Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Thursday, 2 February 2012

On cultural links

Recently we had some discussion about "cultural links" between Stonehenge and West Wales,  and since this is a rather interesting topic, here are three maps to trigger some discussion.  They are all National Museum of Wales maps (duly acknowledged) reproduced in Steve Burrow's book called "The Tomb Builders". 

Note that Cotswold-Severn tombs are found in the area around the Severn estuary, including south-eastern Wales and extending to Salisbury Plain.

The other big tomb types, passage graves and portal dolmens, have quite different distributions, with the western peninsulas and parts of Ireland seeming to have a common heritage or "building style".

I'm fully aware that in determining "cultural identities" or "cultural associations" you need to take into account many more factors than those seen in these maps -- but the maps do not argue for very strong cultural links between Pembrokeshire and Stonehenge.  Neither, in my view, do the occurrences of "Preselite" axes which were traded or moved about all over the place.  In fact the maps do the opposite, arguing for quite extensive travel in the western lands on both shores of the Irish Sea and St George's Channel, and relatively little contact with central and southern England.  People were not moving stones about, but they were moving about on foot and in small boats and carrying ideas and traditions (and building techniques) with them.

It is more realistic to argue -- on the basis of these maps -- that Wessex tribes may well have thought of Pembrokeshire tribes as aliens or even enemies -- and vice versa.  And in that context, how realistic is it to assume that the politics and the social conditions of the Neolithic in Britain were favourable enough for scores of very large stones to be taken from the Preseli Hills and transported all the way to Stonehenge?

Over to you, folks.....


chris johnson said...

Looks like an interesting book but I have not seen a download possibility.

I believe there are both dolmens and long barrows on the Welsh side of Herefordshire, not shown here. Perhaps his classification of dolmens is quite specific - I also recall a rather ruined dolmen near Bristol airport.

For cultural links with Stonehenge should we not look at stone circles? I also wonder why North Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire do not show up, or the Peak district for that matter. It all seems very selective.

There is a lot of stuff in Ireland that I have not seen with my own eyes, but what I did see seems a different flavor again somehow.

Very interesting nevertheless and thanks for posting it.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- these maps are for Wales -- they were done for the National Museum. There are no doubt many other maps of Neolithic cultural features -- I have seen some in books by Tim Darvill. But those other maps don't seem to contradict the central thesis.....

Anonymous said...

"It is more realistic to argue -- on the basis of these maps -- that Wessex tribes may well have thought of Pembrokeshire tribes as aliens or even enemies -- and vice versa".

The logical conclusion of your argument (if there is one!) is that no trade could happen as all areas had 'tribes' who kill on sight (for reasons unknown) - even if that was remotely correct, trading would have never developed, which would made the 'neolithic farming revolution' somewhat pointless exercise as they couldn't trade the surplus!!

Albert Einstein

Phil M. said...

Hello Chris,
Bad Brian has only given a part of the book title, the full title being "The tomb builders in Wales 4000 - 3000 BC (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, 2006).
The Museum has recently relaeased the sequel to The Tomb Builders titled "Shadowland: Wales 3000 - 1500 BC", Oxbow Books, The National Museum of Wales and Steve Burrow, 2011.
ISBN 978-1-84217-459-3.
I don't know if it is available as a download but you can get it at
I'm beginning to sound like Steve's agent, (perhaps I should invoice him for some commission?).

Reading is recommended,

Phil M.
aka Stella Artois

Tony H said...

Here are some provocative comments from MPP in "If Only Stones Could Speak" (2010), National Geographic.

'The Story We Can Now Tell'

pages 49-50

"We do not know why the builders of Stonehenge went to the trouble to bring bluestones from faraway Wales. One possibility is that the early farmers who may have first moved to Salisbury Plain around 3800 BC came from Wales. Perhaps they went back to bring stones to link them with their place of origin. Mike plans to explore this theory by using the same tests that told us where the animals eaten at the [Durrington Walls] Southern Circle were raised. Inside Boles Barrow, a burial around 11 miles west of Stonehenge, diggers found a half-ton bluestone. Could this be a hint of a link between people and places? Astrontium isotope analysis of the teeth from the skulls found in the barrow should tell us where those people came from. The remains of what looks like a huge feast also held around 3800 BC were found at a nearby site [ within sight of Stonehenge, and not far either from 'Bluestonehenge'] called Coneybury Hill. While the strontium tests at Boles Barrow will tell us about people, the same test at Coneybury may give us information about their cattle. Those 2 tests could provide the key connection among early farmers, their animals, the bluestones, and Wales."

