Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stone haulage and the diffusion of innovations

Now here's an interesting thought.  Last night I gave a talk to the Haverfordwest Civic Society about the "Bluestone Wars" and I had a very interesting chat with members of the audience afterwards about the diffusion of culture and technical innovations.  I had made the point in my talk that if (as TD, GW and MPP insist) Neolithic tribesmen collected up and transported 82 stones from west Wales to Stonehenge, we should assume that this would have been a technical peak in a history of long-distance stone haulage.  This would have been a massive technical (and maybe cultural) innovation -- we would expect to find in the archaeological record traces of the early introduction of the innovation, then a peak of some sort, and then a decline.  Instead of that, we find nothing -- no history of long-distance stone transport beyond maybe a few miles (there are some examples that seem to be well founded) -- and indeed, as we have argued before on this blog, in Wales the megalithic rule that seems to apply is this:  big stones are used more or less where they are found.

I remember from my days as a student that we had assorted lectures relating to cultural diffusion.  But that was a VERY long time ago, and things have moved on.   So I did a bit of digging, and came across this interesting entry on Wikipedia:

There are other entries on cultural diffusion and trans-cultural diffusion. No doubt there are vast archaeology tomes devoted to this topic.   If you look at the graph above, and apply it to long-distance stone haulage, you see that -- according to the model -- there should be an innovation phase, with early adopters catching on; and then a sort of critical mass phase where the majority adopt the new technique; and then a late majority, coinciding with a peak or a plateau; and finally a period during which the laggards (most remote or backward communities) eventually catch on......

If you look at the market share you eventually reach saturation, when 100% of the population has adopted the technique.  In reality, of course, you do not get isolated episodes like this, because once you have a new technique it does not just rise and fall, but it is improved and modified, and gives rise to better and newer techniques. So there are lots of overlapping curves.

Back to Stonehenge, and long-distance stone haulage.  Why is it that when we look at the archaeological record we see no evidence of innovators, early adopters, majority adoption, and laggardly adoption in remote areas?  It is a total aberration, with no development phase and no phase of decline.  So instead of a "normal" curve as on the graph above we have just an incredibly short episode (a few hundred years) during which (according to our archaeological friends) 82 very large stones were hauled over a very long distance across incredibly hostile terrain and/or water.  Nothing before, nothing after.  That's what these eminent professors want us to believe.

Apply the same test to the GW/TD idea that the stones were sacred or magical, and were revered for their healing power.   Nothing --  no evidence on the ground, no evidence of innovation, adoption, or decline in beliefs of this type.

Apply the same test to the MPP idea that the stones were revered because they embodied the spirits of the ancestors, and needed to be transported to a specially sacred site (Stonehenge) as an act of tribute or respect or reverence.  Again, nothing --  no evidence on the ground, no evidence of innovation, adoption, or decline in a culture of ancestor worship.

Sorry chaps -- it just doesn't make sense.....  It all defies logic, as it defies the evidence on the ground.  So forget it, and move on.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Rhosyfelin crags

Another nice pic from Rhosyfelin -- thanks to Chris. He says this was taken about 40m upstream from the "quarry" -- presumably on the other side of the ridge, where the crags are "overhanging" and more precarious.

OK -- Chris wonders how crags as delicate as this can survive glaciation and assorted other destructive earth surface processes.  Fair enough -- this is one of the great questions of glacial geomorphology.  I won't pretend that I have an easy answer on tap.  There are delicate crags all over the place, in areas which HAVE been glaciated quite recently.  There are crags like this at Felin y Gigfran, at Nant y Bugail neat Trecwn, and in Tycanol Wood -- not to mention all those delicate crags up on the top of Preseli.  In other places the crags are not so delicate -- they are smoothed off, and have obvious traces of glacial erosion on them.  This is the classic beetling fragile precarious craggy rock in Pembrokeshire -- the Precambrian rhyolite crag at Maiden Castle, near Treffgarne:

Parts of this crag are so fragile and delicately balanced that they look as if a decent storm might blow them down -- let alone an Irish Sea Glacier.  We geomorphologists assume, therefore, that this crag was not affected by Devensian ice, and that the central part of Pembs was beyond the ice limit during the last glacial episode.

