the west and the north-west.

 There is one other feature of the Childe field report from 1933 -- and that is a clear impression that the superficial deposits in and around the site are made up of thin glacial till and areas of fluvioglacial sands and gravels.  The descriptions are difficult to interpret -- especially since Childe, like many archaeologists before and since, leaned towards an assumption that everything in the area (including the deposits beneath and around the big stone) was created because of human interference.

I'm trying to obtain more info about the geology of that famous recumbent stone and the sediments of the neighbourhood -- all info (convenient or otherwise) gratefully received.  But for the time being it will be just as well to reserve judgment on how that 53 tonne monster might have been moved, and where it came from..........

"At Old Keig a recumbent stone circle situated on a slight crest on a ridge, and within a narrow windbelt. A recumbent stone, 16ft long on top, 6ft thick, 6 3/4ft high, two flankers, the westerly 5 1/4ft above the turf, the easterly 9 1/2ft, and a third orthostat, 9 1/2ft high, to the east, survive. "

"The circle is located on a very slight crest on rising ground with distant, sometimes magical, views over the Howe of Alford. The site was probably levelled and the enormous recumbent, which weighs 53 tons and is the largest known (4.9m by 2.1m by 2.0m) dragged from somewhere in the Don valley about 10km away. The last 1km would have been uphill at a gradient of 1:14, requiring well over 100 people."

Grid Reference: 57° 15' 48.7" N, 2° 40' 5.51" W.

PDF available:

"The Recumbent Stone is not of local origin. Similar rocks occur in
the Don valley between Kemnay and Tillifourie, and there are also
areas of gneisses shown on the 1-inch map both to the west and to the


Atkinson, R J C (1962) 'Fishermen and farmers', in Piggott, S The prehistoric peoples of Scotland, London
Page(s): 17, 181

Burl, H A W (1973a) 'The recumbent stone circles of North-East Scotland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.102
Page(s): 60, 61, 63, 66-70, 72, 76, 78

Burl, {H} A {W} (1976a) The stone circles of the British Isles, London and New Haven
Page(s): 172, 174, 179-183, 352 Held at RCAHMS E.7.BUR

Burl, {H} A {W} (1979a) Rings of stone: the prehistoric stone circles of Britain and Ireland, London
Page(s): 17, 22-4,_32, 138-9 Held at RCAHMS E.7.BUR

Burl, {H} A {W} (1995) A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany
Page(s): 105

Childe, V G (1933a) 'Trial excavations at the Old Keig Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.67
Page(s): 37-53 illust, plans

Childe, V G (1934a) 'Final report on the excavation of the stone circle at Old Keig, Aberdeenshire', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.68
Page(s): 372-93 illust, plans

Coles, F R (1901) 'Report on the stone circles of the North-East of Scotland, Inverurie District, obtained under the Gunning Fellowship, with measured plans and drawings', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.35
Page(s): 211-14

Henshall, A S (1963a) The chambered tombs of Scotland,, vol.1 Edinburgh
Page(s): 37, 39, Held at RCAHMS E.7.1.HEN

Kilbride-Jones, H E (1935a) 'An account of the excavation of the stone circle at Loanhead of Daviot, and of the standing stones of Cullerlie, Echt, both in Aberdeenshire, on behalf of HM office of Works', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.69
Page(s): 168-214

Logan, J (1829c) Archaeologia, vol.22
Page(s): 201

Ralston, I (2009) 'Gordon Childe and Scottish Archaeology: The Edinburgh Years 1927-1946', European J Archaeol, vol.12
Page(s): 74

Shepherd, I A G (1986a) Exploring Scotland's heritage: Grampian, Exploring Scotland's heritage series Edinburgh
Page(s): 156, no. 97 Held at RCAHMS A.1.4.HER

Welfare, A (2011) Great Crowns of Stone: The Recumbent Stones Circles of Scotland: Gazetteer and Appendices, in S Halliday Edinburgh
Page(s): 422-7


Geo Cur said...

