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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

MPP's Remarkable Conjunction


 LIDAR image of the Stonehenge area (Field and Pearson)

Mike Parker Pearson is still going on about his "periglacial fissures" at Stonehenge and about the "remarkable conjunction" of those he chooses to select and the alignment of the midwinter solstice sunset and the midsummer solstice sunrise.  Like a dog in possession of a juicy bone, he is very reluctant to give up on the idea that these periglacial stripes were ultimately responsible for the location of Stonehenge, even though there are undoubtedly lots of other stripes in the area pointing in other (very inconvenient) directions.  It has never been demonstrated that these stripes (now being called "fissures" for reasons that are not entirely clear) are unique in any way, or that they had anything to do with periglacial action.  I am still rather convinced that they are solutional rills, maybe influenced by geological factors.   It looks as if Profs French and Allen are due to publish on this in due course -- we look forward to seeing their paper when it is published.


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Extract from:  "Researching Stonehenge: Theories Past and Present"
Mike Parker Pearson

http://www.ai-journal.com/article/view/ai.1601/355

".................what is unmatched is the concentration of solstice sunrise/sunset aligned monuments in the Stonehenge environs, including Durrington Walls’ Avenue and its Northern Circle and Southern Circle, as well as Woodhenge and Coneybury henge.

The reason for this concentration may be linked to the presence of natural landforms at and in front of Stonehenge, aligned coincidentally on the midwinter solstice sunset and midsummer solstice sunrise and embellished by the ditches and banks of the Avenue itself. These take the form of unusually deep and wide periglacial fissures, flanked by two low ridges of chalk bedrock. Running parallel on the southeast side is a shallow gully. From examination of sections across the Stonehenge Avenue northeast of the Heel Stone, it appears that these features formed a corrugated surface about 30m wide. Although the length of the periglacial fissures cannot be determined without further excavation, the parallel ridges and gully run for about 150m from just west of the Heel Stone. Recent geophysical investigations (Darvill et al., 2012) have conflated the fissures with cart tracks running the length of the Avenue to its elbow, but our excavations in 2008 showed that the cart tracks are not only distinct from the fissures but are also not the cause of the ridges (since the area within the ridges is not hollowed out by traffic erosion). Nor can the ridges be explained as resulting from differential weathering of chalk bedrock where it was protected by the Avenue banks, since the banks were much narrower than the ridges beneath them.

Two other features are also aligned on this solstitial axis. The first of these is Newall’s Mound at the Avenue’s elbow, found to be a natural mound of clay-with-flints (Evans, 1984). The second is a mound within the centre of Stonehenge (Field and Pearson, 2010) that may well be a natural chalk knoll, given the height of bedrock on its south side as revealed in Darvill and Wainwright’s 2008 trench (2009: fig. 9).
As Charly French and Mike Allen have remarked, the periglacial fissures would have shown up as vegetational stripes at times of summer drought and beneath the shallow soils of the early Holocene landscape, providing prehistoric observers with a demonstration of the unity of heaven and earth through this remarkable conjunction (Allen and French, forthcoming). ......
"

Reference:  Allen M J, French C A I,  Parker Pearson M, Pollard J, Richards C, Thomas J, Tilley C, Welham K.  Geology and geomorphology. Stonehenge for the Ancestors: the Stonehenge Riverside Project, Oxford: Oxbow; 1 Forthcoming

Citation:  Parker Pearson, M 2013. "Researching Stonehenge: Theories Past and Present". Archaeology International 16:72-83, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/ai.1601

12 comments:

Jon Morris said...

Like a dog in possession of a juicy bone, he is very reluctant to give up on the idea that these periglacial stripes were ultimately responsible for the location of Stonehenge, even though there are undoubtedly lots of other stripes in the area pointing in other (very inconvenient) directions.

This isn't a known as yet, though it seems likely that that you are right about them being rills with a wide diversity of angles: MPP probably needs to find some form of additional external justification which would signal those particular stripes as special. I wish him luck with this: It must be difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

TonyH said...

Sounds to me, reading the terminology used in MPP's new article Brian has provided us with, as if MPP is heavily reliant on Messrs French & Saunders, sorry French & Lewis, for what he is saying therein.

As I have said here many times before, I was present in the Stonehenge Landscape when MPP walked over to those of us who had come to his Stonehenge Riverside Project Open Day. He told us all about their new periglacial stripes theory just after he's spoken to Japanese Television a few score yards away. Very good at his Marketing, is Our Mike (compare Richard Branson).