On the other hand, if a glacier is cold-based rather than warm-based it has the extraordinary capacity to PROTECT landscapes and even very delicate tors from the processes of glacial erosion, which are concentrated into zones where streaming occurs -- where the ice moves at high velocity.   This has happened in parts of the Cairngorms, in North Wales, on Dartmoor, and on the uplands of Preseli.

Back to Rhosyfelin.  There are several possibilities.  

One, the crags as we see them today might have been fashioned by frost-shattering and other periglacial processes after the Devensian ice retreated from the area around 20,000 years ago.  We have quite a long period to think about here -- about 10,000 years in fact, when the climate was warming only very gradually.  The climate was still very severe -- probably permafrost was present for much of the time, and it got even colder during the Older Dryas and Younger Dryas episodes before the real Holocene climate warming set in.

Two, the crags might indeed be very old, having survived beneath the Devensian ice because the valley was filled with largely stagnant ice, with more active glacier ice shearing or streaming over the top.

Three, we might be looking here at the fractured remains of a crag which has been extensively broken up by plucking and entrainment processes during the Devensian.  (This is the sort of mechanism which I think will have affected this crag during the Anglian Glaciation, leading to the entrainment of material from Rhosyfelin into the ice which moved SE and E towards Somerset and Wiltshire.)

Then we have the other complicating factors of snowmelt, fluvio-glacial streams and even possible lake waters affecting this valley.

Work in progress...........

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Rhosyfelin -- is it a quarry site?

Below I have posted a short note written by Phil Morgan, in which he considers the question of whether Rhosyfelin really does have a man-made quarry there, or whether everything is natural...... I happen to disagree with many of the things that Phil says, but discussion is always good!

1.  I quite accept that where quarrying is contemplated, it makes more sense to take stones from sloping walls where things will slide down under some degree of control, rather than from overhangs where there is great danger.  So from that point of view the rock face at Rhosyfelin which looks down on the dig site is "suitable." This wall faces NW, as Phil says.

2.  I don't agree that there would have been less freeze-thaw activity under a periglacial climate regime on the NW face than on the SE face.  I think there may well have been more on that side, since with westerly winds predominating in this area, the SE face would have been relatively more protected by lee-side accumulations of snow, which inhibit freeze-thaw processes and frost shattering.

3.  Orientation of big blocks.  Phil mentions that there are 4 blocks lying at right-angles to the rock face -- I don't see that.  If you look at all my photos on this site, and at the Gigapan, what you see is a jumble of fallen and broken blocks and scree with no preferred orientations.  So I don't agree that this tells us anything at all about human involvement.  I agree it would be interesting to know how many of the blocks have fallen directly down from the higher parts of the rock face, and how much downslope movement there may have been -- ie movement broadly parallel with the rock face. A factor which Phil doesn't consider at all is the influence of ice and snow-banks in all of this -- scree slopes in high-latitude or periglacial environments are very complex indeed, with snow, ice and running water all playing roles and with rocks falling down onto ice or snow and then sliding or settling later on.  Believe me -- I have crawled about on such slopes many times in my wild youth!

4.  The large block and the rails.  Again, I don't agree with Phil.  It could perfectly well have fallen and slid on ice or snow into its present position.  No human agency needed -- and there are no rails either, as I have pointed out.  Has anybody suggested that the longish stones beneath the big "orthostat" are made of mudstone?  They look like perfectly ordinary local rhyolite to me.....

5.  Heather as an indicator of quarrying activity?  Sorry Phil, but there is heather all over the place in areas which have not been quarried. I don't believe a word of what you say here.

In short, I see nothing here or anywhere else to shift me from the view that this jumble of rocks, large and small, is entirely natural.

Rhosyfelin -- is it a quarry site?

Figure 1 – Stope

1). Quarry workers are concerned over where rocks fall, nature cares not.

Gold mining practice utilises ‘Stopes’, where large caverns are excavated to access the gold bearing veins. The ore veins seldom exist at a convenient angle for extraction, resulting in the sides of the stope forming steep angles with the ground, (Figure 1)

When mining operations form these steep angles the sides of the workings are named the ‘foot’ wall and the ‘hanging’ wall. The safer rock face to work is the foot wall side for the product slides down-slope to the floor, whereas when working the hanging wall there is always the danger of the side collapsing and falling vertically, which could cause injury.

The Neolithic stone gatherers would have disliked being struck by falling stones and they would have realised that working the Craig Rhos-Y-Felin outcrop from the ‘foot’ wall side, (north-west face), would be the safer option.

