THE BOOK
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....
To order, click
HERE

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Boles Barrow Bluestone -- then and now


My thanks to Pete G and Tim D for these photos.  One of them shows the Boles Barrow spotted dolerite bluestone in its position in the garden of Heytesbury House, prior to its removal to the museum in Salisbury.   It was probably used as a garden seat!  It must have been very pleasant, to sit there with one's back against the tree..........The photo below shows the boulder as it is currently displayed in the museum, the other way up, with a label and an invitation to children to guess the weight!

The weight is listed as 611.64 kg.

From the shape and size of this boulder there is not much doubt that this is the original stone, correctly labelled.

In case you missed it, I got this note from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum:

 We shouldn't be judging Cunnington from a 21st Century viewpoint. He was really the first archaeologist, and Boles Barrow was fairly early in his digging career. He was the first person to leave proper accounts of his excavations and, with Sir Richard Colt Hoare, to publish the results. His work holds up today, in ways which is not the case for many other later archaeologists.

Ben Cunnington, first Curator of Devizes Museum, and in Cunnington, B H, 1924, The blue stone from Boles Barrow. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 442, 431–47 refers to a letter of 1802 in which William Cunnington wrote to John Britton - 'I think I showed you a great variety of the stones ... that are of the same kind with several of those at Stonehenge'. The article outlines how Ben Cunnington located the stone and confirmed that it came from Boles Barrow, using contemporary evidence.

19 March 2012 14:26

It appears, therefore, that in spite of the misgivings of Hobgoblin, Chris Green and others, the staff of the museum are pretty certain about the provenance, and confident that the stone did indeed come from Boles Barrow rather than Stonehenge. 

See Tim's blog here:




36 comments:

chris johnson said...

It would be nice to read Ben's explanation of the provenance but I can't find this on-line.

Thanks to Tim for publishing the pictures. The museum text is interesting in giving two options and an IF. After our last discussion I have a third option - Cunnington's friend Fenton - resident of Prescelli, active antiquarian, and shipping line owner - had a nice bluestone garden seat sent over as a gift around 1800 when transport by cart and boat was relatively easy if you were rich and famous. It is reported that Cunnington had other stones in his garden transported in - one from Cornwall.

The text in the letter is mentioned by a few skeptics and thought to refer to sarsens. Apparently there is a margin note in the Wiltshire museum record about Bluestone, seemingly added later.

If Cunnington had known about all the fuss 200 years later he would have spelt it out for skeptics like myself.

Meanwhile we have yet to find another piece of Bluestone in Wiltshire or Somerset to support the glaciation theory.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think we can forget about Fenton. Spotted dolerite was not even special in Pembrokeshire -- so why on earth would he want to give a lump of it to anybody? In any case, the spotted dolerite outcrops are miles away from Fenton's home patch. Nice fantasy, like lots of others, but.......

You forget, Chris, that there are many kinds of bluestone, and they seem to pop up all over the place in the Stonehenge environs. In fragments, admittedly, rather than boulders -- but it is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that at least some of these fragments have come from larger stones that have been smashed to pieces.

Anonymous said...

Glacial transport of the bluestones is less plausible than Aubrey Burl suggests.

Although there is no other instance of people transporting megaliths over the distance from the Preselis to Stonehenge, many were transported over lesser distances. So the technical skills existed; the problem is the distance. Burl observes in his book, Great Stone Circles, when comparing the transportation of the bluestones and the Stonehenge sarsens, that the latter task was `much easier because the journey was all across dryland'. So why highlight the possible difficulties of a sea journey? Why not overland? It was technically possible - the question is why, not how.

Secondly, even if the bluestone in Salisbury Museum came from Boles Barrow, which remains unproven, where is the other glacial material on Salisbury Plain? It is inadequate to say, as Burl has, that `absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'. The rivers draining Salisbury Plain are flanked by terraces formed in the period when glaciers might have reached Salisbury Plain, and occupied by sediments derived from the surrounding landscape. If rocks were carried by glaciers to Salisbury Plain, they would occur in these sediments. In examining over 50,000 pebbles, I have found no glacially derived rocks. Burl must explain this, not dismiss it.