I wonder if there would have been such a concern with other possible sources if the movement of possible erratics had been from SE –NW . Even if the there had been a movement of erratics from SE to NW in the area it wouldn’t have mattered , it certainly wouldn’t have been evidence of the recumbent having been moved by glacial action only , as in all these cases it is merely a possibility . I mentioned the Old Keig recumbent in relation to the attitude of OWT in the “myth of Long distance transport “ who must have known that the movement of ice was unfavourable to her view and then pleaded that “the case for human transport ….is unproven “ . This underlines one of the weaknesses in the article in that there is no direct evidence for the use of any erratics in monuments , it is merely a possibility and equally no evidence for human transport either although OWT does accept that there was some degree of human transport but seems unaware she had no evidence for this either . One example which she accepts , (not much choice to be fair as it is outside the influence of glaciation ) ,yet still has no evidence of human transport which she expected Old Keig , was the Kerloas menhir (100-150 tonnes according to OWT ) which was moved 2.5 Km . If it had been half the weight would she have accepted a distance of 5 km or a third i.e. possibly 50 tonnes and a distance of 7.5 Km ,this is almost Old Keig territory and shows the problems of being tied down by numbers (sharp intake of breath “ 6 Km ,no sorry that’s 1 Km too far , must have been an erratic “) and being unable to accept for whatever reason that something like Old Keig was moved by punters , what’s the problem ? it’s not as if it’s suggested it came from Shetland , it’s just hard work and hardly compares with similar exploits elsewhere ,which might be special if not “heroic “ . FWIW if some proper provenancing was done on the recumbent and the suggested sources then we wouldn’t have to even consider the fact that closest source and final destination are not compatible with the direction of the erratics . Some real science would make a change in this area ,which is pure conjecture driven by an inability appreciate that punters in glaciated areas were capable moving rocks like their cousins in non glaciated areas What is there to afraid of it is not the same as believing in fairies , movement of erratics to Salisbury Plain ,or overly romantic ,you don’t even have to understand the reasons why , although creating lists of what punters tend to do like climbing mountains , writing poetry , fasting , falling in love , staring at navels , crossing deserts , studying , taking large amounts of class A drugs , lifting very heavy weights , creating non representational sand art then destroying it , pretending to be somebody else in front of an audience ,standing on your head and the myriad of what others view as being non utilitarian might help keep the “ why go to all that bother ?“ question at bay .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think we know where you are coming from, Geo. Occam's Razor, old chap.

chris johnson said...

If you can move a sarsen 10 meters you can likely move it 50, and if you can move it 50 meters you can move it anywhere.

I don't think anybody would deny that heavy stones were moved by people - except perhaps Kostas (smile).

The issue here is one of cost/benefit. In this blog we rarely speculate on motives or expected benefits, it is too unscientific probably. According to OWT, the cost/benefit formula expired after a couple of kilometers. Depending on your point of view for the source of the Stonehenge sarsens it might have been 25km but then we do really need a strong motive - some of these suckers are BIG!.

For Old Keig, Brian just stated that the jury is still out. Had the motive been powerful enough I could imagine that they lugged this lump uphill, even if it took them a hundred years. However, I don't see the motive that might make such a cost/benefit calculation plausible.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think this is a very good way of looking at things, Chris. I have done just that with Stonehenge -- suggesting that all the stones WERE moved into position from an increasingly wide radius -- but that eventually the costs outweighed the benefits -- at which point the work ground to a halt.

Geo Cur said...

A lot depends on the beliefs of those wielding the razor .Applying it to the bluestones at Stonehenge problem and most will opt for human transport , simply because they realise there is no evidence for glaciation on the plain . When looking at something like moving the Old Keig recumbent , most who realised how common this type of feat was in prehistory , particularly compared with much greater feats that have no possible glacial explanation , plus problems with the glaciation argument again would make the choice quite simple .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- your arguments are getting increasingly convoluted -- you begin to sound like Kostas! Or maybe like a friend of mine who ends every argument -- especially when things are getting tough -- with the words "I don't believe it, even if it's true!"

I'm intrigued that you should be so concerned about the "lack of evidence" for glaciation on Salisbury Plain and yet apparently quite unconcerned about the lack of evidence for human transport. In that situation any rational person would tend to go for the simplest possible explanation, and the one supported by much evidence in the west -- ie the direction from which most of the stones have come.

