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Friday, 19 September 2014

Operation Stonehenge - Part 2

"Operation Stonehenge -- what lies beneath?"  Part 2. BBC2 18th September.

Once again, a strange mixture of fantasy and fact, with assorted gruesome reconstructions of the brutal lives led by our highly sophisticated ancestors...... and the shaman looked like the sort of fellow one wouldn't have liked to get on the wrong side of.....

But some interesting information.  A few thoughts:

1.  It was simply assumed that the sarsens all came from the Marlborough Downs -- no attempt to support that hypothesis with actual evidence.  I was not convinced.

2.  It was suggested by Katy Whitaker that all the sarsens were beaten with hammer stones over every square inch of their surfaces, to give a pristine white surface which must have made the whole monument -- when complete -- a truly spectacular appearance.  Nice pictures, but I was not convinced.



3.  Wolfgang Neubauer suggested that the sarsens were dragged from the Marlborough Downs by the most direct route possible, which means along the route of the Avenue -- although it was not there at the time.  There was mention of "glacial striations"  -- by which I suppose they meant the wonderful periglacial stripes.  But it was unclear from the commentary whether they thought that the dragging of the sarsens caused the grooves and scratches shown in the surveys, or whether they simply used these existing grooves to ease the transportation by sledges etc.  All speculation, and of course meaningless if the sarsens were really collected up in the Stonehenge area.


4.  Tony Johnson demonstrated how Stonehenge was laid out with the aid or ropes and pegs.  All fair enough, but that does not demonstrate that Stonehenge ever was finished or accurately built......

5.  The crop marks -- interesting evidence which MIGHT show that there were pits at some of the locations where stones are assumed to have been positioned -- but I have problems with this (and so does Kostas) since a place where there is a hidden pit would have deeper soil and one would assume -- better moisture retention in case of drought.  On the images below the lower one is computer enhanced, and is not to be trusted.  Another thing is that even if there were sockets in the places where the crop marks are prominent, that does not tell us that there ever were any stones in them, and this is absolutely NOT "compelling evidence that Stonehenge was completed."  Even if there were big sarsens in these supposed sockets, they could have been moved about and relocated.  If they played about with the bluestone settings over many centuries, is it not possible that they did exactly  the same with the sarsens?


6.  On the bluestones, the commentary said "geological analysis proves they were quarried in Wales" -- which is of course nonsense.   There was remarkably little about the bluestones in the programme, which went on to suggest, with great conviction, that the family of six whose teeth and bones have been analysed actually came from West Wales, providing a link with the bluestones.  That is over-egging the pudding to a considerable extent -- the published evidence does very little to support that hypothesis.

7.  I felt really sorry for the poor fellow who seems to have been crushed beneath a falling monolith, but was greatly relieved to hear that he survived to tell the tale.......  and as for that nasty shaman, the less said about him, the better......

All in all, another curate's egg of a programme, which told us relatively little we didn't know already.

27 comments:

SimonK said...
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SimonK said...
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BRIAN JOHN said...

Two comments from Simon deleted at his request -- updates awaited.....

SimonK said...

My apologies to Brian for my earlier blanks.

I was confused by certain aspects of Episode 2, particularly when Jacqueline McKinley stated that strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of the teeth had revealed that some of the individuals buried near Stonehenge had come “from 150-200 km west of Stonehenge”. I had not realised that such analysis could be so geographically precise.

Incidentally, Cardiff is about 150 km west of Stonehenge from Amesbury; Bridgend about 180 km; and Haverfordwest some 300km.

There is a 2006 paper "Bronze Age childhood migration of individuals near Stonehenge, revealed by strontium and oxygen isotope tooth enamel analysis” (J. A. Evans, C. A. Chenery and A. P. FitzPatrick, published in Archaeometry, Volume 48, Issue 2, pages 309–321, May 2006). The paper can be read at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4754.2006.00258.x/full

On reading the paper, it is clear that the evidence is not as clear cut as the programme suggested.

The paper argues that the main types of rock that are likely to provide a suitable site for the early childhood premolar teeth of the Boscombe adult males are granites and early Palaeozoic, or older, rocks. In Britain, the paper states that such rocks can be found in Scotland, the Lake District, Wales and south-west England. Outside Britain, then the following regions are a possibility: south-east Ireland, Brittany and the Massif Central of France, the Palaeozoic rocks of Portugal and the Black Forest.

