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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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Another bluestone myth

The photo above shows an elongated "pillar" of spotted dolerite lying beneath a rock face at Carn Meini in eastern Preseli -- within the area deemed to be "the bluestone quarry" by Profs Darvill and Wainwright.  For many years this has been referred to by Stonehenge enthusiasts as "the one that got away'' or as a pillar stone quarried and then for some reason left behind.

There is quite a powerful myth -- going all the way back to HH Thomas and Richard Atkinson -- that the bluestones were quarried from here because of their unique spotted character (those large white specks) and because pillars or columns were easy to obtain since that is the way that the rock splits naturally from the rock face.  So the builders of Stonehenge were targetting a rock type here in West Wales which provided them with orthostats or pillars suitable for incorporation into a monument in which pillars were not just desirable but necessary.  Such is the myth.  But how reliable is it?

Here are some plans of the Stonehenge arrangements:

Click to enlarge and to examine them in detail.  Sorry that on each one the axis is aligned differently -- there is another ancient tradition of ignoring compass north on Stonehenge diagrams........

Now, lets forget about how many bluestones there might have been at some stage in the past, and concentrate on what we know for sure.  There are 43 bluestones known in the stone settings. As we can see, some are standing, and some are fallen.  Some are dolerite, some are spotted dolerite, and some are rhyolites and other rock types.

Here is my list of rock types, stone numbers, and identified fragments from the debitage, culled from the literature:

1.  Unspotted dolerite ---- monoliths  45 and 62.  Carn Ddafad-las?

2,  Spotted dolerite -- densely spotted.  Monolith 42  -- Carnbreseb? 43?

3.  Boles Barrow dolerite -- spotted?  But similar to stones 44 and 45? From Carnmeini / Carngyfrwy area?

4.  Rhyolite  -- stones 38, 40, ignimbrite character.  Ash-flow tuffs (dacitic). Not Carnalw ? May be from different sources?

5.  Rhyolite --  stones 46 and 48, rhyolitic ash-flow tuffs.  Carnalw area?  Same source?

6.  Rhyolite fragment from a different source from the above types

7.  Laminated calcareous ash -- stumps 40c, 33f,  41d

8.  Altered volcanic ash -- stump 32c, 33e?

9.  Rhyolite -- another type -- stump 32e.  Related to Pont Saeson samples?

10.  Micaceous sandstone -- stumps 42c, 40g (Palaeozoic -- South Wales origin?)

11.  Rhyolite -- lava -- stone 46

12.  Rhyolite -- flinty blue -- different lava?  stone 48

13.  Spotted dolerite with whitish spots --stones 33, 65, 68, stump 70a?, stump 71?, 72

14.  Spotted dolerite with few spots -- stone 31, 66?

15.  Spotted dolerite with pinkish spots -- stones 150, 32, 34, 35A, 35B (one stone), 39 (?), 47, 49, 64, 67, 69, 70

16. Spotted dolerite -- moderate spots -- stone 37, 61, 61a?

17.  Unspotted dolerite -- stone 44 -- different from stones 45 and 62

18.  Very fine-grained unspotted dolerite -- stone 62

19.  Silurian sandstone -- Cursus -- fragments

20.  Devonian sandstone -- Altar Stone -- Devonian Senni Beds -- Carmarthenshire or Powys

21.  Sarsen sandstones -- various types -- packing stones and mauls

22.  Jurassic oolitic ragstone -- Chilmark?

23.  Jurassic glauconitic sandstone -- Upper Greensand?

24.  Gritstone unspecified fragments (Maskelyne, Judd)

25.  Quartzite unspecified fragments (Maskelyne, Judd)

26.  Greywacke unspecified fragments (Maskelyne, Judd)

27.  Granidiorite -- Amesbury long barrow 39

28.  Quartz diorite -- ditto

29.  Hornblende diorite -- ditto

30  Flinty rhyolite -- fragments from Pont Saeson

31.  Rhyolite fragments -- with titanite-albite intergrowths (source unknown)

When we look at the STANDING bluestones, we see that there are 10 of them -- numbers 46, 47, 49, 31, 61, 33, 34, 37, 72 and 37.  It is a moot point whether some of these deemed to be "standing" are complete and as they were, or whether they are broken or otherwise modified.

In the bluestone circle, only six stones are still standing straight.  Another 13 are leaning or have fallen.  Another ten have been found as stumps during excavations.  That makes a grand total of 29 bluestones in the bluestone circle.

In the bluestone horseshoe, six stones are standing, five are fallen, and there are two known stumps below ground level.  That makes 13 stones in total.

Let's now look at stone SHAPES.  Some of the stones are classic elongated pillars standing up to 2m above the ground surface:  stones 150, 61, 62, 63, 69 and 70 are the most impressive.  But then we have another distinct group of stones which are best referred to as slabs -- for example, stones 46,47, 31 and 37.  Rodney Castleden refers to some of these as tapering triangles, and suggests that they are the "female stones" which were originally placed in an alternating setting with the "male stones" which were tall and erect.  Not many other Stonehenge authors agree with that interpretation, and we may put it down to wishful thinking.......