I get a bit weary with these arguments that "they did something at place A, therefore they could have done it at place B" and "the fact that they didn't do it at place C doesn't mean that they didn't do it at place D"........

All intellectually lazy, if I may say so. Let's have a bit of rigour here.

I repeat -- if there is a simple explanation for the presence of large recumbent stones scattered across the landscape of Aberdeenshire, let's forget for the moment about the complicated one.

Anonymous said...


I have no problems accepting people moved heavy stones at Easter Island 900 years ago! There is plenty of evidence to convince me these Moai stone statues were made by men.

Certainly, 900 years ago people had the iron tools to carve stones into heads and the technological knowledge to move them.

I am also convinced that the people of Easter Island had the purpose and strong motive to expend such labor and resources for this collective goal. They defoliated their Island Paradise to this purpose!

And they also had very favorable weather and economic conditions to give them the leisure time to devote themselves to such tasks.

And they have left behind many other signs of their culture to the point we can now reconstruct using REAL evidence their Island History.

They even had invented their own peculiar written language and hieroglyphs to tell us THEIR story. We don't need to make up stories to invent their History!

These are just some of the striking differences between Easter Island and Stonehenge! Simply put, Stonehenge is no Easter Island!


Anonymous said...

Brian you write,

“Geo -- your arguments are getting increasingly convoluted -- you begin to sound like Kostas!”

Please don't use my name other than when referring to actual arguments I make!


Geo Cur said...

Brian ,where did I say I was unconcerned about the lack of evidence for human transport whilst concerned about glaciation .If you look back over posts here you will notice I was probably the first to point out that there is no evidence for human transport at all in the U.K. ,you , like OWT tacitly accepted it for some situations but never questioned it .
That it is possible that glaciation was responsible without evidence is intellectually lazy and like the OWT “argument” lacks intellectual rigour too .

Evidence is something that is missing from the erratic hypothesis but do note where did I say or anyone else for that matter that glaciation has no role to play in some cases .The same applies to Stonehenge no evidence for glaciation on the Plain , there is no way I can argue for it any more that than I can for the other true believers who simply accept human transport from Preseli . You seem to forget by your continual use of straw men that I have no axe to grind or dear “ hypothesis “ .
In what way can things get tough in this evidence free environment ?, it might for the glaciation idea if some provenancing gets done for Old Keig and possible sources . As for your friend’s comments where in this is there anything that is “true “apart from the lack of glaciation from SE –NW at Old Keig and what is it that I don’t believe ?
You are the believer in this and that comment is actually much closer to home than you might realise .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur writes,

“I was probably the first to point out that there is no evidence for human transport at all in the U.K.”


“The same applies to Stonehenge no evidence for glaciation on the Plain “

What is accepted as true in the absence of evidence is belief. Clearly we need more science here to resolve this enigma. In the meantime, we can acknowledge our beliefs, as Geo Cur clearly does.


BRIAN JOHN said...

My, we are getting prickly.....

Geo, you say: "Evidence is something that is missing from the erratic hypothesis...." The ice direction movement arrows on the two maps of NE Scotland, the conclusions about different till types, streamlined features, stone movements, meltwater channels, striae, and even the modelling maps relating to changes in ice shed positions -- are all based on field EVIDENCE collected over many years and published in the literature. The fact that you are unaware of this evidence does not entitle you to say that it does not exist.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- message dumped. You are now getting so convoluted in your arguments that progress is impossible. If you have some EVIDENCE to bring to the discussion, fine. Otherwise, please desist.

BRIAN JOHN said...

More messages blocked. Below I have appended two statements that have come in -- they are both entirely nonsensical, and I am not going to publish any further bits of pontification from contributors who clearly have not the slightest understanding of glacial stratigraphy and the relationships of erratics to their environment -- and who clearly do not have any inclination to learn.

"When a foreign rock that may have been moved by glaciation is used in a monument there is never any evidence to show that is how it arrived..........."

NEVER ANY EVIDENCE?!! What scientist would ever use an expression like that?