Thirdly, is the bluestone in Salisbury Museum from Boles Barrow? It is much larger (1,338lbs) than the stones recorded there by Cunnington (28-200lbs), and the ten stones taken by Cunnington to Heytesbury he described as sarsens. As Burl notes `Cunnington was . . . well able to distinguish between sarsen and dolerite'. There is no unequivocal evidence that the disputed bluestone was ever in Cunnington's possession. What we know is that it reached the grounds of Heytesbury House before 1860, supposedly from the nearby garden of Cunnington's house.


DR CHRISTOPHER GREEN
Royal Holloway
University of London

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Chris
I wondered when we might hear something from you! Welcome aboard. By the way, we don't pull rank on this site -- Emeritus Professors are accorded a certain degree of civility, but the respect they are accorded is in direct proportion to the amount of sense which they talk.

I disagree with you about the plausibility of the glacial transport hypothesis. Read my book or dredge through this blog, and you will see why. As far as I am concerned, it is eminently plausible -- unlike the human transport hypothesis which is predicated upon a whole host of unproven assumptions.

I have not seen anything yet to convince me of the "how" of human bluestone transport, let alone the "why." I'm interested to see that like MPP you prefer the "overland" hypothesis. Burl is scornful of that, and I agree with him -- until somebody finds some evidence to convince me that it was possible. Faith in the technological abilities of our Neolithic ancestors is, I am afraid, not enough.

Probably we are all mistaken in placing so much evidence on whether the stone in Salisbury Museum really did come from Boles Barrow. Maybe we never will get the provenance properly sorted out. As far as I am concerned, if Cunnington recorded that he had found some stones in Boles Barrow that reminded him of the bluestones at Stonehenge, that's good enough for me.

Your reference to those 50,000 pebbles is interesting -- I have devoted some earlier posts to this topic, and I am sceptical about your ability to identify erratic material in a sampled collection of such size. You and I were collecting pebbles at the same time -- you in Wessex and me in Pembrokeshire. I was looking at pebble roundness and orientation rather than concentrating on provenance -- but I would be a foolish fellow indeed to deny that there was (for example) any mid-Wales erratic material in the thousands of pebbles which I collected and washed. No glacially-derived pebbles in your collection? If you want to convince us of the reliability of your conclusion, please try!

Where is the other glacial material on Salisbury Plain? There are certainly lots of bluestone fragments, of many different types, in the debitage and in the Stonehenge landscape. And the bluestones themseves are a pretty mottley collection of different rock types, from different source areas. A glacial erratic assemblage if ever I saw one. And where exactly was that assemblage located before it was plundered by the builders of Stonehenge? Ah, that's where it gets interesting....

Hope all is well with you and yours.

Cheers

Brian

Anonymous said...

"I am sceptical about your ability to identify erratic material in a sampled collection of such size."

I believe that I am the better qualified and wider published in these matters, Brian.

Dr Christopher Green

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well now, we all have our skills, Chris. And when it comes to what glaciers may or may not have done during past glaciations, I think my opinion might count for something....

chris johnson said...

Dr Green has not changed his view since writing his letter to British Archaeology in 1999. Mind you, has anything changed?

Brian, there was a set of archaeo sleuths including Cunnington, Fenton, Colt-Hoare and several others who were all friends and in the same club. Geology was more of gentleman's pursuit in those days so that they all could tell a dolerite from a rhyolite. Like us they would have mused over the presence of these enigmatic and foreign boulders at Stonehenge.

The spotted dolerite is not that far from Fenton's home and well within riding distance. I nearly said walking distance, but I don't want to overstate the case.

I am reading Julian Thomas "Understanding the Neolithic" and Thomas dismisses the glaciation theory, citing Green and Scourse in 1997. He also remarks on the range of material and lack of selection for structural properties. And that bluestone fragments are found in Beaker burials and early bronze age deposits - presumably they had some special value at the time? So I think your theory that larger stones were being broken up it reasonable and widely shared.

