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

Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Neolithic Argonauts

Here is an extract from Chapter 5 of "The Bluestone Enigma"  pp 78-80.  It deals with the matter of maritime transport and the likelihood of 80 or so large bluestones being carried by water across the Bristol Channel.  Actually, the stones have many different geological provenances, but let that little matter pass for the moment.....

This might come in handy, given the renewed interest in recreating the "bluestone voyages" for a TV documentary to be filmed in August.


Reference has been made above to the nature of the craft which might have been used by the Early Neolithic adventurers on their crossings of the Bristol Channel or the Severn Estuary.  It is also assumed that the seafarers had reasonable “mental maps” of the seaways they were using, and also considerable maritime skills.  Aubrey Burl, a seafarer himself, was not convinced:

There has been little serious consideration of the logistics involved in the hypothetical journey from Wales to Wiltshire. The most meticulous was by Richard Atkinson. In his scheme, the stones were brought by land and river to Milford Haven, floated along the shores of South Wales and up the Severn, and then taken by rivers and land-portage up to Stonehenge. He suggested the use of a pine raft with a crew of twelve. A modification of his description would envisage a tree-trunk platform about 6m square, constructed for buoyancy in three layers, each of 20 logs 6m long and 0.3m thick. With a dry weight of 35lb per 0.03m3 the logs would have weighed about 20 tons and the entire cargo of wood, stone and men over 30 tons. Whether this unwieldy craft was seaworthy and capable of being manoeuvred during the day and beached night after night by a small crew is doubtful.

On a floating platform without sails, with propulsion dependent on paddles and poles, with little control over steering, affected by every capricious current of the Atlantic Ocean and Bristol Channel, the kamikaze crews faced daunting challenges. Once out of the shelter of Milford Haven, almost immediately the voyagers would have encountered strong tides and under-tows across the dangerous waters surging southwards near Freshwater West. Tidal flows of three to five knots streamed on the east side of Carmarthen Bay, and beyond them were treacherous sandbanks at Cefn Sidan Sands. Between Carmarthen and Swansea Bays heavy currents swirled at every headland. A mile from the coast off Ogmore-by-Sea lay the reef of Tusker Rock on which many mechanically powered ships later foundered.

Even when the mouth of the Severn was reached the struggle was not done. The river could pour seawards at up to ten knots, there were submerged mudbanks, the highest rise and fall of tides anywhere in the British Isles, all this before the Bristol Avon was reached at Portishead. At that point the stone would have to be transferred to something more suitable for travel along narrow and winding rivers. Further miles against the current took the vessel to Frome where everything again had to be disembarked for a portage that required a work-gang to drag the stone some eight or nine miles over land rising persistently to Warminster. There the cargo was replaced in the reassembled craft for another up-river crawl to West Amesbury, and once again unloaded and hauled up the chalk slopes to Stonehenge. This unprecedented undertaking had to be repeated almost 80 times.

What Burl was saying, in quite forthright terms, was that there was not a scrap of evidence to support the theory and that from a logistical point of view it would have been virtually impossible for any “bluestone” voyages to have been completed successfully.  His view is of course underpinned by the shambles known as the Millennium Stone Project, as described in Chapter 3.  The technology required to transport a large group of stones from the Eastern Cleddau to the mouth of Milford Haven, and thence across Carmarthen Bay and up the Bristol Channel, in the face of powerful tidal streams and unstable weather, was just not available to Neolithic tribes.  Besides, the tribes of Middle England were farmers and herders, and not seafarers; and it stretches credibility even further to suggest that they co-operated in their mighty enterprise with friendly coastal tribes who made their vessels and their manpower available -- in exchange for some hypothetical benefits.

It is pointed out -- quite reasonably -- that the sea has never been seen as a barrier but as a highway, presenting opportunities for the movement of goods and for new cultural links and settlement opportunities.  It is also pointed out that  the technology for making substantial cargo boats -- and sailing them across wide stretches of open water -- was available in Bronze Age times and maybe earlier.  However, we are talking here about the EARLY Neolithic, when there was not much trading activity going on in the British Isles, on land let alone at sea.  We know about the trading of a few hand axes and “special treasures” or personal ornaments here and there, and can speculate that animals, crops, skins and furs were exchanged or sold-- but there was no trading of metals or metal ores.

