Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Stonehenge DEBU (date of earliest bluestone use)

Following up on Tony's recent comment about the relevance of Bluestonehenge, I too have looked at Wikipedia for guidance!  (Yes, I know that's a naff thing to do, but most Wikipedia entries are pretty reliable, since nonsense tends to be kicked out and replaced by people who consider themselves to be experts!)

So here's what the entry says:

The monument has been tentatively dated to between about 3000 and 2400 BC, although radiocarbon dating of antler tools found at the site has only provided an approximate date of 2469 to 2286 BC for the dismantling of the stones.[5] Tests on an antler pick found at the bottom of a stonehole have so far failed due to inadequate collagen in the sample.[6][7]

Excavation revealed several stone settings that are thought to have been erected some time between 3400-2500 BC, due to two flint chisel arrowheads in a style commonly used during that period being found. It is estimated that there may have been as many as 27 stones in a circle 33 feet (10 m) wide. Charcoal was found in some holes, suggesting that burning may have taken place there.[8] One suggestion is that the henge was a site for cremations.[7] Within the stone circle there were imprints of the bases from the original stones, which have been compared to the bluestones located in Stonehenge and have been found to have matching dimensions.[original research?]

The name "Bluestonehenge" is derived from the discovery of small stone chips in some of the stone settings. These bluestones are also found in Stonehenge and consist of a wide range of rock types originally from Pembrokeshire West Wales, some 150 miles (240 km) away.[2][9] Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson suspects that any bluestones in the circle may have been removed around 2500 BC and incorporated into Stonehenge, which underwent major rebuilding work at about that time.[7]

The stone circle settings were surrounded by a henge, comprising an 82-foot-wide (25 m) ditch and outer bank which appears to date from approximately 2400 BC.[7] Unlike Stonehenge, there do not appear to be any significant solar or lunar orientations within the monument.[8]


So MPP appears to be convinced that the bluestones were moved some time after 5400 yrs BP and were in place here by 5,000 - 4,400 yrs BP --  up to 27 bluestones?  They were then moved to Stonehenge around 4400 yrs BP for incorporation into the monument.....

So this would, if correct, give us a DEBU (date of earliest bluestone use) of between 5,400 and 5,000 yrs BP.  The problem is, as we have pointed out many times on this blog, there there does not appear to be a shred of evidence to support this theory apart from some putative stones holes that appear to have contained stones which later appear to have been taken away.


Geo Cur said...

Can anyone confirm that fragments of bluestone were actually found at Bluestonehenge ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

My understanding is that the fragments originally thought to be bits of bluestone turned out to be nothing of the sort. I presume they were not flint either, or MPP and his colleagues would have recognized them. Over to Myris maybe........

Myris of Alexandria said...

Yes before the pet rock boys saw them they were declared to be Stonehenge bluestones.
They are a range of igneous intrusives and siliciclastics and an ungrouped polished stone axe. None match any sampled orthostat.
As with all things Stonehenge, the Devil is in the detail. The results of the study are in press within the MPP monograph.
I fear that there may have to be an odds and sods Stonehenge lithic paper, one that reduces Brian's 30/300 different glacial erratic rock types into a ?dozen stray lithologies including the famous molehill West Midlands dolerite so beloved of old, but well meaning,biddies who forget to put stamps on letters or say thank you when the results are not what their addled wits want. Or send the chocolate fee.
Dr Ixer corrected the EH site on West Amesbury Henge but Wikipedia's is too aetherial (sic).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Don't over-egg the pudding, Myris. 300? I have never suggested more than 30 or so different lithologies scattered about in the Stonehenge landscape. That order of things. If you are now suggesting a range of other rock types that are not represented in the orthostats or in the debitage, we are certainly closer to 30 than to 12. Not that the actual number matters that much -- all we need to say is that there are erratics scattered about the place that have come from multiple sources. How and when they got there is another question.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Ah but you will!! lets compromise on 175?
There are no more than a dozen serious prehistoric associated lithologies at SH,(to my mind that is sufficient to raise questions). I have the GREAT advantage over you I have seen and handled the material not scoured the literature, also I do not have any vested interest in the results. Polished stone axe fragments, New Age Rock Crystal, road metal wearing course, railway ballast, slag and clinker do not count.
Stick with my definition of a bluestone the Gods know it is in print often enough. Under that definition, the only useful one, there is no bluestone outside of the SH Landscape.
We need a mechanism that only brings bluestone to Salisbury Plain and ONLY in the SH landscape, highly selective glacial action or highly selective anthropogenic action, we can ignore Kostas and his baskets of pebble throwing grunts.
Accept what the experts say, there are nothing like 30 or 300 exotic SH associated lithics. I know I have seen them and identified them. If you are serious, find a competent geologist with experience and repeat the process -you will need about a month of man days 5/6hours/day just to handle the material. Note Dr Ixer has done it twice with the material 4/5 years apart and rather than increasing the number of discrete lithologies reduced them (but only by one or two).
As you note and is true there are many opinions on all things stony at SH but some are more informed and hence more valuable than others.

