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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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Mesolithic settlement at Stonehenge

Haven't seen that TV programme yet, but this is a report reproduced on Stonehenge News about the thesis that the area has been continuously settled since the Mesolithic.  How "special" this is cannot be ascertained -- since an area like Stonehenge is of course intensively investigated.  So sampling bias comes into play.  However, judgment must be reserved until we have watched the programme.....


Stonehenge occupied 5,000 years earlier than previously thought

by stonehengenews

Stonehenge may have been occupied five thousand years earlier than previously thought, archaeologists claim.

Excavation of a site just a mile from the stone structure provided what researchers claim is the first firm evidence of continuous occupation from as early as 7,500BC.

Earlier evidence had suggested that humans were present at the site, known as Vespasian's Camp, around 7,500BC but there were no signs anyone had lived there until as late as 2,500BC.

By carbon-dating materials found at the site, the archaeologists identified a semi-permanent settlement which was occupied from 7,500 to 4,700BC, with evidence that people were present during every millennium in between.

The people occupying the site would likely have been responsible for erecting the first monument at Stonehenge, the Mesolithic posts, between the 9th and 7th millennia BC.

Instead of being seen as a site which was abandoned by Mesolithic humans and occupied by Neolithic men thousands of years later, Stonehenge should be recognised as a place where one culture merged with the other, researchers said.

Dr David Jacques of the Open University, who led the study, said he identified the settlement after deciding to search for evidence around a spring on the site, which he reasoned could have attracted animals.

"My thinking was where you find wild animals, you tend to find people," he said. "What we found was the nearest secure watering hole for animals and people, a type of all year round fresh water source. It’s the nearest one to this place [Stonehenge]. I think it’s pivotal.”

Dr Josh Pollard of the Stonehenge Riverside Project added: “The team have found the community who put the first monument up at Stonehenge.

“The significance of David’s work lies in finding substantial evidence of Mesolithic settlement in the Stonehenge landscape [which was] previously largely lacking, apart from the enigmatic posts, and being able to demonstrate that there were repeated visits to this area from the 9th to the 5th millennia BC."

Source: Nick Collins, Science Correspondent -

The findings will be broadcast in an episode of The Flying Archaeologist on BBC One on Friday evening.


chris johnson said...

Dennis Price has been covering this story for several years on "The Eternal Idol" - the Lost City of Apollo.

It is remarkable how rich the site is becoming as the digging continues. Auroch bones are found and perhaps we will have new theories about the transportation of stones.

Anonymous said...

7500BC people are in Stonehenge area, what a revelation.

Especially, when you consider that the post holes in the Stonehenge car park are dated 8500BC to 7500BC, who the hell do they think put them up? This 'revelation' has been known for the last 50 years but ignored, but yet it is now 'news'.

This 'rubblish' should not be a surprise to any intelligent observer particularly when when you see that piece of 'high tech' equipment being dragged across the field on a back of a car/buggy, a real 'Heath Robinson' device. about as high tech as leaches.

This programme summed up the woeful state of archaeology today.

Helen said...

It's on BBC iPlayer here:
The piece on Vespasian's Camp starts around 8 minutes from the end.

This article in 'Current Archaeology'is a little more in-depth with some tantalising ideas hinted at: seasonal lakes? Tools made from mudslate from North Wales which "could have been fashioned from glacial erratic, though we are not aware of any such slate erratics in the vicinity"?

GCU.intwominds said...

Mr Johnson
What crime did the stones committed that they should suffer the punishment of transportation.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

How does this square off with the meager population size of a couple of thousands for the entire Mesolithic UK, according to a University of Manchester study?

Here is an interesting challenge: Can anyone think how otherwise animal bones could have accumulated at a water hole, along with flint tools and charcoal?

Robert, are you there? Tell them where the Avon River banks were 7,500 years ago!


TonyH said...

Quite a fascinating, enthusiastic programme, and full of encouragement to get outdoors and get involved to the general enthusiastic viewer. Seems to have been largely involved English Heritage and/or its fieldworkers, e.g. Dave Field and Jim Leary. ConcentrateD on the role of the Hampshire/ Stonehenge area River Avon (as distinct from the Bristol area). Brian may suffer apoplexy when he hears how important SPRINGS may have been to the prehistoric psyche, but thankfully no sign of the dreaded Darvill although I thought I heard his elusive echo (remember that dreadful butterfly song from the Sixties?) when we watched the spring a - bubbling below the Pewsey Downs and Knap Hill causewayed camp. I could tell that a BOOK was already formulating in the mind of the recently-retired Dave Field as he spoke beside the Avon's mouth at Hengistbury Head. Most of us already know about the Open University's discoveries at Amesbury, but their leader, Mr Jacques, showed those of us who enjoy it, all the enthusiasm and team spirit that taking part in momentous findings such as his team made deservedly experience.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- re the auroch bones. I don't really think that this is going to lead us to any conclusions re domestication and haulage of bluestones. There are mammoth bones in association with Palaeolithic human remains -- not sure that we want to embark upon a theory that mammoth teams hauled the bluestones. (Mind you, I have seen that suggested in the past, in certain quarters...)

geocur said...

