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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.

77 comments:

Tony Hinchliffe said...

But if they find rounded stones without any evidence at all of usage AS a maul or hammerstone, then doesn't that indicate a purely geomorphological effect, consistent with a formation to do with rivers, seas or glacation rather than because they've ever been an artefact used by man?

Tony Hinchliffe said...

In the Blue Corner, we may have the fired-up archaeologists, fighting for mauls and hammerstones everywhere at the least possible excuse. And in the Red Corner, let's hope we have a few calm geomorphologists, there to weigh up the evidence, cooly and collectively, and using objectivity, rather than wishful thinking, before determining whether, in their considered opinions, there has really been any human usage of lumps of rock.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree -- I would expect any field scientist, whatever his/her specialism, to look for stones that have obviously come in from outside a "quarry" or other site involving "rock bashing" rather than stones that could be in situ -- such as rounded stones found in a crumbly conglomerate or in fluvio-glacial gravels or in till. Then I would expect this excellent fieldworker to see abundant evidence of percussion damage on the stones, before pronouncing on the possibility that they might have been used as mauls or hammerstones. Evidence is what we need, my dear Watson....

chris johnson said...

Interesting post again.
There is a site dedicated to Parys copper mining which seems to contradict itself on dates - the main chronology suggesting mining starting between 2000 BC and 1500 BC whereas some charcoal is apparently dated to 3500 BC. I wonder whether they didn't get their BP and their BC mixed up?

The stones in the picture were presumably used to smash the ore bearing rocks prior to being put in a kiln. I wonder what type of tools might have been used to quarry and shape megaliths?

Anonymous said...

Now I know a lot of stories about hammerstones and have seen hundreds.
I once tried very hard to show that at Mt Gabriel in SW Ireland the hammerstones picked up off the beach, kilometres away, had a higher copper tenor than the copper mineralisation at Mt Gabriel. (I did not, but it was a very very close thing!! so poor were the mineralised rocks at those trials.
NOW 'heres the thing' (oh Jubolypics)I learned about mauls: one, they are a wonderful indicator of old mining within an hour or so it is possible to guess the location of 'the old man'mines and trials just by noting the concentration of mauls (Think field walking and pot sherds)
Two, many mauls are waisted -pecked about their midpoint to roughen them for the cordage. For me the first waisted maul at Rhos-y-felin
will cause more wither and blight than any ice-field.
But lets us remember Mrs Beaton,s sage advice. First.........
Myris of Aexandria

sciencebod said...

Hello Brian John

I've come to your site via a somewhat roundabout route. I've been researching the Turin Shroud for the last few months, and then discovered a recent novel by Sam Christer that was Shroud-inspired, which then led to his first, which I've just finished called 'The Stonehenge Legacy". That got me thinking about that and, being in a highly sceptical frame of mind quickly decided that it simply was not possible that neolithic man would have gone to all that trouble of transporting bluestone monoliths from Wales as a one-off. Why are there not Mark 1, Mark 2 versions scattered around the West Country, like closer to the Preseli hills say if bluestone has such mystical status? A quick look at the wiki entry on bluestone confirmed initial hunches - that it is not a geological term - but a catch-all term for a heterogenous collection of rock found at ... Stonehenge.
That led to the Stonehenge.com site that states the human transport theory almost as proven fact, but with a brief mention to another hypothesis, with two links with your name. I expect you know that neither link works, but the next google search took me to that video presentation of yours - hugely convincing, and a superb lecture style I might say.

Yup, the glaciation idea makes a lot more sense, and I was pleased to see there's a lot going for it, which you as a geomorphologist will know all about.

I was interested to hear you say that you had looked in and around Stonehenge. Is there bluestone incorporated into the walls of ancient cottages etc that may have been recycled over the centuries - or maybe even millennia. And, wearing my science bod hat, it would seem to me that you have only to find one sizeable undisturbed chunk of Preseli-like bluestone within 50 miles, say, of Stonehenge to have strong support for the glaciation theory. Maybe you already know of some (apols, I am new to this topic). is there evidence elsewhere in the UK of monoliths that have been transported for tens or hundreds of miles that can be traced to particular ranges of hills or mountains?

sciencebod (Colin Berry)

chris johnson said...

Colin,
you make some salient points and welcome to the conundrum. When you search the blog you will find some answers:
- other monuments use local orthostats, occasionally seeming to have been sourced from a few miles away but no further
- no other "bluestones" have been found (yet) anywhere near Stonehenge, nor is there evidence of glaciation on Salisbury plain.

On the blue quality, I spent a day recently on the eastern Prescelli ridge roughly on the line of the A478. The Carn Meini outcrops dominate the western horizon from several neolithic sites and were a spectacular dark blue - it has been raining heavily but the light was clear and bright. I can well imagine our ancestors were impressed - I was.

sciencebod said...

Hello Chris So it's not an open-and-shut case after all? Great (since I was looking for a new conundrum with which to overload the Google servers).

I hear you on that last para (dealing back to front) - but there's a lot of impressive scenery west of Salisbury without needing to go as far as west Wales.

No evidence of glaciation on Salisbury Plain? What kind of evidence would you be expecting? Groove marks or other evidence of scouring in the bedrock chalk? I would have thought that 10,000 years(?) would be plenty long enough for gouging marks in soft chalk to have weathered away, especially as there would be puddling of rain in grooves, and we know that chalk dissolves in carbonic acid.

I shall now go and look up "orthostat" ...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin, welcome to the discussion! You say with reference to Stonehenge and the bluestones: "Why are there not Mark 1, Mark 2 versions scattered around the West Country, like closer to the Preseli hills say if bluestone has such mystical status?" That is precisely the point I and others have been making for a long time -- and it has never been answered by the archaeologists. they prefer to think that Stonehenge was an inspired aberration, with no "bluestone building history" leading up to it, and nothing afterwards.......