Myris of Alexandria said...


Since 2008 there has been a systematic lithological investigation of debitage found within the Stonehenge Landscape; most of these lithic fragments were re-examined in April 2013. Just over 4000 bluestone debitage fragments weighing between 0.1 and 8500g have been lithologically classified macroscopically, the majority being from the April 2008 Darvill and Wainwright excavation within the Stonehenge stone circle (3657 fragments) but also including lithics from the Heelstone Ditch excavations (171) (Pitts, 1982; Ixer and Bevins, 2013), the Stonehenge Avenue including Trenches 44 (20) and 45 (71), Aubrey Hole 7 (54), and from surface finds and test pits in the area close to the western end of the Stonehenge Greater Cursus (31) (Ixer and Bevins, 2010). These locations are shown in Figures 1 and 2. In addition small numbers of bluestone fragments have been identified from locations in the vicinity of the Stonehenge Landscape although no bluestones have been identified from West Amesbury Henge. In addition over 100 thin sections, polished blocks and polished thin sections have been described for the major non-dolerite classes of debitage and these have been compared with polished thin sections from all the sampled bluestone orthostats.

Ixer and Bevins 2012?/2013? Debitage Dilemma paper.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Myris. We will continue to disagree with how the word "bluestone" is defined. Yours is no better for having been published frequently -- it introduces unacceptable bias, and is therefore not fit for purpose. Trust me --- I know what I am talking about. Let's just agree to disagree.

ND Wiseman said...

My understanding is that Brian claims that the Bluestones were partially transported to the relatively near SH environs, then trotted down to the specific location. Is this accurate?

Is there evidence of other types of non-native rock in the wider vicinity which might have been tagging along for the ride?


Geo Cur said...

"no bluestones have been identified from West Amesbury Henge. "
Thanks , I had forgotten about that and was unsure about any developments since the earlier .
The Wiki entry mentions the BA article in it's references , yet still manages to suggest that bluestone fragments were found at the henge .

TonyH said...

Myris, how does Dr Rob Ixer explain what he terms (in his 08.21 comment today above) "the famous molehill W Midlands dolerite"? Does he have any further knowledge of W Midlands dolerite having turned up, say, south of the [post - prehistoric!] M4.

Sorry if I have missed this from Dr Ixer's past works and therefore have failed to RTBPL, my apologies.

I find this Post fascinating, my grandfather was an industrial chemist perhaps that explains my concurrence and enthusiasm for the phrase, the Devil is in the detail. All this reminds me of Mike Pitts' careful and forensic examinations in "The Henge People".

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Geo -- I too had forgotten about this piece in British Archaeology, with a very firm statement from Prof MPP that the bluestones were in position in the Aubrey Holes around 5,000 yrs BP, give or take a year or few.......:


Bluestones at Stonehenge

In 2008 we dug within Stonehenge itself, recovering 60 cremation burials from a pit, one of the circle of 56 Aubrey Holes that are concentric with the ditch and bank (see News, Nov/Dec 2008). These had originally been excavated by William Hawley in the 1920s when he dug 32 of the Aubrey Holes. Because the cremated bones were considered at that time to be of little scientific value, they were dumped in a mixed-up heap in Aubrey Hole 7 in 1935.

Our greatest discovery in that small hole, however, was that Hawley's workmen had not fully dug it out. In the bottom sat the undisturbed residue of a layer of chalk packing and a patch of crushed chalk caused by the weight of a standing stone. Checking Hawley's diary, we found that he had initially decided that the Aubrey Holes once contained small standing stones that were later pulled out. Sadly, Hawley did not have the courage of his convictions and, when confronted with the huge postholes of Woodhenge at Maud Cunnington's excavations in 1926–27, he changed his mind.

We realised that the small stones that once stood in the Aubrey Holes had to have been bluestones, the monoliths from the Preseli Hills and other parts of south Wales. By radiocarbon dating a cremation burial found in the chalk packing of Aubrey Hole 32, dug by Richard Atkinson in 1950, we had evidence that this stone circle was likely to have been put up around the time that the ditch and bank were dug in 3015–2935BC. This and other radiocarbon dates at Stonehenge have been refined by Bayesian statistical modelling of its stratigraphic sequence.

This meant the conventional threefold scheme of Stonehenge as an earthen monument, succeeded first by wooden posts and then by stone uprights could not be correct. Stonehenge was a stone monument from the beginning, and five of our new radiocarbon dates on cremated and unburnt human bone showed that it had also been a place of burial from this moment until at least 2400BC (statistically modelled as 2470–2300BC) – certainly during the erection of megaliths, and probably after as well.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Like a failed state there are failed papers ie those not completed/set aside.
The odds and sods papers! belong there.
Road stone and railway ballast have been recognised.
Small road stone chips are petrographically similar to rare similar sized chips close to the old A334 and molehill, forgotten where they are from
The WMD are quite distinctive and much fresher but are analcime-bearing can't be confused with Mendip dolerite etc.
One I feel certain it will all be written up (Dr Ixer has promised to do so to his co-authors)
By chance he is working on WMD-tempered MBA and LBA pots from the ?famous Bromfield cemetery in Salop.
It should be noted that the bluestones in AH7 are uncontexted. Only bluestone in an excavated AH might suggest early erection.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree that with any stone analysis / provenancing one has to try to eliminate "adventitious stones" that can screw up all results if one is not careful. I had exactly the same problem in Pembs when trying to work out ice directions from transported erratic cobbles.

