Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 12 September 2015

When were the bluestones first used at Stonehenge?

With Prof MPP no doubt planning to reveal his 20 or so Rhosyfelin radiocarbon dates to the world on Wednesday next, it's worth reminding ourselves of the sequence of events as currently understood.  

The piece below was posted on this blog back in Oct 2011 -- shortly after the Rhosyfelin dig started.   The interesting point to come from the chronology assessments is that Prof MPP favours a very early (Middle Neolithic) use of bluestones at Stonehenge, around 5,000 years ago, in Stage 1, when they were placed in the Aubrey Holes.  The evidence for that seems a bit scanty, but one line of argument is that the holes were of  remarkably similar dimensions to the Q and R holes which were (by common consent?) later used for a bluestone setting.  Another argument is that the holes were too big for timber posts and therefore held stones of bluestone size (rather than of sarsen size -- sarsen monoliths would have required much bigger holes).  Then there is the evidence of crushed chalk and other debris, suggesting a great pressure exerted from above -- and the cremation evidence, which is somewhat equivocal.

On the other hand, my understanding is that Darvill and Wainwright argued that the bluestones did not get used at Stonehenge until Stage 2, when they were placed in the Q and R holes around 4,500 years ago, in the Late Neolithic.  They propose that this happened after the erection of the sarsen trilithons but before the erection of the sarsen circle.  

There seems to be more agreement about what happened after that.  In Stage 3 (c 4350 yrs ago) (Copper Age) there may have been some rearrangement of the bluestones inside the trilithons.  In Stage 4 (c 4,100 yrs ago) (Early Bronze Age) the bluestones are thought to have been taken from the Q and R holes and placed in their "final" positions, first in the outer bluestone circle, and then in the bluestone oval or horseshoe.  In Stage 5 (c 3600 yrs BP) (Middle Bronze Age) the Y and Z holes were dig, maybe with the intention of putting bluestones into them, but in the event nobody ever got round to doing it............

That is the chronology as far as I understand it from Prof MPP's 2012 book.  So, if you believe in the human transport theory,  the favoured story is that the bluestones were carried from Wales in the Middle Neolithic, around 5,000 years ago.  Of course, as we have said many times before, the presence of that dolerite boulder in Boles Barrow pushes the "earliest bluestone use date" back to around 5,500 years ago. 

All comments on the accuracy of the above will be welcomed! 


Did the Aubrey Holes hold 56 bluestones?

Sunday, 9 October 2011



I found this report from 2008 on the research council web site -- and it struck me that the discovery in Aubrey Hole 7 of "crushed and compacted chalk" by MPP and his team is about the only evidence we have that the holes once held bluestone pillars. The report says that a similar feature was also found in 3 other Aubrey Holes in earlier excavations. But how do we know that this compaction was not simply done by a ramming device, with the purpose of creating a firm base in the hole for whatever was due to be placed in it? (eg cremated remains). No bluestone fragments, as far as I know, have been found in the Aubrey Holes -- so the pillars (if there were any) could well have been small sarsens rather than bluestones. But MPP builds up a large hypothesis here -- not for the first time -- on what seems to me to be very flimsy evidence. He even speculates now that the stone circle of 56 bluestones had a diameter of 87m -- and that that stone circle might well have been carried from Preseli, where it was previously set up at Waun Mawn. He also says that when the Neolithic transport gangs had carried that stone circle lock, stock and barrel (or maybe minus the 3 stones that are still there) from Waun Mawn to Stonehenge, and put them all up in the Aubrey Hole setting, they later dismantled the whole thing and moved the stones in towards the centre of the monument, where they were supplemented by another batch of stones from the wild west (bringing the total up to 82), and then built into the later bluestone circle and horseshoe settings.

Type in 'Waun Mawn" in the search box for my previous posts on this topic.......

Does anybody know of any other evidence that supports this wacky theory, or is is just as wild as I think it is?

From the AHRC web site -- a report of a project funded with £500,000.