There are also real difficulties in imagining the "mental maps" that Neolithic people might have had of seaways and coastal configurations, and hazards including reefs and shoals.  What was their capacity for planning long-distance routes?   The fact that we know that long voyages were completed in the Neolithic does not necessarily mean that people were actually planning to get from A to B.    They may have hoped to go to C, because some seafarer told them there were wondrous things there,  fifteen days' sailing towards a particular star in the heavens, and ended up at B instead.  There must have been a huge random element in these ancient voyages.  And of course for every successful voyage that we may be able to reconstruct, there would have been hundreds or thousands that failed, with seafarers lost without trace.  Also, if the landlubber Wessex tribes had wanted to carry stones from Wales to Salisbury Plain, they would have needed the active cooperation not only of the coastal tribes who lived on both sides of the Bristol Channel, but also of their “navigators” who knew (and fiercely protected) the secrets of travelling by the stars, the sun and the moon.   In trying to assess the extent of their knowledge, all we have to go on is historical information about the “Stone Age” Pacific traders who came into contact with the early European explorers of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  By the 1700’s these “Stone Age” navigator families had a sophisticated knowledge of how to navigate by the stars,  but by then they had hundreds of generations of accumulated knowledge and observations to build on.  It would be dangerous indeed to assume that Early Neolithic navigators around the western coasts of the British Isles had anything like the same degree of knowledge, since they were moving about in newly explored and newly settled territory.  So while the technical side is one problem (relating to inadequate Early Neolithic vessels), it must also be doubted that our seafarers had the organizational capacity, navigational skills, or territorial / map knowledge assumed by certain imaginative archaeologists.

Now's your chance......

OK  -- own up to it.  You have always wanted to be a film star, playing the part of a little hairy man sweating away in a curragh, or on a raft, trying to deliver a lump of bluestone from one side of the Bristol Channel to the other.  Well, this is your lucky day!  A friend has just sent me this.....

Darlow Smithson make big spectacular films for the Discovery Channel  -- and when you are in that business there is, I imagine,  no room for doubt as to the rightness of your theories.  So, having decided that our Neolithic ancestors were a pretty smart bunch, the film makers are now going to find out how it was all done.  No harm in that -- I'm all in favour of experimental archaeology, having done a bit of stone-pulling myself, back in  the year 2000.

Speaking for myself, I would prefer to ask "Was it all done?" and sort that out first, before asking "How was it done?"  But I understand that archaeologists -- and maybe film-makers -- come from a different direction.  None of them wants to spoil a good story.

Start your training regimes now, folks....  a beard and a tan will probably help too.


How were stones weighing up to 45 Tons moved to form Stonehenge in a time before the wheel was invented?

How were some of the stones transported 150 miles across water?

In August an ambitious, unique project will take place in the UK to try to find out.


The Discovery Channel is making a documentary to test theories about the construction of Stonehenge. We are looking for experienced rowers to help recreate the journey that some of the stones took – over 150 miles by sea – from Wales to Wiltshire.

We need rowers who can be in the UK in August this year.

You need to be fit, healthy and prepared to face a massive challenge!

To find out more about the project email:

Or call 020 7482 9674

Here is the info sent out to prospective paddlers: 


Thank you very much for your email about our Stonehenge boat project. Please be assured that we have registered your interest and logged your contact details. If you didn’t send us a telephone number in your original email (and are willing to) please send that by return. It is also helpful for us to know what relevant experience you have.

We are attempting to test archaeologists’ theories about how bluestones weighing between 2 and 4 Tonnes might have been transported from the Preseli hills to Stonehenge around 2500BC. The project will be filmed to make a one hour long documentary for the Discovery Channel that will be broadcast towards the end of this year.

At the moment a replica Neolithic boat is being built and we plan to launch it in early August. There will not be a sail on the boat and it will have to be paddled using the tides and currents and steered with a steering oar. Support vessels will accompany the boat throughout its journey.

Ideally we are looking for a minimum commitment of one week from each of the paddlers but there will be some flexibility about this. We will provide food and basic accommodation during the journey but are asking people to volunteer their time.

Previous attempts to recreate the bluestones’ journey have not been successful and there is no doubt that this will be a very tough challenge, physically and mentally. We also hope it will be good fun but please seriously consider if it’s something you want to commit to.