“How does this square off with the meager population size of a couple of thousands for the entire Mesolithic UK, according to a University of Manchester study? “
The question , in relation to the Manchester article puts the cart before the horse , as the population numbers of each species in the Manchester article were derived from the archaeological record , any new info e.g. the Blick Mead discoveries would impact on their figure .
But surely anyone interested in the difficult problem of the Mesolithic population of Britain would consult experts in archaeogenetics and archaeology e.g. texts such as “Population and landscape in Mesolithic Lowland Britain “ which contained a paper by Roger Jacobi not a four page article by two biology students . As has been mentioned here previously the Manchester figure ,for what it is worth , is at the lower extreme and most commentators have much higher estimates closer to 20,000 in some cases .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

I appreciate “the difficult problem of the Mesolithic population of Britain”.

What really troubles me, however, is why this question (population size) is rarely considered by archeologists. As also not considered are the geographical conditions of the land at the time. Which would make some of the 'human agency' tasks improbable. A point Brian has often argued in the past.

Crag Rhosyfelin, for example, lies somewhere in the middle of the draining egress of what appears to be a glacial lake basin – according to a recent map posted by Brian. As such, it would be one of the last places to be drained. It is very plausible this Crag could have been engulfed in water 3000BC. Yet no one ever considers that possibility. Nor is there any interest by archeologists to research that. With evidence that I think can be collected from the Crag's top and crevices and RC-dated. If fresh water shells can be found buried in some barrows, perhaps these could also be found at the Crag. But from what has already been reported in this blog about MPP's directives to his excavators, only what supports his 'human agency' narrative are they to look for.

The same can also be said of the spring/lake at Vespasian's Camp. Could this site have been inundated 7500BC? Robert believes it was. And so do I. Could the 'archeological finds' at such place be actually 'meltwater deposits' of debris from elsewhere? The 'slate microlith' found there possibly coming from Wales may be such deposit. Why should we only infer from this slate the 'movement of people' and not the 'movement of water'?


BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- you say: "It is very plausible this Crag could have been engulfed in water 3000BC." It is not at all plausible. Please stop this ridiculous habit of conjuring theories out of mid air and hoping that some evidence might come along to support them. That is not how science works. It may be how pseudo-science works, and we are all getting rather fed up by too much of it coming from your direction.

Robert John Langdon said...


Thank your continued support.

Alas, I do not believe that Vespasian's Camp was covered in water in 7500BCE. In fact it was an island and hence the large unnecessary size of the camp, than if it was developed from a dry land spot. I offered the 'Eternal idol' assistance in their 'enquiry' on why the spot was chosen when Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were so close, by supplying them with a detailed map of the area in the Mesolithic/Neolithic period.

This map clearly shows it was just on a simple trading route between Avebury and Old Sarum rather anything 'ritual' or 'ceremonial' as suggested - sadly anything remotely sensible is not welcome and they promptly removed the comment. Here is a copy on a page on my blog site:

Clearly, even the weird and wacky have censorship issues.


geocur said...

“What really troubles me, however, is why this question (population size) is rarely considered by archeologists. As also not considered are the geographical conditions of the land at the time. “
Paraphrasing .
Ignorance of the literature excuses no one .

Constantinos Ragazas said...


I am making a plausible hypothesis (Rhosyfelin was engulfed)and suggest how it can be 'falsified' (looking for fresh water shells or other specimens and RC-dating these).

Isn't that the essence of science? Your knee-jerk rejection betrays a bias and a sensitivity!

Has MPP released any of the RC-dates he collected from Rhosyfelin?


Constantinos Ragazas said...


Vespasian's Island is good enough for me. But, I reason, if the Mesolithic waterline reached the shores of Stonehenge (as you claim) why wont it inundate everything below? I am not familiar with the lay of the land where Vespasian's Camp is situated and so I will not persist on this 'wild speculation'.

Just a note to clarify my intellectual attitude. I do not support individuals! Just their ideas. And only if some of these make sense to me. Always reserving the right to change my mind if new facts and arguments persuade sensible reason. Your idea of vast collection of water flooding the land following the great glacier meltdown makes sense. But much else you claim doesn't!


Constantinos Ragazas said...

“Ignorance of the literature excuses no one” is close to “ignorance of the law excuses no one”. But if the law is written by autocrats, try convincing a freedom fighter of that!

Has anyone in this blog (besides me and occasionally Brian) ever raised “the difficult problem of the Mesolithic population of Britain” ?


geocur said...