As to why such an eclectic group of Prescelli stones might have been moved by man to Stonehenge I can only assume that they decided to move a complete circle from Wales to Wiltshire and that the moving of a special circle was more important that the individual qualities of the stones. Plausible? I think so.

If your anonymous poster really is the Dr Green then perhaps we can have a sensible debate.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- has anything changed? Yes -- we have much more geology now, thanks to Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins and others. That has shown that the bluestones have not all come from a tight area on top of the Preseli ridge, that at least some stones came from the lowland to the north of Preseli, that the Altar Stone has nothing to do with Pembrokeshire, and that there are still "mystery stones" whose provenances are unknown. More and more, this looks to me like a glacial erratic assemblage....

I'm sorry I ever mentioned Richard Fenton! Your fantasy about the gift of a big lump of spotted dolerite reads like something from one of my novels!

As for the idea that a whole circle of bluestones was moved all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, that is of course not new. It's exactly what HHT suggested all those years ago. He suggested that this mystery circle was at Cilymaenllwyd before it was dismantled and shipped off......

chris johnson said...

You mean between Glandy Cross and Trelech as the crow flies?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Between Glandy Cross and Login -- the old parish of Cilymaenllwyd has assorted prehistoric remains -- and of course HHT was homing in on the idea (that had been around for a long time) that there was some sort of prehistoric Mecca in that area. Done Bushell flagged up the idea with some enthusiasm, and of course HHT must have known him. Figgis has a sketch of the "Glandy Cross complex" on p 86 of his book.

chris johnson said...

Looking at your glacier maps it does seem likely that erratics could have passed by Cilymaenllwyd. The Stone River also points in this direction.

If I am not mistaken we are now close to the headwaters of the Taf, another salmon river. Who knows, the stones might have been embarked two hundred yards from Dylan Thomas' boathouse - now that would be some kind of poetry! More plausible than navigating Freshwater West but still many perils before getting to Swansea. Perhaps the Irish Sea Glacier could have given them a lift?

Who knows. In your next book the magical but oh-so-pragmatic Martha Morgan is going to be doing some business with a Richard Fenton of Newport to bring a stone from Rhos-y-Felin to the Parrog in one of her farm carts. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't mention Richard again until you have published.

I found it interesting that Stukely also investigated Glandy Cross. I wonder why? Maybe the geological link was being considered even earlier than we thought? Julian Thomas points out the likelihood that Prescelli axes might have been recognized in the very early days....

Enough brain weaving for now..... Sorry for the unscientific nature of my comments, I am still in my plausibility phase. Glaciers still have the upper hand.

chris johnson said...

Just reflecting on Dr Green's letter from the last century. 50000 pebbles! If I was Green I would have out-sourced the job to a Phd student, who being smart would have anticipated the answer and spent most of the time in the pub before delivering the answer.

And why would have pebble 50001 not have delivered the missing link? Enough to keep a truly conscientious researcher awake at night.....

If Dr Green really is making an emeritus contribution (retired) then perhaps this speculation might provoke him into making a genuine contribution after 13 years of progress. Probably not. Why risk a reputation?

Tony Hinchliffe said...

If the hypothetical mottley bluestone erratic train collection was MORE than hypothetical, and DID arrive broadly from the west towards the east, could it be that its west-east 'flight path' was imitated by prehistoric man's construction of the [west-east oriented] Greater (or, indeed, Lesser)Cursus?

And, of course, the Cursuses date from arond 3,500 B.C. i.e. Neolithic, like Boles Barrow.

This becomes slightly more plausible, and less fanciful, when
one takes into account that the aptly-named Dr J.F.S. Stone found a concentration of bluestone chippings, and at least one chip of micaceous sandstone, towards the west end of the Greater Cursus around 1947.By the time Leslie Grinsell wrote his pioneering and comprehensive "Archaeology of Wessex" in 1958,he was suggesting that the Greater Cursus, or close by, might well have been the location for a 'Bluestonehenge'circle long preceding the Stonehenge stone construction.