We will be in touch again with full details as soon as we have definite dates for the voyage to see if you’re still interested and available.

Thanks again for your email.

Best wishes

Darlow Smithson Productions
Shepherds Building Central | Charecroft Way | London | W14 0EE
T: +44 (0)20 7482 7027 |

Monday 28 May 2012

All the guff about the Kindle freebie

Tried to put this in a comment post for Jon, but I think it disappeared!  Hope this one will work as a hyperlink........

By the way, if you are romantically inclined (as I am occasionally), that's Carningli on the skyline.  if you look carefully you can see the reclining Earth Mother, or Earth Goddess, or whatever you want to call her.......  head on the left, breast, rib cage and raised knees to the right.  FAR more sacred that that tumbledown old collection of crags called Carn Meini.........

Thursday 24 May 2012

Wales's Earliest Cromlech?

More info in the media today about the Trefael Stone.......

Trefael Stone reveals stone age burial chamber

The Trefael Stone, seen here with a metre-long measuring stick, is probably the capstone of a Stone Age burial chamber
Archaeologists are to exhume and analyse human bones found under a prehistoric monument only recently identified as a burial site cap.
The Trefael Stone in Pembrokeshire was thought to be just one of many linked to nearby Bronze Age locations.
But it has now been reclassified after a survey established it as the capstone of a Stone Age ritual burial chamber.
The survey revealed the location, near Nevern, has been used for ritual burials for at least 5,500 years.
An archaeological team from the University of Bristol has been given permission to examine the human bones found there along with beads and shards of pottery.
The importance of the stone has been overlooked since it first appeared on maps in 1889.
The first suggestion it may be more significant than one of Wales' many prehistoric standing stones was in 1972 when archaeologist Frances Lynch suggested it could be a dolmen, or burial chamber.
University of Bristol visiting fellow Dr George Nash and colleagues Thomas Wellicome and Adam Stanford held an excavation in September 2010 and returned again last year.

The research found a number of new cupmarks, as shown by the tracing
As well as unearthing the human remains, beads and pottery, they found a stone cist - a half-metre long coffin-like container - which they estimate was put there in the later Bronze Age.
The find indicates the site may have been reused as a burial location long after the original stone chamber was built.
Their findings suggest it may prove to be Wales' earliest Neolithic ritual burial location and one of the earliest in Western Europe.
Dr Nash said he knew of Lynch's 1972 comment on the stone, and that no geophysical survey or excavation had been carried out.
He said: "I've always had this hunch that it could be much bigger. It's extremely exciting. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime finds."
The stone is already noted for a number cupmarks or circular holes gouged out during its ritual use in the Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonies.
The archaeologists found a further 30 cupmarks of varying size on the 1.2m high stone.
Dr Nash said they were able to establish the site was stone burial chamber, built from giant boulders, going back to around 3,500 BC, which was then dismantled about 2,000 BC.
The capstone was then used as a procession marker standing stone pointing to nearby Bronze Age locations he said.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Gelligaer Stone

This standing stone is on Gelligaer Common, near Merthyr.  I have put it up because it relates to our earlier discussions about the fragility of long thin stones, and the capacity of such stones to survive either long-distance transport by man or by glacier ice.  This one is very fragile -- although there are other photos which show the flat face rather better. 

Not too much is known about this stone -- to me, it looks like a genuine bronze Age feature, later commandeered for Early Christian purposes as a monument.  Does anyody know more?


This stone can be found on Gelligaer common near Merthyr, It is a roughly squared pillar which when erect would have stood 8 ft high. It stands near a old roman road which lends weight to the theory that the stone marks the site of a christian burial roadside graves being a common Roman custom. The stone is a short walk from the nearby road in fact you can see it on the horizon as you apprach from the north. The stone originally bore an inscription DEFROIHI or REFSOIHI . This was partially defaced before 1862 leaving just IHI visible. Unfortunately this too was vandalised by a group of miners at the beginning of the century leaving the stone bare.
The Stone was recorded in the last century as being at the head of an enclosure which contained a burial.  The ground around the stone is lower than the surrounding land and you can still see the outlines of what could be the enclosure (see photo below) . There is a local story that treasure is buried beneath the stone. This led a local farmer to try and dig the stone out -- fortunately he was driven off in true legendary style by a fierce thunderstorm. This may account for tilt in the stone today.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Free Kindle Book