Far-travelled monoliths? Well, there are plenty of far-travelled glacial erratics, that's for sure. And there are plenty of "strange stones" in Wiltshire and the south-west generally -- but nothing to clearly tie these to glaciation or glacial deposits.

The long thin pillars are a problem which we have already examined -- it;s hard to imagine slim elongated pillars surviving glacial transport over a long distance. Mind you, it's equally hard to imagine these pillars surviving human transport either!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Carn Meini outcrops as a "spectacular dark blue", Chris? Hmmm -- slight exaggeration, I think. I have seen them in many light conditions, and they are for the most part grey or even blackish in appearance from a long way off.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin -- I think we can forget about the 10,000 year time scale, unless the whole lot of us are seriously adrift in our thinking. More like 450,000 years -- and plenty of time for weathering during glacial and interglacial episodes to do its work.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Colin
Inote your interest in the Turin Shroud, I'm afraid that whilst we try to keep an open mind, some of us on this site, find the manual transport theory on a par with that of the Turin shroud and Bicycle "Christ on a Bike" literally.

http://crispian-jago.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/turin-bicycle.html

Just hope you're not too dissapointed?

sciencebod said...

Hello Brian - nice friendly site you have here by the looks of it. Or will I live to regret those words?

Oops, yes. My estimate was ultraconservative. You are right. Things may finally have ground to a halt 10,000 years ago, but the peak of the glacial scouring would have occurred much earlier. That's what you seem to imply, and would make eminently good sense.

So much to learn. So little time...

I went to school near Uxbridge, and was fascinated to learn that was the southern limit of the encroaching ice sheet (though I always imagined it came from the north rather than west - or was there more than one ice sheet? Modern Uxbridge might benefit from a new ice sheet that stops a bit further south, say Heathrow airport. On second thoughts, south of Heathrow airport...

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think we'll stay clear of the Turin Shroud, folks. Quite enough controversy to be going on with....

Phil. M. said...

Brian,
Re: "The long thin pillars are a problem which we have already examined -- it;s hard to imagine slim elongated pillars surviving glacial transport over a long distance. Mind you, it's equally hard to imagine these pillars surviving human transport either."

Would you agree that the thickness to length ratio of many Egyptian obelisks is far greater than that of the bluestones; yet the obelisks survived human transport. Similarly the 'T' shaped stones of Gobekli Tepe, Turkey. I believe both regions were un-glaciated.

Cheers,
Phil

sciencebod said...

Sound advice Brian ...

sciencebod said...

Crispian Jago - nice one. On yer bike... ;-)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Phil

Ah yes, Egyptian obelisks again. Egypt was not glaciated (not recently anyway) -- and that's just one of the differences between Egypt and West Wales! I didn't say that human transport of tall thin pillars was impossible -- and it was and is not impossible for glaciers either.

sciencebod said...

The Turin Shroud has its true believers - ones who rely on research that with few exceptions is generally so dire as to invite the term 'Shroudies' for the entire shebang. Is there a comparable term for those who profess or believe that 4 ton outcrops of Welsh mountains were lugged 200 miles or more via sea crossings and tortuous river routes to a largely barren and treeless chalk plain ("free draining")a few millennia ago, when our ancestors were still trying to invent the wheel? I've got my thinking cap on. Answers on a postcard please...

Phil M. said...

Colin,
Welcome to the asylum for rational people where discussions cover various topics, with thoughts that are generally sound and informative.

I think the comparable term for those that support human transport is 'sane', but I fear I'm in a minority on Brian's blog. :-)

The jury's still out on the availability of the wheel at the requisite time; however, it's fair to say that the chap who invented the wheel was clever, but it was the fella who put one on the corners of his bed who was the genius, which has nothing whatsoever to do with this discussion.
Cheers,
Phil

chris johnson said...

The info on Glandy Cross goes out of its way to point out that the stones there are NOT bluestones of the Carn Meini variety but "rhyolites". Now I don't know how many stones were checked to arrive at this conclusion, or whether any comparison was done with the rhyolites at Rhos-y-felin, for example.

Glandy Cross to Gors Fawr to Carn Meini is only a few miles as the crow flies but the crow would have to cross the steep valley of the Eastern Cleddau river when transporting stones. Apparently this did NOT happen.

Clearly a conclusion might be that stones considered special enough to move to Stonehenge by hand might have been moved to Glandy Cross, and they were not.

As for the blue color, Brian, I was also surprised. Conditions today are similar so I think I'll take another look.

@Colin. There are some eminent geologists (Green, et al) who contest the glaciation theory. So while we might agree that it is extraordinarily difficult to move the stones by hand, it is the only theory left standing until some "killer evidence" emerges to refute the expert opinion and academic reputations now attached to those opinions.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I would agree with Phil that the archaeologists who go on about the human transport of the bluestones are quite possibly sane. I don't think I have ever accused them of being insane -- eccentric, unscientific and irrational maybe, but not insane.

Chris -- there are lots of other rhyolites in eastern Preseli -- they are all over the place, for example on Carn Alw and around Foel Drygarn. The ones at Rhosyfelin are rather unique -- since they are FOLIATED in a peculiar fashion -- which is why the geologists have become so excited about them....

chris johnson said...

Thanks Brian. Part of my curiosity is whether there was anything special about the stones (spotted dolerite or foliated rhyolite) that might lead to them having been selected rather than chosen simply because they were lying around in convenient places.

sciencebod said...

Hiya Phil

I'm new to this topic, but may hang around, if only that there seems to be just two rival theories, which focuses discussion and debate far more than, say, climate change (another interest of mine).

My first reaction, over and above points made already: if there had been transport of the 'eccentrics' (see, I'm picking up the jargon already) then it's improbable that just a few score were moved with the ice sheet. The chances are that hundreds, thousands even, would have been scattered across most of SE England. But if this dolerite really is harder than granite, but could still be fashioned into tools, then bit by bit early man would have scavenged most of what was available in the more habitable parts.