Changing the meaning of Stonehenge 

09 Oct 2008 
AHRC-funded excavation of Aubrey Hole  could change Stonehenge’s meaning

A new excavation of Stonehenge, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has revealed that an Aubrey Hole – one of a circle of pits surrounding the stones at Stonehenge – had probably held a standing stone.
The excavation of Aubrey Hole 7 was directed over one week in August 2008 by Mike Parker-Pearson, Mike Pitts and Julian Richards for the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The project, sees a collaboration involving five UK universities and over 200 archaeologists, and is funded by a £500,000 research grant from the AHRC.
Professor Mike Parker-Pearson at the University of Sheffield says, “If all 56 pits had held stones, this would have been one of the first and largest stone circles in the country, made of Welsh bluestones in 3000BC. A recent claim that these stones arrived at Stonehenge in 2300BC would then relate to the time when the bluestones were moved into the centre of the site 700 years later. Stonehenge’s history as envisaged since the 1950s is overturned.”
The pit had already been excavated twice: when discovered in 1920, and again in 1935 when all the cremated human bone found earlier at Stonehenge was reburied. Recovery of this bone for modern examination was the prime goal of the new dig (the bone was in excellent condition, and study will begin over the winter).
Another reason was to look at the Aubrey Hole itself – the first to be seen open since 1950. It was believed that these pits had been dug for oak poles, but Parker-Pearson had revived an old interpretation that they had held bluestones: the evidence of crushed and compacted chalk had been recorded in 1920 in three of the pits. He says, “Aubrey Hole 7 had crushed chalk on its base indicative of a standing stone. This had been missed by archaeologists twice before: it seems likely that similar evidence still survives in other Aubrey Holes. We propose that very early in Stonehenge’s history, 56 Welsh bluestones stood in a ring 285 feet 6 inches (87m) across”. He concludes, “This has sweeping implications for our understanding of Stonehenge.”
The new evidence from Aubrey Hole 7 suggests megaliths were present throughout Stonehenge’s existence. The first three radiocarbon dates for human cremation burials, obtained in May from the only bones then available for study, range between about 3000 and 2300BC. Contrary to claims made in the recent BBC Timewatch film, which promoted a theory of Stonehenge as a healing centre built after the practice of cremation burial had ceased, standing stones and burial of the dead may have been prominent aspects of Stonehenge’s meaning and purpose for a millennium.
Media Contact: Emi Spinner, Communication Officer,  tel: 0117 9876 770 / 07854 005662

Editors Notes

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

Aubrey Holes

56 pits named after the 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey, were discovered by archaeologists in 1920. Thirty four were excavated 1920–1924 and two in 1950. They average about 3.5 feet across (1.1m) and 3 feet deep (0.9m) – similar to pits in the centre of Stonehenge known to have held bluestones. Their contents included mostly undistinguished artefacts, and pockets of cremated human bone and ash.
The pits’ purpose has been much debated. The original excavators first thought they were dug to hold small standing stones (the Welsh bluestones): the great Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie suggested they were a war indemnity paid by a Welsh tribe. But debate followed on whether they had held stones or wooden posts. After the 1950 excavation of two pits, they were believed to have been only for the placement of ritual deposits, with no stones or posts. In the 1960s astronomers suggested they may have held markers to predict eclipses. Since 1995, the standard interpretation has been that, when first dug, they held tall oak posts that had no astronomical function.

Cremation at Stonehenge

About 60 finds of cremated human bone are recorded at Stonehenge, representing some 50 people. Most of what survives has now been recovered in the excavation of Aubrey Hole 7. All such remains had originally been buried in or near Aubrey Holes or the ditch beyond. Pitts has suggested that in total, the cremated remains of some 240 people were buried at Stonehenge. This is by far the largest cemetery of this era we know of in Britain.
After the 1920s excavations had ended, no institution wished to curate the cremated bone, and in 1935 Wiltshire archaeologists William Young and Robert Newall buried them in Aubrey Hole 7. A lead plate with an inscription briefly describing the event was found in August. Today we expect to be able to learn a great deal from these remains, identifying sex, age and health of the individuals, and with a new process we can radiocarbon date them.