This is totally off topic, but if anybody out there has a Kindle, and wants a free read, my novel called "On Angel Mountain" is currently on a free promo -- so you can download it from the Amazon web sites for nothing.  Info here:  (in the UK)

and in the US


Bronze Age Communication

This is from that well known scientific journal, the Daily Mail, and I present it for what it's worth.  It's fair to say that there have been certain sceptical comments, mainly related to the extraordinary survival of these images in the open, on rocks exposed to all of the vagaries of the weather, in a very hostile high-latitude environment, for more than 4,000 years.  Are these images genuinely as old as Mark Sapwell claims they are? More will be revealed.  But in the meantime it's an interesting idea......


Like this?  Grab a chisel: Bronze age tribes used granite rocks as prehistoric version of (Rock) Facebook

Rock art found in Russia and Sweden suggests prehistoric people used to communicate with one another
By Chris Richards

Cambridge boffins are studying a 'prehistoric version of Facebook' to gain a unique insight into the daily lives of our ancestors.

Scientists are analysing thousands of images scrawled across two granite rock sites - each the size of a football pitch - in Sweden and Russia.

Archaeologists believe the sites were an early form of 'social networking' used by Bronze Age tribes to communicate with each other.

The site gave different clans the opportunity to build up knowledge and share tips on hunting and other necessities for survival.

Scientists believe ancient man continued to go back to the exact same locations to draw and communicate for thousands of years as it provided them with 'comfort' and a deep human 'connection'.

Cambridge archaeologist Mark Sapwell is using the latest technology to analyse the different types of imagery - including animals, humans, boats and hunting parties.

Mr Sapwell said: 'There's clearly something quite special about these spaces.

'I think people went there because they knew people had been there before them.

'Like today, people have always wanted to feel connected to each other - this was an expression of identity for these very early societies, before written language.

'People would create art as an open invitation, it's accumulative.

'Like a Facebook status invites comment, the rock art appears very social and invites addition.

'The way the variations of image both mirror and reinterpret act as a kind of call and response between different packs of hunters across hundreds - even thousands - of years.'

The two sites that Sapwell is investigating, Zalavruga in Russia and Ndmforsen in northern Sweden, contain around 2,500 images.

Using analytical software, he is comparing the imagery over large areas - adding and taking off layers to create a sense of how people built on existing images.

Scientists also discovered that as the prehistoric art developed, it began to go 'mobile'.
It came off the rock and appeared on tools such as the handles of slate knives and pots.

Mr Sapwell added: 'These sites are on river networks, and boat is likely how these Bronze Age tribes travelled.

'The rock art I'm studying is found near rapids and waterfalls, places where you would have to maybe leave the river and walk around carrying your animal-skin canoe on your back.

'They are natural spots to stop and leave your mark as you journey through, like a kind of artistic tollbooth.'

Read more:


About the researcher
University of Cambridge

Graduate Student, Archaeology

St. John's College

Thesis Title: Prehistoric Think Tanks: The role of rock art palimpsests in forming knowledge in Neolithic to Bronze Age Fennoscandia

Supervisors:     Liliana Janik     John Robb

My current research focuses on rock art in the Fennoscandia region from the Late Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age. Its main aim is to explore how made images were used to mediate and change experiences of the world in prehistoric communities.

Many groups of people of differing subsistence strategies and traditions neighboured each other within prehistoric northern Europe, and these groups were involved in many forms of contact and exchange on differing scales. This circumstance provided a rich environment for knowledge systems to be expressed and challenged between peoples through time. My research explores how the making and viewing of images is involved in the exchange of these differing forms of knowledge.

The Ph.D study concentrates on two specific areas in northern Europe, which are locations where image making and viewing were a central and prolific practice. The first location is Zalavruga in Karelia, north western Russia, and the second is Nämforsen in Norrland, north Sweden. These two locations are both extensive rock art landscapes which were used and re-used over a long period of time.

Using a mixture of small-scale GIS analysis, large-scale statistical analyses across landscapes, photogrammetry and comparisons with the surrounding archaeology, I explore how the changing appearance and composition of the rock art images infer an historical environment where opinions of the world and people are perpetuated, challenged and reformed. In particular, I examine how images have been used to experiment with definitions of person, forms of transformation and degrees of openness to new ideas and people.

