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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Is this the daftest question ever?

 Acknowledgement:  Stone-Circles web site.  
The "immaculate monument" as fondly imagined 
by EH and a multitude of the faithful.....

The other day, in quite a learned article designed to shoot down the "bluestone glacial transport theory" I came once more upon this idiotic question:  "If the glacier carried the bluestones to Stonehenge, how come it carried precisely the right number, so that there was not a single one left on Salisbury Plain when the monument was complete?"

This question is so loaded with assumptions that it becomes embarrassing.  Those who ask the question, in various ways, presumably have been given divine guidance to the effect that Stonehenge was complete and immaculate at some stage, and they presumably know precisely how many bluestones were involved.  Were there 80 or 82?  Doesn't really matter.......

If we count all the bluestones, including those standing, leaning and buried as stumps, the total is 43, give or take a couple.  Now even if quite a few stones were smashed up or stolen in the past, there is not a shred of evidence to demonstrate that Stonehenge ever stood as an "immaculate monument" in the form we see above -- and indeed, as we have discussed often on this blog, the drift of opinion is now that Stonehenge was abandoned, incomplete, having gone through a series of stone rearrangements.

So next time anybody asks me that insane question again, or simply trots it out in some learned article,  I shall sigh deeply and go and have a cold shower........

77 comments:

Jon Morris said...

"If the glacier carried the bluestones to Stonehenge, how come it carried precisely the right number, so that there was not a single one left on Salisbury Plain when the monument was complete?",

It's an interesting question in that it assumes a layout which has never been proven to have existed.

the drift of opinion is now that Stonehenge was abandoned, incomplete, having gone through a series of stone rearrangements.

If the drift of opinion is correct, this drift also assumes the same proposed design layout which, as you mention, has never been proven to have existed

Another proposition is that the monument was completed to the satisfaction of its designers and then modified over centuries.

A second proposition is that the monument was never intended to be a full circle and that some stones are 'spares'. This would be more compatible with the the glacial transport theory.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, there's plenty of room for speculation on what the "final" Stonehenge might have looked like. Did it look lire a shambolic ruin, or was there some other "immaculate conception" which differed from that proposed by Anthony Johnson, EH and almost everybody else? I prefer the former, and you probably prefer the latter!

Robert John Langdon said...

Shower time Mountain Man!

Its interesting that when you are cornered about your hypothesis you redirect the argument away from the bluestone scattering to a question about the completeness of the monument, which is, as you know an unprovable argument - as we don't have the finally design - in an outrageous attempt to justifying your glacial theory.

The incompleteness of the monument is 'immaterial' as we are talking about if the bluestones were moved near to Stonehenge by a glacier, and quite rightly the question is asked, if so where are the bluestones that were not used?

So either Stonehenge builders grabbed everyone that was available and used them in the monument (a part from boles barrow - and that one's a bit iffy to say the least) or they went and got them themselves.

Now it seems Dr Chris, went out and collected 50K stones in the Stonehenge area and you did the same for your Phd in rock collecting in Wales (do you both still have them for my rockery?) and found not a trace of all of the smaller Bluestone fragments which you would expect (that's one very neat and selective glacier).

Therefore, the 'rational plausibility' is that they were brought to the site (by boat).

Now come out that shower, your catch a cold!

RJL

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- I can assure you that I don't feel as if I'm in a corner. I am surrounded by freedom and light, and do not feel in the slightest bit claustrophobic.

I'm not redirecting arguments at all -- there are many aspects to the bluestone dilemma, and this is just one of them. I try to examine all of them, bringing the same scrutiny to bear as I have brought to your wonderful theory of Mesolithic submergence -- but don't let's go there.......

Where are the bluestones that weren't used? Now that's a much more sensible question, and I can't claim to have an answer to it. My current view is that a cluster of erratic stones of all shapes and sizes was dropped somewhere on or near Salisbury Plain, probably to the west of the monument site. I think that at least one of these stones found its way into Boles barrow. The others were used in Stonehenge, as the builders cast their net ever more widely as the building project progressed. At last the principles of cost-benefit analysis kicked in -- either there were no bluestones left for them to gather up, or those that did remain were too far away or too small to be worthwhile. Too much effort -- too little benefit. I still think it's quite possible that further bluestones will be found, and that the location of the erratic assemblage will one day be located. There seem to be bits and pieces of "bluestone" scattered about all over the place -- a really big question is this: "Did these fragments all come from Stonehenge, or have they come from other bluestones found here and there, and broken up either because of land clearance imperatives, or for some other reason?"

Jon Morris said...

I prefer the former, and you probably prefer the latter!

Yes. I don't think you would go to all that effort and not finish the project.

In one version of a finished monument (my own preference), 17 and 18 would be counter-productive. 12 to 16, assuming they all existed, would be the 'spares'.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I seem to recall that, in the past on this Blog, you showed us a photograph of what MAY WELL be a bluestone, utilised in a building (which was otherwise built of more local Wiltshire stone). It may have been in Shrewton or somewhere broadly west of Stonehenge. Do you recall this, and have you taken a look at the building and the stone yourself?

BRIAN JOHN said...