Figure 2 (below) – Craig Rhos-Y-Felin ‘Foot-wall’.

Figure 3 (below) – Craig Rhos-Y-Felin ‘hanging Wall’.

2). Considering the actions of ‘freeze-thaw’

The photo only shows the dig in the area of the north-west face of the outcrop, the face that would have been least exposed to the actions of freeze-thaw; whereas the ‘hanging’ wall, (south-east face), which would have been more susceptible does not appear to have the same smooth finish of the foot wall.

It may prove beneficial to place a small trench below the south-east face to examine any debris for similar large blocks of rock. If no such blocks are found then it would again support human activity.

3). Orientations of the larger stone blocks.

Gravity is unable to differentiate between human quarrying and natural quarrying; it is logical to think that the quarried material comes to rest in the same manner for both activities, and that the orientations would not favour either quarrying method.

However, it is unusual that there are four blocks lying at right angles to the rock face. I suggest that a search be made to see if the upper surface of each block correlates with the rock face immediately above it. If it does then it is more likely that it was wrenched from the solid with it rotating about its base as it fell, indicates human activity, (figure 4).

If the underside of each block correlates with the solid rock then it is more likely to have become detached by natural means and slid down the rock face, (Figure 5).

It is normal, and best, practice when removing rock from the solid, to work to a free face, which in this case would be to work from the top of the outcrop vertically downwards. Therefore, the above correlation test should initially be applied to the upper portions of the outcrop.

The method used to separate the blocks is unknown but the use of water to expand wooden wedges inserted in the natural joints of the rock would work, especially if combined with the use of levers and ropes.

4). The large block lying parallel to the rock face.

It is thought that this slab is too far from the rock face to have come to rest after falling by human or natural means. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that it has been moved.

Mention has been made of this stone resting on ‘rails’, however this could be purely by accident. It is suggested that the ‘rails’ be examined to verify whether they are made of the same rhyolite as the igneous outcrop, or of some foreign stone, particularly mudstone.

Mudstone becomes slippery when wet, especially when under load. The pressure breaks down the rock surface which forms a lubricating interface.

Craig Rhos-Y-Felin is situated in the Fishguard Volcanic Group of rocks, however, the mudstones of the Aber Mawr Formations are reasonably close and southwards, upstream of the Afon Brynberian.

If the rails are formed from mudstone this would again support the human activity principle.

5). Heather as an indicator of human quarrying activity.

A study has been made of the use of heather as an indicator that quarrying has been conducted by humans. Craig Rhos-Y-Felin formed a part of this study and proved to be an ideal candidate for human quarrying.

Briefly the study has shown that heather, which has an affinity for acidic soils, flourishes on man-made, acidic, scree slopes, while refusing to grow on identical, and adjacent, natural scree.

It seems the reason for this abnormal activity is that, generally, natural scree slopes have been formed by freeze-thaw during past ice ages, when no plant life could survive. However, all human quarrying activity has to have taken place after the last Ice Age when plant life could survive.

The heather at Craig Rhos-Y-Felin grows only on the igneous outcrop, (figure 6).

Figure 6 – Heather and gorse growth at Craig Rhos-Y-Felin.

It is thought that the combination of orientations of the four rock slabs, the changed direction of the fifth slab, the use of ‘rails’ possibly made of imported mudstone combined with the presence of heather indicates that this area has been quarried by human hand.

Phil Morgan, Inc. Eng.
18th September 2012

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Google Ngram -- another bit of fun

 This is very jolly -- I was looking at Mike Pitts's blog, and came across this thing called Google Ngram.  Google has now digitized thousands (millions?) of books, and has the ability to instantly scan through all those pages so as to pick up a frequency of mentions of particular words or groups of words.  The site is here:

Just for fun, I entered in "spotted dolerite", "bluestones" and "Preseli" to see what came up.  The resulting graph is above -- click to enlarge.

I was interested to see that the word "bluestones" has been around for a long time, and appeared a lot in print around 1880 and 1900-1905.  But there does not appear to be any correlation with the word "Preseli" until 1922-23, which of course was the time when HH Thomas's ideas suddenly hit the world of archaeology.  And since the 1950's the word "bluestones" becomes much more popular -- the influence of Richard Atkinson must have been very great in this regard.