"......the evidence that is missing and always will be missing from the erratic hypothesis in Britain is not that the erratics were moved/entrained.......... but that they were then utilised by humans in monuments..."

ALWAYS WILL BE MISSING?!! What scientist would ever use an expression like that?

I am not going to waste any more time in explaining my irritation either, and will simply encourage said contributor to go off and do some reading.

Geo Cur said...

The recent Bevins and Ixter paper despite providing some important information about Stonehenge and pinpointing the source of much of the debitage doesn’t really have much impact on the glacial /human transport debate , possibly it is more important but for those interested in this debate it is unlikely that pinpoint provenancing will provide direct evidence to convince the either side . Without evidence for glaciation extending to Salisbury Plain the stones must have transported somehow from their eastern extent , if they were glaciated to that extent so the human transport proponents always have a minimal distance argument ,although it is unlikely they will ever have any direct evidence .The best the galcail proponents can expect is that someday there will be evidence for glaciation to the Plain then they can argue the possibility that this was the manner of transport but again without direct evidence .Simply because rocks can move in a certain direction doesn’t mean they did or that people didn’t move them . There is an evidence vacuum in this debate with plenty of possibilities which probably explains why most don’t take sides . But there is a possibility of some light in this debate if only in relation to a relatively obscure stone circle and one of it’s components which may have been moved a short distance of 8-10 miles with one section uphill , nothing in comparison with the other examples elsewhere that are well accepted even by Stonehenge glacial transport proponents but at least in this case it can be shown that at least glaciation was not involved .
Am I really alone in finding this possibility to apply some real science with a definite result at the end at least a bit interesting ?

Tony H (1967-70) said...


I am well aware I am most probably teaching my grandma, so to speak, how to suck eggs, but I will say this anyway! A great deal of Durham University Geography Department's field studies have probably been concentrated in the Aberdeenshire region since Easter 1968, when I was there with a field study group which included Stevens and Alistair Couper on the staff side (hopefully I've rightly remembered names).

We sadly never saw Old Keig but we did cover much of the terrain.

Presumably you are tapping in to all the post-1968 Durham geomorph knowledge?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- You keep on doing it! Your utter conviction is truly mind-boggling!

Quote: "although it is unlikely they will ever have any direct evidence..."

".....they can argue the possibility that this was the manner of transport but again without direct evidence..."

" least in this case it can be shown that at least glaciation was not involved." Presumably with reference to Old Keig -- if not please say so.

Will you please take a vow to go for at least a fortnight without mentioning the word "evidence"?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- no, I was never involved in any of those field trips. But for many years I was in close touch with my old mate David Sugden, who was then at Aberdeen, and with Chalmers Clapperton and other colleagues working on the glacial geomorphology of NE Scotland. Many interesting debates..... and many published papers perused.

Geo Cur said...

I thought it was perfectly clear that I was talking about Old Keig ,unless you can think of another example where some simple provenacing could exclude the glaciation hypothesis .

BRIAN JOHN said...

It wasn't perfectly clear, but now that you confirm it, I am still lost in wonderment as to how you can move from this:

" of its components MAY have been moved a short distance of 8-10 miles.."

to this:

" least in this case it CAN be shown that at least glaciation was not involved."

Have you actually read the blog post that we are supposed to be discussing?

BRIAN JOHN said...

By the way, Geo, it's not Ixter but Ixer. And the paper is by Ixer and Bevins -- senior or lead author always first.

Geo Cur said...

If the suggested source and recumbent are shown to have the same chemical signatures ,with controls from other sites then it will exclude the glaciation explanation .I can't think of another example off hand that could provide that kind of info can you ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

I am fully in agreement with that, Geo. All we need now is for somebody to do the work.....

Tony Hinchliffe said...

There are quite a few whopping - sized long barrows on Salisbury Plain and not that far from Stonehenge e.g. around Tilshead that, when excavated, may reveal evidence of erratic capstones and boulders i.e. the nearby Boles Barrow doe not have to be a one-off. So come on, M.O.D. and English Heritage, National Trust and perhaps even the Stonehenge Riverside Project [But By Another Name!], let's you ALL get your collective Act together in the interests of Good Science working together for the greater benefit of all; including Glaciology & Geomorphology!!