MPP has previously made reference to the close similarities in dimension between Stonehenge's original bank and ditch and an early henge in NW Wales, near Bangor, called Llandegai.

So at least MPP is not taking a patronising view of Wales' involvement, with the bluestones being merely "tribute" stones given to the all-powerful Wessex folk by the submissive locals. far from it. He wonders if the Wessex folks came, not "out of Africa", but out of West and North Wales. Only time, and scientific analysis, will tell.

BRIAN JOHN said...

My dear Einstein

You must think more carefully before drawing your "logical conclusions" -- tribal groups who do not have building / burial methods in common can perfectly well be wary and suspicious about each other but will not necessarily spend a lot of time killing each other. They might even trade because it is in their mutual interests to do so.

But the "classical" hypothesis of Neolithic expeditions gathering large numbers of very large stones in Pembrokeshire and transporting them to Stonehenge is predicated on a friendly, stable and mature relationship between the two areas. What I am suggesting is that this does not seem to be borne out by the evidence of those maps.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Phil -- thanks for those titles. I was not trying to hide anything -- I just wanted to concentrate here on the Neolithic -- or the period in which these burial mounds and related features were being built, and during which (according to some) stones were being moved from Pembs to Stonehenge....

There will be many other maps for the Bronze Age and later periods, but we are not concerned about those just at the moment.

Phil M. said...

Hello Brian,
It was not an accusation, perhaps I should have opened with 'Naughty Brian' instead. :-)



Anonymous said...

Oy vey!...You just hit on a 'classical' mistake in archaeology.

To link 'culture' to 'tomb types' or 'passage graves' is like comparing houses in our culture. Do all the upper class people live in detached mansions and all working class live in bed sits, for this was also the 'classical' representation of class system in the 20th century UK.

Now in the 1960's the books published by sociologist would tell you that as a fact - in the 21st century (just 50 years on) it is (like this book)complete rubbish, for most of the mansions in East Anglia are owned by scrap metal dealers, builders or dodgy hi-fi salesmen, like me, driving old Rolls-Royces.

The dates of these structures will vary greatly and consequently, so will the social structure and belief (style)systems - narrow it down to 200 - 300 years and well take another look, that is of course if you have an exact date from when the stones were erected and if so which sites correspond to your maps, smuck?

Lord Sugar

Anonymous said...


Am I having another blonde moment?

Wasn't Ireland not populated until the Neolithic period? - that nice presenter Neil Oliver had a man in a leather boat crossing from Wales if I remember rightly on his TV programme.

If that is the case surely you would have just the one "tribe" in Ireland although you maps suggest several.

Annie O.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Lord Sugar... your point being....??

BRIAN JOHN said...

Annie -- where on earth did you get the idea that Ireland was unpopulated in the Mesolithic?

Anonymous said...

Annie O: it was in the 1840's, not the Neolithic (much, MUCH earlier), that Ireland became virtually unpopulated (except, give or take a few of Lord Sugar's plutocrats/ ancestors living in the mansions built on dirty money).

That nice Neil Oliver was indeed in a leather boat, but last seen heading westwards off the west coast of the Emerald Isle, nowhere near Wales.


Tony H said...

For a summary of MPP'S 2009 notions on the North Wales- west Wales- Stonehenge- Bluestonehenge alleged links, go to:-


Anonymous said...

'The tomb builders in Wales 4000 - 3000' can't you read?

Look how much you sheep shaggers have change in the last 1000 years from failed goat herders to failed authors.

Listern carefully my boy, its like comparing Norman buildings and culture with the Tutors and finally the Edwardians - then coming to the conclusion that you have three hostile tribe that wont talk to each other, a completely hopeless analysis.

Your fired!!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Less racist abuse please, Alan. If there are or were bluestones in Boles Barrow, and we assume that (if you have to have a bluestone human transport theory) people were moving large stones from Wales to Stonehenge at the time when long barrows were being built, interpretations of cultural links based on these maps are perfectly valid. 3,000 BC? No problem.

And by the way, there is all this evidence of extreme violence and mayhem at Boles Barrow -- maybe even warfare. See the discussion here:
10 August 2011

Jones the shop said...

Hello Brian,
It would seem that Alan's manners are as bad as his spelling.
A sad case of Sugar by name and lemon by nature.


Anonymous said...

My right-hand man from "the Apprentice", Nick Wazzizname, in now fronting Channel 4's "Countdown". I taught 'im all he knows, and this is how he repays me! (but I know more than'im about archaeology, right?)

