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Friday, 10 January 2014

The Parallel World of Darvill and Wainwright

 The crags of Carn Meini seen from the west -- across the "stone stream" (which is, by the way, entirely natural)

Thanks to Tony H for putting together these notes on the latest article by Profs D and W.  Please go to the original to see the illustrations.

I have added some comments at the end of the piece. 


Geoff Wainwright and Tim Darvill's article is quite informative and certainly stimulating to a non - local like myself. The healing springs notion is just one of about 4 main points discussed clearly. We are informed that Geoff's PhD was on Mesolithic Preseli, and Tim's was on Neolithic Preseli. The 8 - page article is well illustrated and includes maps e.g. of sites of oval stone circles. Comparisons are made between the distribution of various prehistoric features around the Greater Stonehenge Landscape/ area beyond and North Pembrokeshire and beyond, in the Mesolithic and Neolithic. The article would repay closer study, and maybe the authors would permit us displaying sections of it, with due acknowledgement of course.  Back - copies of C.A. cost £5.

Extract from p 20:  'From 2005 we increasingly focused on the eastern part of the Preseli Hills where the greatest concentration of sites seemed to be.  As a result, several hundred sites and findspots were logged and recorded.  Over a dozen geophysical surveys were then carried out within the [larger] survey area.   These were followed up with small-scale excavations both to examine features visible on the geophysical plots and to determine date and form at the Banc Du causewayed enclosure, Carn Menyn walled enclosure, Carn Menyn Cairn, Croesmihangel round barrow, and the Cottesmore Farm timber circle. The peat bogs on either side of the main Preseli ridge were also sampled and studied by Ralph Fyfe.   In 2008 we turned to the eastern end of the bluestone trail and excavated a small trench at Stonehenge to investigate the date and arrangement of the Double Bluestone Circle and its replacement, the Outer Bluestone Circle (Current Archaeology, issue 219).  Standing back from the results of our work over the past decade or so, three important dimensions of the ancient cultural landscapes of Preseli and Stonehenge have become very apparent.'


'The 1st finding is that big visible monuments that have traditionally attracted attention are really hotspots within a long continuous sequence of occupation spanning 6th -2nd millenium B.C. In west Wales, the coastal settlement at Nab Head, 40km from Carn Menyn, was occupied in 2 main phases during the 8th & 6th millenia BC. Environmental evidence from peat bogs at the E end of the Preselis revealed an elm decline at c. 4710-4500 BC, the oldest such event recorded within Wales and one of the oldest in Britain.  Substantial changes to the vegetation occur at this time, which most likely reflects significant later Mesolithic impact on the local landscape, including burning, heathland development, and reduction of woodland cover.

Such changes provide strong evidence for human disturbance of the vegetation around Gors Fawr Bog, to the south of Carn Menyn, during the late Mesolithic. The effects are visible in both the nature of woodland composition and the character of open-ground vegetation, most likely controlled by fire.

'The causewayed enclosure at Banc Du investigated as part of our work was constructed early in the 4th millenium BC and its ditches recut several centuries later. Settlements of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC have been identified south of the Preselis on the coast at Stackpole Warren and inland at Woodside Camp.

There is a similar picture around Stonehenge.  Extensive occupation beside the River Avon at Downton (south of Salisbury) and Amesbury (only 3km E of Stonehenge) in the
6th, 5th, and 4th millennia is well represented. The causewayed enclosure of Robin Hood's Ball, 4km to the NW of Stonehenge, was built around 3640-3500 BC, and probably continued in use for several centuries. Houses of the mid 3rd millennium BC have been found around Durrington Walls, 3km NE of Stonehenge in the Avon Valley, and settlements of the 3rd and 2nd millennia have been investigated elsewhere in the area at Downton and Easton Down.

In its later stages, Stonehenge was surrounded by round-barrow burial monuments of many shapes and sizes. Rings of pits, known as the Y- and X- Holes, were dug around the monument's central stone settings in the mid 2nd milennium BC as if to enclose it. On Carn Menyn, barrows were built at either end of the ridge. To the west, the Carn Menyn Cairn was erected after 1420-1260 BC, covering an embanked stone circle that stood within a henge-like circular enclosure. To the east, a turf barrow was raised over a small palisaded enclosure with a foundation deposit of cremated human bone that was dated to 1930-1740 BC.'

{There is a detailed map of the great density of sites claimed around Carn Menyn reproduced in colour on page 21of the article. The so-called "Carn Menyn Cairn" is located at the NNE tip of 'Stone River' at above 310 metres height.}

There is also a coloured aerial photo of the Carn Menyn Cairn, alongside of which are illustrated Phases 1 to 4 of its excavation. Excavation, they say, revealed that this was constructed after 1420-1260 BC and covered a stone circle set within a henge-like enclosure.


