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Monday, 31 December 2012

Tunnel vision and flights of fancy



Over Christmas I had a chance to look at the MPP tome on Stonehenge, having previously dipped into it and found it -- shall we say? -- less than convincing scientifically.  I have previously voiced my concerns about the MPP conclusions on Bluestonehenge and on the idea that Stonehenge is where it is because that is where a few "periglacial stripes" happened to coincide, more or less, with the alignment of the rising sun on the summer solstice.  And I'm on the record as saying, many times, that MPP and other senior archaeologists do their subject more harm than good by breezing off into the realms of fantasy at the slightest opportunity, whatever doubts there might be about the evidence on the ground.  Maybe they don't have doubts, these guys?  Maybe they have such confidence in their own abilities that they just KNOW when they have enough "evidence" to produce a working hypothesis and to turn it instantly into a ruling hypothesis.......

Anyway, away from tunnel vision and on to the chapter about the origins of the Bluestones.  It starts rather bizarrely with a consideration of the bluestone fragments found by Stone and others to the NW of Stonehenge, at Fargo Plantation.  The fragments found thus far are of rhyolite and sandstone -- which does not of course mean that there is no dolerite in the area.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially since the digs in that area have been of very limited extent.  Anyway, MPP immediately whizzes off on the idea that there might have been a stone circle somewhere near Fargo Plantation.  How he makes the great leap from a few bluestone chips to a "lost stone circle" is a mystery to me.  (He did it at Bluestonehenge as well, creating in his own mind a bluestone circle even though there are NO bluestone traces of any type -- so far -- in that locality.)  Might it not be rather more reasonable to assume that there might just have been some bluestone erratics lying about in that area at the end of the Cursus, which early inhabitants broke up because they were in the way, or used for making implements?



On to the Preseli Hills.  MPP gives a nice summary of the dozen or more distinctive rock types represented in the Stonehenge assemblage, and also cites the geological work of Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins and Peter Turner.  Anyway, having accepted that there are lots of different rock types, the author moves on to an explantion of how they were moved -- immediately assuming that this was down to human agency.  He argues, in familiar style, that big stones are moved for assorted ritual reasons in many communities throughout the world -- and therefore assumes that they did it here as well.  This is the old "They did it there, therefore they probably did it here too" argument of which we get sick and tired on this blog.......

One interesting thing is that MPP claims that archaeologists are now "fairly sceptical" about the great ocean-going voyages beloved of Atkinson, Darvill and Wainwright.  I don't see much sign of that scepticism in the literature, but let that pass.  So the stones were moved overland, not just 80 of them, but maybe hundreds of them -- many of which were lost or broken in transit.

The enterprise, according to MPP, might have involved relays of stone movers, with around 50 people assigned to each stone -- and with a task force of 4,000 people working at any one time.  He claims that there might have been high status attached to involvement in the "bluestone expeditions" -- rather as high status was attached to the carrying of the Olympic Flame in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.  So people might even have been competing with one another to take part -- rather than looking on involvement as a penalty or as some sort of penal servitude undertaken by slaves.  Really warming to his task, MPP then suggests that as many as 100,000 people might have been involved -- ie the whole population of Southern Britain.  Come now, MPP, calm down...........

I must go and make some soup.  To be continued.....

3 comments:

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian, quoting from your post

“MPP then suggests that as many as 100,000 people might have been involved -- ie the whole population of Southern Britain.”


The question of population size and man-hours needed to build all the Neolithic monuments in the UK has puzzled me for a long time. With thousands of stone circles, henges, long barrows, round barrows, chambered tombs, etc. could the Neolithic population size at the UK (estimated to have been some 5,000 during the Mesolithic) have supported such vast and labor intensive public works?

Perhaps you can do a post just on that question!

Kostas

Joan Rankin said...

No one ever suggests that they may have used oxen to haul the stones, regardless of how far they hauled them. They did have plenty of cattle.

BRIAN JOHN said...

There are several suggestions in the literature that oxen may have been used. Put "oxen"into the search box and see what comes up!