Lord S of Tottenham Hotspur

Ageing hippy said...

Brian, I recall that the violence you refer to at boles barrow was likely the result of metal swords, so taking us beyond the Neolithic.
I read somewhere that the Bluestone reportedly found at boles was supposedly on top of these bones, thus casting even more doubt on the authenticity of the story.

Thanks Stella for help finding the book. The delivery time is several weeks and the price asked very high. I wish people would go to I-books - the new author tools are very nice - and my book shelves overflow still with volumes of the read-once variety despite a major clean out over Christmas. My 2012 resolution is to buy e-books from now on.

Chris Johnson, aka Johnny Walker

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- this all sounds very strange. too much mythology and not enough facts -- does anybody know the original record of the first opening up of the barrow?

Going over to Ebooks? Shame on you! The only people who profit from them are outfits like Amazon, with their Kindle empire, and the poor authors are left scraping around with virtually no royalty income..... books bought in bookshops -- that's what we want to see.

Chris johnson said...

On the e-books. Apple promise 70% for the author, Kindle is similar although a more complicated plan. Smashwords is better although you are very restricted re format. A typical publisher in this market gives no more than 10%.

Your way of self-publishing gives you a bedroom full of stock and you and your accountant can work out your margin. I will eat my bush hat if you make more than 70%. A book like Bluestone Enigma should be regularly updated but this makes the economics very unattractive, so while you might claim that there is nothing more to say I suspect you are also influenced by the pressure of your stock. In this world a lot of people who bought the first edition will buy the second and the third - just like 200 years ago.

The way most experts publish, behind pay-walls, is very silly in my view. There are millions of people interested in the subject and, although not everybody buys e-books, this is the growth market. The price of the pay wall and the hassle put people off making a casual purchase. I would have bought Ixers paper for 4,99 even though I would have understood 1/3 maybe. At the current prices he is only selling to insiders and not many copies I suspect.

Coming back to the subject. You brought Boles up and initiated another "myth" by implying violence in the early years. The fact seems to be that the bodies in question were deposited many centuries later, likely after Stonehenge had ceased to function. Perhaps the Bluestone too - Boles is a wreck.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sensible words, Chris. yes, the economics of publishing are quite complex. I probably will end up doing an Ebook version of "The Bluestone Enigma" -- largely because bookshops nationwide are very reluctant to stock it, and on that basis I might as well sell as many copies as I can on Kindle or whatever (without the illustrations) and be happy with my 70% of £2.99! But for other titles such as my novels I'd much rather sell a thousand copies to local bookshops with a margin of £3 per book than a few Ebooks sold via Amazon.... it all depends on which niche market you are selling into.

Chris johnson said...

There is a rugby game coming on so will be short.

Do take a look at the new I-book author tool. It seems to take e-pub to a new level and I look forward to downloading a revised copy of Bluetooth enigma. Your 2.99 price would be too low IMO.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Seriously interested folk in this topic of cultural links are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED to visit an article written by Parker Pearson & An Other (also from Sheff Uni, first name Christie).

This is entitled: "Burials & builders of Stonehenge: social identities in late Neolithic & Chalcolithic Britain. 26.11.2010"

Its website, beginning: 'www.jungsteinsite...', can be found by entering the following keywords into your faithful Search Engine:-


Makes riveting reading! Pearson talks about the possible existence of a Pan - British Culture for a few hundred years. Think we'd better all go away and read this, including Lord Sugar, etc etc. I rate it as ESSENTIAL READING for Stonehengeaholics (1st use of this word?).

Parker Pearson also cites Brian John and his 2008 Enigma book in his references and annotations.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Regarding your sales of 2008 edition of Bluestone Enigma and your discussions above with Chris, are you able to say how your sales are going via Wiltshire Heritage Museum (Devizes Archaeological Society's base)? About 18 months ago, I think it was, they were happy to receive some of your books for sale. In addition, are you still retailing via English Heritage's retail outlet at the Stonehenge entrance? Good luck with your efforts, it's all dissemination of the geomorphological factors the archaeologists and enthusiasts need to be aware of.

BRIAN JOHN said...

No state secrets here, guys. Wilts H Mus bought five copies, I think -- and nothing since. Maybe they are stashed away in a back room somewhere! Or maybe people in Devizes are just not interested in hearing any alternative theories. But all credit to EH -- the books are well displayed in the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, and several hundred copies have been sold through there.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- I shall take a look. Wow! What a game of rugby! Great advert for the game.....