But was Salisbury Plain a desirable spot to settle in prehistoric times? I doubt it, given the lack of tree cover on chalky subsoil - offering no cover, no fire wood or timber for construction. So any large boulders lying around there would probably have stayed put - no one considering it worth the effort to exploit them when there were no wheels to cart them - or fragments thereof, away to charming Cotswold encapments. Some might have decided to sit it out and wait for the bronze and iron ages to be invented, rather than persevere with stone, which was increasingly considered as "so last Age".

But at some point, a megalomaniac Brit style pharaoh came along, took one look at those neglected stones and thought, "what a waste - let's put this barren featureless plain on the map so that when the Romans arrive, once they have knitted enough winter woolies for their legions, they won't judge us purely on the woad and write us off as totally backward". The rest as they say is, or was, history.

Anonymous said...

Mr Johnson
If you follow the following link you will hear my spin on Rhos-y-felin but of far greater import my reporting my wife's explanation as to why the proto-orthostats were taken from there (If They were). I shall not spoil it by telling you.
CBC.ca | Quirks & Quarks | Prospecting for Planets ...
... Now Dr. Robert Ixer, a geologist from The University of Leicester has been
able to pinpoint the source of a subset of these bluestones. ...
www.cbc.ca/quirks/episode/2012/01/14/january-14-2012/ - 12k - 2012-01-14

Glandy Cross and its acid volcanics (rhyolite does not need inverted commas unless you are doubting the lithological identification, it is not a very special word).In truth the petrography of the material, well described geochemically, needs to be done thoroughly. So all archy comments should be viewed within that call for pause and reflection.

Brian is correct the reason so much can be made of Rhos-y-felin is that it is SO petrographically distinct!!!!!!!! Both Bevins and Ixer are extremely cautious scientists and I mean cautious almost to paranoia (certainly true of Ixer).

Whilst we are doing oddities the so-called spotted dolerite from West Kennet (the FIFTH stone -the other four are the proved stones from the top of Silbury Hill)is a IPG group VIII rhyolite unlike anything recognised from SH, debitage included, and not from Glandy Cross either.
At present Glandy Cross and SH NO; Glandy Cross and Rhos-y-felin NO.

Nice to hear about Egypt on this forum many Egyptian obelisks.

Myris of Alexandria
(our patron saint is the untainted St Catherine -the patron saint of philosophers and of preachers so her blessed presence is often needed for co-moderation here in this discussion group. No bicycle for her just one wheel was enough to ensure her eternal bliss.

sciencebod said...

Here's an out-of-the-box(?) idea for consideration - or instant rejection - whatever takes your fancy.

I've been puzzling the fact that Salisbury plain is relatively treeless, and indeed has probably been that way for millennia. Now why should that be? OK, I know it's chalk country, calcareous something or other, which we think of as porous, creating a dry habitat compared with loamy soils. But I lived many years in the Chilterns, and there's no shortage of tree cover there - especially all those beech woods.

Is there maybe something unusual about the chalk on Salisbury Plain that makes it unsuited to trees?

Trees need to put down deep roots, and that requires fissured chalk into which the roots can penetrate. Suppose Salisbury Plain chalk is not fissured. Suppose moreover it is particularly compacted, i.e. dense, and too much of a challenge for tree roots.

Suppose Salibury Plain was a much higher plateau intitally, before the last Ice Age. Suppose the Irish Sea glacier penetrated much further inland from the Bristol Channel than is presently believed, based on the map that is shown on wiki. Suppose the ice scoured away the tops of wooded hills, leaving the plain we see today. Might the top chalk we see today be of a different character - more compacted, unfissured, less suited to tree growth?

Have the glaciologists got it wrong? Have they underestimated the extent of the encroachment of ice into Wiltshire, assuming that Salisbury Plain is non-glaciated, whereas it may have been just the opposite?

Problem: all that scoured chalk would have to go somewhere. But it would in the form of fine light particles, and they might be flushed away into water courses, and be finally carried down to the sea. Sea levels were reckoned to be much lower in Neolithic times, so with rising sea levels that newly deposited layer of chalky deposit on the sea bed might have been carried away on currents and spread liberally around the English Channel, being less noticeable as a new(ish) geological feature.

If that glacial sheet encroached much further inland than that map would have us believe, maybe it's not so surprising that ice - rather than Neolithic man - carried that rock all the way from west Wales.

Apols if I'm attempting to resurrect old abandoned ideas.

Colin Berry

Tony Hinchliffe said...

On the subject of erratics,Mike Parker Pearson would have us all believe that he has found indisputable evidence of imprints of bluestones in the sub-soil at his self-titled "Bluestonehenge" at the bottom of The Avenue (discovered c. 2008). I suggest you search for this on Brian's blog and - lo! - it will be revealed (just like the Turin Shroud we mustn't mention).

But MPP has gone curiously quiet on this discovery, and we await his overall, Stonehenge Riverside Project report.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Myris

I was unaware there WAS a FIFTH stone from West Kennet, an IPG group VIII rhyolite unlike anything recognised form Stonehenge, and I imagine this is also news to most of my fellow lay-readers (or indeed agnostics).

Do tell us more about its (Wiltshire) provenance. Was it allegedly found at West Kennett Neolithic long barrow, and if so, when, and by whom? Or was it found in the general geographical area one might call West Kennett? We do seem from this to have some evidence for 'Welsh bluestones' turning up about 25 miles north of Stonehenge, and thus well north of Salisbury Plain, do we not?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Very observant, Tony. Myris has spilled the beans! Now he has to tell us more.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin

Not sure about your idea of the treeless Salisbury Plain. If you look at the big "Science and Stonehenge" book you will see that the reconstructions by the archaeologists and soil scientists suggest quite a thick tree cover originally, gradually cleared away during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and and Iron Age. I have no reason to think their evidence is faulty.

sciencebod said...