Then we have all the other bluestones -- the fallen nondescript lumps of non-sarsen stones scattered all over the place, as we can see on the diagrams above, and the stumps about which we know very little indeed.  Some of the stumps might have been elongated pillars originally -- we just don't know.

So there are ONLY five or six elongated bluestone pillars at Stonehenge -- on that basis it is strange indeed that the "bluestone pillar" myth ever was developed.  There is hardly any sound evidence to suggest that elongated bluestone pillars were preferred and even targetted as desirable stones to collect and transport over great distances.

I rest my case, and restate my belief that the bluestones at Stonehenge (maybe just 43 of them, and maybe more to start with) were a mottley collection of stones of all shapes and sizes that just happened to be there.  The longest and slimmest ones were used to most spectacular effect, and some of them were even shaped carefully as lintels or as "tongue and groove" neighbours, but the rest were just used here, there and everywhere, because they were the only stones the builders had to work with.

Note: I think I have got my numbers right in the text above -- however, I will be grateful for any corrections from those who know the monument better than I do.


Anonymous said...

"So there are ONLY five or six elongated bluestone pillars at Stonehenge -- on that basis it is strange indeed that the "bluestone pillar" myth ever was developed."

Using the same cunning detective logic I guess you also assume that the broken Obelisk at Aswan was never intended for displaying either, as no other ones of that size and weight were ever erected.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- I know nothing about Aswan. I am talking about Stonehenge. By your cunning logic, are you assuming that every stump must originally have been a tall pillar, and that all of the other assorted stones started out as pillars as well?

Anonymous said...

same myth as the Monster stone on fyfield down that was supposed to have been destined for Avebury but never made it.
Complete speculation,

BRIAN JOHN said...

You get the same sort of thinking with the Altar Stone, which was supposed to have come from the shore of Milford haven near Cosheston. For many years the thinking was that a Preseli bluestone had been lost in transit within Milford Haven -- which meant that they picked up another stone locally to replace it. Even more bizarrely, people then started looking on the bed of Milford Haven for the "missing bluestone" -- and there were various occasions on which divers claimed to have found it.......People really are capable of extraordinary mental gymnastics when mythology gets the better of them.

Myris of Alexandria. said...

Then there was all that rubbish about orthostats washed up on Steepholme.
Once in the literature they remain rock steady despite being total bilge.

BRIAN JOHN said...

This is a new one on me, Myris. Is it a myth about a myth? I have never seen any mention in the literature of orthostats on Steepholm. What I do recall is a mention somewhere of glacial erratics on Steepholm -- that's a rather different matter.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

Same story the glacial erratics were supposed to be from an orthostat that had fallen overboard. The usual old story. Sadly Dr Wainwright said it was a preselite, he may not have seen it.
There is a letter from Dr Ixer about this stupidity disproving this bit of press puff. An old story and discussed in the abstract "Waiting by the river".
There is an interesting side story about what it was really all about.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tell us more, Myris! I am sure that your Gods (whoever and wherever they may be) know everything, and would be happy to share it with friends on a confidential basis.......

Tony Johnson said...

Hi John,

Please acknowledge the top two images, I spent three weeks working on the laser data to create the image of stones!

Anthony Johnson

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Anthony -- very happy to acknowledge that those pics are yours. And very useful they are too -- for all who seek to understand Stonehenge. Can I ask you whether you have undertaken any more detailed analyses of stone shapes? I tried to enlarge up the images from your book, but definition wasn't good enough. One attempt to portray the shapes was done by Rodney Castleden -- I'll post his image for comparative purposes.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


Such flight of fantasy argued for real happens when people become detached from physical nature. When they cannot feel the experiences of other peoples real physical existence.

Would prehistoric people struggling for survival have the desire and capabilities to build Stonehenge and Gobekli Tepe? Can there be other more sensible explanations for these? I argue there are. Stay tuned …


chris johnson said...

Struggle for survival? Britain in the neolithic was richly endowed with game, salmon rivers, and fertile soils. Perhaps this is why people had time to sculpture the landscape, study the stars, and build objects of wonder.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


You must have been there! And from your comment, you still are!


Stan the Bandit said...

The person who gave Kostas a computer should be severely punished.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Stan the Chris,

I provide my own! As I also do all my own thinking! Never need voices from the past or archeologists to tell me what is real and what is fantasy. Just sensible objective reason applied to all the facts on the ground.

Happy Easter!!!


TonyHinchliffe said...


"You must remember this
A myth is still a myth
A lie is still a lie
The world will still remember bluffers
As time goes by....."

Humphrey [NOT Humph, R.I.P.]