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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The "No Purpose" Hypothesis

Above, Carn Meini, in the open uplands, starting point for the CM team.  Below, Rhosyfelin, in the wooded lowlands -- starting point for the RYF team.   No contest really......

I was struck by this statement from Chris the other day:  "Colin Richards explained to me that cultures which move stones within living memory can assign different meanings to stones depending whether they are still attached, just quarried, or being moved.  He also said that the stones can lose an important meaning when they have arrived - the act of moving the stones being the centre of the ritual."  I'm not having a go at Chris here -- he was after all just reporting, not pontificating -- but the idea put forward by Colin Richards is really rather entertaining............

What he seems to be saying is that you do not need to have a purpose or an objective, in deciding to move one stone -- or maybe 80 -- from West Wales to Stonehenge.  The significance is all in the act of moving the stones.  If you are one of the stone movers, you need to know nothing of political alliances or economic motives or grand designs -- your satisfaction comes from the jolly good exercise and use of interesting haulage techniques that might be employed by you and your mates.  In other words, the stone moving expeditions are rather like team sports, in which you bond closely with your colleagues in pursuit of some utterly frivolous and useless goal, just in order to show that you are up to the task, and maybe to show that you are smarter than some other team who happen to be moving some other stones from elsewhere.  So maybe we had the Rhosyfelin stone hauling team versus the Carn Meini stone hauling team?  Maybe there was a handicap system in force, since the Rhosyfelin team had to cope with all those extra nasty river valleys and steep slopes, while the Carn Meini lot just had to go -- for the most part -- downhill?   And the result?  Carn Meini team -- 22 stones, Rhosyfelin team, 1?  A very one-sided contest, that one......

So now we have another "purpose" for Stonehenge.  It was not a Neolithic hospital, or a shrine to the dead ancestors, or a grain store, or an astronomical obervatory, or an art gallery, or a music hall, but it was a sporting arena, where strong and healthy chaps indulged in harmless exercise, just for the praise of their fellow men and the admiration of the women folk.  Were gold medals awarded to the winners, or just bronze ones?

Of course, I have argued earlier on this blog -- quite seriously -- that Stonehenge was a folly, erected in some grand exercise in self-glorification by a crazed Neolithic chieftain.  Sporting activities are not quite so stupid as building follies, but they come close, and as an enthusiastic sportsman myself in my youth,  I have to say that the idea that stone-hauling was a Neolithic sport (like curling or tossing the caber or putting the shot) should not be scoffed at by people who do not understand the competitive and sporting spirit.

So that's all sorted then.


Anonymous said...

Colin (and Mike) are well-travelled "experts" in the world-wide Art of shifting stones from A to B, and sport the T-shirts to prove their expertise. The National Geographic is probably the Piper who has Called the Tune for these travellogues. I suppose any one of us would respond to The NG's call to carry out these selfless journeys and investigations, if they summoned us for the the task. They might even give us a T-shirt at the end of it, too. Ask not what your National Geographic can do for you, but what you can do for your National Geographic.


Anonymous said...


If Neolithic chaps wanted to prove their manhood, don't you think they would go on a hunt for wild animals alone or in groups? It might even bring back some food for their families. What you are suggesting is plain silly.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Come now, Kostas! I would never say anything silly on this blog, would I? I am after all a seeker after truth.....

Geocur said...

For those who are interested and haven't seen this before .
Afaik there are no films from Sumba or Nias of stone moving on You Tube but the 1915 pic is a cracker . The maram nagas films presumably were moving the stone to the site in the last link ,I don't know . Scroll down to megalith moving in the Sumba pdf if you are not interested in the socio economics etc .
Ron L Adams did his MA 2001 (Simon Fraser Uni )thesis “The Megalithic tradition of West Sumba Indonesia :An Ethnoarchaeological investigation of Megalithic construction “ which among other things covers the weight and distance moved of the megaliths .A good read if you can find it .The link below is to a short intro .​sumba.pdf

Myris of Alexandria said...

Ah Brian it is unsporting to hit below the belt.
Ouch Kostas that must smart!
Dr I asked MPP this very question Monday and indeed that is the current thinking. Think Yul Brunner and a cast of thousands.
It is known that the Inka 'made work' and transported andesite ashlars 100s of Kms probaly for little 'real' purpose.
We see such sights here in Alex every day.

chris johnson said...

Beliefs are powerful motivators. The President of Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales), a significant party in the Welsh Assembly, is currently under attack for participating in a baptism ceremony deep in a welsh forest complete with axe bearer and soldiers - like something out of Lord of the Rings. It is on youtube.

It reminded me of my recent visit to Wales (Brynberian expedition) when I looked up some ancestors who turn out to be Welsh Baptists in Llanybyther. As a consequence, I am reading the History of Welsh Baptists, translated by Jonathan Davies in Pennsylvania a few hundred years ago and where a lot of baptists emigrated to avoid persecution, taking their books with them. This history extends back to the Neolithic and purports credibly to be based on written sources (Kostas!). There is considerable detail about the conversion from Druidism at the beginning of the current era. There are also plenty of martyrs and tales of a religion that was driven underground for hundreds of years. It is an interesting read.

So how is this relevant? It shows the lengths people will go to exercise a belief that many nowadays would consider to be of "No Purpose". We struggle to imagine that people might die to maintain a belief that children should not be baptised, or that total immersion is better than a dab of holy water on the forehead. Of course it is more fundamental than that, as Pelagius might explain - although the baptists did not like Pelagius either for reasons I have yet to fathom.

Before the real Welsh Baptists get upset and issue a fatwa, I have no evidence that the President of Plaid Cymru is a member of their church or imitating their rituals exactly. And sorry Brian if I stray too far from the path. I'll try not to do it again.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for those links, Geo. Very interesting!! The B/W photo is a cracker, as you say. I'll post it up on the site.

Anonymous said...

Myris my friend,

Not to worry! I've seen worst from Brian in the past. From hits under the belt to censorship. I am well immune. None of this is about me. And it really should not be about Brian or Geo or Chris. Or the MPP's!

I prefer clever jabs to crude censorship.

But something about the “no purpose” purpose that should trouble any “seeker of truth”. Including Brian and Dr I.

After been fed so much fantasy about the purpose of Stonehenge (from an astronomical observatory, to a healing center, to a crematorium, to a concert hall, and more recently to an art gallery) the 'no purpose hypothesis' is nothing less than an admission all these narratives were just fabrications rooted on pure fantasy. It's throwing sh.t on the (mental) walls to see what sticks and what stinks.

And now the same people tell us to believe yet another fabrication explaining the “purpose” for Stonehenge! You can fool some of the people all of the times. You can fool all of the people some of the times. But you can't fool all of the people all of the times!

I take the “no purpose hypothesis” as an admission the archeologists failed! Their made up stories do not make sense. These can't be patched up to make sense without their clumsy coarse stitching showing!

Where are the long awaited reports on the 2008 Darvil excavation of the Stonehenge Layer? It's been four years! The laser scan report took just four months! But it is easier to “see art” in the “shadows” of the Stonehenge stones than reconcile the science of the Layer in a fabricated narrative that makes sense.