It's also interesting that there was a lapse of interest in these words "bluestones" and "spotted dolerite" in the 1990's, with things picking up again in the present century.  (There is not much data in the last few years, because Google has been having all sorts of copyright disputes with publishers, over digitisation......)

All very interesting and frivolous......

Adam Stanford's Gigapan of Rhosyfelin

There is now a fantastic high-definition "panorama" of the rock face at Craig Rhosyfelin, made by Adam Stanford and using Gigapan technology.  Take a look at it here:

You can look at the whole face exposed during the 2012 dig, and you can also zoom in for high-definition images of the bedrock, the clutter of broken rock debris, and the "abandoned orthostat" which MPP thinks was intended for Stonehenge but which never quite made it.......

It all looks entirely natural to me, although of course the pit on the extreme left-hand edge of the photo is more convincing as a man-made feature.

If you sign up for a free account with Gigacam, you can take snapshots too.  Unfortunately, they are not of very high definition, but you can also use your own "snapshot facility" on your own computer if you want images of better quality.

Above is a snapshot of the side of the "orthostat" -- where some of the marks are thought to have been man-made.  The horizontal gouges and scratches appear entirely natural to me -- but it may be that the archaeologists are homing in on the two very faint vertical marks which are almost parallel.  If you look very carefully -- and enlarge the photo by clicking on it -- you can see one mark in the centre of the photo and another to the left of it.

Not much to go on -- if I was wanting to argue that this is a quarry site, I would want rather better evidence than that....  so let's see what MPP and the boys and girls come up with.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The immaculate conception at Maryhill

Lately we have been having some fun swapping info about various aspects of the stone markings (natural or man-made) on the sarsens and bluestones at Stonehenge, and Lloyd has mentioned the impressive monument at Maryhill in the Washington, USA -- built as a memorial to the dead of World War 1.  There's also a museum there, and it's used a lot by educational groups and students.

One can only approve of all that, and Lloyd asks whether it might be an idea for students to follow this blog.  They will be very welcome to do so --  but they need to be prepared to confront the view that the "immaculate Stonehenge" as portrayed in the reconstruction -- and presumably taught as "fact" by those who are teachers as well as students -- probably never existed.  It seems to me that more and more people (including archaeologists working for English heritage) are coming to the view that Stonehenge was NEVER completed.  Too many gaps, too many stones missing, too much indecision.  Much of the evidence points this way.

My thoughts are in the lecture I gave to the "Do Lectures" a couple of years ago  -- a few things have changed since then, but nothing substantial.

There is also my YouTube video, which new users of this blog might like to have a look at.

The Avenue Banks

Another comment from Lloyd, this time relating to the Avenue embankments (highly exaggerated in the "photo" above).

Regarding the comments made by Geocur, I accept all shapes are in the eye of the holder, unless an alternative explanation could be given. For example, Stone 059a has two very distinct parallel ribs, as shown in the attached photograph. Could this be a representation of ‘The Avenue’ as shown in the photograph? Although no meanings have yet been found for shapes on stones, surely this does not mean that none exist?

I thought that the general assumption was that this was a tongue-and-groove arrangement, but that's sheer speculation too.....

Friday, 16 November 2012

Sarsen faces - stone 54

From Lloyd:

I thank Terence Meaden for his comments; this feature on the W side of Stone 054 has been incorporated in the model. When having to think what this face would have looked like when building the original Stonehenge, I referred to the carvings found on Easter Island and used these as a guide.

Stone 53

Lloyd says:
I thank Timothy Daw for his comments and I acknowledge and understand what he says however, I find it is difficult to relate these comments to the external SW side of Stone 053. Rather than having a random shape produced by stone dressing, it looks as though it is  more 'purposeful' in its design, and it is to this that I am seeking an explanation.

Actually Lloyd, you can contribute directly to the blog discussion if you want. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Carvings on the sarsens

I have received a message from Lloyd Matthews, relating to the carvings on the Stonehenge sarsens.  The letter is below, with Lloyd's permission.  Can anybody help please?

I spent five years researching and studying Stonehenge so I could build an exact scale model of how it now stands, and then to build a second model as to how it might have looked when it had been completed. Should you like to see photographs I can forward them to you. 

This model was built 1:158 scale and is now on display at the Maryhill Museum, Washington

During the building of the model I recorded shapes on the stones that appeared to have been carved when built, yet cannot find any information on this subject.

