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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Rhosyfelin rhyolite tools and fragments as trading items?

Blue rhyolite exposure on the crag at Rhosyfelin (courtesy: Chris Johnson)

After MPP's lecture the other evening, and the man himself had gone off to take a shower, a number of us had an interesting discussion on the possibility that the quarrymen at Rhosyfelin (let's assume for a moment that they were quarrymen, rather than hunters using a traditional camp site) were not interested in orthostats or standing stones at all, but were simply using the site to obtain shards or cutting implements with very sharp edges and with a rather attractive colour?  A number of us were quite taken with this idea, and with the idea that travelling traders might well have been popular on Salisbury Plain if they turned up with bags full of such items. 

"Flint tools are so boring, darling!  Fred gave me one of those GORGEOUS blue cutters from Wales for my birthday, and when I skinned that ox at our last barbecue it worked a treat.........  But then it got blunt and I had to throw it away.  But he's promised to get me another one next time Dafydd Rhosyfelin comes round this way."

Too radical?  Too crazy?  A reminder of this from one of my earlier posts.  Mike Pitts says:  "It is notable that all the samples matched in this study to Craig Rhos-y-felin come from debitage and not from megaliths (although Ixer and Bevins (201111a and b) have suggested that buried megalith SH32e may also come from Craig Rhos-y-felin). One of the distinctive features of the rhyolitic rocks is that they are flinty – they have a good conchoidal fracture. That makes them relatively easy to break up, if they are standing as monoliths at Stonehenge. But it also makes them suitable for making portable artefacts. There are flaked bluestone ‘tools’ from Stonehenge (including some from the stone floor). Which of these are made from debris created when stones were dressed on site? Which are made from broken up megaliths? And which were made in Wales and brought to Stonehenge by people visiting, perhaps on a pilgrimage of some kind? Clearly the distinction has important implications for how we understand Stonehenge." As I suggested earlier, another question is this:  "Which were made either in Wales or at Stonehenge from smaller stones that were deemed to be too small for use as standing stones?"

If we can just get rid of this obsession with orthostats and magaliths, we might get some serious progress in this debate, and find some common ground.......


TonyH said...

A slightly off-the-immediate observation, Brian, but, as you know, I recently visited Pentre Ifan dolmen, and noticed that at least one of the stones forming a part of the monument, beyond the supporting stones for the capstone but fairly close, had a bluish coloratioN. Are you able to say what its geological classification is? And, of course, Pentre Ifan is within a mile or so of Rhosyfelin.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think I'm right in saying that Pentre Ifan is made from a volcanic ash that outcrops widely in the area. There are huge slabs of it in the local hedgerows and along the path from the car park. The assumption has always been that it was made from big slabs picked up in the immediate vicinity -- and many have argued that that is why it is where it is. The bluish tinge to the rock? Probably less marked at Pentre Ifan than in many other places. There are bluish glassy rhyolites in many different locations in Pembs -- and it's been a favourite building stone, although difficult to shape because it is very flinty and behaves erratically when you try to make a stone into a tidy rectangular block. I know -- I have tried!

chris johnson said...

Some trading was presumably happening with the Preselite Axes.

Did I hear right that flint tools are found at Rhosyfelin? As far as I know flint does not occur naturally for a long distance - perhaps even Wiltshire.

The aspiring middle-class neolithic housewife in the Nevern valley would surely have aspired to own a nice piece of wiltshire flint. I can just imagine the Nevern WI in 3000 BC sending some menfolk off to get some decent stone for the kitchen.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, why not? If this was a long-continued and oft-used camping site, with a succession of hearths from Mesolithic (developments awaited) to Iron Age, and maybe even later, we should expect a variety of tools and maybe pottery fragments to be found in association. Traded items coming in and going out. All bolstered, probably, with a series of C14 dates. No problem with any of that.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


Trading and tool use does not explain the rhyolite debitage at Stonehenge. Since such commercial diffusion of stone tools/fragments from Rhosyfelin would follow the population spread and would not be concentrated in the debitage.

Further, from what Myris reports on the size of these foliated rhyolite fragments, they are at most less than an inch big. Not big enough even for tooth picks!