I won't argue with that, Brian. But don't you think it a little odd that at least one 'textbook' is saying that Bronze age clearance must have been virtually 100% to account for there having been little regeneration with trees. Have they never heard of seeds carried by wind, animals etc? There has to be something fundamentally wrong with the soil on the Plain that it will not support tree regrowth. That's my hunch anyway. Oh, and that link says that the tops of scarps do support tree growth. One wonders if that is non-glaciated scarp with chalk more congenial for tree roots...

I'll leave you alone for a bit, but may make a trip down to the Plain to see things with my own eyes. Would a simple metal probe wallow one to test the resistance of the sub soil at different levels - above and below the hypothetical glaciation.

Tony H said...

Ditto "the Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area",English Heritage, 2002, written by McOmish, David Field and Graham Brown, for an overall idea of mankind's presence on what is now the Army's training land. And, for example, there were known to be 3,000 monuments on the SPTA by the time this study was published, whereas it had been 1,500 in the 1980's.

sciencebod said...

If I were to say that I had a simple answer for why Stonehenge was constructed with elevated lintels, and that its purpose was wholly utilitarian, would folk here know what was going through this senescent mind? Would they respond with: "Oh no, not that idiotic/banal/naive/ill-informed (delete as appropriate) theory again. So and so suggested that back in 1903 and it was quickly discredited".

Seriously, have folk here encountered one or more purely utilitarian explanations for building a high lintelled structure? Clue: there is a arguably a hard pan of not-so-soft chalk quite close to the surface in that extensive neck of the woods, correction, featureless plateau with occasional low, often stunted trees. In the meantime, I'll continue googling, which in my experience usually proves there is rarely if ever a new idea under the sun ...

Colin Berry

sciencebod said...

PS Yup, googling has indeed confirmed that folk have got there before me. It's always the way... Another clue: T.O.S.

chris johnson said...

Myris, thanks for the link.

It is curious that the Rhos-y-felin stones were selected for debitage - or am I jumping to conclusions?

I like your wife's theory. It would be nice to think that the stones were collected for their aesthetic qualities. From what I understand the foliated rhyolites contain little crystal rivers which seems appropriate for their location among the several tributary streams running off the uplands.

@ sciencebod. You might like Jon Morris' site www.heavenshenge.blogspot.co.uk

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- chosen for debitage!?? You are indeed jumping to conclusions.... they would certainly not have been carted all the way to Stonehenge just to be smashed up. If they were there already, I suppose they might have been smashed up because they were no good for orthostats, or maybe because the fragments were just too small. But yes, it is a bit of a mystery.

I like the idea of the little crystal rivers -- Chris, you are an incurable romantic!!

Anonymous said...

Mr Johnson
The debitage is just that-most of it is flaked and may be struck from orthostats or debris from axe-making material. Oddly I am at present trying to incorporate some words on just that by Mike Pitts in the next Ferret club paper.
MMMMMMMMMMMM Little crystal rivers is un peu too far, too New Age for me (I sat bumming ciggies and giving away real kittens on Haight-Ashbury in August/Sept 1967- now that WAS ‘the beginning of the Age of Aquarius). You are not going into the jewelry business are you?
I do wear a piece of celadon-coloured jade as a life preserver- all culture agree on the value of jade and it can do no harm.
More on the fifth stone soon-it is my present favourite.
Mystic M.

sciencebod said...

Thanks Chris

Have had a quick look at the link. I'm not really into the astronomical aspects (yet) preferring to entertain more mundane explanations for phenomena unless or until they are found wanting. Like suppose you were a Neolithic settler whose granny had just died. What do you do with her on a chalk subsoil? Think about it (no steel pickaxes etc).

Several tributary streams? But aren't you forgetting something? The key characteristic of the elevated plateau that we call Salisbury Plain is the absence of tributary streams, at least from the central part, apart from the small R.Till that rises near Shrewton, and the ones that run off the northern scarp. Now that's an awful lot of rain that is disappearing from sight, presumably into aquifers that discharge into rivers at considerable distances. Might this not explain why the soil is poor, not just on account of porous chalk, but because of sustained leaching of minerals.But if you look north of Amesbury, there is a string of closely spaced villages one after the other like a pearl necklace along the course of the Avon which is presumably laden with leached nutrients and has historically benefited at the expense of the central plateau.

I'm still not convinced that Salisbury "Plain", i.e. plateau was ever extensively forested in the usual sense of the term. I think it attracted settlers because it was relatively dry, bare chalk upland, favoured by our ancestors who did not have the steel axes etc need for heavy duty forest clearance. That kind of hardware had to wait for the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. I must try to lay my hands on the sources already quoted that are used to promote the idea of an original virgin forest. The geology and dare I say geomorphology does not support that idea, the lack of surface tributary streams being a key indicator of an area unsuited to trees, at least deep rooted ones (as distinct from stunted scrubby growth). But then the latter is better for firewood anyway.

How come the Plain is a relatively flat but elevated plateau? Glaciation? But it's not shown as such on those maps of the southern extent of the glacial sheet. Maybe those maps are wrong... Maybe Stonehenge is someone's way of telling us that those maps are wrong - but we prefer the romantic idea of ancient Britons not just constructing their own rival to the Pyramids, but transporting 4 ton boulders 240 miles without benefit of wheels...

chris johnson said...

I think you know my fanciful idea about the symbolism of the starry spotted dolerites from the high crags versus the foliated rhyolites from the depths of a river valley. Overworld and underworld - the legend of Bedd yr Afanc fits right in.

Such a symbolic association might have been made by the stonehenge folk, perhaps hundreds of years after the stones were first used at the site. Given a sufficient degree of mystical belief it might even have been seen as good reason for smashing the underworld stones up - although I believe they missed a few.

I think we are a long way apart on this because you regularly argue the case that the stones in a stonehenge context look so similar, but I am glad to find the odd shred of scientific evidence to reinforce my romantic instincts.

chris johnson said...