TonyH said...

Sounds to me, reading the terminology used in MPP's new article Brian has provided us with, as if MPP is heavily reliant on Messrs French & Saunders, sorry French & Lewis, for what he is saying therein.

As I have said here many times before, I was present in the Stonehenge Landscape when MPP walked over to those of us who had come to his Stonehenge Riverside Project Open Day. He told us all about their new periglacial stripes theory just after he's spoken to Japanese Television a few score yards away. Very good at his Marketing, is Our Mike (compare Richard Branson).

ND Wiseman said...

Good morning gents,
Forgive my confusion - but what's the actual argument here?
Is it about Periglacial Stripes vs Solutional Rills? (now more inclusively detailed as 'Fissures') Is it about Bluestone Origins and how these arrived at Stonehenge? Or is it simply about who's right and who's wrong?

I say: Let there be Glaciers. There certainly were several episodes. But I also say: Let there be Human Transport. Because to one degree or other, this must also be true.
In my view it's ultimately just plain wondrous that they moved those rocks either 15/20 or 135 miles from their source in the first place - which is being pinpointed more or less as we speak.

I also say: Let the SH landscape be crosshatched with all manner of stripes. Where do they come from? er ... who cares? They're there and a couple of them run fairly straight down what would become the Avenue.

The study of Stonehenge isn't about where the rocks came from. Remember: There were none in the beginning. It's really about the people, what they believed and why it was so important to build this edifice in the first place.

Ice absolutely plays a role with regard to the Sarsens. There's great troughs, clumps and rivers of it north of the Pewsey Vale - broken up, pushed around and left in big piles by Ice.
The people from the Avebury neighborhood simply went out, picked these rocks up and toted them back to create their epic rings and circles. But other than a few erratics there's very few south of this area.

I'm also not seeing any Bluestones at that older, larger site, and this alone tells us that Stonehenge was a different kind of place, built for a different purpose. So was there, and what would be the degree of cultural connection with Wales?

Pinpointing the origins of the Bluestones to geologically specific locations tends to reinforce the Human Transport theory, for how would piles of shorn stone be kept together by the vagaries of plowing Ice over hundreds of miles?

Well of course this isn't within my purview and I leave it for experts like Brian to answer. But the fact remains that the so-called Fissures exist at Stonehenge and there's growing evidence that this is why they selected that otherwise boring location to site it. Non-Native Bluestones also exists there and we're pretty sure we know where they ultimately came from.

My queries are more about the reasoning than the methods. The Stones are there.
Not how, but how come?
Best,
Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Some nice points here, Neil, and I agree with many of them. For example, I agree that ultimately the human transport / glacial transport debate is going to have to be resolved with a compromise. Of course both agencies probably played a part -- the question really is this - which agency was responsible for 90% of the transport, and which one for the other 10%?

My gripe with the periglacial stripes hypothesis is that without knowing what the subsurface rills are like across the whole landscape, it's pretty preposterous to claim that the little patch of strips unearthed thus far were in themselves the prime causal influence in the location of the monument.

Don't agree with you that ice (I presume you mean glacier ice?) was responsible for the mess of sarsens around the Vale of Pewsey. You MAY be right, of course, but I am not aware of any geomorphologist who has looked at the evidence and put forward this hypothesis.......

ND Wiseman said...

Hi Brian ─ sorry I’m late …
1. Thanks for responding, but I’m not seeing where a degree of percentages would determine a Transport Hypothesis one way or another. I think it’ll be more like either: “Sunken Neolithic boat with a Bluestone found at Milford Haven” or “Glacial Moraine in Devizes contains quarried Rhosfellin Bluestones.”

2. After the lightly forested landscape of the Mesolithic had been stripped for farming, it’s been deduced that these subsurface rills would probably have been observed as long stripes in the grass.
Yes, a more thorough investigation need be done, but what we do know at present is that there are a couple of long runnels in the Avenue that are not man-made, and they align fairly concisely to the Solstice. Call them what you will.

3. Now, from our Out-on-a-Limb Department …

I’ll be the first to admit that I know Jack about Geomorphology. But I do have eyes in my head, and what I see is concentrated scatters of broken Sarsen in various places north of the Vale. These scatters seem to be located in areas which are bounded in some way by features of the landscape such as gullies, hillsides and moraines. In my limited experience with these things ─ and we do have Glacial Moraines where I live ─ it seems to me that these are Deposits of Stone pushed to those areas in great clumps by the action of huge ‘ice-farrows’ (for lack of a better term).

