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Sunday, 18 March 2012

Burl on Boles Barrow


See also this, among other posts on the Boles Barrow bluestone:
 http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/bluestone-boulder-or-two-or-ten.html

Following some recent correspondence on this blog about Boles Barrow (again), I have taken another look at Aubrey Burl's writings on the subject.  The barrow (otherwise known as Heytesbury 1) is generally classified as an earthen Neolithic long barrow, dated to approx 6,000 - 5,000 years BP.  Burl is convinced that the big stones in this long barrow were sealed in place about a thousand years before the Steonehenge Q and R holes were dug and stones placed into them.

Burl knows his subject well, and has researched it carefully -- and in several of his books he describes the discovery by William Cunnington in 1801 of a lump of "bluestone of the kind later to be set up in concentric circles at Stonehenge."  Burl says it was one of a number of loose stones so loosely stacked that they cane tumbling down as the excavation was under way.  Above these stones was a capping of white marl -- which presumably means chalk detritus.  Most of the big stones were sarsens, up to 200 lb in weight.

Cunnington lived just 3 miles from Boles Barrow, in the village of Heytesbury.  He was a good enough geologist to know the difference between sarsen and spotted dolerite.  He was so taken with these stones that he took ten of them and arranged them in a circle around a tree in his lawn. Later on (some time before 1860) the stone was removed from Cunnington's garden to the grounds of Heytesbury House, where it was known as the "Stonehenge Stone"  -- not because it had come from Stonehenge but because it was clearly like the best-known of the bluestones there.  Later on, in 1934, it was given by Siegfried Sassoon to the Salisbury Museum, where it remains to this day.  Its dimensions were (and presumably still are) 76 cm x 67 cm x 41 cm.  It was weighed and found to weigh over 12 cwt -- just about manageable by three men working together.  So it was a big heavy boulder -- not a pillar like the most famous of the Stonehenge bluestones.

This stone has for a very long time been extremely inconvenient to those who subscribe to the "human bluestone transport theory"  because it suggests that at least one big chunk of bluestone was present on Salisbury Plain a thousand years too early.  Accordingly, many writers -- including James Scourse and Chris Green -- have gone out of their way to question the provenance of the stone and to suggest that it was really taken from Stonehenge either by Cunnington or somebody else, and mistakenly identified as the stone from Boles Barrow.  They have no hard evidence to support this contention -- the best they can say is that the provenance is inadequately established.  That is a pretty feeble line to take, and Burl gives it short shrift.  Did Scourse and Green expect that the stones in Cunnington's garden should have written provenances, or bronze plaques with "certified places of origin" affixed to them" ?  Burl argues that Cunnington was a fastidious recorder and that there is no reason why he or anybody else would get their stones and their provenances mixed up.  In any case, he says, the careful survey of the Stonehenge stones and stumps by Flinders Petrie in 1877 established that no bluestones had been stolen or removed from the site between 1747 (the date of John Wood's plan) and 1877.  He also suggests that if Cunnington was indeed into the business of boulder collecting, he was much more likely to collect stones from a ruinous and collapsed long barrow close to his home than from Stonehenge, which was deemed -- even in 1801 -- to be a very valuable archaeological site.

That's all good enough for me.  Burl is dismissive of the human transport fantasy, saying in his book called "A Brief History of Stonehenge" (2007):  "There was no human transportation.  It is a geological certainty that agrees with several quite independent facts."

In accepting that the Stonehenge bluestones were from an assemblage of glacial erratics, Burl has not made any firm pronouncement (as far as I know) on where this assemblage was located.  He suggests a site somewhere in West Wiltshire -- and inclines to the view that the stones were somewhere near Heytesbury and Boles Barrow, about 12 miles from Stonehenge, available on the ground surface and ready to be picked up.   He mentions a place named Breakheart Bottom.  Appropriate name, that......







