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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Eight fundamental problems with the bluestone human transport hypothesis



I'm the first one to admit that the glacial transport hypothesis does not currently have much evidence going for it, when we look at the landforms and known sediments on Salisbury Plain.   I remain optimistic that such evidence will be forthcoming, when more detailed studies are done.  However, we do know that the bluestone assemblage could have been carried at least as far as the Somerset Levels,  because there are glacial deposits there, and glacier modelling suggests that at some stage the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier could have reached Salisbury Plain.  So that's a start.......

By contrast, I suggest there is NOTHING in the way of evidence to support the idea of human transport -- just an assumption that if Neolithic tribesmen were able to move big stones over short distances, they could also have moved them over long distances, if they had been sufficiently motivated.  That's either reasonable speculation, or wild fantasy, depending on where you are coming from........ 

The fact that assorted bluestone fragments from Stonehenge have been provenanced quite accurately to parts of the Preseli Hills area is of course irrelevant as far as the transport debate is concerned.

There are extremely serious problems with the human transport hypothesis, as pointed out by many authors over the years.  I have posted these points before, but here they are again.

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances (more than 5 km or so) for incorporation in a megalithic monument.  In contrast, abundant evidence shows that the builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.
 

2. If ancestor or tribute stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?  Were belief systems and "local politics" quite different to the north, east and south?
 

3.  There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite or Rhosyfelin rhyolite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.  The builders always used whatever was available to them in the vicinity, and it cam be argued that stone availability was a prime locational determinant for stone settings.
 

4.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards?  It is a complete technological aberration.
 

5. The evidence for Neolithic quarrying activity in key locations like Rhosyfelin and Carngoedog is questionable, to put it mildly.  No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis.  At Rhosyfelin the so-called engineering features are all, in my view,  archaeological artifices or figments of the imagination.
 

6.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (near 30 when one includes packing stones and debris) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been ten or more "bluestone quarries" scattered across West Wales.
 

7.  Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast. Neither has it been shown that they had the geographical awareness and navigational ability to undertake long and highly complex journeys with very heavy loads. 
8.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?   The mooted "Preselite" axe factory has never been found, and neither has the mythical Stonehenge precursor.

32 comments:

beeman said...

You really haven't bothered to do any research into this at all have you? I'd suggest reading various ethnographic accounts of contemporary megalith constructing societies but - sadly - for someone as evangelical and dogmatic as you, it would be a complete waste of time. See if you can bring yourself to watch this you tube clip of people hauling a large monolith through a heavily forested environment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=extICz077gk

BRIAN JOHN said...

Seen it all and read it all before, thank you, Beeman. Usual stuff about "if they can do it over here now, they could have done it over there, then." Gets us nowhere.

beeman said...

Thats odd, because you still seem to be under the impression humans during the Neolithic would not be able to move stones - despite watching people do it today under the same material conditions. I mean - fair enough you're entitled to say that you don't believe people during the Neolithic moved stones but why try and claim that they couldn't ? This video and various other sources clearly demonstrate that they could have. You write a lot about archaeological fantasies; I think this demonstrates that you're engaged in a rather elaborate one of your own.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Of course they moved stones. Have I ever said that they didn't? Read the blog properly, Beeman, and use the very helpful search facility. You might learn something.

beeman said...

I'll use my eye facility and look slightly higher up the page where I read...

"...have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast."

chris johnson said...

I thought Brian stated the heart of the dilemma quite accurately; there is plenty of evidence big stones were moved short distances in the Neolithic, and no evidence in UK at least for long distance transport. By long distance I mean more than a few miles, never mind the well over 150 mile trip from Crymych to Amesbury.

I am a bit familiar with this part of West Wales and my mind boggles at the effort involved. The terrain is Difficult with a capital D, especially when you move West to East.

beeman said...

Are you familiar with the monuments of Silbury Hill, Avebury and Durrington Walls? These are enormous constructions that involved equally mind boggling amounts of time. Whether or not you believe the stones were transported from Wales or not isn't the issue here - it the trite statement that it simply wasn't possible that needs addressing. Once we've established this, it's possible to move onto a more refined discussion about likelihoods, comparative scenarios etc.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Beeman -- you are sounding just like our old friend Geo. Strange, that. Who said that "it simply wasn't possible?" Not me. Kindly be more careful. I choose my words very carefully.

beeman said...

Ah yes, I remember Geo making some good points on a few issues before you ran out of arguments and shut down the comments on that particular blog post.