I hope this research will contribute new methods and considerations for examining the compositions of images, using computer software as a valuable 'thinking tool'. I aim also to increase the significance of visual culture in interpretations of prehistoric society and in people's lives today, by viewing art as an active and powerful means of changing the way others think of the world and themselves.

Sunday 20 May 2012

New phenomenon causes concern; the Methane Seep

 This is very interesting and disturbing.  A new term is coming into the specialist literature --  a "methane seep".  You can see several of them in the photo above.  There is a piece on the BBC web site today:

Around the margins of the taiga and in the tundra areas of North America and Siberia there are vast areas where the permafrost has trapped rotting vegetation over millions of years.  This vegetation has been thriving during interglacials, rotting down and accumulating like peat layers, and then "captured" by the permafrost or beneath glacier ice during the glacials.

What is happening now, with global warming, is that the permafrost is melting, and as it does so the methane derived from this rotting material is being released.  Most of the release is invisible, but where the seepage occurs beneath river or lake ice -- or beneath sea ice -- it can cause these circular "melt holes" to appear.  I doubt that there would be enough heat or pressure associated with the methane to melt its way through a thick glacier ice cover -- but we do see similar things in Iceland, where volcanic activity or thermal springs ARE capable of melting their way through to the surface, leaving "ice craters" as evidence of what has happened.

Friday 18 May 2012

Microtonalite and Dolerite

I was googling about, as one does, trying to inform myself as to what a microtonalite looks like, following Rob's kind identifications of those samples I collected.  The top photo is of my sample from a boulder on Carningli.  The bottom one is a photo of a microtonalite from somewhere in Wales.

I don't think the two are the same rock type.  The top one has much finer crystals, packed more densely with less whitish "matrix" -- whereas the bottom one has a flaky look about it, as if the dark crystals are elongated rather than round, and more variable in size.

I think I'll go with Rob's initial identification -- namely that the Carningli rock is a fine-grained dolerite.

All further opinions gratefully received!

More about those rock samples from the Newport area...

 Eight rock samples from the Newport area, mostly from erratic boulders.  Some of the erratics have not moved very far -- they have quite mysterious origins.....  Click to enlarge.

Here are some preliminary rock sample identifications, by a mysterious geologist who delights in the name of Xipe Totec. Many thanks to him for giving the time to look at the samples. These are identifications made on the basis of hand samples only -- and of course accurate identifications really need to be done on the basis of thin sections and microscopic examination.

But this is all rather interesting, and confirms that there is a great deal still to be discovered about where the last ice came from in this area, and what rocks it carried.

1. Bedrock from near the summit of Carningli – dolerite or microtonalite. An even-grained fine-grained igneous rock with dark mafics and feldspar. Not a typical spotted dolerite.

2. Very coarse volcanic agglomerate / ignimbrite (??) from the southern flank of Carningli. Not sure whether the outcrop is bedrock or a very large erratic. Not certain. It is a siliceous rock with simply twinned feldspar megacrysts but also black fine-grained areas (single quartz crystals??)/?slate clasts. Affinities with #8 . A thin section would be useful.

3. The strange rock found on the shore of the estuary, across the river from the Parrog, Newport. Felsite, maybe from North Wales? See my post dated 23 Feb. Not certain. Siliceous igneous rock with feldspar megacrysts. Bit porphyritic.

4 - 8. Erratics exposed during land clearance off the Cilgwyn Road, about a mile from Newport.

4. Fine-grained grey igneous rock (or could it be sandstone?) -- knocked off a nice rounded boulder. Most interesting Feldspar megacrysts in siliceous matrix with a sub-spheroidal fabric. Quartz-chlorite mainly. Rather like Stonehenge orthostat SH48. A thin section would be interesting.

5. Dark reddish marl -- from the Cambrian sandstone series? Flaky -- almost a shale... from a rough sub-angular boulder.    Foliated fine-grained indurated laminated ?metamudstone with pink-orange and grey alternating laminae. Not Permo-Trias but Palaeozoic. Could be SE Irish.

6. Medium-grained purple sandstone. Cambrian? From a nice rounded boulder. Origin -- SE Ireland? Very indurated red-purple fine-grained sandstone/meta-sandstone. Certainly at least Palaeozoic Exotic!