It's inj Shrewton, on the back side of the little lock-up jail on the main street. yes, I did look at it, and wish I had had mu bottle of HCl acid with me -- I am not sure, but I'm inclined to the view that it might be a lump of dark-coloured limestone......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Jon -- I reckon history is full of things on which people expended a great amount of effort and never finished. Just up the road from here there is something that started off as quite a big circular ditch and embankment (maybe even a henge?) and never got beyond a quarter finished. Ambition greater than labour supply? Changing priorities? We will never know...

Jon Morris said...

Jon -- I reckon history is full of things on which people expended a great amount of effort and never finished.

Not so sure Brian. Any structure which is a 'statement' and which requires major manpower (and some form of political support over an extended period) is almost always finished in some form or other. Other than where the political system is completely overthrown, I can't think of an exception.

For less important smaller structures, such as an earth embankment, is it possible to say that it never got finished if you don't know what 'finished' meant to the people?

chris johnson said...

Is there anyway a layperson could identify a bluestone?

I don't think I would recognize one if it was staring me in the face.

The proposition that all bluestones on salisbury plain are in and around Stonehenge seems tenuous.

Robert John Langdon said...

Chris

It's a good question, in fact, how did the ancients identified bluestones is probably more intriguing.

I would break it into two or a slice then add water (to the broken segment) to see if it turned blue?

RJL

BRIAN JOHN said...

Since there are so many types of bluestone (listed in my book and on 3 Dec 2011 on this blog) this is a rather interesting question. Since we are into daft questions, here is another "When is a bluestone not a bluestone?" I'm sure there are more than 30 non-sarsen rock types represented at Stonehenge and in the immediate environs -- in the standing stones, fallen stones, stumps, packing stones and detritus. Rob Ixer takes a different view -- counting only orthostats or debris that might have come from orthostats. But still we are talking about lots of different rock types.
See here: http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/bluestone-rock-types.html

My own view is that the builders of Stonehenge simply used whatever stones they could find, and that they had no concept of stones either being bluestones or sarsens. that concept is a piece of fantast dreamed up by archaeologists. I have said many times that I can see no evidence in wales of any preferentaial ise of spotted dolerite or rhyolite in cromlechs or other stone settings, and there is NO reason to think that these stones were revered or valued in any way.

I think that the only factors which influenced the use of different rock types in the stone settings were stone size and stone shape. I actually think that small sarsens may well have been used in some of the "bluestone" stone settings. maybe some of those were later used as lintels on the trilithons or on the sarsen outer ring.

If I was to find a big lump of limestone (?) like that in the Shrewton prison wall, I would call it a lump of bluestone, on the basis that it is not local and has been brought in by some agency or other from outside the immediate locality.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oops chaps -- forgive spelling mistakes there. Typed too fast.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Jon -- we have discussed unfinished projects at length before -- as recently as January. Type in "unfinished projects" in the search box. Don't want to go over all that again -- but I am reassured that the research workers from Dyfed Archaeological Trust who looked at this strange embankment and ditch at Carn Llwyd, near Newport, were also of the opinion that it was an unfinished or aborted project. If something looks unfinished, it probably was -- not sure why that should create a problem.....

chris johnson said...

I was asking because next time I am in the area I am sure I'll find myself looking for undiscovered orthostats to bolster the glaciation theory. So my question was very practical.

Of course when there is no way for anybody to tell by looking then it is perhaps not surprising that nobody has recognized any of them.

Does it help when I limit my question to the spotted dolerite type?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- you make a very good point. The only rock type that is really distinctive is the spotted dolerite, which you can see in glorious technicolour if you go to Google images and type in "spotted dolerite" -- the others are quite subtle and fifficult to identify or to differentiate from sarsen. So yes, you are right in saying that people might well have been looking at "bluestone" erratics all over the place for many years without remarking upon them as anything noteworthy.....

Tony H said...

Brian, I'll have a go at entering another comment in a moment, but earlier today the Blogger mechanism was not permitting me to do so, so this is a trial entry before a longer one.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Julian Richards seems to have anticipated the more thorough,agnostic, probing questioner in his English Heritage 2007 weighty coffee table book, "Stonehenge: the Story So Far". Personally, I'm a little concerned that Julian may have taken what his book's title, '...the Story So Far', might seem to imply, i.e., that, of necessity, stones were brought from 'Far Away and Long Ago', to quote one of W.H. Hudson's titles.

Julian is keen to rationalise (as well as romantisise) his explanation for how the motley collection of bluestones reached Salisbury Plain, close to the monument's siting.

....."rather than an expedition to bring back building materials from a deserted part of Wales, previously known only for its stone for axes, what may have happened was perhaps more akin to a cultural exchange. Hundreds of tons of bluestone pillars could not have been seized and removed without the blessing of those who occupied the area; so the stones MUST [my capitals] have been given willingly. But what exactly was the gift? [TO BE CONTINUED]

Tony Hinchliffe said...

{CONTINUED] Was it simply building stone or something with greater meaning - perhaps even the components of a stone circle? THIS WOULD CERTAINLY HELP TO EXPLAIN THE MIXTURE OF STONE TYPES [my capitals, again] as, if the stones had been selected purely on the grounds of being attractive and "different", then they would almost certainly have all been of spotted dolerite.