You could combine excavation of chosen sites with a glacial and geomorphological, large-scale approach to this wider locality. International historic and tourist spin-off interest guaranteed, so close to Stonehenge and its West Wales - sourced bluestones (Did They or Didn't They??).

I give purely as an example WHITE BARROW,near Tilshead, Grid Ref 033468. On National Trust land, one of the best preserved long barrows in Wiltshire, 255 feet long. There are 2 other mounds [TILSHEAD LODGE & OLD DITCH barrows] nearby, and all 3 are within 1 km of one another; they are all above the valley floor of the River Till, and clearly focus upon it. This may well be a candidate zone for the use of any nearby source collection of Preseli erratics, i.e. west of Stonehenge, and east of the river Wylye.

We need a truly multi-disciplinary team, INCLUDING proper geomorphologists/ glaciologists, to investigate this rich archaeological area. [See Woodward et al's fairly recent archy book for more up-to-date info.] National Geographic can always be reliably called upon to fund it!

Geo Cur said...

The first post made in this thread starting at the point "fwiw " makes the same point .

Geo Cur said...

Tony , the problem with the Salisbury Plain Long Barrows is that they are earthen barrows the only one with a megalithic chamber is Tidcombe at Plains corner . Most have been dug into if not properly excavated with timber and rather than stone the main constructional component apart from earth.

Anonymous said...

I think Geo Cur means 'direct evidence'. As for example a video of the human transport expedition carrying bluestones, or photos of bluestones on the backs of glaciers at Salisbury Plain.

It is a valid point! No hypothesis carries with it that kind of evidence. Otherwise it wont be a hypothesis but a fact. Hypothesis, in essence, is an assumption (a postulate) with the power of explaining the evidence.

The 'human transport' hypothesis explains the evidence through an elaborate web of made up stories with no consistent plot or recorded history. For many this is enough. For me, it does not make sense.

The 'glacier transport' hypothesis is more grounded in Nature and all the recorded history of Nature. So it is more convincing than 'human transport'. But it still leaves most of the Stonehenge Enigma unexplained.

Is there a hypothesis with the power to explain all the facts on the ground in a sensible and consistent theory? YES! My 'local ice cover' hypothesis. Which Brian has strongly been rejecting for some two years now. He wants to see the 'photos' to be convinced. But then it wont be a hypothesis, but a fact.

The 'evidence' for any hypothesis are the explanations of the evidence the hypothesis enables.


Geo Cur said...

Brian ,can you point me in the direction of some reading that will show me the evidence for a foreign rock used in a monument was actually transported there by glacial action or human transport . Not the possibility of either but direct evidence .

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Geo Cur

My point about the long barrows in the vicinity of Tilshead on Salisbury Plain west of Stonehenge and west of the river Wylye: although they appear to (all six) be earthen in construction, and you point out that only Tidcombe on the plain contains a megalithic stone chamber, earthen barrows on the Plain nevertheless contain boulders in some instances e.g. our old friend Boles Barrow, no great distance at all from these Tilshead long barrows. The pre-eminent field recordist Leslie Grinsell quotes the Warminster (Arn Hill) barrow, on the edge of the Plain, as having at the south end a pointed sarsen about 5 foot high. Grinsell says the neighbouring Boles Barrow bluestone monolith might well have served such a purpose."The Field Archaeology of Salisbury Plain Training Area" (English Heritage, 2002, ISBN 1 873592 49 3 and co-authored by the well-known David Field) says long barrows there often featured stone pavements and/or pits. The pits may possibly have once held standing stones, removed prior to the construction of the covering cairn and broken up for incorporation into the mound. "This might provide an explanation for [antiquary] Cunnington's note that the ridged cairn at Knook [again no great distance from either Boles Barrow or the Tilshead barrows] incorporated 'large man-made stones.'" David Field et al go on to say that sometimes cairns of stones, large flint and sarsens were used, as at Boles Barrow.

