Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Monday, 2 July 2012

Another review for "The Bluestone Enigma"

Thanks to Chris Lovegrove for drawing my attention to his new review.


Stonehenge’s mythic history

Brian John
The Bluestone Enigma: Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age

Greencroft Books 2008

Ancient man didn’t transport stones hundreds of miles. And nor did Merlin.

Brian John, who lives in Pembrokeshire (where much of this study is set), has had a long interest in this whole subject area. A Geography graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, he went on to obtain a D Phil there for a study of the Ice Age in Wales. Among other occupations he was a field scientist in Antarctica and a Geography Lecturer in Durham University, and is currently a publisher and the author of a number of articles, university texts, walking guides, coffee table glossies, tourist guides, titles on local folklore and traditions, plus books from popular science to local jokes. His credentials are self-evident when it comes to discussing Stonehenge.

One of the strongest modern myths about Stonehenge to have taken root is that the less monumental but no less impressive so-called bluestones were physically brought by prehistoric peoples from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales to Wiltshire. The second strongest modern myth is that the whole saga was somehow remembered over a hundred or more generations to be documented by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century as a feat of Merlin. In this self-published title Dr John examines these and other myths and finds them wanting in terms of echoing reality.

His key points include the fact that not only do the bluestones derive from at least fifteen different locales in West and South Wales (not just the Preselis), there is no evidence at all for any stone-collecting expeditions from as far afield as this, let alone cultural links between Wessex and West Wales.

He deduces that bluestones were present “on or near” Salisbury Plain at least a millennium before Stonehenge was commenced, and were not especially selected for their quality, their supposed magical significance or healing properties (he points out that many of the Stonehenge bluestones are defective, and that it is pure speculation that the builders saw a reflection of the night sky in them or saw them as having healing powers). How did the stones get to Wessex? The author’s expertise in geomorphology allows him to discourse authoritatively on how Welsh stones could have been brought by the great Irish Sea glacier as far east as Bath, the Mendips and Glastonbury (though uncertainty still exists whether it reached as far east as Salisbury Plain).

If there was no Grand Designs project to transport the stones from the Preselis (and the author effectively demolishes the case for prehistoric technology being up to the task) then it follows that the famous tale of Merlin moving stones from Ireland to Wessex, much beloved by New Age mystics, is not a reflection of historical reality. Does it not seem more likely that this is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s elaboration of the familiar folktale motif of a demigod or the Devil himself (Geoffrey claims Merlin was the son of the Devil after all) moving landscape features around at will?

While The Bluestone Enigma doesn’t come up with definitive answers to tell us the final story of the bluestones, it does put paid to the imaginative but impractical theories of certain archaeologists and writers of popular accounts of Stonehenge. Whether it will silence the myth-makers is another matter however.

Chris Lovegrove

Updates on Brian John’s research are posted here:


Tony H said...

Professor Challenger of Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" (1912) wouldn't have liked this review and its take on the myths.

Interesting illustration as well as commentary.

calmgrove said...

'Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name.'

However, I would guess that if it wasn't for Fawcett's exploration of the Huanchaca Plateau Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger wouldn't have been such a household name, and Edgar Rice Burroughs wouldn't have followed with his 'The Land that Time Forgot.

In the same way, if Geoffrey of Monmouth hadn't suggested that Merlin might have had a hand in bringing stones from the west to Salisbury Plain perhaps the idea that prehistoric man physically transported the stones from Pembrokeshire wouldn't have taken off in such a big way, nor the various 20th-century mystical notions that New Agers had such as Merlin moving the stones by levitation.

Tony H said...

Easily found via Google at any rate by searching for PROFESSOR CHALLENGER and CONAN DOYLE

Apparently, Prof Challenger was based upon a real-life academic Conan Doyle knew called Rutherford, just as Sherlock Holmes had a model in real life.

chris johnson said...

Brian, I'll make time to do a review. Seems there are no reviews on Amazon currently which is a shame.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- reviews do help, I think... even the ones that are balanced and nuanced, highlighting what the reviewer sees as strengths and weaknesses. One learns, as an author, to go with the flow...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Actually there are some reviews on -- maybe not on

Anonymous said...

Brian, if you haven’t already done so, I would suggest that you read pages 286 and 287 of Professor Pearson’s book ‘Stonehenge’. For here he claims to have found a quarry at Craig Rhosyfelin in Preseli Wales where some of Stonehenge’s bluestones came from. Reading his report, it can be seen that the professor did not go as far as excavating the very point at which the bluestones may have been transferred onto rollers or wheeled sledges – he says.
That Brian is where I believe you come in. Professor Pearson knows that you believe in the glacial theory whereby the bluestones were transported by glacial action - has worded his disagreement in his book; and in no uncertain terms – knows you and your ideas into the bargain - and should therefore show you the respect and consideration of permitting you to sit in on any further exploration of this particular site. You do not live far from the site anyway, so it should not present any special difficulty.
If Professor Pearson or some other archaeologist succeeds in proving human transport of the stones by further exploration, at the same time as you are allowed to adjudicate the matter as overseer, then I for one will find the conclusion far more believable.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tom -- no chance of me looking at the book in the immediate future, since I am far removed from the world of bluestones and fairy tales and am having a mellow time in the Stockholm Archipelago! Prof MPP hasn't "found" a bluestone quarry at all -- Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer identified the source of some of the debris at Stonehenge, with a great degree of accuracy, and MPP then made the giant leap of faith and assumed that the site must be a quarry. This was a geological discovery, not an archaeological one.

Well, as I have reported previously, my attempts to meet up with the diggers last summer were not very successful -- two Emails not responded to, and a meeting at Rhosyfelin set up on the morning following the Newport lecture, for which neither MPP nor his colleagues turned up. I was not impressed. Should I assume that MPP and his colleagues are not very keen to encounter ideas which might not support their ruling hypothesis? It would appear so.....

chris johnson said...
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