As an aside, for those who may be interested, as we've just been talking of MOTTLEY collections of bluestones, a Bradford-On-Avon researcher has recently identified several field names containing the word "motley" with the probable site of the Anglo-Saxon moot assembly site!

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Going back to William Cunnington & Heytesbury House, some may find a few quotes from Lorna Heycock's brand new article in the current 2012 Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine,"Wiltshire Studies",pp225-30, eye-opening and surprising.

Entitled "The Heytesbury Collection: visitors to William Heytesbury's Moss House", here's an opening statement:-

'From 1802 onwards, visitors ranged from antiquaries, clerics, poets and local worthies to county society and aristocracy, The discovery ofthe ruins of Herculaneum in 1715 had kindled interest in archaeoogy and "viewing the antiquities" had become a recognised pastime for gentlemen............The sitewould have been known to the more affluent among Cunnington's visitors, such as the Earl of Pembroke [!!], the Marquis of Tavistock, and Sir Richard Colt Hoare [of Stourhead], while on the Grand Tour:-

Our host recommende us to take in Heytesbury in our way where the museum contained the relics that have been found in the different tumuli that have been opened under the patronage of Sir Richard Colt Hoare and the direction of Mr Cunnington who has the care and management of it, and where Mr Cunnington lives, to whose arrangement everything is consigned...............

......The ready access that was given to view his cabinets and the pleasure he always experienced in affording information drew many 'virtuosi' to his house where they were no less charmed with the museum than they were by the affability of the possessor.'

This is a fascinating article, going into his careful arrangement of his museum and also the variety of notable figures, many in the natural history world, who came to visit, for instance, William Smith who revolutionised geology by identifying strate by their fossil contents.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

In Julian Richards' "Stonehenge: the Story So Far" (2007) we are told:-
"Had Salisbury Plain really been littered with exotic stones it is highly unlikely that they would have gone unnoticed by keen observers like Stukeley or Colt Hoare. In the field today there seems little evidence of non-local stones of any size, and the villages that surround Stonehenge have non incorporated into any of their buildings and bridges. The final blow to the glacial tranport theory was delivered by a study carried out in the 1970's that involved the examination of over 50,000 river gravel pebbles from 28 separate sites in the valleys that surround Stonehenge. The search was for 'erratics', pebbles that could have come from beyond the rivers'catchment areas. None was found.

Quite simply, the theory of glacial transport does not stand up to scrutiny and should be dismissed".

I'm sure you are looking forward to Julian revising thoroughly this section of his 2007 edition of "Stonehenge: The Story So Far", Brian? After all, very few of mankind's propositions through history have turned out to be infallible and written in stone.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Julian is labouring under several delusions. First, areas that have been glaciated do not have to be "littered with exotic stones." I know of many glaciated areas where there is virtually no exotic or erratic material, and the traces of glaciation are very subtle indeed. If he scouts through this blog, he will discover many posts about this.

Second,we do not know where the ice edge was. It may have been near Stonehenge, or ten or twenty miles to the west. Until we do, there is no point in complaining (or gloating) about the lack of exotic stones in local buildings.

And thirdly, those 50,000 pebbles from 28 sites in the local river catchments....... no erratic pebbles? Let's see the colour of the evidence before we accept that particular conclusion. I have put up some posts on this in the past.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- yes, Cilymaenllwyd and Glandy Cross are not so far from the upper reaches of the Taf. And yes, erratics from the eastern part of Preseli could have been transported and dumped in that general area.

Done Bushell was greatly taken by the idea that this was a "land of Circles" and "a Prehistoric Westminster." He claims that there were at one time no less than 8 stone circles in this area -- and he homes in on Cilymeanllwyd because of a 1738 record of a "circle of mighty stones very much like Stonehenge in Wiltshire."

Of course HHT seized on the excited pronouncements of Bushell since it suited his purpose very well. But more recent archaeologists are a lot more circumspect, and it seems that some of Bushell's assumptions about circles were rather wild, to say the least.......