The inclusion of soft and relatively unattractive stones, such as the volcanic ash, suggests that these stones had already become special by virtue of their selection and incorporation within an [earlier*] sacred structure.

I think this and my previous Post together show that Julian Richards is grasping for some logical explanation for the rag-bag of so-called "bluestones" that were in reality used as part of the megalithic monument. I am sure that Brian will offer his own views as to the rationale this particular archaeologist is using to make the facts on the ground suite his Max Bygraves - type "I'm going to tell you a Story, boys and girls".

We seem to be in the land of Conan Doyle's Lost World. I've already spotted one or two likely Professor Challenger figures, both physically and emotionally, on the current Stonehenge landscape. All we need now is a Pterodactyl, or its equivalent.

Robert John Langdon said...

Brian

Are you now suggesting that the Aubrey holes (Phase I) and the supposed bluestones used for them, were in fact a scattering of 'any old rock'?

If so, are you then dismissing the infill evidence they have found in various excavations of these stones?

If so, (again) are you also suggesting the inner 'horseshoe' is of the same mixture as they did not have the ability to identify a Bluestone from any non-sarsen?

RJL

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- again an interesting point. If the Aubrey Holes really did all contain stones (and I remain to be convinced) I see no reason to think that all of those stones must have been "bluestones." Even if bluestone chips are found in some of the infills, all that proves is that some of the stones might have been bluestones. as I understand it, the Aubrey holes vary in width, depth and spacing. there also seems to be much variation in the nature of the infills -- some with charcoals and cremations, and others not. Is there any evidence that some of the Aubrey holes did not contain small sarsens?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- we don't know that there ever was a sacred stone circle near eastern Preseli, notwithstanding the fantasies of Done Bushell and HH Thomas. We might never know the answer to that -- unless somebody finds a nice circle of 80 or so stones holes with all the stones missing! (That, of course, is precisely what MPP and his colleagues are suggesting for Waun Mawn, not far from Rhosyfelin, where they have taken three standing stones and tried to fit them onto a vast circle from which all the other stones have been taken..... again, we are into fantasy territory....) See my earlier posts on Waun Mawn.

As to the sacredness or "value" of such a missing circle, again we can speculate ad infinitum. As I have said before, I don't see anything in the local archaeology that suggests a high "value" for spotted dolerites in this area, let alone any of the other stone types.

So why would anything be so valuable as to merit haulage all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge. Maybe a few sarsens moved in the opposite direction? Now that would be interesting....

Jon Morris said...

If something looks unfinished, it probably was -- not sure why that should create a problem.....

It doesn't, but interpolating possibly unfinished small earthworks as a reason for Stonehenge being unfinished appears to me to be using a received belief (that other monuments were incomplete) to counter another more widely held received belief (that Stonehenge was intended to be a complete ring).

The reason for dredging it up again is in your opening:

This question is so loaded with assumptions that it becomes embarrassing. Those who ask the question, in various ways, presumably have been given divine guidance to the effect that Stonehenge was complete and immaculate at some stage, and they presumably know precisely how many bluestones were involved.

Just an opinion. :-)

chris johnson said...

Brian, thanks for pointing me to your list and for your patience in taking time to help me with my dumb questions. I'll try to summarize my understanding and look forward to being corrected:

I think the main theme in the "Bluestones" is that most of them are igneous rocks (result of volcanic eruption). To a layman these rocks have similarities in that they contain mineral crystals and are decorative, especially on the inside. So a spotted dolerite has star forms, and a foliated rhyolite has little crystal rivers inside. The volcanic tuffs also have this decorative quality. They all look a bit blue to my eyes in the right light and after rain.

To an expert like yourself or Dr Ixer they are all different because of the way the rocks were formed and have unique mineral compositions. I guess this is why they can be provenanced so accurately to particular outcrops when you know where to look.

To a layman they are also all different due to the unique crystal structures. Julian Richards may prefer the spotted dolerite, but others might prefer a foliated rhyolite.

I need a "dummies" guide to bluestones.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Jon -- I'm suggesting Stonehenge was unfinished because there are far too few stones on the site for a finished monument, and because of the empty gaps that appear to have no stone sockets in them, let alone actual stones. Nothing to do with extrapolating from elsewhere.

Now if you want to argue that a "partially complete" Stonehenge was actually complete after all, because they never did intend to have more than 43 bluestones and 50 or so sarsens, then I suspect we will never get agreement -- we will go round in circles ad infinitum........

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- re the many types of rock at Stonehenge, I suggest you just go to Google images and put in the rock type you are looking for. I don't think that the "igneous" rocks are especially distinctive, and I don't buy the idea that they would have been specially valued. In the field, or on Salisbury Plain, a volcanic ash looks very like a sandstone, and a dark limestone looks very much like a basalt. Even quite clever geologists often find it difficult to make field identifications -- especially when you bear in mind what enormous variation there is even within rock type categories. Just look at the images on the web! Even the dolerites and rhyolites are highly variable, and I don't accept any romantic notions that certain rock textures (eg the foliated rhyolites) had any symbolic meaning for the builders of Stonehenge. I think that might be taking fantasy to absurd limits........

Robert John Langdon said...

Brian

Unwittingly, you have created a 'self defeating' argument for glacier Transportation.