7. Fine-grained red sandstone. Cambrian? From a bigger rounded boulder. Origin -- SE Ireland? Fine-grained indurated micaceous sandstone with quartz veining along joint plane. Devonian/Lower Palaeozoic? Not Permo-Trias.

8. Rough greyish volcanic ash //agglomerate? Has vesicles -- highly variable crystal structure. From a large sub-angular boulder. Don't think this is local..... Very silicified coarse-grained sandstone (litharenite) with shale/slate clasts and voids after lost shale. Trace muscovite and weathered feldspar.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Liquid Ice and Frozen Water

If you ever wondered about ice's capacity for flowing like a viscous liquid, take a look at this photo -- of a piedmont glacier spilling out from the mountains in North Greenland.  This glacier is sitting on a foreland of sediments -- probably mostly till.  If the snout had been floating, there would have been a much steeper front and a much more jagged edge. 

The ice is remarkably clean -- and this is often a sign that we are dealing with a polar glacier rather than a "temperate" one.

Monday 14 May 2012

The Whin Sill Erratic

Grateful thanks to Daniel Bridge and the Essex Wildlife Trust for these photos.  They show the Whin Sill erratic which is now on show at the Wildlife Trust's Visitor centre at Bedford Park.

We look forward to seeing the interpretion which is currently being prepared.

The stone was found in a quarry in Havering, north of the Thames, at the Brett Lafarge Marks Warren quarry, approximate grid ref TQ 488 896. It weighs approximately 0.9 tonnes.  In an earlier post, dated 20 April, I published maps of the quarry site and the supposed glacial limits in SE England.

Several things strike one about this boulder.  The first is the damage done to it by heavy machinery -- not surprisingm since it was found in a gravel pit! The second is its blocky shape with sub-rounded edges -- typical of a boulder that has been carried a very long way -- maybe even over several different glacial phases.  The third is the dark and fine-grained nature of the rock -- in Whin Sill itself it appears almost black.  And lastly, I am very impressed by the extraordinary patina or crust which seems to have covered the whole of the boulder prior to it being damaged by those machines.  is this a genuine weathering crust?  I doubt it -- my initial thought is that this is a crust of iron oxides and other minerals precipitated onto it out of groundwater over a very long period of time.  More opinions please?

Wednesday 9 May 2012

A Glacier Table

Another in my occasional series of photos of the world of ice.  This is a "glacier table" on a glacier in the Swiss Alps.  A large erratic has blocked incoming solar radiation and has effectively shut off the ice melting process.  So the ice around it has been ablated, or melted away, while the area in shade has been protected.  The result is a pillar of glacier ice -- as you can see, as the season progresses, and as the sun lowers in the sky, the flanks of the pillar become exposed to direct sunlight.  Eventually so much opf the pillar will be melted that the weight of the boulder can no longer be supported.  Then the whole thing will collapse -- and maybe the process will start again next year.

From the wonderful "Glaciersonline" web site.

Terrorist Assault on Ancient Monument

Having followed with interest all that stuff about soldiers and bardic chairs, I found this on the Facebook site with the link provided by Bucky.  Hope she's happy to see the picture reproduced here.

A hoody with a bow and arrow, intent upon the destruction of Stonehenge.  Isn't it ruinous enough already?  Does EH know about this?  Given the security measures from which we have all suffered in the past, I assume that this poor fellow must now be in the safe keeping of the security forces.  Guantanamo, maybe?

Maybe he missed his target, and I hope somebody will be able to assure us that he's OK after all, having been let off with a caution.....

The Great Bardic Chair Hunt -- all is revealed

Well, good for them!  Here is the latest info.  Don't expect too much accuracy.  Well, it's just a radio programme.  From the broadcast, it appears that the soldiers were heading for a "bluestone mine"  --  apparently very ancient and unique.   I wonder if they have come and gone yet, or if they are still hunting for the mine?