Colin, I am sorry for any misunderstanding. The tributary streams I was referring to run from Prescelli to create the River Nevern, one of them passing Rhos-y-felin. They are clearly depicted on the OS maps.

There are some similarities between Prescelli and Stonehenge/Avebury in that both areas did host excellent salmon rivers and the various monuments are close to the breeding grounds. Coincidence? Personally I would expect salmon and trout to have been part of the diet, although I have seen no studies on this. I reckon they lived quite well, with abundant red deer and herding of pigs and cattle - neither of which activities help forests to regenerate. By the way, when you try to understand the environment in the Mesolithic/Neolithic you should look particularly at red deer - there is a lot of evidence from modern times about their big impact on the environment.

sciencebod said...

Just to let you know I have placed an order for your "Bluestone Enigma etc", Brian, which I'm told should arrive from Amazon in 3 days. I clicked the tab that says, "Yes, I would have liked the option to buy on Kindle", which apparently then sends that message to your publishers.

I was interested to see under the wiki entry for bluestone that tools made from it have been found all over Britain, and that the origin of most, while presumably Preseli, and described as such, is reckoned to have been the Stonehenge area based on petrological considerations - spotted dolerite etc.

Interesting. Very interesting - supporting the glacial erratic theory ...

If one has settled on chalk uplands in Neolithic times or earlier, how convenient it must have been to have those glacial erratics already in place, without having to trek to west Wales to get them. Every bit was scavenged over millenia for tool-making no doubt until the only bits left were the giant ones that were deemed off limits to the axe head industry. Neolithic man, fed up with digging chalk pits with hand implements only, found an important alternative use for those, with their high lintels, as I hinted earlier, which I see from googling has previously been proposed. Think Parsi, think Zoroastrian-like ideas and abhorrence of bodily decay, think unyielding subsoil, think Towers of Silence?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Colin

Couldn't have put it better myself! Now you know where we are coming from......

Hope you enjoy the book! By the way, a Kindle version is not really on -- there are far too many illustrations, and formatting for Kindle is great for novels but terrible for anything else which has pictures.

Anonymous said...

ScienceBod
Whilst tentative, here's an ancient account; Beaumont (1681) regarding the mining for lead in the numerous natural dolines or depressions in the Carboniferous Limestone of the Mendip Hills. His account suggests a former extensive and mature tree cover.

"Our Miners sinking in the bottom of these swallows, have found Oakes fifteen fathoms (27m) deep in the Earth"

This in a location according to your criteria, supposedly more unfavourable to mature tree growth than the chalk. It borders Salisbury Plain to the west.

sciencebod said...

Good evening anonymous. You appear to be referring to the very deep Lamb Leer cavern system. But that's reckoned to be pre-Ice Age. I have no problems with the chalk uplands that we now call Salisbury Plain having once been richly forested pre-Ice Age. Given the location and depth at which those 'Oakes' were found it must presumably have been prior to chalk deposition during a period of inundation by the sea and subsequent regression - in other words those are Ye Olde Oakes, probably fossilized, probably millions of years olde. I stand to be corrected...

Anonymous said...

No....................
The bed-rock is Carb Lime.
No flowering plants until the Mesozoic- Cretaceous I think.
So not Ye Olde (is that brand of ham still tinned?)oaks but ye Post Pliocene atleast Oakes and maybe post Pleistocene or most likely Holocene.
Other explanations need special pleading
Myris

sciencebod said...

Aren't we placing too much botanical precision on a 17th century reference to "oakes"? It could simply be the way Beaumont perceived a fossilized tree trunk (maybe from the Carboniferous era). I seem to recall there were fossilized tree trunks on permanent display outside the Natural History Museum in South Ken'. Were they the very same ones that Beaumont was describing - or more likely, replicas thereof?

Let's not get too bogged down in pre-Pleistocene eras. All I'm saying is that I for one will be keeping an open mind on whether Neolithic or Bronze Age Salisbury Plain really was densely forested. I suspect not - that it was dry porous chalk then as now, that would have made for a more open kind of scenery, dotted maybe with squat trees and shrubs - and infinitely preferable on that account as a place to live for ancient Britons. But what to do with the deceased? Have you ever tried to dig a hole into chalk, even with a pick axe? It's back-breaking work - and infinitely more difficult if all you have are flints.

Elevated lintels? Hmmm. Tower of Silence solution? That's my preferred theory (though others got there first, needless to say) and I'm sticking with it, rejecting for now all the astronomical New Age theorising...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin

The pollen data do not lie. If we go back to the Mesolithic and early Neolithic, there was a wildwood on Salisbury Plain, with "open hazel and pine woodland." This was gradually cleared and transformed through human habitation, with clearings used for grazing by domesticated animals, and then transformed for agriculture. In the early days, there was plenty of timber, including very big and long pine poles....

chris johnson said...

Lots of swallets (or is it swallows) in the area. There has been discussion recently around the Priddy Circles where worked lithics have been recovered from the depths.

I am not a geologist but I understand these sinkholes can open quite suddenly as an underground cavern collapses. A fully grown oak tree weighs several tons - one 200 year old oak from Blenheim was recently calculated at 15 tons - not too difficult to imagine the earth opening up and swallowing one!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Calm down, Chris and Colin ..... chalky deserts, oak trees crashing down into deep holes..... is there no end to these fantastical meanderings?

sciencebod said...

I wouldn't go so far as to call it "desert", Brian, which I don't recall doing so anyway, except perhaps tongue-in-cheek, and in any case desert is usually defined by rainfall as I recall, and I'm not aware of Salisbury Plain having an arid micro-climate.

But would it be an exaggeration to say that the Plain has a steppe-like character, even if the geological and climatic reasons are different from those in central Asia? Do you not think it unusual that, notwithstanding tank tracks, the parts closed off by the MOD have stubbornly remained grassland? Where are the hazel trees of yesteryear, correction, yestermillennium? Where are the conifers?