The great majority of researchers agree that almost all the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge by people from a small area of Pembrokeshire around the Preseli Hills. There are no stone chips at the bottom of the Aubrey Holes, but large numbers elsewhere on the site. It may be that 56 stones were brought to Stonehenge as natural boulders around 3000BC, and erected in the Aubrey Holes. Only later were some of them (not all) carved to shape, and further bluestones must have been brought to Stonehenge either then or before.
The total weight of all original bluestones at Stonehenge was around 260 tons. The total weight of the sarsens (the larger stones, brought from some 20 miles away) was around 1,700 tons.

BBC Timewatch

These new claims conflict with those made by Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who excavated at Stonehenge in April. In a BBC broadcast on September 27, they said the first bluestones arrived at Stonehenge in 2300 BC, by which time cremation burial had ceased.
We cannot support the 2300 BC radiocarbon date. It was obtained from a single cereal grain, which most archaeologists would find unacceptable. Items this small can be moved by burrowing animals – Charles Darwin showed the burying power of earthworms specifically at Stonehenge in 1877. It also conflicts with other radiocarbon dates and the known sequence of megalithic construction at the site, which together place the first erection of bluestones in the centre of Stonehenge at an unknown date before 2470 BC.
There are currently only three radiocarbon dates for cremation burials. It is statistically unlikely that the last burial that took place at Stonehenge is amongst those dated, so the most recent date of 2470–2300 BC should not be read as dating the end of that tradition.

Stonehenge Riverside Project

Responsible for major excavation within the Stonehenge world heritage site over the past five summers. Directors are Mike Parker Pearson (Sheffield University), Joshua Pollard (Bristol University), Colin Richards and Julian Thomas (Manchester University), Christopher Tilley (UCL) and Kate Welham (Bournemouth University).
Website at


Geo Cur said...

Whether the evidence points to the Aubreys having held post or bluestones or nothing has long been contentious with those interested in the monument .
Surely Neil and I and others ? have discussed it ,possibly in passing , here .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, we have. I was just wondering whether there have been any real developments in thinking -- or new evidence -- since 2012?

Geo Cur said...

People have changed their minds on it over the years .
I'm not aware of anything new .
I think the consenus is now in favour of the presence of stones ,rather than nothing or timber posts , and bluestones not sarsen .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Geo. That's what I thought. But there still seems to be a degree of tribal conflict on this between the MPP / Pollard tribe and the Darvill / Wainwright tribe? All good fun......

TonyH said...

Then there's the vexed question of the so - called Bluestonehenge down by the Avon riverside not too far from Sting's pile. No geological evidence for it holding either bluestones; nor one fragment remaining. Take a look at Bluestonehenge's Wikipedia entry.

Another case of the main requirement being MPPs vivid imagination/ ambition?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree that Bluestonehenge is a real puzzle -- and of course if the supposed stone holes there really did contain bluestones (which were later shifted to Stonehenge) that pushes the "fist date of use" for the bluestones further back still.

I read in one of the bluestonehenge articles by MPP that one of the "stone holes" contained a fragment of sandstone that was suggested to be a piece of the Altar Stone. I wonder how reliable that was?

TonyH said...

Dictionary definition of CONJECTURE:

An opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information. Synonyms include GUESS, FANCY, SPECULATION, SURMISE

Myris of Alexandria said...

Dr Ixer looked at the sandstone fragments from West Amesbury Henge none is like the Altar Stone.
It clearly states this in the pet rock boys paper debitage dilemma.
No stone from West Amesbury Henge can be directly associated with Stonehenge.

chris johnson said...

It would be interesting to know whether any analysis has been done on the fragment from Bluestone Henge, if fragment there was.

Personally I feel inclined to give MPPs gut feel some weight :) He has seen a lot more stone settings than I have and nothing in his academic record to date shows an inclination to deliberately defraud. The idea that bluestones were on site from the earliest times might strengthen the glacial hypothesis. There is little evidence that society pre-2500 BC was capable of organising the massive collective effort needed to move the bluestones.

I am well aware that we are here involved in assessing most plausible hypotheses. It is overdue for archaeologists to share data on bluestonehenge, rhosyfelin, etc, etc.

TonyH - spending time on stonehenge is inevitably going to mean forming opinions on incomplete information. It is the nature of the beast,

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Myris -- so what was the source of that fragment?

chris johnson said...