It's worth remembering that HHT never suggested sea transport for the bluestones. In fact he specifically referred to "land transport" -- I think it must have been Atkinson who really developed the myth of sea transport.

Anonymous said...

Those curs'ed stones of Stone are, of course, those described in such exquisite detail in the first Ixer and Bevins (2010) -where the Craig Rhos-y-felin hare first started to course.
His (Stone not the leporine beast) 'micaceous sst' has yet to be discussed in detail and may yet be the great SH reveal.
M of A(now incognito)

chris johnson said...

I read your post of april 1 2010 on the Chris Green 50k pebbles research which has had such a big impact among archaeologists. You ask a few good questions which seem to have gone unanswered.

It seems Green himself led the 1970's study. Did you ever get a chance to review the original research papers? You seem to be basing your questions on an article in "Nature". Alternatively did you ever get the chance to discuss with him face-to-face?

It seems strange to me that he draws such definite conclusions on the basis of the "evidence". There would seem scope for some reasonable doubt.

BRIAN JOHN said...

That was all a long time ago, Chris. i was certainly not invited to referee any of Chris's papers, if that's what you are asking! I imagine that the original pebble counting work -- as reported in Nature in 1973 -- dates back to Chris's D Phil work in 1962-65. That is exactly the same time that I was working on my doctorate.

The Nature article is, I think, the most detailed account of how this study was done -- 28 sites, on seven different terrace gravel stages, and over 50,000 pebbles looked at. As you say, in that earlier post I did ask some important questions arising from the Nature paper and from the CP Green chapter in "Science and Stonehenge." If Chris or anybody else chooses to answer my points, all well and good......

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the "50 thousand pebbles near Stonehenge", but I do know there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing, that's a fact.

KATIE MELUA

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Going back to what we've just discussed above about Julian Richards and his "Story So Far" book on Stonehenge and its landscape (2007), with a present continuous - type title like that he just HAS to produce a Revision and soon, based not only on the work and findings of the MPP-led Stonehenge Riverside Project, but also on the implications for the validity of the glacial transportation theory of the sterling, largely post-2007 work Rob Ixer & Bevins have been doing on the Stonehenge debitage.

After all, as we know from one of Brian's fairly recent Posts, English Heritage have at least now updated their "Stonehenge Guidebook" [presumably revised by the original author, non other than Julian Richards], at least on line! And David Field and his English Heritage landscape archaeology colleague have gone into print to boldly state, amongst other things, that the sarsen stones probably came from the immediate Stonehenge vicinity and not up by Avebury after all (they also had different views on the bluestones to what had been conventional wisdom).

Time to wipe quite a bit of the slate clean, Julian & Co!

After all, Professor Richard Atkinson seems to have become a valid target for the senior archaeologists in recent years. Are they brave enough to put forward their collective revised version of The Story So Far? We shall see.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Very interesting, Kate. Has anybody checked to see whether any of them has been imported from elsewhere, by one process or another? Could be an interesting piece of research...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tony -- agreed.

Another area where I perceive a major shift is in the matter of "the immaculate Stonehenge." I have seen quite a few references recently -- from some quite well-established writers -- to the fact that Stonehenge was never completed, and that it was abandoned as a partly-finished project. There is also increasing acceptance, I think, of the idea that there must have been indecision and confusion as to what people wanted Stonehenge to look like, and maybe even over what it was for. The emergence of that honeycomb of intersecting pits and stone sockets is indicative of changing priorities if nothing else.
(cf the info from the Darvill -Wainwright dig.)

This all goes to support my contention that there never were enough stones to finish the job, and that the builders of Stonehenge simply gave up on the project when the costs of dragging stones from further and further away became greater than the benefits......

Julian -- are you reading this?

Anonymous said...

No!

Julian

chris johnson said...

It is a bit unfair to blame Julian Richards as long as most of the heavyweights believe the same and think the weight of evidence (Green, et al) is on their side.

The glaciation theory won't go away or lie down. There is considerable "rational plausibility" behind it. Nor will the theory of human transport go away, especially as it forms part of the glaciation story - some human transport is required.