31 comments:

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I note that two brothers called Parker were Heytesbury labourers employed by William cunnington from 1801 to about 1810, and there is information we can see on the Internet about these 2 brothers, describing them as England or Britain's first Field Archaeologists. Presumably, they assisted at the Boles Barrow excavation. They were the subject of a 2-hour lecture. I dare say Devizes' Wiltshire Heritage Museum has some original documents about them; it does about William Cunnington.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, interesting. It appears that these brothers assisted Cunnington from 1801 onwards -- I checked out the article about them (Antiquaries Journal 2010) but there seems to be no mention of Boles Barrow or the famous bluestone boulder...

chris johnson said...

There is a good article on this subject published on April 13 2011 on www.thehobgoblin.Blogspot.com that gives the other side of the argument

BRIAN JOHN said...

This is the full URL for the Hobgoblin's analysis of the Boles Barrow problem! I have mentioned this before -- we have crossed swords several times!

http://thehobgoblin.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/boles-barrow-bluestone.html

Robert John Langdon said...

Brian

Do I smell a whiff 'desperation' in your blog?

A possible Bluestone found either in, on or somewhere nearby a Long Barrow.

The creditability of a 'archaeologist' that systematically destroyed hundreds of historical monuments with a bunch of navvy's

A person who stole the artefacts to make stone circles in his back garden, who record keeping were 'questionable' to say the least.

An 'Archaeologist' who believed Stonehenge was built by the druids and gold was abundant in the centre of barrows.

To find a piece of bluestone in a museum, which was hanging about in his garden for 35 years, which disproves human agency - please!

Has anyone tested this stone to see if it has come from the same preseli outcrop?

And even if it was, what's stopping someone bring it to this Long Barrow under the belief that it will help the dead, on their journey to the afterlife as clearly it was as has been seen as 'sacred' in the past.

Consequently, 'idiots' like Cunnington don't always get it right and therefore to place any trust in this person's accounts or findings is 'precarious'.

RJL

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh, I'm not at all desperate, Robert. I have talked about this issue several times, because it's an interesting one. Others seem to think so too. OK -- we can say that all of the early archaeologisys were either idiots or charlatans -- where does that get us? All I'm interested in is the question of whether the bluestone boulder really did come from the interior of Boles Barrow. Have you got anything constructive top contribute?

chris johnson said...

I don't think we will ever know. Mike Pitts said "the archaeology of Boles Barrow is a mess", after analyzing the pros and cons - perhaps helping Hobgoblin with some of his arguments even. As I said earlier, there is too much doubt.

The context of the time was to loot ancient monuments and take away souvenirs - there is plenty of evidence that Stonehenge was "investigated" in this way. When Brian is making his point about the ramshackle collection of bluestones currently at Stonehenge we need to bear this in mind - there are plenty of fragments around and is currently impossible to date when they were broken up.

It would help weigh the probabilities if we knew more about Cunnington the man. It seems to me that having spent years looting monuments with little success he was perhaps motivated to make himself interesting. (I have enough trouble myself explaining to my wife why I spend time on this blog instead of earning more money).

If what Brian implies is true, and that in early 1800s Stonehenge had ascended to a level of sanctity as an ancient monument then Cunnington might have been embarrassed by using a bluestone as a garden ornament - "no guvnor, I did not steal it, I found it at Boles Barrow". However, I thing Brian is wrong. Stonehenge was fair game for souvenir hunters at the time.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I suppose the truth is out there somewhere -- it's funny that such a lot should hinge on the personal characteristics of the leading players in the Stonehenge debate. What was it that motivated Atkinson, Thomas, Cunnington, Colt Hoare, Hawley, and even our modern generation of professors, to be either faithful to, or economical with, the truth? Pride, status, stubbornness, greed, and even fame? Yes, Cunnington destroyed things and collected things, but he was also elected a member of the Society of Antiquaries, so I suppose he must have gained some respect as a recorder of reliable information. And the old fellow certainly knew the territory...

chris johnson said...

I know board members in the current era who I would not trust to give me the right change after going to the takeaway with my cash.

Being elected a member of these sort of societies means you belong; belonging often means being prepared to be economical with the truth. We see this regularly. The fact that Cunnington "belonged" does not enhance his credibility in my eyes - but perhaps I am too cynical.