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Next time I'm in the Devizes Museum, I'll have a close look at their Books For Sale display and see if "Stonehenge Enigma" is (a) visible;(b) prominently on display so it is noticeable to your average punter or (c) apparently sold out.

The Bookshop Manager does her best, but has to multi-task in her museum roles, but I'll try to encourage the marketing of 'Enigma' to the Great British Public in future.

The Heritage Museum is, sadly, in desperate need of funds to keep going in these recession days.

You could also try marketing your book through outlets like the National Trust shop at Avebury, to counterbalance some of the more way-out stuff contained therein! They CLAIM to have a well balanced stock. Also, have you tried Amesbury and Salisbury outlets? We must educated the masses!

Jones the Shop said...

Hello Brian,
With reference to the game of rugby (and I'm trying to type this without a smug look on my face),have we not just witnessed ritual warfare where 70,000ish people of two different nations have handed the actual fighting over to their 30 champions. Far more civilised but possibly a throwback to our pre-historic roots don't you think?


Anonymous said...


I think Robert is doing quite well without the museums assistance.

Just looked on Amazon, although 'The Bluestone Enigma' is rated 578,726 the 'The Stonehenge Enigma' is 466,579 and is twice as expensive!

Annie O

BRIAN JOHN said...

Won't lose too much sleep over that -- the Amazon ranking system is a thing of wonder, which bears remarkably little relationship to the long-term sales record of any particular book.

chris johnson said...

@ Tony. The Devizes museum seems to be a great resource but, as a 21st century marketing guy, I really wonder what those guys are doing. This is not the place to take up this discussion so I will desist.
@ Brian. Great game, great result! Lovely to see two sides committed to open play. Still wondering what you think about violence in the neolithic and what Boles Barrow might contribute to our understanding. Violence for its own sake is part of our collective nature as yesterday showed.

On the broader cultural question there seems little doubt that there was a shared interest throughout ancient Britiain in building ceremonially with stone, astronomy/astrology, and even re-shaping the land. I think there is now sufficient evidence from dowsers that natural earth energies were widely recognized and were influential - from Aberdeen to Wiltshire to the Boyne - as was the celestial link. There is no doubt a sub-text to this theme, but while we do not understand the big picture it seems less helpful to focus on architectural styles evolving over thousands of years - although I value the maps.

Anonymous said...


"I think there is now sufficient evidence from dowsers that natural earth energies were widely recognized and were influential"

Wow! - they should have got you in when they wanted to illuminate Stonehenge last month and save on the elecky bill!


Tony Hinchliffe said...

Annie O

My slip of the keyboard: I was intending to refer to "Bluestone Enigma", and not to Robert's tome. Brian has at least managed, with a little help, to retail "Bluestone Enigma" through the esteemed facilities of Devizes' Wiltshire Heritage Museum, so, little by little, Brian's scientific observations are gaining increasing respectability.As to Brian "doing quite well without the Museum's assistance", I would just say how useful it is to gain a foothold amongst the Wiltshire paid-up members of the archaeological "intelligentsia" (for want of a better word - I suppose I could have said "committed"). Most punters entering the Museum doors are probably quite knowledgeable. Apart from our Members, many visit the Museum en route for Avebury, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, Stonehenge and Marden Henge, etc, and want to see the artefacts on display & browse the books or visit the Library.

Chris Johnson

Not sure what you're thinking in relation to Wiltshire Heritage Museum's marketing: have you seen our website, for instance? We do our best, e.g. excellent series of lectures, and a good selection of books. But we have lost Council funding due to the recession. Do send them your views on the website.

chris johnson said...

@Tony., on Devizes.
Don't see any possibility to chat with them via the web site, but thanks anyway. How are you involved? You talk about us and them .....

Devizes seems set-up for academics, although the 2-weeks notice might put some of them off. For a casual punter it looks to be focussed on Bronze Age and is many miles in the wrong direction for people traveling to Stonehenge. Their website is years out of date. I am not surprised they have insufficient footfall.

Perhaps the cut in council funding will be a wake-up call.

It looks a bit like an over-stressed public library rather than an enterprise.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Chris: I think you have misunderstood my remark about the Devizes Heritage Museum website: I was suggesting that you let the Museum know direct what your opinions on their website presentation and their range of services on offer are. I'll see if someone there wants to contribute to our debate here, as regards the Museum's many assets.

Tony H said...

Wiltshire Heritage Museum at Devizes' Website is at:-

A virtual tour is there, provided by Time Team's Phil Harding, a keen member and user.

Wiltshire Heritage Museum said...