English Heritage have recently published a report of a Laser Scan carried out on Stonehenge which, was also featured in Nov/Dec British Archeology. I had hoped this would give me answers, but on Stone 059a the report attribute the parallel ridges to stone dressing. No mention was made of Stone 053 external SW face, or Stone 052 external SE face.

The Maryhill Museum has challenged me to see if I could find answers to these questions.

Could you recommend any online academic sources, I might research concerning stone carvings. Currently I am finding much of the information cannot be accessed unless a payment is made.

Meltwater conduits

In the light of the comments about that snow tunnel, here are a couple of pictures of tunnels in glacier ice, for comparison.  The one above is a conduit (actually, it looks like a moulin) on a glacier in New Zealand.  Note the very strong scalloping -- indicating very turbulent meltwater flow but not, I think, a situation in which the "pipe" was completely filled with water.  In contrast, look at the one below.  This photo comes from a glacier in Peru.  It's a magnificent conduit which has clearly carried vast amounts of meltwater under very high pressure, with the tunnel filled with water for a limited period while a glacial lake was being drained catastrophically. There are signs that there might have been a sort of spiral flow.  The walls of this tunnel look VERY different...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Snow tunnel, Kamchatka, Russia

This is an amazing photo of a snow tunnel in Kamchatka, Russia.  I can't find out much about this, although I do know that it was taken in an area where there are thick seasonal snowbanks and where meltwater tunnels run beneath them.  There is a chance that the meltwater streams might incorporate water from hot springs, because this is a volcanic area.  If the water is warm or even tepid, that would obviously enhance its ability to run down to ground level and maintain quite large tunnels.

I'm pretty certain that this is snow rather than glacier ice.  The contact between the snow and the underlying boulders does not look like a glacial contact.  Note the old water-line, created at a time when the water level in the tunnel was much higher.

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There now.  That's just three of the fringe benefits you get from this rather strange blog site!  Happy reading!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Newall's Mound

 On the Avenue, with Stonehenge on the skyline.  Note that there are a lot of surface undulations..... how were they made?

I was rather intrigued when I came across a reference in MPP's new book (p 242)  to a strange feature called Newall's Mound.  Apparently it is just to the east of the Avenue, and maybe somewhere near the Elbow?  Anyway, according to MPP, Atkinson and Evans cut a trench into it in 1978 -- and it is referred to as a "small raised feature."  It's made of heavy clay mixed with natural flints -- so today it would probably be labelled as "clay-with-flints. "  It's about 1.5 m thick, and MPP refers to it as a periglacial feature (?? really??) associated with a solution hollow about 5 m across.  In MPP's words:  "....created in Ice Age conditions not far south of the glacier's limit."

Leaving aside for the moment MPP's apparent conversion to the idea that there was glacier ice not far away from Stonehenge, I am rather intrigued by this deposit.  Apparently John Evans discovered a buried early post-glacial soil and thought that the clay deposit had been thoroughly "bioturbated" by tree roots.  Apparently Mike Allen and Charly French considered that the tree roots and the bioturbation had been responsible for preserving the mound as a raised feature while the rest of the surrounding area of clay-with-flints had been eroded away or smoothed down by the processes of erosion.  I do not find this at all convincing -- I'd like to know why it is considered that bioturbation rather than cryoturbation was responsible for the "churning up" of the deposit.  Evidence please?

I am also intrigued by the thought that a mound of clay-rich material should have been deposited over a solution hollow.  Over solution hollows you normally get pits or depressions, since that is where solutional processes are concentrated, and where subsidence occurs.  Instead, we have a raised feature in the landscape -- not very prominent, admittedly, but clearly prominent enough to have been given a name.........

I'm in the dark here, since I do not even know the exact location of this feature.  Can anybody enlighten me?  Did John Evans ever publish his research?  Mike and Charly, if you are out there, can you please convince me that this is not a small morainic feature and that glacial processes might not have been involved at some stage in its formation?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Hautville's Quoit

My thanks to John Oswin for sending a copy of the new report entitled "Hautville's Quoit and other archaeological investigations at Stanton Drew, 2012."  It's published by Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society in collaboration with Bath & North East Somerset Council.  65 pp, many illustrations, available as a PDF.

