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Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Stonehenge Layer


This is an excellent photo of the top of the Stonehenge Layer and the section cut through it during the 2008 excavation by Profs Wainwright and Darvill (Photo credit:  Tim Darvill). 

For those who may not be familiar with the report on the 2008 excavations, here is a short extract.  There is no reason to think that we are looking at anything other than a highly variable deposit laid down over a long period of time -- maybe as much as 5,000 years -- and containing much evidence of human interventions.

The Antiquaries Journal, 89, 2009, pp 1–19 r The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2009
doi:10.1017⁄s000358150900002x. First published online 21 April 2009
STONEHENGE EXCAVATIONS 2008
Timothy Darvill, VPSA, and Geoffrey Wainwright, PSA


Extract:

Well, the Stonehenge Layer itself turned out to be quite a complicated set of deposits. It is a body of material that has accumulated over quite a long time. Looked at in section it is quite mixed, and we treated it, as I said, as a series of plano levels or spits that we could take apart. Work is still progressing on the analysis of that material, but patterns are already beginning
to appear.

Looking at the geochemistry, for example, there are discrete concentrations across spit
1 of pH, magnetic susceptibility, copper, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium,
all indicating various localized activities in that deposit. It implies quite small-scale and
discrete deposition of materials and events, even within the small area that we were
examining. Some of those things go right down through the Stonehenge Layer, and some
don’t. In the second spit, for example, we see that copper remains the same, while
magnetic susceptibility changes, and as we go down to the third level, again, some things
hold, some change. It thus seems that we have a whole series of overlapping and intercutting
events within the Stonehenge Layer.

We are still taking that soil apart, and there is a good deal more to do, but we have a
series of artefacts from the Stonehenge Layer – for example, a traditional late Neolithic
asymmetrical arrowhead, a flint hammer that has been used for breaking up stones, two
iron wedges, which have also been used for breaking up stones (they are quite small
wedges) and a human tooth from immediately below the turf.

So, in summary, the Stonehenge Layer is a heterogeneous deposit some 350mm thick.
It has multiple localized spreads of material, with soil stabilization and worm sorting
going on. There is a lot of mixing, and a lot of disturbance in there. There is bluestone
and sarsen in quite some quantity. The bluestone outnumbers the sarsen numerically.
Both types of stone were scattered right through the deposit, but there are several localized
concentrations of broken bluestone.

There is direct evidence of stone breaking in the Stonehenge Layer. The vast majority
of pieces constitute struck or deliberately detached flakes, rather than being simply
random bits of material. They accumulated, as far as we can tell, over a long period –
probably from prehistoric times onwards. Our provisional interpretation is that what we
are looking at is essentially stone robbing, the breaking up of the monument, over a long
period, rather than stone shaping before its construction. We will see as we go on with
further analysis of the material whether this interpretation holds up, but that seems to be
what we are seeing at the moment.

32 comments:

TonyH said...

I was dismayed to find that the 60-minute BBC4 Timewatch: Stonehenge Prog that appeared tonight (Sunday) was merely a reprise of the 2008 version, "Healing Stones" and Lourdes connections et al.I demand a refund of my hard-earned money for my BBC Licence fee.Lord Reith must (regrettably) be revolving at some rate of knots if he watched this via the ether or a spiritual equivalent of cyberspace. The Dates quoted are now known to be inaccurate, so does the Beeb believe in mischievously and knowingly misleading its viewers? I know there was a dreaded U.S. link in the film's production, but there is simply no excuse for disinformation.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Tony,

We can blame Hollywood for many things! But Stonehenge is not one of them. We can thank the archies for these screenplays! But I find truth more inspiring and beautiful. And so do you, if I was to judge from your last comment.

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

The photo in this post casts a shadow over the Layer cross-section. It hides in the dark the many little stones and pebbles mixed in the soil. So clearly shown in the light of Atkinson's photos. The glaringly white specks look whitewashed. And the nicely marked “stairway to Stonehenge heaven” on the left of the photo -- all bright and in step -- raises questions about Photoshopping!

But the chalk bedrock is most intriguing. I ask. Could such dense pits (so shallow and so bound) have once held orthostats? And if they did not, why were they dug by Stonehenge diggers?

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Tony

Perhaps you should have watched Julian Richard's - Stories from a Dark Earth (how dramatic)- Meet the ancestors revisited.

Where he spends most of the programme explaining how the 'simplistic' theories of just ten years ago have been proven to be incorrect as more accurate real scientific analysis (at last) have proven all the old history myths to be incorrect and misleading.