So archaeo investigation, such as I suggested earlier in the thread, may still uncover evidence of any exotic stones which may have been collected from a glacial erratic "train" or trail arriving from the west.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Flimston Churchyard, igneous erratics used for grave headstones. Erratic route conforms with streamline reconstructions using scattered till deposits and striae. The headstones have date plaques on them, so we know when the erratics were picked up and used as monuments. Very convenient.

Carrowmore tombs in Ireland -- made of erratic boulders in an area littered with erratics and glacial deposits. Gnewitz, Drenthe Plateau, the tombs of Southern Sweden. In Sweden it appears that it is taken as self-evident that tombs built in areas of thick moraine or where there are litters of erratics will be made of whatever materials are lying around. If there is till or fluvio-glacial material in the vicinity of a megalithic feature, and if the lithology matches that of other erratic finds in glacial deposits, I would take that as EVIDENCE for glacial transport, simply on the basis of the cost / benefit ratio that Chris and others have talked about.

I cannot understand why that should present some sort of problem for Geo or anybody else. In Southern Sweden, it seems to me, long-distance human transport of big stones is simply not worth talking about.

We could talk in similar terms about Grey Croft, Dyce RSC, Loanend Auchmacher RSC, Aikey Brae RSC, Easter Aquorthies RSC, Rudston Monolith, the Devil's Arrows, etc etc etc.

References? The web is full of them. Aubrey Burl, Steve Burrow, Sian Rees on Dyfed, the paper by Thorpe and Williams-Thorpe, Renfrew. Not that any of them matter very much.

If a stone or group of stones matches lithologically the known characteristics of an erratic scatter in an area, and if there is independent verification of directions of ice movement from source to dumping area, that would be good enough for me. If site excavation shows that a recumbent stone, for example, is embedded in till or other glacial deposits I would also count that as good evidence that it is an erratic in situ. If, on the other hand, I was to find a flattened Coca-cola can directly beneath the recumbent stone, I think I might make a concession and admit that maybe the can was there before the stone.

All clear?

Tony H said...

Re my last contribution: whoops, first sentence should have read "....and EAST of the river Wylye"

Geo Cur said...

Brian , " EVIDENCE (the caps do not make it more likely ) for glacial transport, simply on the basis of the cost / benefit ratio " . Is hardly direct evidence . None of the references you mention provide direct evidence . Worse if you have read Burl you will note that post OWT he does not accept that the Devil’s Arrows were moved by glacier , that is immaterial it’s just his belief like yours below .
“If a stone or group of stones matches lithologically the known characteristics of an erratic scatter in an area, and if there is independent verification of directions of ice movement from source to dumping area, that would be good enough for me. “ In the case of foreign rocks found in monuments in Britain , that is the problem in a nutshell ,that is not direct evidence and simply a belief on your behalf ,it may or may not be true .

Geo Cur said...

Tony ,the corollary to the Long barrow post is usually asked by “ 21st C Practical Man (schizoid ?) “ human transport proponents , that if the Plain had plenty of bluestones and sarsens lying about why were they not used in the monuments , all very reasonable and sensible and probably upsetting to their view of how they would have gone about the business of building their Long Barrow but it might be better asking how the bluestones got there in the absence of glaciation .

Geo Cur said...

Many erratics have been engraved or used by humans as a basis for shelter ,boundary markers ,seats of judgement , because of their bulk some of these rocks are unlikely to have been moved by humans . The comments below are confined to rocks found in megalithic monuments .
There is no rock ,erratic or otherwise used as an orthostat or architectural feature in any British prehistoric megalithic monument that could not have been moved by humans . If a rock found in a prehistoric monument is understood to have come from a source 10 km or further from the monument the likely manner of transport to the site is human or glacial . If it can be shown that there was no glaciation from source to monument then human transport is the most likely explanation . If it can be shown that there was glaciation from source towards the monument then it may be possible that a particular rock was transported some or all of the way by glaciation but this does not mean that human transport may not have been involved in all or part of the way . Human transport is always a possible explanation , glacial action is only a possibility when the direction of glaciation is favourable .