There is something profoundly 'not right' about Salisbury Plain, as you yourself have indicated (just spotted by this site newbie) in one of your earlier posts. But what? It has to be something to do with the character of the chalk presumably. But what? I suggested earlier that it might be lack of fissuring in the chalk - a hindrance to deep-rooted trees (so why no birch - which is shallow-rooted?). On second thoughts it might be an excess of fissuring, so that rainfall drains away too quickly (which might explain the absence of surface rivulets, at least on the central portion). Is there any possibility that Salisbury Plain was indeed glaciated, enough to deposit a few long-distance erratics, but maybe in an unusual way? I see you refer earlier to "periglacial regions" and you dwell on the different types of permafrost, but I still have to get my mind round those ideas, and see how they relate to non-anthropic bluestone transport etc. Maybe that book of yours will fill some lacunae in my knowledge and understanding of geomorphology when it arrives, hopefully in a day or two.

chris johnson said...

Colin, I never noticed a shortage of trees per-se around Stonehenge - Grovely Woods, Vespasians Camp, and Amesbury itself have plenty of trees which seem to be doing nicely thank you. There are lots of plains, too, but I always attributed this to grazing and farming over thousands of years - recently the sheep evidenced in many old drawings. Still I would be very interested to learn more from you about this soil problem.

I notice in general some naiveté about how quickly forests are created when left to themselves and what they might look like. The "Wild Wood" is supposed to have covered 90% of Britain by the start of the Neolithic and was the result of several thousand years of self-development. Once a stand of trees is cut down and the roots have died it will take a long time to recreate the same effect naturally unless the forestry is actively managed - which it wasn't until much later. After WW1 95% of Britain was treeless and it did not have much to do with soil conditions.

In the Neolithic there seems to have been a relative abundance of big oak trees in the area, judging from the evidence for wooden monuments. I remember reading that some trunks at Avebury weighed as much as an average bluestone - maybe something else to consider before you write off human transport completely.

sciencebod said...

Hiya Chris

I've just been doing some screen grabs of Google Earth pictures of Salisbury Plain. Since Blogger does not allow me to insert them into comments I have created a post for them on my sciencebuzz site, the first in several months.

Nope, Salisbury Plain, home to Stonehenge, is not a desert,far from it, but is curiously steppe-like in my view, now Google-supported. But why? And does its strange character have any bearing on the transport of glacial erratics?

I shall now wait for Brian's book to arrive before proffering any more ideas (freely acknowledging that the present ones I've expressed courtesy of someone else's blog may seem half or even quarter-baked in a week or two).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Try blaming the Army, Colin!! They have been in possession a very long time, blasting hell out of it and roaring around in tanks....

sciencebod said...

Methinks it took more than shells and tank tracks, Brian, to create the satellite photo: vast butterfly-shaped area we call Salisbury Plain. The answer loys in the soy-ul...such as there is...

Tony Hinchliffe said...

A good starting point, at least via the Internet, is to Google ROY CANHAM and SALISBURY PLAIN, to learn more about The Plain and its archaeological features and something of the terrain in general.

Lots of references to the former Wiltshire County Archaeologist, Roy, and his work in coordinating with The Army to bring about far greater conservation of the Ancient Monuments & other archaeological features on The Plain [for which he was awarded the M.B.E.] wii show up. Roy is still enthusiastic and active in rtetirement, rather like Preseli's equivalent expert, at least in physical geographical terms, Brian. You will see, for instance, that Roy leads an archaeological walk on The Plain every year in April/May. These can be booked via Devizes Museum.

chris johnson said...

Interesting tip Tony. In a couple of minutes browsing I found a quote from Russell Wright, conservation officer for English Nature in Wiltshire, 'Without the military it would have been wall-to-wall barley".

Also amazing was the discovery of a mountain of sheep bones - some 500000 animals thought to have been consumed in feasting - and covering 2.5 hectares. Some barbecue!

sciencebod said...

We're told there are just two working hypotheses regarding the bluestones, Tony - both involving transport from west Wales. I suspect there is a third ("in situ") hypothesis that needs to be investigated - or should that be re-investigated? Ever heard of a plutons and dikes? Maybe the tors of Dartmoor are a model, albeit a lot older and more eroded.

Who says that spotted dolerite is unique to west Wales? Who says that intrusive igneous rocks only get exposed in SW England by surface erosion on Dartmoor and west Wales? Dikes can in principle make their way - and finally protrude above the surface - anywhere...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin -- please do some reading on geology. Every dolerite is different, and geologists (well, some of them!) spend their time working out the whys and the wherefores. There are indeed many other igneous extrusives and intrusives all over Britain -- they are generally well known and well mapped. If there were any igneous intrusions on Salisbury Plain, don't you think somebody might have noticed? There are igneous rocks around the Mendips, but even the early geologists knew that those were different from the Stonehenge bluestones, and different from the dolerites and rhyolites of eastern Preseli.

sciencebod said...

"If there were any igneous intrusions on Salisbury Plain, don't you think somebody might have noticed? "

Not if the above-ground intrusions had been thoroughly harvested, Brian, over the course of millennia for their harder-than-granite "local" dolerite, which may have been petrologically similar if not identical to the Preseli product (what's a mere 130 miles in geological terms?)

The base of the outcrops would probably have been excavated to get out as much of the accessible tool-making rock as possible, and then have been back-filled with spoil. In time those "scars on the landscape" would have created a better micro-environment for the growth of deeper-rooted species of trees, an oasis of moisture/mineral salt-retaining fertility in an otherwise porous chalk subsoil.

The backfill may have been thin topsoil only, easy to scoop up, possibly admixed with human and/or animal bones, but with sufficient fertility over the surrounding hard pan of chalk to create circular (sacred Druidical?) groves of trees - like the one that is close to Stonehenge.

Has there been systematic boring into the chalk surrounding Stonehenge within a 10 or 20 mile radius to check whether it is really uninvaded chalk? These putative subterranean igneous intrusions can penetrate anywhere and everywhere, can they not? Who's to say that Stonehenge was not constructed for a rare local outcrop?

sciencebod said...

