Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 31 March 2012

"Current curatorial thinking...."

 I got this message from a friend today, on the topic of bluestone transport:
"I went to Nat Mus Wales yesterday --  they just have "man handling theory" writ large. I of course went and found a big wig and complained!!  He blanched as he had to answer to a genuine probe and had no peers to review his answer to me...... He said that it was a curatorial choice based on current archaeological thinking!"

This page on the NatMus web site is fairly straightforward and measured, but the displays might well be a very different matter. 

I must look in again one day -- it's ages since my last visit.....  But if the displays are wedded to that old HHT theory from all those years ago, it's high time that somebody in there got those exhibits updated.  I'm more than a little surprised and disappointed that nothing much has changed, because Richard Bevins (who has done a lot of the recent geology on the bluestones with Rob Ixer) must know about the glacial theory, as he must know about the shortcomings (and they are abundant) of the human transport theory.  Or does the Geology Department not have any input at all into the displays organized by the Archaeology Department?  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised...... after all, who wants to spoil a good story?


Tony Hinchliffe said...

Perhaps the "heavies" in the shape of Welsh archaeological Father Figure GW, and others, are leaning heavily on the National Museum of Wales to tell us the Old, Old Story, while it still has legs..................................................................
in my opinion, those legs will soon fall off as the geological findings continue to swing the balance in favour of a far more prosaic, but no less remarkable, largely non-human explanation for the movement of the motley bluestone collection from A to (near) B.

"But it gets people, especially youngsters, interested in our prehistory, is the Old, Old, Excuse, and it gets punters through the museum's doors during a recession?"

Doesn't make it morally right.

BRIAN JOHN said...

... and it's Olympics Year, and all the tourist authorities are flogging the "holiday at home" theme this year. So the wonders of Stonehenge, and the fantastic skills of our ancestors, have to be flogged for all they're worth. This is no time for doubts or unsporting questions directed at ancient systems of belief.

Tony H said...

And, after all, in some curiously convoluted way, isn't this how we built the British Empire, through our own innate wonderfully adventurous spirit? So, you see, it all Makes Sense (especially if you don't ask too many awkward, prosaic questions).

chris johnson said...

I hope they show some beautiful pictures of bluestones in their glorious variety (motley, indeed!).

I saw some black and whites in a Dr Nick Pearce presentation but even then you could see the marvelous flowing forms within the foliated rhyolites and the starry heaven hidden within the spotted dolerite. Some microscopic shots of the laser hitting a micron size sample - bliss.

Perhaps a shot of Rhos-y-felin with the river running in the foreground, and the Carn Menyn mountain top under a starry sky might fire some young imaginations and spur new symbolic connections.

Almost anything is preferable to a grumpy geologist pointing to a chunk of grey weathered rock and saying "Ha! See what the old ones thought was special. Not much to look at."

Museums need to inspire while revealing truths. The volcanic and glacial history of Wales is rather beautiful and dramatic too - as Brian regularly shows us with his photos from faraway places.

Anonymous said...

which is Sarsen and which is Bluestone.
These are from outside the visitors center.

chris johnson said...

A picture tells a thousand words! Given the date of your post I am not sure whether these are either both weathered sarsen or both weathered bluestone. My guess would be the bluestone is the one on the right and the left picture is one of the brownish sarsens. Am I correct? They might even be Dartmoor granite covered by lichen - I suppose this helps to prove Brian's point.

The picture speaks volumes about the imagination of the average museum curator or the manager of a visitor centre. A turn-off for the average punter!

In Stonehenge many of the stones were dressed and maybe even polished and maybe even even painted. At some moment they were revealed! It would be foolish to think otherwise.

BRIAN JOHN said...

OK -- let's enter into Pete's little competition. My guess is that the bluestone is the one on the left, even though it is browner than the one on the right. I suspect that the whitish blobs on both pictures are small patches of lichens rather than white crystals -- it's difficult to see.........

The one on the left (which I think is bluestone) has a much coarser or grainier look to it, with crystals of many different sizes and with variations in crystal colourings as well. The one on the right (which I think is sarsen) has a much more consistent grain size, and looks smooth -- this would figure, since sarsen is a silicified sandstone. It looks much smoother to the touch, with sand grains of a pretty consistent size.

So the bluestone is brown and the sarsen is blue....

So there t'is then....... now then Pete, put us out of our misery and tell us which is which!

Anonymous said...

Bluestone left Sarsen right.
Not easy is it?
I had people emailing me and no one got it right!
This is why it has been so hard for people to find stray bluestone around Stonehenge I guess.

Anonymous said...
these are two stones outside the visitors center that I used.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Pete! As an amateur geologist, I'm happy that I got it right, anyway..... but as you say, it's not easy, and offers one explanation for the apparent absence of bluestones scattered about on Salisbury Plain. Maybe people, over many generations, have been looking at them but not seeing them.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence....."