When chemical analysis of the source and monument rocks is introduced further refinement of the variables are possible .
If the source and monument rock has a similar chemical signature (accepting that controls are included ) and the direction of glaciation is from source to monument then the rock may be an erratic but it does not preclude it from having been moved by humans .
If the source and monument rock have a similar chemical signature and there is no proof of erratic movement in the direction of source to monument the rock should not be considered an erratic . The assessments are only acceptable to date , future research may show that erratic movement was in a direction presently unsuspected etc .
When considering these points in relation to Stonehenge it is possible that humans may have transported the stones from source(s) .It is possible that glaciation may have brought the stones from source(s) to within 50 Km of the monument .
Not quite Perec but I have omitted (kept them under my tongue )
the E word .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- here we go again. I am totally at a loss to know what you mean by "evidence", in the light of your refusal to accept that geomorphologists have anything reliable to say about what has gone on in the landscape. Would it do if we could find a nice erratic in a monument one day with an inscription on it that says "I hereby declare that I used this stone where I found it." ??

Kindly do not try and teach me how to suck eggs. An erratic is simply a stone found in a place where it might not be expected. It might be a glacial erratic, or it might have been moved by another agency -- sea ice, landslides, mudflows etc.

Another piece of your incredible pontification: "There is no rock, erratic or otherwise used as an orthostat or architectural feature in any British prehistoric megalithic monument that could not have been moved by humans." Your all-emcompassing wisdom is a constant source of wonderment.

OK -- give me the evidence, if you will, which shows us that the big recumbents at Old Keig, Dyce, Loanend Auchmacher, Easter Aquorthies etc WERE actually moved into position by human beings?

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur,

I acknowledge your point of the lack of 'direct evidence' for either 'human transport' or 'glacier transport'. Unless we have eyewitness evidence of these events, we will never have 'direct evidence' for these events.

We're thus left with hypothesis (assumptions) to consider and explanations these hypotheses provide of the evidence. We typically go with that hypothesis that best explains the evidence on the ground in a simple, sensible and consistent theory.

The 'human transport' hypothesis asks too much for us to accept of the capabilities of prehistoric people. If we ascribe to prehistoric people knowledge and technology without restrain by what in fact is known and recorded in history, than we can explain anything! But this is no different than explaining the evidence by assuming 'aliens did it'.

To me 'human agency' as a hypothesis explaining prehistoric monuments just does not make sense. 'Glacier agency' makes more sense, but still is lacking. But 'local ice cover' can provide explanations for all the facts on the ground in a simple, sensible and consistent theory. Do we have 'direct evidence' for this hypothesis? No! But then, that's why it is a hypothesis and not a fact!


Geo Cur said...

Brian ,I listed a number of points do you disagree with any ? With the caveat that it is geomorphological theory that we are talking about and not individual geomorphologists where have I “ refused to accept that geomorphologists have anything reliable to say “ . There is no all encompassing wisdom needed to see that “"There is no rock, erratic or otherwise used as an orthostat or architectural feature in any British prehistoric megalithic monument that could not have been moved by humans." Simply give an example where this is impossible . I have already mentioned many times that there is no direct evidence for glacial action or human transport of rocks in British megalithic monuments in both cases it is always possibilities ,if you read the literature it is the norm to accept that many monuments utilised erratics nobody has ever denied that ,to my knowledge , although of course in the case of Old Keig ,one day , one possibility might be excluded with a wee bit of work similar examples will surely become apparent .
It’s probably not what you meant in “give me the evidence, if you will, which shows us that the big recumbents at Old Keig, Dyce, Loanend Auchmacher, Easter Aquorthies etc WERE actually moved into position by human beings?” how many times have I,mentioned that there is no evidence for human transport of megaliths anywhere in Britain , surely you accept that humans moved some rocks some distances but you don’t have any evidence for it . In cases where RSC ‘s have been excavated the recumbent has been shown to have been erected over man made rubble banks e.g. Tomnaverie & Strichen House , Berrybrae and Loanhead of Daviot recumbents were set into sockets , clearly showing that the recumbents were not just built around where found , I couldn't fit in the "WERE" .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- re this: "There is no rock, erratic or otherwise used as an orthostat or architectural feature in any British prehistoric megalithic monument that could not have been moved by humans." -- I'm just intrigued by the fact that you presume to know every single British megalithic monument, excavated and not excavated, to the extent that you can pronounce in such a fashion. I don't know what your background is, but may I assume that you are not a scientist?

