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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Stonehenge -- the mystery of the striated bluestone

 This "striated bluestone" has nothing to do with Stonehenge -- but did HH Thomas know that there was at least one striated bluestone at Stonehenge?

I have become intrigued by finding some references to a "striated bluestone" at Stonehenge, which figured in some debates between geologists around the time of HH Thomas's early pronouncements about the "impossibility" of glacial transport (around 1920-21).

There are two key publications which pre-date Thomas's famous 1923 publication in The Antiquaries Journal.  One was in the same magazine, vol 1, 1921, pp 39 and 40, in the discussion about Hawley's report on the 1920 excavations.  The other was in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey, "Summary of Progress for 1921", published in 1922, pp 56-57.

According to Stephen Briggs, in his article "Preseli, Stonehenge and the Welsh Bronze Age",  Thomas pointed out that there were many large boulders suitable for use as orthostats on the south coast of England between Selsey Bill and the Isle of Purbeck.  They were all of rock types "unrepresented among the stones of Stonehenge."    He planned to investigate these boulders again -- but it is unclear whether he ever did so.  But in 1921 he was proposing very strongly that the bluestones were selected in Pembrokeshire and transported all the way to Stonehenge by human agency.  He did not have it all his own way.  William Dale reiterated Judd's view that the stones were glacial erratics.  On one of the fragments "exhibited" by Thomas, Dale detected glacial striae.  The Rev GH Engleheart, who knew the geology of Wiltshire and Dorset very well, was also unconvinced by Thomas's assertion, arguing that the evidence of stone dressing at Stonehenge did not make sense -- why would people carry undressed stones all the way from Wales, only to modify them and reduce them in weight after arrival rather than before?  He also argued that the stones did not look like quarried stones but like an ill-assorted assemblage of erratics -- and he agreed with Dale that one of them was striated.

I have seen no other mentions of this "striated bluestone" -- how big was it?  If it was "exhibited" by Thomas, presumably it must have been a smallish stone capable of being carried around to lectures?
Can anybody enlighten us on this mystery?

4 comments:

Alex Gee said...

Hi Brian
I have been reading Parker Pearson's book on Stonehenge! and a query has arisen. On page 262 para3 MPP mentions igneous rocks;that Ixer suggests are 19th century railway ballast.

Do you remember the igneous rocks I told you about, that were found in random scatters on the south flank of
The mendips?; They were also dismissed as railway ballast?

Perhaps you would care to suggest a reason why 19th centuryC railway companies paid people to randomly scatter their ballast onto farmland; particularly in the case of the Mendips, where the fields concerned contain piles of stones deliberately cleared from the fields by farmers to aid ploughing and cattle grazing; some of these piles date back to medieval times or earlier.

whilst there is a railway line a km to the south of the Mendip fields, I do not know how close the nearest line is to Stonehenge!
Might it not be worthwhile to reexamine the Mendip "Ballast"? Or indeed the piles of stones.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Alex -- agree with most of this! I have always insisted that ALL of the orthostats, rock debris and hammerstones, mauls etc at Stonehenge -- and indeed at all prehistoric monuments should be qassumed to be more or less in situ unless there is powerful evidence to the contrary. Yes, I'm familar with the bit about railway ballast -- I assume MPP got it wrong, and that Rob thought the material was road construction material. And yes, unless there is a road or a railway right next door to where you are digging, there would be no reason to suspect foreign stones as bits of modern contamination.....

TonyH said...

There was, during a World War One, a railway line connecting Amesbury with Larkhill barracks, which ran to the EAST of The Cursus (not the west), i.e more towards Woodhenge and the northern edge of Amesbury. Apple trees grew either side of it, as a result of recruits on their way to WW1 spitting out apple seeds - the trees' descendants are still there, as the National Trust is keen to confirm on NT walks.

alexgee said...

TonyH
I did wonder, as there are military railways at Luggershall.

The point about the Mendip finds, was that they were found in fields, that farmers had taken great pains to clear of such debris.