Correction (last sentence): "from a rare local outcrop"

sciencebod said...

Looking where the light is?

Looking where the light is?

“Late at night, a police officer finds a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he’s looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he’s sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the befuddled officer asks. Because the light’s better here, explains the drunk man.”

PS: Haven't seen Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain in some 25 years - so am heading off there in an hour or two to renew the acquaintance. Who knows? I may spot some prime rhyolite sticking out the ground that our flint-picking ancestors overlooked in the course of some 10,000 years of scavenging... ;-)

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm sure you'll let us know if you make any exciting geological discoveries which will lead to a rewriting of the geology text books.....

sciencebod said...

OK, Brian, but let's not forget that geology textbooks were written long after Stone Age man had raided all the honey pot collections - especially surface igneous rocks lying east of Bristol - like the ones that were best for tool-making - and later scattered far and wide across the landscape...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Don't get me wrong Colin -- while I have big problems with your idea of disappearing dykes and mysterious plutons on Salisbury Plain I am perfectly with you on the idea that any hard rocks lying around the place and "attractive" as sources of stone tools might well have been systematically gathered up and bashed to pieces to make axes and maybe even ornaments and other stone items, leaving behind debitage and not much else.

sciencebod said...

Have just this minute got back from Stonehenge. Brian's "Bluestone Enigma" is on sale in the visitors' shop. I'd have bought a copy, but had already ordered one from Amazon, which handily was waiting on the door mat when I got back.

sciencebod said...

Have just added a diagram to the end of my Salisbury Plain posting, Brian (standard geology textbook stuff ;-), showing where I think there may be a sill and even an overlooked dyke or two

This is a tentative toe in the water, needless to say, but is an attempt to link the location of those bluestones to the local landscape (Salisbury Plain) that seems to have exceptionally sharp drainage.

sciencebod said...

"Don't get me wrong Colin... etc".

So is that your final word then Brian - or are you still willing to provide a shop window for a newbie's hypothesis that challenges the, er, bedrock assumptions of geology textbooks?

(No need to publish this if/when you approve the comment(s) I submitted earlier, which at the time of writing have still to appear...)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sorry -- my broadband has been out of action over the weekend. Now miraculously back on again! yes -- the book has been on sale at Stonehenge for some time. sells quite well -- so there must be more than a few people who have doubts about the Gospel According to St Thomas.......

Colin -- I'm perfectly happy to see your theories in print or on the internet. My problems with it are (a) no evidence anywhere in the literature; (b) the fact that many of the bluestones HAVE been matched to specific sources, using pretty sophisticated techniques, and (c) there are more than 20 rock types contained within the "bluestone assemblage" -- including tuffs, rhyolites, several types of dolerite, and sandstones. You are not going to explain these away by reference to a set of mysterious and invisible dykes on Salisbury Plain...

sciencebod said...

Pleased to hear your connection is restored, and that I'm not on the naughty step. It's this heterogeneity at both ends - Stonehenge and Preseli - that bothers me. I expect you have heard of what in probability theory is called the Birthday Problem.

Anyway, thank you for you time and patience. I shall go away, finish reading your book, as well as the National Heritage guide I bought at the visitor bookshop.

Incidentally, nothwithstanding your comment re the pollen from hazel and pine the latter does not say that Salisbury Plain itself was well-wooded at any time, quite the contrary in fact if one reads the entry to the very end. Here's the relevant passage(my italics):

Before Stonehenge

Stonehenge was not the first structure to be part on this part of Salisbury Plain. Excavations carried out in 1966 and 1989 in the area of the present car park revealed four large pits, all of which showed convincing evidence that they had originally held large timber posts of about 75cm (30in) in diameter. The wood that was used for the posts was identified as pine – an unusual tree to be found on chalk soils – but the date of the posts was even more unexpected. Radiocarbon dating showed that this was between 8500 and 7000 BC in a period known as the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age. This was not long after the end of the last Ice Age, when Britain was still connected to mainland Europe.
As sea levels rose in the warming climate, trees grew: initially pine and hazel. Within this forest, in river valleys and on seashores, bands of hunters and gatherers lived on wild foods. It was these people who raised the posts, perhaps best interpreted as poles of the kind found on North American sites, commonly known as totem poles. These structures, more than 9,000 years old and built so close to Stonehenge, are unique. There is nothing else like them in the British Isles from this ancient time.
Several thousand years later, by about 4000BC, people had begun to tame the wildwood – the mixed forest of elm, oak and hazel that had replaced the earlier pine forests over much of mainland Britain. Using stone axes to fell trees and fires to create clearings they opened up spaces in which they could farm. Unlike farming today, with its large fields and neat hedges, small cleared areas were carved out of the woods to grow cereals such as wheat and barley; there were also domesticated animals; cattle, pigs and sheep.
Farming, even on a small scale, brings stability and ties people to the land; it was at this time, between about 4000 and 3000 BC, that communal efforts resulted in the building of the first ceremonial monuments and burial mounds. Some upland chalk areas, like that around Stonehenge may have had more of these sites because they remained comparatively free of woodland. The causeway enclosure known as Robin Hood’s Ball, to the northwest of Stonehenge, was built at this time, as were both Cursus monuments and probably most of the long barrows in the area."

Maybe you know the writer. If so, I look forward to a clash of Titans...

chris johnson said...

Colin, I don't follow your point on the birthday theory. You seem to want to crack this quickly but it is more complicated than Preseli and Stonehenge. We know of other megalithic cultures in e.g. Brittany, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Yorkshire, the Boyne, etc, etc. Who influenced who? And how? And why is Stonehenge different to everything else?

The writer you quote is citing an orthodox view. Still, we don't know if the Mesolithic posts were totem poles or not. When we like to be scientific we should be careful to separate fact (there are post holes) from theory (they were totems).

