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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Monday, 27 February 2012

Bluestones and sarsens

Phil Morgan has kindly sent me this excellent photo of some of the bluestones and sarsens at Stonehenge, and is happy for it to be published.  Thanks Phil.....  Click to enlarge.

One thing that strikes me yet again is that there is really no difference in colour between the bluestones and the grey stones!  But of course, when some (but not all) of the bluestones are broken or seen with fresh unweathered surfaces they do appear to be a bluish grey colour.

Phil's notes:

From Left to Right

Sarsen Circle Trilithons = 28, 29, 130, 30, 101, 1, 102, 2, 3, (5 + Bluestone 33);
Bluestone Circle = 46, 47, (48 fallen), 49, 31, (150 and 32 fallen), 61, (61a stump), 62, and 63.
Left foreground = Broken Sarsen Lintel 160b and 160c.

Incidentally, the stones of the Bluestone Circle, 46, 47, 49 and 31, listed above are the four orthostats referred to in paragraph 3 of Rob and Richard's paper on Craig Rhos-Y-Felin, 2011.


Phil M. said...

Hello All,
Yes, I know I'm a dumbo.

The phrase 'Sarsen Circle Trilithons' shouldn't have contained the word Trilithon, but it was going on for 2 AM when I sent the e-mail to Brian.

I plead guilty, but insane.

Phil M.

Anonymous said...

when Sarsen stone is dug up or broken it is pink!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Didn't bother to correct that, Phil, because a trilithon is a structure with 3 stones, two verticals and one supported. One can make a case for distinguishing between free-standing trilithons like the ones on the inside at Stonehenge, and those where one common pillar is used for adjacent trilithons. But we are just playing with words... all you need is for a few lintels to fall, and then we have free-standing trilithons in the circle as well!

Phil said...

Hello Brian,
Ta for that.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Comment from Rob re the bluestones -- No they are not! The four orthostats referred to in the paper are 38 40 46 48 and 32e buried -- only two are in the picture -- all others are dolerites.

Timothy Daw said...

By coincidence I took a photo yesterday where the difference in colours showed up.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Fair enough -- nice one, Tim! If you look at the bluestones carefully you can see quite marked differences between the dolerites, rhyolites etc. On some of my photos there also appear to be quite strong differences in the colours of the sarsens -- or is that just my imagination, or a trick of the light?!

Anonymous said...

Comment from Phil.
In reply to Rob's comment ---- It was late in the day and I was tired.

Well spotted Rob.

Phil M.

chris johnson said...

Tim. Now it looks like the sarsens are blue. I took my daughter there last year and pointed out the "blue stones". She raised her eyebrows tolerantly,

Timothy Daw said...

One of the joys of working at Stonehenge is watching the colours of the stones change with the different light of different times of the days, weather and seasons.
(One of my pet annoyances is the colour given to the stones in the 3d computer models - they are based on a damp early morning which happened to be when they could get the camera in there.)
The sarsens also are varied in colour, some do have a pink hue from the iron, others are steely grey and the grain size in them varies which alters how they respond to the light.)

Flinty said...


I followed your advice and typed 'Bluestone colour' into the search box and found this sub-plot.

To claim that the sarsen stones (silicified sandstone) used to form the trilithons at Stonehenge (and the majority of the megaliths at Avebury) are as blue as the 'bluestones' at Stonehenge is quite wrong. Furthurmore, to my mind, were this true, it would utterly negate the need for the specific selection of the volcanic materials for the bluestone arrangements.

When all is said and done, there can be only ONE reason for the selection of the materials used for the bluestone arrangements - and that is their colour. It is perhaps no accident of history that they are still referred to using this term. Were it possible to attack the bluestone arrangements with a diamond wheel (for example), I can assure you that ALL the bluestones are distictly blue in colour, 'bluer' indeed than any of the sarsen quartzites. There has been a great deal of detailed and scientific analysis of the Stonehenge bluestones, but what is perhaps more telling is what is missing from the debate - and a clear tendency to lose sight of the fact that the stones are blue in colour.

This is a serious debate, but I cannot help being reminded of the famous stone of Galveston, as recounted to Blackadder. Enjoy!

I sincerely believe that in the case of the British Isles, bluestone geology is key to Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ritual, which extends beyond megalithic monuments, to their quarrying, use and ritual deposit of axes/adzes. Once again, were it possible to sample the Stonehenge bluestones and to fashion polished axes from them, you would clearly see their distinctive blue colour at the quarrying stage. But you would be in for a shock, since as the polishing process is completed, the axe turns from blue to green.

This is not fantasy, but I believe a practice that mimics the manufacture and importation of green coloured axes from Mainland NW Europe from c.4000 BCE. This phenomena is well documented in SAS III by Vin Davis, Petrequin, Sheridan et al, but is I believe the very tip of a far bigger iceberg. In order to produce green coloured axes, in Britain at least, you would need to look for blue stones. Stones that were possibly already accepted as having important ritual aspects.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Flinty -- you say "To claim that the sarsen Stonehenge (and the majority of the megaliths at Avebury) are as blue as the 'bluestones' at Stonehenge is quite wrong. Furthurmore, to my mind, were this true, it would utterly negate the need for the specific selection of the volcanic materials for the bluestone arrangements." Forgive me, but you seem to have been subjected for far too long to the bluestone hype -- Pete G's little experiment was quite convincing, and I agree with him. The bluestones are no bluer than the sarsens. Who says the "volcanic materials" were specifically selected for the bluestone arrangements? I don't. I think smaller sarsens were also used -- and if rhyolite from Rhosyfelin was ever used for orthostats, you are not going to convince me that they are anything other than a buff whitish colour.......

Sorry, but I find your enthusiasm for blueness quite interesting -- but your arguments are unconvincing.

Flinty said...

That in turn is interesting Brian - it implies that there was no selection going on in the Neolithic/EBA...other than ALL erratics on/around Salisbury Plain were fair game for incorporation into the monument.

So why would they be arranged quite seperately within the monument? Using your criteria - this would have been on size alone?! I'm surprised - you wrote a book (that I enjoyed very much),on the 'Bluestone Phenomena' and yet seem to have missed the point completely. It's not 'hype', I guarantee that if you stripped off the surface of both sarsens and bluestones, you would see an immediate - and striking contrast. What might convince you? Have you seen freshly quarried samples of all the bluestone materials/sarsens? I doubt it. If you had, you would be unlikely to describe the real 'bluestone phenomena' as mere hype. I have a large number of pics I'd like to share here - can I email them to you?

I have absolutely no motive to either support or debunk any theory regarding the Stonehenge Bluestones, I'm simply reporting what I've seen as a result of my many years of interest (and practical experience) of ground and polished artefacts of the Neolithic and EBA.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Flinty -- you are assuming at least twi things here which are questionable. First, that all the stones were fresh and unweathered when first used. I would dispute that, on the basis that regardless of how they were transported, weathered surfaces would have been much more common -- and therefore colour differences were very muted if they were recognisable at all. Second, that the remains of the settings we see today give us a guide to the intentions and the design aspirations of the builders of the first stone settings. We know from the multiplicity of sockets that the stones have been moved about over and again -- and I have put that down to indecision, or lack of stones, or both. I still think that many small sarsens were used in the original "bluestone settings."