"Has anyone in this blog (besides me and occasionally Brian) ever raised “the difficult problem of the Mesolithic population of Britain” ?"

I am unaware of you or anyone else here , pointing out that calculating the regional Mesolithic population of Britain and the country as a whole, has obvious difficulties .
I am aware that you only ever refer to a four page article by two biology students related to mammalian numbers whilst ignoring the bulk of the academic papers on the subject .You seem unaware that the figure you quote is based on archaeology and nothing else ,and to suggest that it "doesn't square " with archaeological finds is putting the cart before the horse , illogical and dare I say not very "sensible "
Whilst interesting in itself it has little bearing on the more important Neolithic and Early Bronze Age populations who were responsible for building Stonehenge . If you are really interested in that population it's not difficult to find a reasonable bibliography .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with Geo -- I am not aware that there is a "problem" with knowing how many people there were in Britain during the Mesolithic. In any case, that has no bearing on Stonehenge.

TonyH said...

Not sure whether those here conducting the recent debate on the Mesolithic people who utilised the natural resources of the country surrounding the future site of Stonehenge are allowing enough attention to the importance of any FOLK MEMORY existing in the Early Neolithic populations, and those after them, when it came to choosing the Stonehenge hillside (or, at least, this broad area of land) as a Central Place for creating what they created, in a step - by - step process, over the next lengthy period of time.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

The “problem” is not 'knowing how many people there were in Britain during the Mesolithic'. Although clearly that is a problem. Rather, in my humble opinion, the problem is whether the population was large enough and organized enough and affluent enough and skilled enough and believing enough to have built all these many thousands of prehistoric monuments.

Has anyone ever calculated the combined man-hours needed to have constructed all these? And, whether the weather and living conditions and expected lifetime and available time in the day and year to pursue non-practical constructions, could have made such tasks even possible?

Not worth considering? I beg to differ!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- working out the size of ancient populations involves a good deal of speculation. One can pick up clues, but back further than the Neolithic it's difficult because we are talking of a world in which hunting and gathering were prevalent, and where agriculture and domestication were patchy at best. And there are not "Many thousands of prehistoric monuments" dating back to the Mesolithic. You are getting mixed up with the Neolithic.

TonyH said...

Which of "all these many thousands of prehistoric monuments", Kostas, were built in the Mesolithic, and where are they?

TonyH said...

Brian, you seem to have beaten me to a reply to Kostas by a matter of seconds!

Constantinos Ragazas said...


“thousands of prehistoric monuments”.

My choice of words is intentional, as (almost) always! A serious study, as I propose, that includes the Neolithic would satisfy me.

Know of any, Geo? Does MPP ever raise this issue?


TonyH said...

Cue for Scottish Neil Oliver to veer into shot, walking backwards (as usual), long Mesolithic - style hair obscuring his sight lines, his eyebrows quivering as he points us nervously towards the weird liminal land between the Neolithic and its predecessor, the Mesolithic (departs left, closely followed by bear).........

GCU:Intwominds said...

Oh no not the SCOTTISH play. ((I know it is not the Scottish play, although as about one third may be missing (it is a very short play for Shakespeare)there might be scenes with lots of bear-baiting))
Not even Sheakespeare could give stage directions to that kelpie.

I think a bare and ripped? Mr Oliver being ripped up by a bear would be more bearable(sic) than to hear him on the Neolithic.

Of course imagine him with and Esturine accent 'triffick Neoli'fic
Back to Stonehenge stones. I have the bluestones from the D and W excavation for a second look.
Sorry Brian but there really are not lots of different lithologies or at least I fail to see them.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not at all surprising that there should be a limited number of lithologies in the debitage from the D+W dig. Theirs was a limited dig -- one cannot conclude that the area dug by them was 100% representative of the character of the debitage across the whole site. I still reckon we have around 30 different lithologies in the Stonehenge area -- including those 4 or 5 unknown rhyolite sources which you referred to in the most recent paper.

TonyH said...

"Once upon a time the site of 'Bluestonehenge' [my inverted commas - no bluestones have yet been demonstrated to have been placed in the holes or any pieces found in the dig] was a settlement, but this was long before the people of the Neolithic came here. Jim and Bob found a dense spread of flints. These were all mixed together in a single layer but they include microlithic flint blades from the Late Mesolithic and larger blades from the Early Mesolithic, the periods before the Neolithic. Thousands of years before Stonehenge, this riverside spot was a camp-site for hunter-gatherers living off the resources of the river and its margins"
Parker Pearson, Stonehenge, 2012, p 230.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare, the Thames Estuary, The Scottish Play, Olivier, Oliver, The Globe Theatre, All The World's A Stage: discuss.

TonyH said...

This Series has just started on BBC4 nationally, Episode 1 was the above, earlier this week.