Very disappointed to hear that they are not hunting for bardic chairs after all in them thar hills -- just a dragon plaque presumably made from bluestone by one of the natives.........
A group of soldiers from Larkhill based 32 Regiment Royal Artillery on Salisbury Plain are making history this week, as they march 260 miles from their barracks to collect a very special stone.
It’s all linked to Stonehenge, its neighbouring town Amesbury, as well as to help raise funds for their local hospital.
Eight soldiers from 18 Quebec Battery set off from their base at Roberts Barracks on Monday (30th April), taking with them a scroll given to them by the mayor of Amesbury.
The men and woman will make their way through the West and into Wales and up to Pembrokeshire to the Preseli Hills where they will visit Carn Meini, an ancient mine located at the top of the Preseli Ridge and once there they will pick up a polished bluestone in the form of a dragon plaque to take back to the Heritage museum at Amesbury. The stone will be placed in a Bardic chair. Bluestones are the same type of stone that the ancient monument of Stonehenge is constructed from.
Click on the play button to hear from the team with BFBS's Shirley Swain.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

A bit of fieldwork

I went up Carningli today, and heard the cuckoo for the first time this season.  So all is right with the world.  He's so late this year that I thought he must have been shot by a violent Frenchman on his way over from the Congo.....

Some interesting samples that require more expert analysis than I am able to conduct.  Click to enlarge.

What I think we are looking at here:

1.  Bedrock from near the summit of Carningli -- dolerite

2.  Very coarse volcanic agglomerate / ignimbrite (??) from the southern flank of Carningli.  Not sure whether the outcrop is bedrock or a very large erratic.

3.  The strange rock found on the shore of the estuary, across the ricer from the Parrog, Newport.  Felsite, maybe from North Wales?  See my post dated 23 Feb.

4 - 8.  Erratics exposed during land clearance off the Cilgwyn Road, about a mile from Newport.

4.  Fine-grained grey igneous rock (or could it be sandstone?) -- knocked off a nice rounded boulder.

5.  Dark reddish marl -- from the Cambrian sandstone series?  Flaky -- almost a shale...  from a rough sub-angulat boulder.

6.  Medium-grained purple sandstone.  Cambrian?  From a nice rounded boulder. Origin -- SE Ireland?

7.  Fine-grained red sandstone.  Cambrian?  From a bigger rounded boulder.  Origin -- SE Ireland?

8.  Rough  greyish volcanic ash //agglomerate?  Has vesicles -- highly variable crystal structure.  From a large sub-angular boulder.  Don't think this is local.....

I don't think any of these will match with anything from Stonehenge -- but you never know.......

I await with interest the opinion of Myris of Alexandria and other ancient Egyptians........

Lawrenny and the Altar Stone

Another re-telling of the old story.  I found this on the Lawrenny web site. Obviously the writers of this narrative have not come across the Ixer / Turner paper which argued forcefully for the Cosheston Beds having nothing to do with either the Altar Stone or with any other sandstones at Stonehenge.  They said that Altar Stone had come from the Senni Beds,  some way to the east on the other side of Carmarthen Bay.  

I'm interested also that the authors here are still going on about the "lost bluestone."  Ah well, it makes for a good story......

But hang on -- I was talking to a senior geologist the other day who suggested that the "Cosheston Beds" theory is back on again, following some more petrography..... not sure if this is published yet.  Ah, the joy of science!!  When I know more, all will be revealed.

By 1700 B.C. Milford Haven was well known as a seaway, for it was about that time that the famous bluestones were moved from the Prescelly Mountains to Canaston Bridge and down the Milford Haven to Stonehenge. Altogether some eighty stones weighing up to four tons each were transported overland to Milford Haven where they were lashed to rafts for the next stage of the journey to Stonehenge. The distance as the crow files was 135 miles and the operation must have involved at least 5,000 men.
Further up stream the huge altar stone 16' x 3' x 13' was being hewn out of the Cosheston beds at Langwm, while just around the corner from Lawrenny Ferry another gang was at work on the bed of micacious sandstone at Mill Bay. Somewhere in the Haven between Lawrenny and Coedcanlas is supposed to be one of the huge stones having sunk on is way from Prescelly.

We do not know the purpose of this Herculean task. Certainly it had religious significance. The Beaker people of Wessex, in their trade with Ireland, then the principal source of metal in N.W. Europe, no doubt came to hear of the spotted dolerite which was to be found in abundance on the Prescelly Mountains. Here was the material for their primitive tools and axe-heads which contributed to their economic and military strength. This part of Wales abounds with cromlechs of that period testifying to the existence of an earlier civilisation here. But the beaker tribes of Wessex were the dominating force and transferred the religious centre of power to Stonehenge and Wiltshire.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Bronze Age use of mauls and hammerstones

Grateful thanks to Phil for this excellent pic of mauls / hammer stones found in the Bronze Age copper mines of Parys Mountain on Anglesey.  Here we can see the stones used for the purpose of bashing off chunks of rock containing copper ore in one of the mine chambers.  I presume that the rough rock fragments are the ones containing the ore material destined eventually to be smelted into liquid copper.