If Bluestones can't be 'easily' identified, even by experts like yourself, because 'the others are quite subtle and difficult to identify or to differentiate from Sarsen.'

Then the chances of collecting ALL the Bluestones from an area like Marlborough Downs is minimal, unless they collect ALL the stones.

As ALL the stones were not collected but no Bluestones remain their today (as both you, Dr Chris and countless others have stated) the only logical conclusion is that they must have been collected from a single point.

Which makes more sense, as they would know (for sure) that they were Bluestones.

RJL

NB. As you will suggested they have yet to be 'discovered' we can now work out the odds of our hypothesis being correct mathematically.

If there was an even number of sarsen and bluestones on the down the chances you finding on by chance rather than skill is 1 in 2 attempts (2:1) as Dr Chris has looked at 50,000, and we include the boles barrow Bluestone as a find, the probability of your theory being correct is 50,0000:1 - but you did the same research as Dr Chris without success so we can double the odds to 100,000:1.

If you include ALL the 'Geologists' that have ploughed through that Marlborough Downs without success over the last 100 years your looking at about a million to one - you have a better chance of getting struck by lighting!

Jon Morris said...

Jon -- I'm suggesting Stonehenge was unfinished because there are far too few stones on the site for a finished monument,

Do you believe that a 'finished' Stonehenge has to be the same as the artist's impression at the start of this piece Brian?

chris johnson said...

Brian, I have been googling of course, but prefer to ask an expert like yourself. I am interested in the Stonehenge/Prescelli bluestones and not all rocks in the general class.

You argue for little/no discrimination on the part of the builders. How do you explain that the spotted dolerites are placed on the inside horseshoe while the others are on the outside? Is this simply coincidence?

Sorry to try your patience. I am not trying to pick holes in your theory, just trying to get a better understanding.

BRIAN JOHN said...

No no -- I'm aware, Jon, that your "finished" Stonehenge is rather different, and that there are other versions too......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- my idea is that the "selection" of dolerites for the inner horseshoe was a matter of aesthetics at the time when the final settings were being made. Just as some of the people in this area put quartz boulders along their garden paths, or grey limestone pebbles or red sandstone pebbles on top of walls, or assorted pretty or "special" stones in clusters in their rockeries.... we have all done it!

No symbolism of magical properties required.

Jon Morris said...

If the artist's impression of the finished monument is used to define what finished meant to the people who built it, then I can see the logic of suggesting Stonehenge was unfinished (because there are far too few stones on the site for a finished monument).

If not, I'm struggling to understand the point of view.

Just an opinion!

chris johnson said...

Yes, I move stones around my garden from time to time. The job is never finished.

Thanks for confirming my main point, that the Stonehenge builders DID tell the difference between a spotted dolerite and the other "bluestones". All the more remarkable when this is beyond the capability of an average geologist today.

I understand the inner horseshoe was "dressed" and so I am presumably permitted to imagine that the initial effect of that specific spotted dolerite quality on freshly worked stone surfaces might have been quite striking - aesthetically speaking?

Coming to your main question, I am influenced at the moment by Julian Thomas book "Understanding the Neolithic" that I think you recommended to me a while back. I like his "heuristic" approach: solid on facts and light on narrative. He makes a good case for changing perceptions and frequent redesign during the period we consider on this blog. It was a time of change.

Yes there was mission creep. Look at the burial practice. Look at the alignment shift from stars, to moon, to sun. Look at the regional differences. Look at the several phases of Stonehenge.

I view these changes quite positively. Something dynamic was happening after tens of thousands of years of slow progress. I don't see the experimentation as a sign of community incompetence, rather the opposite.

The picture you show of the perfect circle reveals a complete misunderstanding of the quest the builders were on - at least in my opinion. And if this is from a serious archaeologist then shame on them. On the other hand, if it is an attempt to make a link between the ancient folk and the modern Jo Public then I can understand. This picture has stimulated a generation to become curious about our ancestors and so I am slow to mock.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You are twisting my words Chris. I am quite sure that your average geologist would be able to differentiate between a spotted dolerite and a limestone or sandstone, for example -- especially when looking at a fresh face. So there is nothing "remarkable" about the builders of Stonehenge being able to separate out the very hard stones with pretty white spots in them from the rather crumbly ashes and flaky rhyolites, for example. If you choose to interpret that as a sign of great sophistication, fine -- but that's not my view.

I see things in much more utilitarian terms -- even though that view might well be very unfashionable in the higher echelons of the archaeological world!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert -- your thought processes never cease to amaze me! I have never said that there are no bluestones on Marlborough Downs -- only a fool would say such a thing, short of the whole area being excavated and every stone being subjected to detailed analysis. All we can say is that quite a few bluestone fragments have been found in the Stonehenge area, and that since only a very small proportion of the landscape has been excavated and examined, it's fair to conclude that there may be many other fragments -- and maybe complete stones -- waiting to be discovered.

chris johnson said...

Brian, I am not trying to twist anything. Maybe we misunderstand each other. I am your averagely
intelligent bloke who never studied geology and has no intention of applying to do a graduate degree. When you cannot spell things out for me regarding the bluestones at Stonehenge then I am in the wrong place. Perhaps some archaeologists feel the same.