No doubt this kind of 'confessions of discredited archaeologist' will be included in future timewatch episodes, cleverly titled, no doubt something like: Stonehenge - between a rock and a hard place?

Nice to see the bonfire of irrelevance and myth is still burning brightly.

TonyH said...

Julian Richards was the author of several editions of "Stonehenge", the official English Heritage handbook, sold to all and sundry at the Visitor Centre.

Stan the Bandit said...

Kostas,
Re:- "The glaringly white specks look whitewashed. And the nicely marked “stairway to Stonehenge heaven” on the left of the photo -- all bright and in step -- raises questions about Photoshopping!"

If you enlarge the photo it is clear that the glaringly white specks are polythene bags and the 'stairway' consists of paper/card markers.
No need to resort to skulduggery, you have a devious mind.


chris johnson said...

On the BBC program Tony mentioned that was a brief shot of someone lugging a couple of boulders out of the pit. I wonder what these are? Erratics perhaps?

BRIAN JOHN said...

If you look on the left edge of the pit in the photo, you can see more stones. They are generally assumed to be sarsen fragments used as packing stones and as mauls or hammer stones -- but I suspect that a lot of these (they are everywhere) have not been examined or identified properly.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Bandit,

“polythene bags” or Photoshop. What is the difference? Both seek to edit a picture to give an impression.

Do you believe the shallow dense empty pits in the photo once contained orthostats? Now that's the real questionable.

If by “devious” you mean “doubting”, I plead guilty!

Kostas

TonyH said...

I now see there is indeed a later English Heritage Stonehenge Guidebook than my copy. The new one came out in October 2011, so presumably incorporates all those new notions based upon Darvill, Wainwright, and Parker Pearson's recent digs/ musings, and costs £4.99. The previous edition was 2005.

My 2005 version says:-

The bluestones are much smaller, but they were transported over a much larger distance, all the way from Wales, some 240km (150 miles) from Stonehenge. TRANSPORTING THEM MUST HAVE REQUIRED GREAT PLANNING AND CO-OPERATION.

Not sure how much Julian Richards had to do with writing the new edition - I think it might not have been his pen this time.

Stan the Bandit said...

Kostas,
"polythene bags” or Photoshop. What is the difference? Both seek to edit a picture to give an impression."

The polythene bags are for the storage of small finds and the 'ladder' of markers are for recording where such finds originated. I fail to see how the inclusion in a photograph of standard archaeological equipment can be seen as editing a picture to give an impression.

For devious or doubting substitute 'daft'.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Bandit,
“standard archaeological equipment”. I didn't know that!

'daft' is fine. But certainly not 'devious'.

Kostas

TonyH said...

Kostas

See what I mean when I keep trying to encourage you to do some general reading about archaeology! Perhaps you should join, or observe, an archaeological dig over in the States. You'd probably get a kick out of it!

Tony

Stan the Bandit's Grandson said...

Kostas,
Re:- "Do you believe the shallow dense empty pits in the photo once contained orthostats? Now that's the real questionable."

It is a little known fact that just as present day domesticated cows replaced the rather large aurochs, a similar occurrence took place with rabbits, with the ancient rabbit being the size of an adult Doberman dog. The Swiss Cheese effect that you've noticed is clearly attributable to the burrowing mega-bunnies.

GCU:Intwominds said...

The pit is like all great things a legacy of the Whore of Babylon herself.
It is a Roman pit replete with coins at the bottom- read the Antiquity article.
Myris of Alexandria (from a port with sailors).

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Tony,

Truth always finds its way to the light of day. Have no fear of that. And that is so regardless if I dig or not.

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Bandit's grandchild,

“burrowing mega-bunnies”???

And who is being Alice in this Wonderland of Stonehenge Fantasy?

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

“Roman pit replete with coins”

Another lucky strike, Myris? Like the Rhosyfelin quarry?

What Antiquity!

Kostas

TonyH said...

Kostas:

I THINK I dig what you say: but I do recommend a spell of communal digging amongst a catholic (small C) group of companions,with much merriment.**

And Myris:

Methinks these Romans didst roam too much.... and, S the B'S grandson, beware the Ides of March Hares (another mega-beast), especially at full moon...

Perhaps we are all becoming **"as Daft as Brushes", as the great, un-beknighted Ken Dodd of Knotty Ash [Google him, Kostas, Google him], says. Still, such is the way of the world.

Alex of Standria said...

Kostas,
"“burrowing mega-bunnies”???

And who is being Alice in this Wonderland of Stonehenge Fantasy?"