Of these areas, “Wales is the closest to the burial site and is an attractive option, as it has known links with Stonehenge at this time. The bluestones of Stonehenge can be provenanced very accurately by petrology and chemical analyses to a small area in the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, and the date at which the stones were brought to Stonehenge compares well with the date of the Boscombe individuals. Other sites would have to be assessed on their archaeological merits.” [For brevity, I have stripped out the references provided in this paragraph].

The argument thus runs as follows: We know that the bluestones originated in Wales. The adults could have come from Wales. The bluestones arrived at the same time as the adults. Therefore the adults came from Wales, and brought the stones with them.

The needs of TV no doubt force a simplification of the story, but I find it dangerous when the line between fact and supposition is not made clear.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with that, Simon. The tooth and bone analyses on animals and humans are always less precise than the PR people would have us believe -- and the researchers are also, sadly, swept along by the desire to say something "ground-breaking." That's understandable, with careers to be advanced, and so forth.....

The same is true in other branches of science. For example, the geologists have been rather more cavalier than I would have wished, in suggesting that the provenancing of Stonehenge fragments to the actual rocky crags of Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin is incredibly accurate and beyond dispute. It isn't that simple, as I have pointed out on this blog!

Jon Morris said...

Haven't seen it yet. It's getting mixed reviews this one. I managed to fall asleep during the last episode. Trying to do too much probably.

It was suggested by Katy Whitaker that all the sarsens were beaten with hammer stones over every square inch of their surfaces,

It'll be interesting to see what she said.

Myris of Alexandria said...

There was dreadful fantasy wrt the Portuguese Jadeite bracer.
Drs Ixer, Webb et al who petrographically and geochemically described this bracer in the recent bracer volume do not identify this as a jadeite but an amphibolite.
I do not believe in the whole of the bracer volume that Portugal is mentioned.
As one of the authors said to another
Where do they get these people.
We're I MPP I would be very miffed almost everything is already recorded in his Stonehenge Riverside work.
Again very very very little that is not general knowledge.
Where are the 60 New stones at DW.
M

Myris of Alexandria said...

Brian sometimes you have to accept that talented and highly experienced specialists can sometimes seize on incredible luck. CRyf site 6/9 whatever it is, was just that.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

I too have been wondering why there has been no further mention of all those buried stones (sarsens or bluestones?) at Durrington Walls.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Re Rhosyfelin and foliated rhyolite, I still don't think your sampling density is tight enough to say definitively that the fragments at Stonehenge came from this crag. You cannot rule out the fragments coming from a few hundred metres in each direction....

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have looked at the sampling bias problem here:

http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/on-significance-of-rhosyfelin-locality-8.html

Myris of Alexandria said...

Ah but you can if you have sampled all surrounding outcrops.
Brian stop being intentionally blind,look on the ground, look at the crop pattern.
I fear that were the Stonehenge orthostat to have CRyf stamped through them you would claim it was SerboCroat for St Davids.
Motes and beams Brian, motes and beams.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...
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BRIAN JOHN said...

Blogger BRIAN JOHN said... spelling mistakes -- now corrected.

Not sure what you are on about here, Myris. Presumably two different issues. But the key issue is scrutiny -- there is too much bullshit around, and too little scrutiny. Some of us have to do it.....

On crop patterns, I'm not disputing that they are there. Do you think I deny their existence? All credit to Tim and others for spotting them. All I'm saying is that because there are crop marks that apparently show sockets, that does not automatically mean that the sockets held stones. If there were to be stumps in those sockets, that would be a different matter......

On the matter of the provenancing of foliated rhyolite fragments to within a few metres on the rock face at Rhosyfelin, I examined this very carefully in earlier posts. And can I gently remind you that the points raised in the post for which I gave the URL have not been answered? So let's have some more info please....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Since we are apparently back again with great ponderings on the accuracy of the provenancing of bits of Stonehenge debitage to a precise spot on the crag at Rhosyfelin, here is a reminder of my original report on the Ixer / Bevins paper, in which I brought up the "99.9% question":

http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/on-significance-or-otherwise-of-999.html

Myris of Alexandria said...

I meant outcrop patterns nothing about Stonehenge.
100per cent sampling is unrealistic and not needed. Find me another affiliated rhyolite within 10, 100, or even 500m of CRyf.
Dr Ixer is most precious of his reputation, built over four decades of being careful, cautious,exacting and "difficult" .
Ask almost any of his co- authors, more is not said than is allowed.
Dr Bevins is a very exact, petrologist who knows more about the petrology and location of outcrops of FVG than anyone.
If they are satisfied I am satisfied, after they are impartial
and the results a joyous serendipity.
Man, the Gods, little green slime moulds from the planet Zog almost all of the rhyolites debitage at Stonehenge came from CRyf, and some from the planar face of the "quarry".
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hold your hat, Myris! Far be it from me to question the immaculate reputations of these excellent geologists -- indeed I have praised them effusively on this blog, and publicised their research, while others in this world have ignored them. So don't take any of this personally. Just asking questions, I am....... and that is a thoroughly reputable exercise which all should welcome.