Let me ask the question differently. Could a stonehenge person be reasonably expected to tell the difference between a spotted dolerite, a sarsen, and a foliated rhyolite?

Secondly, the issue of whether there are more "bluestones" in Wiltshire, Somerset, etc could be resolved quickly when laymen like myself could identify such. I understood you to say this was impossible even for a trained geologist. A pity because otherwise we might be able to move forward. Now you seem to be saying that it IS possible. What is true?

You were the one saying that even a geologist cannot tell the difference, not me. Please spell things out - I have no hidden agenda.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I fear we are going round in circles! Let me spell things out. I'm not a geologist -- just a humble geomorphologist who knows a bit of geology. If I was to wander about in the Wiltshire countryside looking at weathered stones in hedges, or in the ground, or even in buildings, I would he hard pressed to distinguish between dolerites, spotted dolerites, sarsens, rhyolites or whatever. What might alert me would be an unusual colour or surface texture -- for example a very coarse gabbro or ignimbrite might stand out because the surface might be VERY rough. We are talking about weathered surfaces, often with lichen, moss and other vegetation conspiring to hide the nature of a rock.

Give me a clean and unweathered (freshly exposed) face, and the situation is transformed. Even a non-geologist would then be able to describe roughly what the colour or texture of a rock is, and to group an assemblage of rocks into different clusters according to their characteristics. Like kids in a playgroup putting red blocks into one pile and green ones into another. If you or I can do that, I dare say our brilliant ancestors could have done the same. To do that, you do not need to know where the stones have come from, and you do not need to place a higher "value" on one rock type than another.

chris johnson said...

Brian, I really value your honesty. It makes me feel I am in the right place. Hopefully we attract specialists who can make authoritative contributions. This is a puzzle that can only be solved by involving people with complementary specialist knowledge and the odd dumbo like myself.

The increase in traffic since you ditched the eccentric sophist shows you are on the right track.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris. I really wish we could get more authoritative contributions apart from the occasional geological input from Lady Godiva, or Hannibal, or whoever he is today. The experts know that the site is open for them, and that the prevailing philosophy is to test everything do destruction! (But maybe that's why they continue to lurk in the undergrowth?)

Time for a nice bowl of soup...

chris johnson said...

Whatever happened to Geo_cur? He knew what he was talking about.

Enjoy your soup!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Robert

Comment dumped. Enough of this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Would that I had the hair of Lady Godiva or be an heir to her.
The old ones could tell the difference between spotted dolerites, sarsen and the volcanics easily-if they needed to.
In the early 1990s I once watched some Namibians sort piles of'identical'totally white broken rocks into 10/20 different piles of different minerals -their income/lives depended on it- they were hand cobbing pegmatitic material and could not care that one pile was lepidolite and another potassium feldspar etc. They were experienced and had the greatest of incentives.
God save us though from Sunday afternoon/champagne geologists tramping the field walls of Wessex
making everyone's life a chore/bore.
As they sing in West Side Story 'Stick to your own kind'in this case expertise.
Long Meg and her daughters.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Meg -- yes, the mineral and fossil collectors who gather stuff up for (eventual) sale in all our rock shops know their stuff -- their incomes depend on it, in Brazil, Namibia, Australia and many other places.

You are being very harsh on amateurs -- I'm all in favour of amateur geologists having a look at things, as long as they don't do any harm. They might discover very useful things. And today's amateurs are tomorrow's professionals. Or maybe I should say "experts"?? Maybe not -- dirty word in some quarters....

Tony H said...

I think what Long Meg & her kinfolk are implying is that folk such as 'Long Meg' end up driven to distraction and side-traction by the sheer quantity of well-meaning geological "packages" they receive through the post from well-intentioned amateurs requiring precise geological identifications of their 'significant' discoveries, am I not right, Long Meg et al?

Tony H said...

Last word was, GeoCur had flown off to the Canary Islands, had he not?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hadn't heard that, re Geo Cur -- I was concerned that he might be ill and therefore out of action. But if he has taken off to the land of the eternal sun, good luck to him. We once had an apartment in San Agustin on Gran Canaria. Very interesting geology down there.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, poor Meg-- life must be tough. In my own little field, I too am greatly bothered by people (not on this blog, you understand) who want to show me a lump of mud, or a photo of some piece of landscape, and then ask me to pronounce upon origins. But they do buy the odd book, and give me a cup of coffee now and then, so I mustn't be ungrateful. And sometimes they come up with things that are really rather interesting....

Tony H said...

GeoCur is most probably a member of the Prehistoric Society, which organisation would seem to be an excellent one to inform oneself of matters relevant to our discussions. But he is most probably also a qualified archaeologist.

Anonymous said...

Mr Hinchliffe has it in one. Cup of coffee eh Brian bliss! I get beach pebbles from Dorset, molehill infillings needing excess postage and despite unreasonably heavy hints from me not a sign of white chocolate or truffles or often thanks.
The Namibians were mine workers not merchants.-the Rubican Pegmatite mine -where I saw a few feet away someone tying up the fuses on dynamite before shot firing with a lit ciggie. FEAR write big.
Meg. (my daughters and I are local-no long distance transport for us)

chris johnson said...