You were quick off the mark to suggest something about Salisbury Plain is not sympathetic to trees. We might equally well presume that the Plain has been exploited by humans since the mesolithic and therefore the wild wood disappeared earlier than, say, north nottinghamshire. Still this leaves the question, why salisbury plain and not sherwood forest?

You are also quick off the mark about farming and domestication of animals. There is little evidence for fixed farmsteads and fields on Salisbury Plain prior to Bronze/Iron ages. My suspicion is that crop growing was much more opportunistic in this area during the neolithic - sow some barley in a good looking patch of ground and return some months later to harvest. Clearing and fertilizing ground for farming is very hard work, as is farming itself.

Making a long barrow demonstrates a connection to a locality and an intention to return. It does not mean that you are starting a farm.

sciencebod said...

Hello Chris

You seem to be attributing to me the various points under "Before Stonehenge", in some cases on matters of detail that appeared willy nilly in the chosen passage (taken from page 31 of the Stonehenge visitor guide) simply to avoid having to make editing decisions. On several of the points you raise (totem pole, farming practice etc) I have no views one way or the other. The reason for citing this passage is that it gelled with my own gut feeling that Salisbury Plain with its lean soil and porous chalk had never been densely wooded following the last Ice Age, which was in fact its chief attraction to folk who had only stone implements - unable to do serious forest clearance. On close reading of the article, there is no evidence for thinking there was "wild wood" either, and I would have thought that any pollen evidence to the contrary would be inconclusive, given it could have been blown in from trees that are adjacent to the Plain.

As for why I think the special character of Salisbury Plain is important in deciding why Stonehenge is where it is, my ideas are evolving by the minute (some might say devolving in the light of those plutons and batholiths, but there you go).

Something tells me that Silbury Hill may have a role to play in all of this (especially as it has been shown to have hundreds of bluestone fragments). Could quarrying to get out indigenous intrusive rock pillars like molars by their 'roots', so to speak, coupled with systematic spoil heap construction (Silbury Hill) could provide at least some of the answers to the chief conundrum re the bluestones?

Sorry if you think I'm "quick off the mark". Time waits for no man...

sciencebod said...

PS: In a class of 23 people, there is said to be a 50% chance that two people share the same birthday - which might seem countyer-intuitive given there are 365 possible birthdays (you can google "The Birthday Problem).

Applying that principle, then it is hardly surprising that one can find at least one close match between the petrology of one or other Stonehenge bluestone specimen and that of Preseli, given there is a high degree of heterogeneity of rock types in both locations...

Phil Morgan said...

Hello Colin,
In a recent post you said -
"The reason for citing this passage is that it gelled with my own gut feeling that Salisbury Plain with its lean soil and porous chalk had never been densely wooded following the last Ice Age, which was in fact its chief attraction to folk who had only stone implements - unable to do serious forest clearance."

I've been looking at recent international studies relating to stone axes, and in the excellent book 'Stone Axe Studies III, Vin Davies & Mark Edmunds Eds, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2011. In a section by Pierre & Anne-Marie Petrequin, page 336, the caption to a photograph of two fellas hacking at a substantial tree with stone axes states -

'Felling of a tree 55cm in diameter, by four men working in relay over around 90 minutes. Langda (West Papua, Indonesia), Una group, 1993.

I would think that the rate of felling quoted would produce some serious forest clearance which could have been matched by our ancestors.

I would have sent the photo to Brian but all my computer stuff is packed away prior to moving home, leaving only a laptop to keep in touch.

Cheers,

Phil.

sciencebod said...

I doubt that the chalk upland we call Salisbury Plain was ever densely forested. The chalk must be highly porous - going by the fact there is virtually no surface run off - with dry valleys instead - at least from the centre- and there would surely have been more regeneration in the 20th century, given that vast areas are off-limits to anyone but the military (with little evidence that tanks etc are driven indiscriminately).

The geology has not changed appreciably since the last Ice Age. It is still elevated chalk with very sharp drainage. Even if it once had thin dotted trees, like parkland, it would be difficult to maintain a fertile topsoil - there would have been little accumulation of leaf litter especially as alkaline soil counters acidity that tends to preserve leaf mould. I know from having gardened on chalk that top dressings of peat etc can disappear so fast that within a year or two you'd hardly know you had put down 4 of 5 bags.

For neolithic man, the chalk uplands had their pros and cons as a place to settle and grow crops in terms of security from neighbouring folk and wild animals, water supply, soil fertility, access to flints, trade routes etc etc The pros must presumably have outweighed the cons, making the chalk upland the preferred habitat, judging by the abundance of settlement suggested by barrows etc.

Having chosen to be upland rather than forest dwellers, that would have imposed constraints on life style. Given that Salisbury Plain is not just chalk, but ecologically unusual (described as one of Europe's largest areas of chalk grassland) I suspect that it hold the key to the uniqueness of Stonehenge as a place to which the dead were consigned. However, I suspect the answer may not be music to some people's ears. Don't press me to elaborate - at least not yet ;-)

Phil said...

Phil Dumbo reporting two errors in his previous post; it should have read - Vin Davis and Mark Edmonds.
My apologies to Vin and Mark.

Phil M.

chris johnson said...

Colin,
thanks for the birthday theory.

My impression is that the provenancing work done by Rob Ixer and others is more akin to fingerprinting.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Colin -- you say: "On close reading of the article, there is no evidence for thinking there was "wild wood" either, and I would have thought that any pollen evidence to the contrary would be inconclusive, given it could have been blown in from trees that are adjacent to the Plain."

How do you mean "there is no evidence" ?!!! People trot out that phrase with gay abandon, in the full knowledge that there is indeed good evidence -- it's just that they wish it wasn't there.

The palynologists and other biologists who have studied soil horizons and other sediments on Salisbury Plain are not idiots. Instead of just quoting from the chapter, please chase up some of the references cited at the end of it -- THAT is where the evidence lies.