I'm not going to get sucked into endless discusson of what sort of evidence you do or do not consider acceptable. See my recent post.

I'm much more interested in the evidence that shows that the big recumbent stones in some of the Aberdeen RSCs have been moved about. What is the nature of the evidence which you seem happy to accept?

Geo Cur said...

Brian , the limits to what humans can shift are based on the size of the rock and terrain to be covered . The biggest /heaviest single megaliths found in any monument in Britain doesn't exceed 60-65 tonnes , hardly difficult for huimans to move . If you know any heavier ones do mention them .

Geo Cur said...

Brian ,if you mean the evidence for the rubble banks etc below the recumbent then there have been few exacvtions where the recumbent has been dug under and only one ,iirc , where it has been moved . Excavation reports of Tomnaverie =" Moon and the bonfire : Richard Bradley (2005) showed that the first monument at the site was a cairn later a platform of rubble and ramps from the cairn towrds the perimeter of the platform were built, the orthostats and recumbent were then erected over the deposit of rubble . we are still waiting for the official excavation report for Berrybrae but Burl has written up some of it in “ rings of stone “ (1979 ) the recumbent wasn’t moved , he notes that the circle had been built on an artificial platform ,made up with clay and rubble ,good pics in book and also “Stone circles of Briatin etc ..(1995) the recumbent and orthosats were erected ON (blush) this platform . This is the site that vandalised in the BA although the recumbent wasn’t affected .FWIW he mentions visiting other recumbents in the area and checking the tops with a spirit level ,all were horizontal .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Geo -- interesting info. I don't really have a problem with any of that, although I'll reserve judgment on the field interpretations until I have seen the records for myself. I looked at the old Childe report on Old Keig, and that set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head about things that seemed to me to be glacial deposits in contact with the recumbent and which he simply assumed were man-made horizons. But that was 1933, and I hope that interpretations of sediments and layers have become rather more sophisticated since then.....

Geo Cur said...

Brian , there have only been a limited number of excavations ,at Old Keig Childe implies a platform for the orthostats but it has been robbed ,the middle of the recumbent sits on bedrock with chock stones at the east with the west end acting as a fulcrum to allow for levelling .Field interpretations ?

Tony H said...

Geo Cur:- your response at 16.07 14th Jan to my comment at 11.29 also on 14th Jan re LONG BARROWS

The main thrust of my comment there is that SOME stones have been found in SOME long barrows towards the west of Salisbury Plain, and I have quoted examples taken from a recent respected English Heritage report. So stones have been incorporated into SOME barrows in some fashion, even though these barrows are not classified as chambered.

You seem to be arguing that the erratics or sarsen stones were not in great profusion near Stonehenge, etc. Perhaps they weren't.

The scale of glacial deposition of erratic material is not predictable -Brian will correct me on this if this is untrue. Yet prehistoric man may have utilised West Wales exotic stone in an opportunistic manner. He did not have to construct his long barrows to an IKEA-type model. And quite a few long barrows were constructed along the valley of the Wylye, where an erratic train could arguably have been trailing. Few have been excavated.What will be the geological provenance of ANY of what few rocks lie within? All need checking by a Jim'll Fix It geologist(who could that be?).

Geo Cur said...

Tony , I was suggesting that due to lack of glaciation from west there would have been no bluestones ,local sarsens may or may not have been available .The "practical " argument ,in this case pro human transport proponents is " if material was there and the builders were so opportunistic why didn't they include them in their monuments chambered /megalithic long barrows ?" Yes the E.H. reports are always a pleasure .Earthen barrows do include some stones in their architecture but I thought most had been excavated by Cunnington ,Hoare etc Knook like King Barrow had what may have been a pavement of smashed sarsen ,Cunnington did notice the sarens at Boles barrow so you imagine he would have noted other examples like bluestones ,leaving aside the Boles puzzle .
i.e. Why didn't Stan get the number of caps he deserved

Tony H said...

Geo:Absolutely, Stan was THE man. Too overendowed wi' skill, such a shame.