Someone needs to come up with a new picture. My impression is it does NOT reflect the view of current archaeologists and there is no reason for misleading people for much longer. Tilley makes a good case for how it might have looked "an oval stage open to the NE", not too many missing stones, expressive use of speciality stones rather than 20th century uniformity, secretive spaces, and a relation with the landscape that is completely lost by the conventional portrait of a tight circle.

That Irish guy got it wrong.

Tourists might be more enthused when they see something on the ground that is closer to how it actually was. I might be very disappointed to travel from London to see a perfect circle, only to find a ruinous horseshoe.

Anonymous said...

I agree Chris, these ideas still reflect the original plan of Inigo Jones and his symmetrical map of Stonehenge.

Geoff Carter's house I find fascinating as a concept of 'people and community' or if it was a temple, then Robert's winter solstice crescent moon seems realistic as it doesn't use the missing stone holes.

Annie O

Jon Morris said...

Geoff Carter's ideas for Stonehenge can be found here:

Twelve reasons why Stonehenge was a building

chris johnson said...

Geoff's proposition is interesting and detailed. Had it not been for this blog I would not have known about his ideas - so thanks, Brian.

Still I am concerned when people say "believe me I am an archaeologist" when they are clearly not. I have assisted on a few digs, spent hours scraping and sorting stuff, and I read seGveral books. This does not make me an archaeologist. Nor is Geoff a builder or an architect. This does not mean he is wrong; it means I hope for some review by real experts and I think his explanation is sufficiently detailed to warrant some attention from experts.

The stonehenge classic circle needs some revision. With my business hat on, I would want to put some experts from various disciplines in a nice off-site location and try and come up with a new "straw man" picture. Among these specialist would be artists, photographers, and maybe musicians - people who see differently. Archaeologists and astronomers and landscape experts would be part of the mix, as would be anthropologists - not sure about geomorphologists because they only care about the transport it seems.

English Heritage owes us a new picture for 21st century and I trust they can organize such.

Jon Morris said...

This does not mean he is wrong; it means I hope for some review by real experts and I think his explanation is sufficiently detailed to warrant some attention from experts

Interesting comment: What business case do you believe there is for investigating these ideas or, come to that, investigating Stonehenge at all?

I've looked at Geoff's ideas and find them to be insufficiently detailed for me to know what it is that he thinks he is doing. He doesn't define what 'interlace theory' is for example. From my perspective, this appears to makes him a potentially unreliable resource because there is no way to know what he does.

I'd be interested in your thoughts, particularly on the business case angle for Stonehenge.

Jon Morris said...

Geoff seems to be an archaeologist Steve. See bottom of page:

About Geoff

This lends an extra layer of credibility to his blog. It's possible we may be moving too far from geomorphology with this subject.

Tony H said...

Brian need no be classified as a geomorphologist alone, "caring only about transport"; as a Geographer also, he offers us informed thoughts on the history of the natural and man-made landscape, knowledge of soils, climate, geology, economic geography, regional studies, as well as being able to bring all these factors together when painting his own overall picture, as it were, of, in this specific case, a region or regions during periods of prehistory, and how they realistically functioned.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geoff's blog is fascinating -- and the discussion is quite detailed and informative too...... I must settle down and have a proper look at it.

No it's not "off topic" as far as I am concerned. Geoff is exploring the way Stonehenge was built, and what it was for -- and an alternative explanation for all those "post holes" is stimulating and indeed necessary. Let's see how the archaeologists respond to Geoff's ideas -- like me, he seems to have difficulty in getting the members of the archaeology establishment to put their heads above the parapet.....

Tony H said...

It is time that the English Heritage archaeologists (present and past) got together and started singing from the same Hymn Sheet. Easter would be a good time to start! I am thinking particularly of Messrs David Field & Julian Richards; with contributions from others, such as the somewhat younger Jim Leary, who knows a thing or two about Wiltshire henges and Neolithic monument building (Marden, Silbury).

Jon Morris said...

Let's see how the archaeologists respond to Geoff's ideas -- like me, he seems to have difficulty in getting the members of the archaeology establishment to put their heads above the parapet.....

Fascinating comment, as is Chris's (apologies not Steve) about the business case.

Geoff is qualified as an archaeologist; he calls himself a structural archaeologist: Why would he need an archaeologist to verify that what he's doing is sensible?

His ideas rely initially on structural engineering designs and for verification on the effect of such designs on remaining structure; a subject in which, from looking at his site, he seems to have a rather limited knowledge.

If this were any other discipline, the first port of call for a multi-disciplinary independent verification would be his weak spot rather than other archaeologists.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jon as Geoff has combined his archaeological experience with being an engineer.

He was the FIRST to recognise the difference between a post Hole and a Stake hole, unlike most archaeologists, and the different uses of both. He was also the first to raise neolithic man above the ground floor.

The problem he has is that if he becomes controversial and obtains 'notoriety' he will no longer be employable by the establishment as an archaeologist, hence is low profile.

A sad indictment of our society and the reason the Julian's of this world do not blog or comment.

Anne O.

Jon Morris said...

the reason the Julian's of this world do not blog or comment.

Is that true? As far as I can see, there's no real definition of what Geoff is doing or how he comes to his conclusions.