'The 2nd factor is that stone was hugely important to these [Pembrokeshire and Stonehenge area] communities, a kind of raw material singled out for special attention in both areas. What exactly different kinds of stone meant to prehistoric people is unclear, but we can be certain that perceptions were different to those common today. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (AD 23-790) for example talks of stone in terms of its magic power, supposed healing properties, and even gender, all of which provide interesting new ways of thinking about the meaning of stone.
At a very personal level, stone was used selectively. At Nab Head, slate and shale was exploited during the Mesolithic period for the production of beads, while dolerite and sandstone was used to make axes and perforated stone rings during the 5th millenium BC in a way that echoes traditions in NW France at the time.
Inland, Carn Menyn is a distinctive jagged outcrop of dolerite composed of columnar slabs rising to a height of 365m above sea-level on the southern fringe of the Preseli Ridge.  Its summit offers commanding vistas: north to the Lleyn Peninsula and S to the Bristol Channel and the Devon coast. Although the ridge is best known as one of the main sources of dolerite for Stonehenge, that was not the first kind of stone exploited here.

Our excavations at Carn Menyn show that light-coloured meta-mudstone was being quarried in the 6th & 5th millenia BC, exploiting a narrow band of workable material. Exactly when when dolerite began to be extracted at Carn Menyn is not known, but a working floor investigated in 2012 that it was certainly taking place in the last few centuries of the 3rc millenium BC, exactly the time that dolerite bluestones were being set up in the central area of Stonehenge. Our excavations also showed that meta-mudstone was again exploited in the later 2nd millenium BC, and pieces have been found sealed under round barrows and cairns of the period nearby.

In the Stonehenge landscape, there is evidence for flint-mining at Durrington 3.5 km NE of Stonehenge, and abundant evidence for flint-knapping sites throughout the area. Bluestone of all kinds was broken up and worked for the production of axes, discs, and amulets at Stonehenge itself. Pieces also leaked out into the local area, where some were deposited with burials and in the Wilsford shaft.  At least a couple of pieces found hteir way north to Silbury Hill, overlooking the Swallowhead springs and the source of theRiver Kennet (C.A 215).

'Blocks of stone in the landscape were given special treatment. In the Preselis there are propped rocks, dolmens, and portal dolmens that all involve lifting great slabs of rock out of the ground and supporting them in a way that emphasises their shape and form.  Natural boulders were sometimes given special attention by having cup-marks carved into them and platfroms of smaller stones built around them.  In the Stonehenge landscape, natural boulders again seem to have been accorded special attention. The Cuckoo Stone, lying W of Woodhenge, is a good example of this.  Investigatios by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2007 showed this naturally occurring sarsen had been raised upright over the hollow in which it originally lay.

'Circular and oval monuments built out of stone are a feature of both landscapes in the 3rd millenium BC. In thePreselis such monuments are widely scattered. Single and multiple concentric stone circles occur mainly on the south side of the Preseli Hills at Gors Fawr, Dyffryn Syfynwy, Eithbed North, and at the ceremonial complex centred on Glandy Cross.A curious stone oval is known high in the hills at Bedd Arthur, one of few direct parallels for the oval in the central setting at Stonehenge.


More than a dozen stone pairs have been recorded in the Preseli Hills, one of the highest concentrations in Britain. In every case they sit like portals or doorways in the landscape at the boundary betwwen contrasting environments, perhaps to mark routeways. Excavations in 1979 revealed that the Heel Stone at Stonehenge was originally one of a pair os standing stones. As with such settings in the Preselis, the Heel Stone stands right on the edge of the plateau on which Stonehenge is built. To the NW the ground dips down to Stonehenge Bottom.

Whereas in Preseli the circles and ovals are dispersed, at Stonehenge they are gathered together on the same spot, combining circles, concentric circles, and an oval. One of the things that makes Stonehenge unique is the fact that circular structures, which elsewhere were made of wood, were here made of stone. This is especially the case with the Sarsen Circle and Sarsen Trilithons, where the uprights and lintels were squared - up and dressed like over-sized planks secured together with mortise and tenon joints. Some of the bluestones may also have been treated in this way in an earlier configuration at Stonehenge or elsewhere.


'The 3rd key theme that has emerged from our work is the link between the monuments and water. In the Preseli Hills, many of the stone monuments lie close to natural springs and watercourses. At Carn Menyn, springs issue from the rocks that were the focus of quarrying and extraction. Some of these springheads have even been elaborated with the construction of a wall to create a small pool. Cairns sometimes stand around the springhead, and some springs were enhanced by the addition of rock art on stones around the rim. Water from many of the springs is considered to have healing powers, and some were adopted as holy wells in recent times.

Springs are increasingly being recognised as important focal points in the Stonehenge landscape. Investigations by David Jacques [Open University] at Blick Mead on the west side of Amesbury have revealed that the spring here is associated with activity from the 6th millenium BC through into recent times (CA 271). As well as thousands of pieces of worked Mesolithic flint, his excavations revealed a broken Bronze Age dagger, a lead object likely to be a Romano- British curse, and a 5th century AD Anglo-Saxon disc brooch. Most importantly, at Stonehenge itself, the reconfiguration of the bluestone setting in Stage 3 coincides with the construction of The Avenue as a ceremonial way leading to whatever watercourse lay in Stonehenge Bottom at this time, and then onwards 2.1 km SE to the River Avon.