Moving the discussion forward requires an inclusive theory capable of being tested and researched. Part of this is to challenge assumptions - the more I learn about Green's early work the ricketier it seems, and the same goes for the Boles Barrow bluestone. Both "sides" in this debate are building their case on suspect foundations.

The value of Rob Ixer's work is that he is telling us where to look for more evidence and evidence is what we need.

BRIAN JOHN said...

And which Julian might you be, my dear sir?

Tony H said...

Brian says above it is his contention that "there never were enough tool to finish the job". Perhaps Stonehenge missed out on having a Churchill-like figure.

He said indirectly to President F D Roseveldt during WW2, "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job".

It all comes down to Politics.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Or did I say: "They never had enough stones to finish the job?" In WW2,in spite of the grave national danger, they also ran out of raw materials at various times, leading certain jobs to remain unfinished.....

chris johnson said...

There was a continuing experiment at Stonehenge over several centuries - I think everybody recognizes this.

It is also clear that the project was abandoned at some point. However, to suggest they ran out of material or were indecisive or confused insinuates a degree of incompetence which does not seem justified.

Tony H said...

Sorry, about the mis-quote, Brian, I was too busy thinking about a possible Irish O'Toole labouring class connection (no offence intended), what with all the alleged imported cattle from the West to Durrington Henge and all, and all..., not to mention those Boscombe Bowmen from West of Barry Island.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Boscombe Bowmen from west of Barry Island? Or maybe from east of Paris? Or maybe even north of Edinburgh? Never was very convinced by those teeth.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I know you don't like any disrespect shown to those intrepid ancestors of ours. But putting reverence to one side for a moment, running out of stones is a perfectly good reason for abandoning a project -- in fact this is the most plausible explanation.

And were these fine fellows incompetent / confused / indecisive? Maybe each generation had a good idea what they were trying to do, but over several generations surely the conclusion is inescapable? Namely that they moved stones about here, there and everywhere from one setting to another, leaving a veritable honeycomb of intersecting stone sockets behind them. To me that smacks of unclear leadership, shifting priorities, maybe changing belief systems -- quite the opposite from the sort of steadfast and clear-thinking long-term planning that we might expect from a set of builders who really knew what they were doing. And the shortage of stones didn't help.....

chris johnson said...

Brian - I know too little about these people to make judgements. I find it clouds my mind when I disrespect people who I do not understand so I try to avoid doing it. Approaching people with a basic assumption of respect - not reverence - tends to help me.

Stones were a limited resource. In my view they would have made their plans fit the resources - no reason to think they were stupid.

Everybody agrees that the monument was reshaped several times over the centuries. We call this innovation these days and construct business and organization processes accordingly - the steadfastness and clear vision comes in the process of continual development.

I see some parallels with the way we organize ourselves today. Take renewable energy - NOT knowing exactly how this is going to look in 100 years time does not prevent us getting organized on all levels to make it happen. Is this unclear leadership and confusion? Maybe.

Tony H said...

Chris & Brian - here's an interesting quote from Julian Richard's 2007 book, "Stonehenge: the Story So Far" [Chapter 12, in which he surmises a personal and respectful view of what actually occurred through prehistory].

On page 243 he says that, during the sarsen trilithon building phase:-

"It all worked perfectly, stone fitting stone; but then disaster struck. As the final upright toppled into place a crack deep inside, a flaw that had hidden itself from the stoneworkers, split the stone in half, leaving only a short stub in the hole where a tall upright should have stood.

The symmetry was ruined and a desperate search of the [distant Marlborough?*] downs where the stones had been found revealed the awful truth; there were none left that were big enough to replace the one that had shattered. But what had been built was still an awe-inspiring structure, a triumph of design and engineering."

*my explanatory addition to Julian's text

BRIAN JOHN said...

My God! What a thrilling tale! It's quite wonderful how everybody slips into fantasy mode when talking about something which requires dispassionate analysis and maybe a cam consideration of alternatives.... in such a fashion has the myth of bluestone transport been developed over the years.