Cunnington was knowledgeable enough to know the Bluestone when he saw it. Adding the remark later as a sidenote is not helping Burl's case. The fact of the Bluestone should have been interesting enough to become Cunnngton's first observation in his main text.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Regarding the honesty and reliability of board members, I could not possible comment!

I'm not sure that Cunnington would have necessarily flagged up the presence of the bluestone as a great thing -- it was no great deal at the time. From what I can gather, it was a few years later, around 1807, that people started to get seriously interested in the fact that the bluestones appeared to be igneous and somewhat different from the bigger sarsens.

Wiltshire Heritage Museum said...

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 he 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.

chris johnson said...

Why 1807?

I am happy to give you and Cunnington the benefit of the doubt. I also tend to overstate my case, carried away by rhetoric no doubt. Still I think that Cunnington after ravaging a few hundred barrows and being a geologist of sorts would have recognized the bluestone. Perhaps it would not have been top of his list to report but likely in the main text and not a lately added footnote. Or was he simply a really crap archaeologist and geologist?

Why is 1807 important?

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I wonder if Pete G has any light to throw on this matter of William Cunnington and his integrity or otherwise? He knows his way around the Wiltshire Heritage Society's Library, I believe.


My impression is that William C is getting something of a bad press on this Post at the moment!!..........the excavation of Bush Barrow, near Stonehenge, for example, in 1808, was not entirely bad e.g. the recording of the artefacts by drawing was of a high standard, even if the excavating was by no means up to modern standards!

W Cunnington the First was a pioneer. We judge him with the benefit of hindsight. We had a similar character in 19th Century Derbyshire called William Bateman, whi is often called a vandal.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Why 1807? Nothing crucial about that date, but my impression is that around 1807 - 1810 Cunnington, Colt Hoare and the others were beginning to sort out the stratigraphic relationships, the geology and the differences between Neolithic, Bronze age and later features. Is my impression correct here? Can't claim to be an expert on this matter.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for that, WHM. A little vote of confidence there that the provenance is correct, by the sound of it....

Robert John Langdon said...

"Have you got anything constructive top contribute?"

Yes, even if the Bluestone was found in the Long Barrow - how does that prove 'human transportation' wrong?

If it was from the Preseli outcrop, someone could have gone and get it - its only one stone, all you need is a boat.

If its not from the outcrop it could just be an erratic from elsewhere - you keep telling us of many outcrops.

As your friend Kostas would say, where's the 'rational plausibly' of a SINGLE stone in just ONE Long Barrow, proving (in any form) that there were scattered erratics from Preseli in Wiltshire?

RJL

BRIAN JOHN said...

All it proves -- if the provenance is correct -- is that there was at least one bluestone boulder on Salisbury Plain around a thousand years before the supposed "bluestone collecting expeditions." In other words, the incorporation of stones into the Stonehenge stone setting was probably not the motivation for those expeditions; either the Boles Barrow builders went off to Pembrokeshire to fetch a bluestone boulder around 6,000 years ago (vanishingly unlikely, in my opinion) or they found it not far from Boles Barrow, and incorporated it into the mound. And if they found one, it is entirely reasonable to think that there might have been others as well.

chris johnson said...

It is an important data point and plausible. However, the evidence is suspect. I don't see how you can convince us that this is fact. Were it less important we should accept it more easily into your narrative but as it is a crucial point the burden of proof must be incontrovertible

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- of course Cunnington was not unique. at just that time there was a great fashion for "antiquarian investigations" -- and it looks to me as if cunnington was a great deal more fastidious then most others. we had one of them in Pembrokeshire -- Richard Fenton -- who was responsible for the removal of goodness how much material from the sites that he opened up, and who kept virtually no proper records.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Suspect evidence? I wonder how much evidence we have in this whole Stonehenge business that is incontrovertible? Not much, I reckon.... and least of all in support of the TD / GW / MPP human transport hypothesis.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

William Cunnington & Richard Colt Hoare employed a very decent draughtsman named Abraham Crocker. English Heritage's David Field rates his work very highly.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Philip Crocker?

chris johnson said...