Also agree that for bluestone use in the Aubrey Holes to be confirmed, we need more than just "compressed chalk"..........

Geo Cur said...

The argument for the earlier presence of bluestone (or less likely timber or sarsen stones ) in some Aubreys is not only the compacted and compressed chalk at the bottom but also the "shorn away or crushed down " chalk on the the same sides in relation the "standing stones of Stonehenge" ,as well as the packing chalk in excavated AH 32 . Along with the width and depth of the holes not being consistent with sarsen or timber posts it does suggest the possibility of (presumably ,to quote MPP) bluestones being used in some of the holes .

BRIAN JOHN said...

This is all very subtle! In your personal opinion, Geo, is the evidence strong enough to take on board the idea of bluestones in at least some of the Aubrey Holes at an early stage? Myris seems to be rather unconvinced -- I have not personally seen the evidence, so have no string view one way or the other......

And yes, Tony -- I agree we should abandon the use of the term "Bluestonehenge" or "Bluehenge since there seems to be nothing solid to justify the use of that famous colour in the name. West Amesbury Henge, as referred to by Myris, seems much more sensible......

BRIAN JOHN said...

OOps -- STRONG views.......

Geo Cur said...

Brian , I certainly don't have a strong view on it ,but the argument for some of the Aubreys having held stones seems reasonable given the compaction and crushing and for not having held posts given the dimensions, and the fact we do have examples of post holes at Stonehenge which are nothing like the Aubreys .
Worth mentioning that other relatively similar sites with pits containing cremations with similar spacing didn't have evidence for stones or posts in the pits , but that is not much of an argument against the stones being present elsewhere .
If they did hold stones the chronology also becomes problematic .Were they dug for the stones ? If not , they seem to have been the right size ,in which case was it later opportunism ? or were the pits enlarged to accomodate them ?,which seems unlikley given the cremation found at the edge of AH 7 .

PeteG said...

searching around Stonehenge for bluestones and/or fragements I think my best way forward it in the direction of the first Bluestonehenge in Fargo wood then across the plain in the direction of Boles Barrow. This will take some time to get the right permissions from the army sorted out.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Peter what a lovely idea, I am not convinced by the proposed circle at the west? end of the Stonehenge Greater Cursus. Stone rather over eggs ('homage to Brian there) the stones, there is a total absence of preselite but the non-preselite stones including SH38 and 48 are present.
AH7 has lots of bluestone in it but from disturbed contexts, they may have been scraped in from the surrounding surface in the 1930s. In sealed secure contexts they would have proved that the bluestones were around then but they are not sadly, sloppy sloppy excavation both the excavator and his funders are to blame.
Still practised eyes are most welcome, but don't trip over any molehills.

TonyH said...

Pete, are you in touch with retired Wiltshire County Archaeologist Roy Canham? As I am sure you know, a very enthusiastic man for Salisbury Plain who created excellent cooperative links with The Army. Lives in Bradford - on - Avon these days, still active, can supply his contact details - they are in the phone book - but then so can WANHS/ David Dawson. Roy led a WANHS walk to Boles Barrow not long ago and is still involved with the SPTA Conservation Groups.

PeteG said...

thanks Myris, I am not convinced about the circle in Fargo woods. I have examined the area extensively in winter.
Tony, I have contacts within the military to get me permissions to cross the firing rages when they are inactive. The big problem is the live ammo left on the firing fields.
I have visited Boles barrow before on the Imber open days.
I will keep plodding along and let the forum know how things are going from time to time,

TonyH said...

Roy Canham, M.B.E., is still actively involved with the Imber/Westbury SPTA Conservation Group and is about to go out again soon with a group of us to check on the condition of Ancient Monuments and to also investigate other possible man - made features. There is an AGM at Warminster Barracks during the Autumn and you may, Pete, be well aware of this! There is of course an Army Archaeologist called Graham Brown I think and he has had articles published and appeared in TV programmes and he is very hands - on.

I advocated, somewhat tongue in cheek on this Blogsite, that either the Army boys or the unemployed or volunteers should trawl areas of the Plain to comb it for exotic erratic stones. Isobel Geddes of the Wiltshire Geology Group (based near the Wiltshire Devizes Museum) might be a useful contact. Keep us, and me, informed, Pete. Brian and WANHS at Devizes will supply my email address.

BRIAN JOHN said...

The more the merrier! I was in touch with Isobel a few years ago, but have not corresponded recently...