The site of the stone is approx NE of the stone circles at Stanton Drew, on the other side of the River Chew.  It's on the side of the B3130 road.  There may have been another stone in Stukely's day, but that is lost without trace.  The full size of the stone is unknown, but one observer has recorded it as being 2.1 m long, 2 m wide and 1.6 m deep.  It's essentially a large boulder lying in the ground, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence that it was ever a STANDING stone.

The bedrock here is Triassic mudstone, but Hautville's Quoit is made of a pale brown to grey sandstone, with distinguishable quartz grains and what appears to be a silica cement.  There are also numerous small bivalve shells in the rock -- not yet identified.  The surface is heavily pitted, as seen on the photos above.  the jury is still out on whether these are natural or man-made.

The authors (John Richards, John Oswin and Vince Simmonds with a contribution by Lynn Amadio) seem to accept that the stone is an erratic in the sense that it is not local, and has clearly come here from somewhere else.  Some geology is under way in an attempt to find the source, but at the moment the authors incline to the view that the sarsen-rich area of Fyfield Down is the most likely candidate.

Interestingly enough, they give no consideration at all to the idea that this might be a glacial erratic, although I have to say that that looks quite likely to me, admittedly on the basis of no field evidence which I can bring to bear.  But the authors themselves draw attention to the "striations" on the surface of Hautville's Quoit and on the surface of some of the stones of the West Kennet Avenue:

I know nothing about these, and hesitate to suggest that they might be glacial in origin -- but I'll be grateful for any other observations that others (who know the area and its stones) might have..........

 Hautville's Quoit as revealed in a 1969 excavation.  Here it looks even more like a glacial erratic and less like a standing stone......

One other thing which is quite intriguing about the Stanton Drew area is the occurrence of an elongated mound in the field called Big Ground, near the recumbent stone.  It has not been investigated properly -- but again the question arises -- man-made or natural?

There is clearly still a lot to be discovered at Stanton Drew......

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Swarbrick's Gazetteer of Standing Stones

 A review from Rob Ixer in Current Archaeology, Dec 2012:

A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Standing Stones in Great Britain.
Olaf Swarbrick BAR British Series 558
2012,  Paperback, 101pp, £25.00

In September 1996 Olaf Swarbrick, a very well-respected, large-animal vet, determined to visit and record all the British, (mainly single) standing stones between the Scilly Isles and Unst in the  Shetlands (but not the Channel Isles).

So between 1997 and 2009 he visited 1068 sites (sometimes more than once) measured and recorded just over 1500 stones; this Gazetteer is the result of those monumental observations.

The data are enormous and these days could only be collected by an amateur with access to vast amounts of time, much money and singular, single mindedness. Few grant-gifting bodies would give serious thought to, and none would commit the funding for, a decade long, multi-distance, basic, data-gathering project with no immediate ‘added value’ and… what career archaeologist would dream of initiating such a scheme. Yet, most of this short volume will stand tall alongside many a professional monograph; its data becoming increasingly important as a snap shot/professional photograph of a quite rapidly deteriorating source.

The core of the book is the 28 page gazetteer listing the standing stones by country and then by county; these lists are supplemented by three maps showing all the stone locations and by 26 pages of sketches (10) and photographs (57). In addition three appendices list unvisited but extant stones, (“my hill walking days are over”),  lost/destroyed stones and stones who status is unknown (many lost in forestry plantations or peat bogs). A final list comprises other unlisted stone many of which are “small” and mostly “uninteresting” but include six sarsens erected in 2000 by Swarbrick in his garden-all are given the same attention. He measured/recorded their grid reference, shape and above ground dimensions, altitude, orientation and attitude, lithology (as well as he could), the degree of dressing and all unusual features– especially weathering characteristics and anthropogenic carvings/wear. These data are then given simple statistical analysis.

He highlights ‘enigmatic’ classes of standing stones, those made of white quartz (many are Welsh) and those with significant ‘grooves’ or ‘perforating holes.  These classes may indeed be problematical but a serious geological re-examination is needed to determine what is natural and what is man-made before any speculation on their meaning and importance can be secured.

Naturally he brushes past the ever topical question, who or what moved the stones ‘human agency or glacial action’ but is too canny to become entangled in individual examples. Instead, he describes the standing stones in terms of their altitude and spatial distribution- there are about fifteen times the number of standing stones above 300metres in England and Wales (in a total of 56 sites) than in Scotland (in a total of 5 sites) and there are no stones along the northwest coast of Scotland but plenty in the parallel lying Outer Isles. 

