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Friday, 27 January 2012

Unfinished projects

I got a message from Tony about unfinished projects, which we have discussed at length before.  He says:  "...... Burl's "Stonehenge - a New History" (2006), page 107.  He makes some good, reflective points there about what are indexed as 'unfinished projects', and proceeds to name quite a few from elsewhere in Britain, beyond Stonehenge'.   That's one book I haven't got on my shelf, but in Burl's "Stonehenge" this is what he says on p 145 with respect to the early settings of posts:

Splendid fellow, Aubrey Burl.  A man after my own heart.  The image at the top of this post is another interesting example of an aborted project -- it's an image of an area just a km or so south of the town of Newport (Pembs) -- showing Carn Llwyd at the top (thought by the OU team in 1990 to be one of the sources of the Stonehenge bluestones), a very nice round house at the bottom (probably Bronze Age?) and a piece of a ridge and ditch (in the centre) that goes nowhere and does nothing.  It looks as if it is a piece of a circumference of a large planned enclosure around a broad hill summit -- we have to assume that it's either Bronze Age or Iron Age, but it might be Neolithic.  I've never heard anybody argue that this is what was planned, and that we are looking at a completed structure.  So all we can do for now is speculate as to what it might have been intended for, and why it was abandoned.


Tony H said...

And yet, at the newly discovered "ritual temple" complex on the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney (shown in a recent BBC documentary), prehistoric folk did a fine job of eliminating all trace of the buildings, once they were no longer deemed necessary to their way of life - hence the astonishment when their remains were found.

Anonymous said...

Yes splendid fellow indeed Aubrey Burl.
And your point is?

chris johnson said...

I think it is time to read a book by Mr Burl. Which would you recommend?

BRIAN JOHN said...

My point? That Stonehenge was unfinished, and that we shouldn't be surprised.

chris johnson said...

Hopefully you give me a tip on Mr Burl still.

Your point is clear and I suppose the answer depends on your subjective opinion about why and how these monuments were built.

Finishing things is a relatively modern concept. Even Hadrian's wall was a work-in-progress and never finished. When the reason for building something ceases, then so does construction - either that or you are disrupted by lack of money, warfare, materials, priority, or whatever.

Even today, most of us are house owners and are not finished with out house. Stonehenge is a classic case. It was fiddled with for a thousand years and never finished. Your thesis, on occasion, is that they ran out of materials, but then they would have had to be very stupid and I doubt this.

The real puzzle with Stonehenge is that we do not know what they were trying to achieve. Apparently it never worked, otherwise they or their successors would have carried on. We also do not know why they stopped. Theories might include revolution, warfare, economic collapse, a new religion, disease... who knows. Having started something with insufficient materials to complete seems to me to be the least likely theory.

BRIAN JOHN said...

My parents started to build a house in 1938-- assuming there was no shortage of building materials. Then along came the war, and guess what happened? (Well, actually, it was finished eventually, but people DO make assumptions, sometimes misplaced.)

Anonymous said...

So what if Stonehenge wasn't finished?
There could be several reasons but your inference is that they ran out of materials and as Chris points out by implication that they must have been stupid.
And why do you have a problem with the builders of Stonehenge?
I suppose you like this argument because it suggests they were too stupid to collect materials from wherever they saw desireable for whatever reason.

But in reality it just shows your prejudices toward Neolithic people.

This is the danger of regularly posting so many small posts - you constantly repeat yourself and just go around in ever decreasing circles.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sorry if I offend you, Anon. You don't have to read this blog -- it's a free world.

So I am prejudiced against Neolithic people and think them stupid? Far from it -- I rather admire their audacity and their ambition. But I think they were just as incompetent and indecisive as those of us who have followed after them....

Read Aubrey Burl on Stonehenge if you want to see an archaeologist being REALLY rude about those old fellows.... "shoddy, haphazard, badly done, gross errors, etc etc..."

I console myself with the knowledge that I am not alone.

Geo Cur said...

Here's some more Burl on Stonehenge .
“Skilful combination of engineering ,astronomy and symbolism .”
“The sarsen was ..was a marvel of woodworking techniques used on stone .”
“It was an astonishing achievement “
“…stone by stone, in a huge, immovable ring high above the ground. In a timber building, the result would have been an achievement for any prehistoric architect. In sarsen it was almost a miracle.

Geo Cur said...

An interesting story about Burl in relation to erratics is that he was responsible for much of the British content of the OWT “Myth” article which had no provenancing of any rocks and relied on archaeologists for info about the source of the rocks Earth scientists today might argue that because the area encompassing the RSC ‘s had been glaciated , in the absence of provenacing , then all recumbents were potentially erratics . Except those that weren’t .
Burl had pointed out in “Stone circles of the British isles “ that the recumbent at Hatton of Ardoyne may have been quarried 45m from the circle so now this example was not considered an erratic by OWT . Four years after the “ Myth” article Burl wrote in “Stone circles of Britain ,Ireland and Brittany “ that the recumbent wasn’t so local but came from the “Bennacchies “( sic) 2 miles to the south across the valley , the problem is that any movement of erratics in this area was likely to be from north to south not the other way round .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Precisely, Geo. As in all human life, a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You really don't like that "Myth" article, do you, Geo? It makes a good commonsense point, and is quite up to normal academic standards. It was a review article, based upon the literature -- and using citations effectively and honestly, as far as I can see. It's really a bit futile to criticise it for not containing detailed provenancing -- it was not intended to be a provenancing paper. Even though a lot of their sources were archaeological papers, I dare say that those who wrote them will have obtained the best advice available at the time -- from geologists.

Geo Cur said...

Yes the “ Myth “ article was not in the same class as the earlier Bluestone paper which was informative because of the provenancing . I less than 8 pages of text it didnt’ add anything to our understanding of the subject as it merely compiled info from archaeologists who had always made the point that erratics and locally sourced material were commonly used in monuments but the assumption , later pointed out as flawed by the same archaeologists , was that in glaciated areas this was always the case . The area chosen for the basis of the “myth” had to have been glaciated ,in this case all of Britain and Ireland (except for that area in the south which was not affected by the Devensian glaciation ) plus the area where the Hunnebedden are found in Holland and some areas around the Baltic . This was contrasted with non glaciated Brittany , hardly comparable in area . Burl had pointed out that the longest distance for human transport of rocks in this area was the Dol menhir (50 -125 tonnes ((this is taken from the article ,I have never seen it mentioned as being anything like 50 tonnes and nearly always 150 tonnes ));4 Km ) This is then accepted as the limit to be expected elsewhere and is aletr rationalised into “ long distance megalithic transport over a distance greater than 5 Km is clearly unlikely “ this clearly includes anything from 4 tonne bluestones upwards . When talking about Old Keig whilst accepting the possibility that the source was to the east the response is the area had experienced repeated glaciations and the case for human transport was unproven , despite her acceptance of human transport elsewhere and no evidence for the any glaciation in the direction of possible source to site .In effect it was saying if the area under discussion was glaciated then 5Km was the limit for human transport regardless of circumstances and minus the all important provenancing .Outwith these areas the argument obviously does not hold .

Jon Morris said...


Maybe.. does depend what it was for. For instance, 17 and 18 would have been an obstruction if my system were ever used at Stonehenge (it's why I left them out of the graphics).

So until we know for certain what it was for, it's only our own preconceptions that make it look unfinished.