At the risk of raining on the parade, it seems Richard Fenton lived for a while in the Gwaun Valley. He was a friend of Colt Hoare who was a friend of Cunnington. I presume I am thinking of the right Fenton?

Fenton owned a shipping line out of Fishguard. Is it plausible that he brought a nice piece of Bluestone by boat from Prescelli for Cunnington's garden? We know Cunnington did receive a stone gift on a least one occasion.

I downloaded a pdf on some very recent extensive explorations on Salisbury Plain near Breakheart Bottom, the spot you mentioned as Burl's favorite for bluestone. Some 250 pages of modern scientific reporting and not a sniff of a dolerite as far as I could see. There seem to be a rich archaeology back into neolithic times. Google breakheart bottom and you will find it. Phil the Flint did the stone analysis and very few chips were left unturned is the impression I got.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- interesting info! yes -- that would be the same Fenton. Probably the most famous of the local antiquarians -- he had good contacts in London and all over. I like the idea of a spotted dolerite boulder as a gift for his friend! Not sure that there was a shipping route from Fishguard to Heytesbury at the time....

Tony H said...

The Atkinson-approved Route from Fishguard to Heytesbury with requisite Bluestone(s) would involve a few Likely Lads/ Boyos utilising the Bristol Avon, then deviating up the tributary river Frome, before humping them across a few miles to the Wylye at Warminster............... And Bob's Your Uncle!! [or so they say]. Q.E.D.

Tony H said...

Chris' mention of Breakheart Bottom shows us that the excavations he mentions were near Battlesbury Hillfort. The sombre news today is the repatriation of the six soldiers of the Yorkshire Battalion based at Battlesbury Barracks [Warminster], killed in Afghanistan 2 weeks ago.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Objectively, it does not seem to me to be incontovertible evidence for its Stonehenge provenance that the stone in the Heytesbury House garden was known as "the Stonehenge Stone".

William Cunnington may simply have recognised that he had found, up on the Plain close to his Heytesbury home, a block of stone which was clearly similar to the smaller, exotic stones that he recognised at Stonehenge. So he referred to it, in early 19th Century antiquarian language, as a "Stonehenge Stone". Just a way of identifying its broad classification, long before the geologists were able to identify their Pembrokeshire source.

Perhaps interestingly, I've read somewhere that he wondered if the Bluestones' origin was the Frome area.

Julian Richards, in his "Stonehenge: the Story So Far", English Heritage,2007, gives short shrift to the glacial transportation hypothesis. Perhaps he will take on board the discoveries Rob Ixer and others have made since 2007 when he re-publishes. He certainly ought to take on board Brian's "the Bluestone Enigma", and David Field's more recent landscape studies [on behalf of English Heritage] around Stonehenge's setting.

chris johnson said...

Tony, Frome is indeed a curious place. You would think, given its location, that there would be a lot of evidence back into the neolithic. Somehow this has been obliterated. I did read that a chambered tomb had been demolished to make a cul-de-sac and the town did expand in the 17/18 century when attitudes to ancient remains were ambivalent to say the least.

It is a logical place to look for Bluestones. Any Froomians among our readership?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, our son and his family live in Nunney, just down the road. Next time we go and see them I must do some hunting! (And there are those strange reports of ancient deposits exposed along the rims of some of the local quarries... -- Kellaway was quite convinced that they were ancient till deposits, but I'm rather doubtful of that...)

Tony H said...

Frome has a great reputation for live folk music, and has recently launched its own Folk Festival. So we'll have to listen closely to their folk song lyrics in future to pick up any 18th Century, antiquarian, and/or geological lyrics! And, Brian, talking of Ireland & Merlin (which we weren't), the great Irish folk singer, Cara Dillon, now lives there. Beautiful voice.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

There is a fine, brand-new researched article on William Cunnington the First titled "The Heytesbury Collection: visitors to William Cunnington's Moss House", by the former Librarian & Archivist of the Devizes Museum, Lorna Haycock. An idea of the meticulous attention to its cataloguing and classification, and the enthusiasm of its creator, will be found within it.