A comment from a professional within the industry risks a proxy association with that idea so there's no upside to commenting; the unknown element behind his ideas (interlace theory) might prove later to be bonkers.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I wonder if "interlace theory" is related to the ideas about reciprocal frame roofs -- as put into practice on Tony Wrench's famous Roundhouse, which is just round the corner from us. The idea is that by arranging straight long timbers in a particular way, the structure becomes self-supporting:
http://www.thatroundhouse.info/reciframes.htm

Jon Morris said...

He's defined it here:

Interlace Theory

It appears to a method of creating hyperboloid roof structures from post layouts: All the rage back in the 70's. Difficult to construct and not very efficient for timber but can look pretty cool.

I've no idea why it's labelled a theory because it's just a specific design method. Any other design method could also be applied to post layouts to give a result which would also backwardly fit the method / theory.

Modern version

chris johnson said...

Jon,
Geoff has his full CV on the web site so everybody can check his qualifications and see whether he fits for an assignment or matches up with their idea of an archaeologist. Personally I am not that influenced by the depth of the academic record and don't suppose many of us are on this blog.

My point on the business approach is more about the way we tend to approach this kind of problem in business - where all kinds of deviating theories are being propagated by people styling themselves in various ways. In business, when this is not managed, it tends to lead to hobbyism, waste of scarce resources, and lots of politics. The end result is confusion all around and reducing investment.

As a business consultant in my day job I would advise the archaeological establishment that they have a lot to gain by investing in a better alignment of the different theories. Funds are very limited and much is consumed by rescue digs which produce huge amounts of data that nobody has time to process - I think even the report on the Boscombe Bowman is not yet published ten years on. A big part of the agenda is being driven by construction companies rather than scientific enquiry.

A good start in this alignment would be around our national icon, Stonehenge and the landscape surrounding.

We tend to be critical about archaeologists on this blog but my reading informs me that there are several very smart people involved. I would hope they can show some leadership and set an agenda - their is massive public support at the moment. And yes, it should have a business perspective. Studies show almost all tourists want to visit Stonehenge, whatever that is - we need to start taking this seriously because there are billions of pounds involved.

Anonymous said...

The Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowman. Bell Beaker burials at Boscombe Down, Amesbury, Wiltshire
A.P Fitzpatrick. 2011
278pp
Grumpy MofA

Jon Morris said...

I am not that influenced by the depth of the academic record and don't suppose many of us are on this blog.

Sure, but an academic record can be useful, in a business sense, if one is trying to establish a specific business position rather than achieve a societal goal.

I'd also agree with you on the rest of your comments. However, I don't think there's much of an incentive to this happening: Given the amount of time which has elapsed in which no significant progress has been made other than by standard existing methods, there are perceived to be no external threats to the hierarchical position of the major players. When no threats are perceived, change rarely occurs.

BRIAN JOHN said...

When threats occur, change does not automatically follow -- at least initially. The first instinct of the establishment is to close ranks and to protect ancient and well-established reputations. I saw that happening a long time ago in my own subject, geography, with changing ideas in glacial geomorphology, and also when the use of computers first appeared! But as the pressure builds up, the threat is not just recognized but also accepted, and the old guard know that they MUST change their ideas -- and the old order comes tumbling down......

Jon Morris said...

The first instinct of the establishment is to close ranks and to protect ancient and well-established reputations. I saw that happening a long time ago in my own subject, geography, with changing ideas in glacial geomorphology, and also when the use of computers first appeared!

Yes, but it doesn't always work out that way. Particularly where there are perceived to be no external threats to the hierarchical position. For example, the engineering profession in the UK largely lost control of being the lead party for infrastructure design through failing to look at different new ideas (Project Management) quickly enough. In that instance, the establishment didn't adapt; they were instead replaced.

chris johnson said...

I am not that pessimistic about the archaeological establishment. Interest in the broad area of our pre-history has never been bigger or better informed. I remember in my school days history started with the Romans bringing civilization to the savages - we have moved on a lot. The university courses are brimming with talent and several professors are highly able and open minded. As the blog sites show, there is still room for enthusiastic amateurs, serious alternative views, and downright charlatans.

The society of antiquaries comes in for some stick here but there is a lot of evidence that they have executed their mission well in this generation.

From a selfish view, being a lover of Pembrokeshire, I wonder whether Spaces or Cadw would have exerted themselves otherwise or even existed. Reportedly hundreds of discoveries have been made and I look forward to greater public access to the findings - albeit preliminary. The landscape-perceptions site seems to have been updated recently and Gors Fawr is prominent. Hurrah!

On the stonehenge picture, it seems the new edition of British Archaeology carries an article giving an uptodate artists impression (Peter Dunn) with archaeologist input. Has anyone seen this?

chris johnson said...

Jon,
"I am not that influenced by the depth of the academic record and don't suppose many of us are on this blog".

When it comes to people citing their qualifications to underpin their views then the academic record is very important. I trust Brian on Geomorphology because he has credentials. I also trust him because he is quite clear when he is not an expert.

In my day-job I work with top scientific institutes. The value of real academics in the process is invaluable - when a really bright guy has spent 20 years immersed in something and defended his knowledge to his peers then you better pay attention.