Apparently some of these workings are dated to c 3,500 BC.  That's very old.......

The stones use for smashing and crushing the bedrock are smooth and manageable -- clearly brought in from river or even beach deposits in the vicinity of the mountain.  They probably have percussion marks and fractures consistent with their use for bashing things.

What's this go to do with Stonehenge?  Well, as we know there are mauls and hammerstones all over the place at Stonehenge, many of them exposed only when major excavations take place.  Many of them seem to have been used as packing stones or wedges, when the pillars were placed in their sockets and placed upright.  It will be interesting, when more evidence of Rhosyfelin emerges, to see whether there are any genuine mauls and hammerstones there, and whether these rounded stones show any evidence of actual use --  if they are really damaged, as a real maul or hammerstone should be, then we might be more inclined to believe that there might have been a quarry there.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Hunt for the Carn Meini Bardic Chair Factory

 This is the Wet Withens Chair -- not on Preseli at all.  But no doubt there is a cultural link with the megalithic bardic chairs made in Preseli about 5,000 years ago.

 I am sure that the Salisbury Journal is a very fine newspaper, but I must admit that I almost fell off my chair when Mr Google contacted me this morning through some digital miracle,  and informed me that I'd better check out a certain URL.  So here it is:

Soldiers to march for Amesbury artefact

 30th April 2012 

By Jill Harding

MEMBERS of the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery have set themselves the task of obtaining the first artefact for the new Amesbury Museum.
Lieutenant Colonel Craig Palmer, commanding officer of the regiment, has set off to march the 250 miles from Amesbury to Presili in Pembrokeshire, where the inner stones of Stonehenge originally came from, to pick up a Bluestone Bardic Chair. Lt Col Palmer made the announcement to a civic service for the mayor and mayoress of Amesbury, Andy and Rebecca Rhind-Tutt at The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Melor at the weekend.
 In his mayoral address Cllr Rhind-Tutt said: “I have always believed that Amesbury was one of Britain’s best kept secrets – a treasure trove just waiting to be unlocked.
“My theme for the year was all about bringing our community together during the build-up to the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee in events and activities and encouraging everyone to think about Amesbury.”
Cllr Rhind-Tutt’s mayoral year has seen a number of community events in the town.
Amesbury Museum opened for the first time during the Easter holidays after the town council bought the former Melor Hall for the purpose.
There are hopes the hall will one day be replaced by a purpose-built visitor centre where the Bluestone Bardic Chair will be given pride of place.

This is all very wonderful, but I can't help thinking that there are health and safety issues here, not to mention human rights.  This poor soldier has obviously been encouraged to start trudging all the way off to the wilds of West Wales on some wild goose chase.  What equipment does he have with him?  Has he packed his winter woollies, in view of the unseasonably cold weather we are having?  Has he remembered his hot water bottle and his pen knife?  Is he prepared for the hazards that lie ahead -- roaring rivers, dense woodlands, hostile natives, wild animals lurking in the undergrowth?  As we speak, he is probably swimming across the Severn Estuary, with the port of Cardiff up ahead.  At least, he can pop in to one of those nice restaurants on Cardiff Bay, dry himself off and get a warming cup of Costa Coffee.

But what happens, in due course, if he survives the journey, when he staggers up onto those windswept slopes of the Eastern Preseli Hills and hopes to find bardic chairs lying about all over the place?    He will be utterly distraught, poor fellow, when he discovers that there is not a single one to be had, let alone a selection.  The distress that he will feel hardly bears thinking about. 

But hang on -- does he know something that the rest of us do not know?  Ah yes, he must have had words with Profs GW and TD, who have given him the grid coordinates to a secret bardic chair factory that is as yet unreported in the literature.

So that's it then.  We look forward to reading progress reports in future editions of the Salisbury Journal, and trust that the intrepid Lt Col Palmer will return home safe and sound, after his tour on active service.