Did the Aubrey Holes hold 56 bluestones?
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
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
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 Holes56 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.
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.
Cremation at Stonehenge
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.
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
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.
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
Stonehenge Riverside Project
Website at www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/stonehenge