The blogging world and to some extent the archaeological world is littered with people with second-rate or even no qualifications who nevertheless see fit to present themselves as qualified. I find this increasingly irritating because it does not do justice to the hard yards people like Rob Ixer, Christopher Tilley, and many others have run.

There is definitely a place for people like you and me who earned our spurs in different fields because the solutions lie, I feel, in inter-disciplinary understanding. I would like to see the real experts engage more with blogs but I start to understand why they don't, and it has very little to do with reputations imo.

The top academics know so much that they are not worried about their reputation in my experience; they might be concerned about engaging with drivel, people who say "please fix my theory", or others who are downright sophists.

Anonymous said...

If anyone goes looking for that Shrewton stone, there is one to check out built into the corner of a building in Berwick Saint James (http://v24.lscache6.c.bigcache.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/54992459.jpg) which is just down the road/stream.
I'm used to walking in N.Pembs and found myself walking through Berwick st James one morning and it stood out of place amongst all that 'chalk and flint'.

bcm

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- we have looked at the Berwick St James stones before -- I have another pic here:

http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/stray-stones-in-south-west-england.html

I think they are limestone, not dolerite, but have not examined them myself....

Jon Morris said...

The top academics know so much that they are not worried about their reputation in my experience; they might be concerned about engaging with drivel, people who say "please fix my theory", or others who are downright sophists.

Yes, agreed. In Geoff's case though, he is an archaeologist. This raises the bar and risks negative association?

Not engaging with blogs and fora by non-specialists has more to do with it generally being a waste of time rather than the possibility of being associated with drivel?

It's an odd one this because it's a reversal: Geoff's blog is based around my area of expertise. Looking at his drawings, my first comment is that the building would be a much better design if the stones of Stonehenge were not there. This doesn't immediately grab my attention as a potentially valid explanation for Stonehenge.

The problem, perhaps, with the multi-disciplinary approach is that it would be very difficult to establish a suitable filter to separate out those with an agenda from those who have something useful to contribute?

chris johnson said...

Hi Jon,
normally these cross-disciplinary teams are run by a facilitator who makes sure the process works. Key is to get the right people around the table so a powerful sponsor helps as does a strong case.

My points were not directed at Geoff in particular. I think you make valid points on his building case. He fails to persuade me earlier in his narrative - point 1 of 12. I think he is wrong on context and chronology so I can't get started on the rest.

Not sure what you mean about Geoff being an archaeologist and raising the bar with negative associations. His credentials as an archaeologist are very thin - did you download his cv? - so I suspect he has difficulty to compel his ideas with the leaders in the field on the basis of his professional experience and qualifications alone. Better off sticking to building a plausible case like you are doing. I am sure people are hungry for new ideas of sufficient quality.

Jon Morris said...

I think he is wrong on context and chronology so I can't get started on the rest.

Agreed; it all seems badly researched. I couldn't find his CV so just went by the statement that he's got more than 10 years as an archaeologist: If his methodology was reasonably sound, it would add weight to the argument that the monument does not hold evidence of other uses.

Better off sticking to building a plausible case like you are doing. I am sure people are hungry for new ideas of sufficient quality.

Thanks Chris: The aim of finding evidence to trash the case does seem to have strengthened it. Do you know of a thesis on Stonehenge which has a reasonably good chronology, context and evidentiary material? Apart from Gerald Hawkin's astronomical observatory, I haven't been able to find much.

chris johnson said...

Jon, can't really point you at a single source for chronology but most of my reading of recent work seems to be reflecting a broad consensus for dates. If I run across a summary I'll post it. I know the underlying evidence is thin in places but I don't see why I should challenge collective intelligence on this issue.

My main issue with Geoff is the context he is imagining. There is little evidence for permanent building beyond the monuments at the relevant time and place. He says they have not been found yet. I think there is a lot of collateral evidence from e.g. land use to suggest that the life style was quite mobile and a mix of hunting/herding/gathering of ad-hoc crops - no fixed farming, no iron-age style permanent dwellings. I think the kind of shelters being used are more likely to be wigwam style or taking advantage of tree cover - temporary in nature and utilizing natural materials, often transportable.

Geoff also mixes up Ireland and Wessex. I think the two situations were different in the neolithic - no red deer, for example. So farming started earlier in Ireland it seems, and probably from earlier necessity. But I may be wrong and if I am I hope someone will put me straight.

Jon Morris said...

Hi Chris

I think the chronology is pretty much established: I don't see any reason to question it either. Ideas on Stonehenge's purpose seem to fall into two categories:

Monument to a secondary idea or religion

Typically these ideas revolve around the construction being a semi-artistic interpretation of a secondary philosophy. Because the method of artistic interpretation is not knowable, these theories are very difficult to prove or disprove. Typical examples include MPP's "association with death" and perhaps the Hospital idea and so on.

Structure with purpose

The second category is of a place with a distinct purpose or utility, such as an observatory. These ideas are directly associated with the intended purpose, are 'testable' against evidence and should be able to predict unknown features of the monument.


Now that some of my ideas are in peer review, I'm particularly interested in finding alternative peer reviewed published ideas in the second category. Agreed about Geoff's ideas: They don't appear to be sufficiently developed to stand up to scrutiny.

Finally got round to looking properly at my blogosphere so not using the temporary image I had up before (same person though).

All the best

Jon