My last post crossed with Myris. So now we know?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- of course that's true. If the stones were lying around in the Stonehenge landscaoe, they could have been put up somewhere, for some purpose, as soon as the inhabitants of Salisbury Plain were moved to stand stones upright and to put them into settings or arrangements. So they could have gone into long barrows, as at Boles Barrow near Heytesbury -- if you are inclined to believe the dolerite boulder story that others are disinclined to believe because it is very inconvenient.

So yes, I would have no problem with stones being put into position well before 5,000 yrs BP if necessary........

Unknown said...

I seem to recall a bluestone setting at Wick, near bath. I hope to make a visit to find them again, next year. Are you or your contributors aware of these bluestones, or have I dreamt it? I do have a picture of them, somewhere.

chris johnson said...

There is a megalithic feature at Wick near Bristol and Bath. From what I hear it might have been a long barrow. People say the stones are pinkish in colour and apparently they have a crystalline sparkly component. It does not sound like bluestone and I heard that the stones are similar to those in a nearby quarry.

Sorry for the anecdotal nature of my response. They are well worth a visit by all accounts,

PeteG said...

the Wick stones are local to the Bath area.
I have been quiet here but have been very busy searching for bluestones in the area around Stonehenge. I have had several promising finds in gardens in Amesbury tested for me but alas nothing with a Stonehenge connection so far.
I have also had stone from Berwick St James and Shrewton tested and ruled out.
During the winter I will be looking for a stone that forms part of a small bridge over a field stream a couple of miles from the site which is marked on an early local map in private hands as 'Stone.'

I am currently in touch with the army to get permissions sorted out to fly a drone over the route across Salisbury plain that the Sarsens are supposed to have been dragged from the Marlborough downs.
I covered the area around Marden Henge during this years dig.

I have found a monument on the the edge of the plain made up of one sarsen and 6 bluestones that definitaly came from Precelli as the farmer told me he bought them over himself in the year 2000 to make a monument on his land.

I am hoping to fly over some site in Wales with the drone to trace possible routes the stones were taken from the 'quarries'
More news coming soon.
Pete G

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Pete -- keep hunting!! So you have a monument-building farmer who went to all the trouble to go to Preseli to collect some bluestones for his folly? Takes all sorts.... the eccentricities of the English.

TonyH said...

Perhaps we more conservative(with a small C) commentators on Matters Stonehenge and Bluestone should adopt Myris' nomenclature for "Bluestonehenge/Bluehenge", and refer to it as the West Amesbury Henge.

This is more FACTUALLY accurate, folks! We ARE interested in facts, yes?

MPP's pet - rock name/ nickname for it is all very well as far as what Chris refers to as MPP's "gut feeling". However, as soon as he first used it, it was immediately picked up by our old favourite of factual accuracy, the Daily Mail.....within the blinking of an eye it had traversed the Atlantic Ocean, and henceforth it has been virtually written in concrete in the Huffington Post, Fox News, etc, etc. Thus are Modern Myths born, though seldom recognised as such by the average innocent punter buying his newspaper or switching on his television or Internet. Folk tales are still prevalent....

TonyH said...

Fascinating explorations/ investigations you're doing, PeteG. Brilliant.

You mention you have had "several promising finds in gardens in Amesbury tested... but alas none with a Stonehenge connection so far". Could I suggest they may yet be worth identifying geologically in case they may yet have a broader connection with glaciation from Brian's general direction beyond the modern Bristol Channel over in south west Cymru?

Have you taken any further steps to look at exotic stones said to be on hillsides near Portishead? We were in touch about these by email a few years ago.


Evergreen said...

Interesting stuff Pete, I look forward to hearing more. (Simon here, btw.)

PeteG said...

samples have been tested by the best but have yet to find a solid provinence for their origin although it is probably Dorset. They have definitaly not seen Wales.

The Portishead stones are local to the area and have been identified by a local geologist.

I have some more garden stones in Amesbury to chase up soon, even if it's only to tick them off the list.
All this work is unfunded so I am limited in what I can do.
If only I had a budget I could do so much more!