Have just been tipped off about the discussion about the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. I am David Dawson, and I came to the museum 3 years ago as Director. I have been concentrating on the real world development of the museum, and not on the website.

We have plans for a £300,000 development, with a bid into the HLF.

We have added a few things to the website, including ecommerce and have 1,250 Twitter followers and have put onine the films that won a national award in 2010 - see our channel at .

We have 1,200 members who support us and almost 200 volunteers. Without their help, the museum would not be there.

Yes - we do ask for 2 weeks notice for people researching in our library. This means we have time to get things ready for them. The Library is manned entirely by volunteers, so we find a comparison with a public library a little amusing. If we were as well funded as the average library, we would be laughing. We have nationally important collections and our public funding is just £35,500 from Wiltshire Council. We generate £7 for each £1 in public funding, but still face a deficit of £80,000.

Running a museum with extensive collections and a research library better than most universities costs money. We have the best Bronze Age Archaeology collection in Britain. The Stonehenge WHS Management Plan recognises that we and Salisbury Museum are not adequately funded for the 'excellent' curation of the archaeology of the WHS.

But, with new displays and tourists from the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre, then we can be sustainable.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks David -- info much appreciated. It's a miracle that small museums survive -- as I know from other small museums elsewhere, especially with local authority funding being cut back and even with charitable funds now very tight indeed. All the charities I am involved in have exactly the same problems -- and we all struggle to survive. So much for the Big Society which our beloved PM keeps on talking about. He hasn't got a clue what it's like out there in the real world. Best of luck!

chris johnson said...

Thanks David for your input.

I am happy to visit next time I am in the area and provide my marketing input as a volunteer. Meanwhile I thank you for your insights..

Off the cuff, when you have 300k to spend versus 30k per year from the local council, my first question should be whether to spend this money in Devizes or somewhere more convenient, or with a council that is more sympathetic..

My initial feeling is that the museum needs to establish a solid business base and that this is likely related to Stonehenge traffic. It is very nice to do things for school children, cover natural history, etc but even as a social enterprise you need firstly to cover costs before doing the nice stuff.

Your web-site definitely needs a refresh. The Bush Barrow stuff needs to lead, even though you only have replicas. As a tourist I would also want to know simple stuff like can I park, is their a decent restaurant, can I stay overnight. At a minimum I want to know how long it takes to get there and back.

To cover 80k deficit near-term you need to look at your pricing, which seems incredibly low. A few bus loads of Japanese should fix your problem and they have nothing else to do in the afternoon :)

Another issue I have as a tourist is that there are two museums of interest in opposite directions. Could you not combine and put something near the stones? I am always amazed at Stonehenge/Avebury that there is no museum to visit.

Hopefully this helps a bit and thanks for chipping in. Meanwhile my offer stands.

chris johnson said...

Dear A.N Other,

I have been practicing my technique to walk backwards through long grass while continuing to talk, wave my arms around, and clutch two dowsing rods - all at the same time and in one shot!. I am becoming quite proficient. Should you know of any media opportunities, I am your man. I don't have much of a cleavage and never modelled a super-bra, nevertheless I understand some program makers are short of a few presenters and I have some time on my hands and can definitely burble on about dowsing.

Mail me please.

Tony Hinchliffe said...


For the record, the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury may be tucked away within the Avebury village close to the Church, but it's very good and consists of the Great Barn Museum/ Interpretation Centre as well as the Alexander Keiller. both are run by the National Trust, and appear in the national guide book (opening hours, etc).

Rosamund Cleal is the Archaeologist there.She wrote the seminal work "Stonehenge In Its Landscape: Twentieth Century Excavations" [with many others].

It is the best visited museum in the whole of Wiltshire ( I worked as a volunteer there for a year or so; these days I do still help out in a mundane fashion at the Devizes Wiltshire Heritage Museum, & am involved at times with their excellent Archaeological Field Group's activities).

Thanks, Chris, for your suggestions just made to our Director, David Dawson (who, incidentally, leads excellent tours 'Inside The Stones' every summer at Stonehenge, bookable via the website, which I can wholeheartedly recommend, in June/July.

I reckon we could indeed attract far more Japanese, South American, etc, tourists to Devizes, and the local economy e.g. eating houses could indeed benefit. Devizes is beautiful.

These days we have just the single Unitary local council, Wiltshire Council, and even more could be done to encourage visitors from the U.K. and abroad to visit Devizes etc, as well as the usual "honeypot" tourist places like Salisbury, Stonehenge & Avebury.