'So where does that leave the bluestones and Stonehenge? At the western end of the bluestone trail [!] we have a mountain from whose flanks around 80 stones were extracted and carried to Stonehenge in the late 3rd millenium BC [!!]. These sources, spread over a fairly wide area, were closely associated with springs and watercourses, many of which were believed to have healing properties in Medieval and later times.

Over on Salisbury Plain we propose that, after the eartwork enclosure at Stonehenge ceased to be a major cremation cemetary sometime about 2500BC, bluestones from Preseli were brought and set up within a temple whose structure had already been constructed from sarsen stones.  It would be naive to think of Stonehenge having a single unchanging purpose, bu one of its roles we argue is that of a shrine to which people were drawn because of the supposed healing powers of the bluestones.

In a prehistoric context, the idea of healing should be taken to mean pastoral and medical care of both body and soul:  tending the wounded, treating the sick, calming troubled minds, promoting fertility, assisting and celebrating births, and protecting people against malevolent forces in an uncertain world. No doubt the great deities, perhaps the gods of the sun and moon, presided over the ceremonies, immortalised in the Trilithons. But the stones were not just memorials to the gods, they were active agents in promoting the well-being and fecundity of the people.  We believe that, in its heyday, Stonehenge was a place for the living.' 


An introduction to the Strumble-Preseli Ancient Communities and Environment Study (SPACES) was published in Antiquity 76, and between 2003-2011 there have been regular interim reports in Archaeology in Wales and updates in CA (issues 212 and 252). The re-dating of Stonehenge is published in Antiquity 86.

To quote the "contributors" section of this issue of CA,  "Timothy is Professor of Archaeology in the Dept of Archaeology & Anthropology at Bournemouth Uni;  Geoff was formerly Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, and now lives in N Pembrokeshire.


This is s strange article -- and I suppose it is a sort of "end of term report" on what the SPACES project has been up to.  There is nothing new in it, and the whole thing seems to me to be a rather desperate attempt to find "connections" between Stonehenge and Preseli  and to flag up eastern Preseli as a sort of Neolithic Holy Land.  I find all of it entirely unconvincing and almost desperate in tone........  the "evidence" (such as it is) is so flimsy as to be incapable of careful scrutiny.  And as I have said before, the material relating to springs with supposed healing powers is fabricated.  The authors provide NO evidence to support their contention. 

The article is no doubt a response to the high-profile pronouncements of Prof MPP and his team over the past three years -- and I am intrigued that the article has been published in spite of the emerging evidence that Carn Meini (Menyn) was not considered a special place at all, and that the spotted dolerite orthostats and debris at Stonehenge came from somewhere else.

So we still have the two tribes slugging it out -- in the politest possible way...... Stonehenge as the Place for the Living versus Stonehenge as the Place for the Dead.   Well, it keeps us all entertained.


chris johnson said...

This weekend or next I will be manuring my rose bed. I plan to dig in the current issue of "Current Archeology" when it arrives, if it ever does. On the other hand this might be unfair to the roses. What do you think?

Dave Maynard said...

There is nothing wrong with thinking out of the box and applying new interpretations to the data.

I know I'm not up to speed with the latest interpretations of the sequence at Stonehenge, but 'bluestones from Preseli were brought and set up within a temple whose structure had already been constructed from sarsen stones.' comes as a surprise to me.

I'd better read Antiquity 86!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I would never recommend burning magazines, or turning them into compost! Magazines should be read, and researchers should be encouraged to write and publish -- and to accept whatever may come along in the way of criticism. And authors shouldn't be too worried about "consensus" either -- if they do, they are on the road to perdition. Eventually, truth will out. So however much truth or fantasy there is in the latest article, Profs D and W will live with the consequences -- and all credit to them for giving us an Aunt Sally to throw things at!

Dave -- I too was struck with that. Is there a subtle realignment going on, whereby Prof MPP is arguing for an earlier and earlier arrival of the bluestones at Stonehenge, and Profs D and W are arguing for an arrival maybe 500 years later?

geocur said...

D&W question the Q and R holes being earlier than the sarsen circle and trilithon horseshoe ,due to stratigraphic interpreation but they also agree with MPP on the possibility that the Aubrey holes may have held bluestones .

chris johnson said...

Thanks for all the effort to present the findings.

I wonder if the "700" discoveries are described anywhere. I cannot find any reporting.

By the way, Current Archaeology has arrived and they have nice diagrams, although I am pretty sure Gors Fawr, Carn Menyn, and Mynclochog Ddu are not in a straight line for a crow - I will have to check my OS. Would be interesting if they actually are.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Only 700 discoveries? Not impressed. Every time I go for a walk I make at least a thousand...... and small children probably make even more.

chris johnson said...

So you don't know? Nor do I.