On two occasions in August and September, our mutual friend Pete Glastonbury went aloft to shoot photographs for me. Ultimately these were for the purpose of detecting the new Parchmarks at Stonehenge, but he shot many, many other sites of interest for me as well. I had specifically asked to see some of the famous Sarsen Rivers at Fyfield and environs, and these wonderful pictures show exactly what I’m talking about. Hollows in the landscape filled with shattered rock; great long fields of the stuff cast against low hillsides like pebbles on a beach; hectares of it in flat areas where (presumably) the rock was suspended in the Ice, which then laid it down while melting. (In fact, the notorious ‘Polissor Stone’ is among one of the gully-deposits.)

The force required to do these things would have been considerable, but tectonics cannot have been so location-specific, so can only have been done by Ice. How long ago were these Ice Events? I haven’t a clue. But they must be older than 24,000 years because some of the fields indicate later disturbance by the lighter, less violent action of more recent cooling-events.

I have Pete’s permission to publish on your site, so if you and your Readers would like to see a few of these photos I would be happy to contribute. (Actually ─ come to think on it ─ having some knowledgeable input would probably be a good idea …)

Best,
Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Neil -- a very interesting contribution. By all means let's look at the sarsen stone issue -- you may be on to something......

Isobel Geddes said...

Sorry, still out on a limb, but please consult 'Hidden Depths - Wiltshire's Geology and Landscapes' (Isobel Geddes, 2000 - my excellent book)for a summary of the literature on origin of sarsens in the Marlborough Downs -they are a local silcretes and there was no ice involved - in fact it was pretty hot(cycad roots made the holes in the sarsens)at the time 50 million years or so ago, long before the ice. There are sarsens in the Vale of Pewsey and Salisbury Plain too but not many left today.

Back to the solution rills/grooves along the Avenue...
Archaeologists, need to get some diving rods - they will explain the location of Stonehenge + the Avenue. Grooves in the chalk surface could be reflection of underground water flow direction - which is what the diving rods pick up!! They pick up the NE-SW axis of Stonehenge, all the Station Stones + the enigmatic Southern Entrance all from the tourist-walk around the stones - I haven't gone so far as to map out these as 'lines' across the centre of the site, but I bet they do cross there. I have been assured by dowsers that you can follow the whole Avenue with the rods crossed - I have yet to test this myself but they do cross at the end of the Avenue by the Avon at 'Bluestonehenge'!
Isobel

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Isobel
I haven't been talking about the origin of the Sarsen. That's a Tale that takes 60 million years to tell.
I'm discussing how the Sarsen has been acted upon by ice - long after the original sandstone carapace was formed.

The chalk underbed in the Stonehenge environs is perhaps 30 to 60 feet deep. While it might be possible for dowsers to detect water under a ground surface, I'm fairly certain that there's no underground rivers in that area.
The so-called fissures were formed either by some kind of surface action, or runoff from a very shallow depth.
Additionally, those conditions haven't existed for tens of thousands of years. What we see today are merely remnants.
Neil

TonyH said...

We could do with Geology experts like Isobel Geddes taking a keen interest in the Salisbury Plain landscape and endeavouring to search out any evidence for remnants of the glacial erratic train that may have deposited Pembrokeshire's bluestones 10 - 15 miles (or closer) to the site of Stonehenge. We also need some keen young geologists to get involved in this search. This could be done through the auspices of the Army's Salisbury Plain Training Area Conservation Groups - ideally, a new, Geology group.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with Neil that we are not talking about the origins of the sarsens here, but about what happened to them during the Pleistocene. Periglacial / permafrost processes must certainly have played a role in their final emplacement -- the question is whether glacialo action might also have played a role. Conventionally, it is not thought that the ice from the north extended this far -- and neither did the ice from the west. But there is a lot still be to discovered ........

Alex Gee said...

At last, water divining! The answer we've all been waiting for!

Its obviously time to arrange a "Stonehenge thoughts" field meet? I'll bring a crystal ball and some cockerel innards and we'll try to scry the builders intentions from that.

Anyone else with access to similar cutting edge geological survey equipment is welcome to bring that along too.

Any takers

Cheers
Alex