But in the best Rough Guide tradition there are personal lists, including the top fifteen standing stones “chosen for their intrinsic beauty” including one at Garth Farm erected in 1999AD and the top seven tallest stones, The Rudstone Monument is the tallest at 8.2m.

Essentially he worked in isolation relying on his common sense, personal contacts and on secondary sources rather than going to the primary literature (although there may not be much of that) and although all his data are explained and discussed in the first 37 pages of text leading to his first order (but proper) conclusions, there is little broad archaeological analysis. Surely this must be done by others, starting perhaps with those three beguiling distribution maps.

Mr Swarbrick died during the production of this book having completed the text but before he could carefully or fully edit it and so the references are very poorly presented, there are factual errors/typos (often between the photographs and text), some text is repeated, a little is inelegant or slightly intemperate, but this only allows his voice to come over urgently, sounding clearly, beyond the data, warning that this important class of monument  is being neglected both  intellectually and physically with the stones being eroded by weather, indifference and even official neglect. 

Most men can only hope for a single headstone as a memorial but Olaf Swarbrick through this, most important volume, has 1502 for his remembrance, although probably, and to use his nomenclature, he would have chosen to rest next to “Wimblestone, 24 Somerset, ST434585”.

Old pics of Stonehenge at Wilts Heritage Museum....

Thanks to Tony for flagging this up.  In case anybody is interested. One day it would be nice to look through that lot, to see what other interesting portrayals of Stonehenge there might be, noticed or unnoticed.....

Wednesday 14th November 2012

LUNCHTIME TALK: The Museum's Art Collection

An illustrated talk by Bill Perry. The Museum holds an extensive art collection, but little can be displayed.
Come along and find out about some of the 8,000 plus prints and paintings in our collection. All the works are of Wiltshire places and scenes dating from the 17th century, many of which no longer exist.
This lecture, by the former Chairman of the Society, will discuss and illustrate as many of the important and interesting pictures in the collection as there is time for.
The Museum's art collection deserves to be better known. There are many delights which the lecturer would like to share with those able to attend this lecture.
About lunchtime talks:
Lunchtime talks start at 1.10pm and last approx. 45 minutes.
Bring your lunch - we will provide tea/coffee.
Our Lecture Hall is accessible via a lift if required, has a hearing loop and air conditioning.
to find out more.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co Clare

I found this photo in my collection the other day -- Poulnabrone, on the Burren in western Ireland.  It's probably as much photographed as Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire.  It's a very splendid structure -- probably originally buried beneath a mound of limestone blocks.  Soil is in rather short supply in this area......

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Saunton and Croyde

I have written before about the "giant erratics" on the coasts of SW England, and I was reminded of the importance of this evidence when I came across this map made by Prof Nick Stephens many years ago.  It show nine erratics scattered along this coast near Croyde, together with four exposures of till -- clear evidence of glaciation.  The biggest erratic is a 48-tonne monster about which I have written before.

We are not sure how many erratics there may be on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall -- at least 15 are recorded in the literature, and because some of them are sealed beneath periglacial and other deposits dating (we suppose) from the Devensian cold stage, we can be sure that there are many more waiting to be discovered as the soft sediments on the coast are eroded back by wave action at times of high tides and storm waves.

As I have indicated before, I am not terribly bothered whether these boulders were carried by icebergs or sea ice, or by a glacier moving onshore from the Bristol Channel.  Because there is till in a few locations on these coasts, my preference is for direct glacial action.  But I also think that there must have been substantial isostatic depression in this region during the Anglian Glaciation -- and that means a lot of ice over the counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset -- and maybe Wiltshire too.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

And now for something completely different...

A word of explanation as to why I have had my eye off the ball at intervals over the past month.  Been busy.  As light relief from all this serious scientific stuff, I have been working on another little book -- a man has to earn an honest living, after all........

Further info here:

and if you are interested in putting the frighteners on somebody loved or unloved, you can even get a copy or two via my website, using Paypal....

Christmas presents, perhaps, for MPP, GW, TD and other splendid fellows?

By the way, shadowy figures have been observed up on the mountains at intervals over recent months, sometimes seen in the pouring rain and swirling mist, and sometimes invisible.  They seem to be digging furiously -- maybe for some mysterious treasure left by the fairies?  Leave it with me -- I am on the case.