I was simply making it easy for you to understand that not all the holes contained stones, some may have contained wooden posts, others may have held surgical trusses for the unfortunates, or perhaps a banana, who knows?

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Alex whoever,

Holes can hold anything we wish to behold. But only truth can fit this pit.

Your last comment betrays a lack of passion for it.

Kostas

ND Wiseman said...

TonyH said …
I now see there is indeed a later English Heritage Stonehenge Guidebook than my copy. The new one came out in October 2011, so presumably incorporates all those new notions based upon Darvill, Wainwright, and Parker Pearson's recent digs/ musings, and costs £4.99. The previous edition was 2005.


Not sure how much Julian Richards had to do with writing the new edition — I think it might not have been his pen this time.
Tony —
I have the 2011 Edition of the SH Guidebook (hot off the press at the time) and it is indeed wholly revised by Julian, though Simon Banton did about 165 editorial corrections as well, mostly in terms of wording.
I have some private correspondence from both with regard to the book.
Though it is far more comprehensive and accurate than the 2005 version, even since 2011 there have been a few important tweaks — the building sequence and newly refined dating among them.
I suspect that 2014 will see yet another revision.
Best,
Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

i hope that there have been changes in the Guidebook -- mine is the 2005 version. That was full of unsupportable assumptions -- eg "there were originally at least 80 bluestones at Stonehenge...." That's a cockeyed idea that should ling since have been abandoned, for reasons constantly eluciudated in this blog! Then again: "in the past there have been suggestions that the bluestones were found lying on Salisbury Plain where they had been carried by the movement of glaciers during the Ice Age. There is little geological evidence to support this idea and it is now generally accepted that it was human rather than glacial transport that moved them." And so on....

What we need in the new Guide (if it hasn't been changed already) is a much more nuanced and open-minded expression of the various theories. Julian could well have said "there is little geological evidence to support his idea and even less evidence to support the idea of human transport...."

Do we dare to hope that the glacial transport theory will get some decent space devoted to it in the new Exhibition Centre as well? I'm available to give my advice, in exchange for a very modest fee...... and I think I know more about glaciers than some others who have pontificated on the subject.

TonyH said...

Brian

As I've said to you separately from this Blog, Julian Richards' "Archaemedia" Blog tells us that there is to be yet another Guide appearing, with his input, late 2013, to coincide with the opening of Airman's Corner Site.

As I mentioned to you by email also, the English Heritage info on the Stonehenge Handbook can be readily found via Google, and we are all able to order the current edition for £4.99. Presumably quite a few of us saw JR's latest programme in his new Series "The Dark Earth" on BBC4 Wednesday, which had Neolithic digs at Cranborne Chase & Orkney & must be downloadable. JR even went to "our" Durham Uni Science Site, Brian, in search of scientific answers. The snail man Mike Lewis also features in Dorset.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, there seems to be a more nuanced phraseology these days -- which is great. On the EH web site see here:
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/history-and-research/history/2-the-stone-settings/

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, it's interesting to see from Julian's site that he is also helping with the interpretive material for the new Visitor Centre -- presumably the new edition of the Guide will be tied in closely to that. I hope they can forget about this periglacial stripes nonsense, and concentrate on some proper geomorphology, glaciology and geology......

TonyH said...

In the interests of all faithful Seekers After Truth (either side of the Atlantic), here is J. Richards' website address, which also tells how to Twitter him:-

http://julianrichards.net/about.asp

TonyH said...

Thankfully, as Brian says above at 9 May 2013 14.10, English Heritage is using a much more nuanced phraseology now. Not only does it refer to the glacial theory of how the bluestones may have pitched up a lot closer to Stonehenge's site than Atkinson's "Multiple Beefy Tarzans" version of 'events' would have us hypnotically believe, but E.H. even gives Brian's "Bluestone Enigma" book full bibliographical details. Whatever next?! Perhaps we may thank David Field for this. I understand he has recently retired from E.H.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Brian should pitch his ideas to EH's Dr Alex Bayliss. From what she was saying in Julian's last episode 'from the dark earth'. She is totally insane and deluded and would therefore probably endorse such 'madcap' ideas?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Am I not dealing with enough insane and deluded people as it is? I am reluctant to expose myself to even more stress....... there was of course an ancient saying that "Stonehenge sends all men mad." Having said that, maybe women are immune from its unhinging (unhenging?) effects?

Bob the Builder said...

I'm not mad, I'm taking the tablets.
They've cured me nahowooooooo !!

Vernon said...

This is cool!