Myris of Alexandria said...

I am sure that they would welcome criticism of their papers in the lit as it would give an excuse for them to publish yet more of their data.
I suspect at least one would relish the idea of publishing detailed petrography of all the surrounding outcrops, sadly nobody would read it.
But given the slightest excuse.
After all Dr Ixer once used a two micron grain of gold to publish a very long paper on some minor mineralization in Ireland,really designed to undermine speculation
about Beaker copper mining at Ross Island.
Put something in the literature and step back.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm working on it!!

TonyH said...

I fear there may be amongst us schizophrenically - inclined people whose "name is Legion, for there are many of us" Ooops, there goes another pig.....

[Sorry, couldn't resist, just returned from a holiday in Rome. Falling over archaeology everywhere.]

TonyH said...

I also fear Jacqueline McKinley was being a little too "economical with the truth" in her urge to "tell us a story", whilst waving her hands about, Max Bygraves style, about Those Wonderful Boscombe Bowmen and their Obvious Preseli Origins.

Jackie may be hoping to dine out on this Story well into her retirement from her osteo - archaeology career. I, for one, won't be sitting at her feet listening.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Love Rome had a gun put to my head by a very young junky robber inside a hotel he wanted my mother's gold watch.
I said to my mother he wants your watch give it to him, she replied, you've got a gold watch give him yours. My mother and I have never been close ever since.
Still he is probably dead by now and I have a story to tell.
So much safer in the library.
M

Andy E said...

Regarding the dressing of the stones - I presumed that has come from the recent laser survey which apparently showed the avenue-facing sides had been extensively worked to give a smooth face, with the "back side" being left less well finished.

Greg Samways said...

How much evidence is there that Sarsens may have existed in the immediate vicinity of SH? What is the palaeogeography of the Sarsen deposits?



If the Sarsens weren't local, they were transported. Most transport scenarios have sweaty men, stripped to the waste, puling rocks in the height of summer. Has anybody considered that the sarsens might have been moved along packed ice sled paths, during the depths of winter? Is it possible that the "periglacial grooves" are the remnants of a perennial toboggan run?



I can imagine a similar run running down the Avon valley, perhaps at the base of the slope on the floodplain, where the ice and snow would naturally collect anyway.


Any thoughts?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Greg

Lots of people have suggested that there were sarsens galore in the Stonehenge area -- until many of them were collected up and built into the monument. I've covered this before -- suggest you use the search box on the blog. Normally it works well.

The idea of stone transport on smooth icy surfaces is also much discussed. The trouble with that is that although friction beneath sledges or rollers is reduced, so is friction reduced beneath the feet of the poor sods doing the pulling. So what might be thought of as an advantage may not be one after all.......

Greg Samways said...

Thanks Brian. This is why I was asking about the the palaeogeographic reconstructions of original sarsen facies distribution.


I wonder if it might be interesting to plot sarsen distribution on a shared google map (a citizen science project?), differentiating between sarsens that remain in-situ (e.g. Marlborough Area) and sarsens in monuments (Stonehenge area). I suspect we would see an inverse relationship, whereby abundant sarsens remaining in-situ on the surface equates to no monuments, and an abundance of monuments equates to no sarsens left on the surface. (the key would be knowing if the original sarsen facies covered the whole area).


I am sure if they wanted to use the sarsens from Marlborough they would have built the monuments there!


On the subject of ice sledpaths, I imagined that the sledpath might be bounded by large logs and the snow and ice exacavated from each side and piled between the logs (thereby creating a clear tow path with plenty of traction on each of the sledpath).


I haven't had much luck finding any discussion on sarsen stone moving technologies and methods. All the hits I am getting are about the Bluestones.


I'll keep looking . . . .

Anonymous said...

I agree the idea of moving the sarsen stones on ice is very interesting.

The pots found in the bottom of sarcen holes do suggest perhaps a small fire to melt ice supports for the stones.

And if there was remnant glacial ice near the sarcens starting location it could be used as an ice sled.

Winter would be thd sensible time to move them as its the season that people wouldn't be aboe to grow or harvest plants.