It's very clear that by highlighting the lack of convincing experimental studies relating to megalith transport you're alluding to that fact that you don't believe it would have been possible. Given that you claim to be aware of successful ethnographic examples of large stone transport (like the one in the video link I posted), raising this point is at best academic, at worst, misleading. Presumably you only do it to bulk out an argument which you feel is a bit flimsy?

Also - take a look at the what the sledge and associated technology is made of in the video and you may very well find an answer to question no. 4.

chris johnson said...

Beeman has a point, an important point, even the central point of this whole debate.

In the neolithic a majestic landscape was constructed in Wiltshire and Somerset and maybe beyond. This we know, or ought to know as although it does not feature prominently in the official publications and shame on them. I am invited to visit Orkney/Shetland in May and very tempted I am too although it is a lot of cash.

My thesis has always been that if you can move a stone 10 yards, you can move it 150 yards, even 150 miles. However the reason needs to be GI-NORMOUS the further you go. Tell me more about the reason Beeman, you have my attention.

Personally I believe the transportation discussion is a side show. We need to dig (archaeologically speaking Tony) in Prescelli and Wiltshire. Anybody who proposes that stone age people did not see the difference between a sarsen, a sandstone, a rhyolite, and a dolerite - well such people are the truly and essentially deranged.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Fewer snide comments please, Beeman. I did not run out of arguments -- I got fed up of going round in circles and tangled up in Geo's twisted logic. Now you think I'm alluding to something being impossible. I suppose I should be happy that you have changed your position and accepted that I have never said anything is "impossible" -- now then, to put the boot on the other foot, do you want to tell us that glacial transport of the bluestones was "impossible"? Nothing is secured as the truth, and we have no killer fact or smoking gun. In the end you carry on and believe what you want to believe.

By the way, I too have pulled along a large stone, as part of the Millennium Stone project. Great fun, but taught us absolutely nothing.

Agree with Chris that what we need is EVIDENCE.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- "Anybody who proposes that stone age people did not see the difference between a sarsen, a sandstone, a rhyolite, and a dolerite - well such people are the truly and essentially deranged." That's a bit brash, isn't it? Most people today can't tell the difference, so why should we think our Neolithic ancestores were so expert? A weathered dolerite boulder looks very much like a weathered sandstone boulder, and a sarsen boulder can be bluer than a bluestone boulder.

BRIAN JOHN said...

By the way, Beeman, in point 4 I am talking about cultural / technological diffusion in the Neolithic, as you would realise if you paid closer attention.

chris johnson said...

Brian, this was the Stone Age!. I have handled thousands of stone age tools and am secure in my belief that people knew their material intimately. Why should this be otherwise? Biologically it was not that long ago and my assumption is that they had similar brains as we have today so why should they be less discriminating?

These days I agree that most people cannot see the difference and this is because the difference no longer matters. As we recently debated, I doubt whether a 20th century farmer looking for a gateposts would discriminate between a dolerite and a rhyolite = one if fragile then all are suspect.

We need to make an attempt to see with ancient eyes in order to understand their world view. To draw another parallel from more recent times, were your parents not skilled in discriminating between various types of coal and are your children NOT? This does not imply that your children are less intelligent than their grandparents, simply that time and technologies have moved on.

Myris of Alexandria said...

The argument that people today cannot tell the difference between lithologies is beyond facile.Shame on you.Most people today cannot tell the difference between cow parsley and hemlock. They do not need to so there is no imperative to do so.
Years ago on a large concrete floor I saw a dozen or so Namibian low paid 'miners' take a pile of all white rocks from a premature deposit and hand cob and sort the identical white rocks into a dozen or so different minerals. I'm a highly trained mineralogist but to me they were the same or very similar rocks/ minerals, to the miners who were paid by result they were food on the table and so they learned to discriminate.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned and totally applicable to this debate.
M

Phil Morgan said...

Hello Brian,

You say ---- "Most people today can't tell the difference, so why should we think our Neolithic ancestores were so expert? A weathered dolerite boulder looks very much like a weathered sandstone boulder, and a sarsen boulder can be bluer than a bluestone boulder."

What you say is true, and a rough assessment of my neighbours would probably show that 99% wouldn't even know that there are large stones and little stones at Stonehenge, and 85% wouldn't give a damn anyway.

I think it more appropriate to compare the sources of the stones at Stonehenge. Surely our ancestors would have recognised that the rocks of the dolerite outcrops on the ridge of the Preseli Hills, were unlike the rhyolite rocks such as crop out at Craig Rhos-y-Felin, and different again from the sarsen 'grey wethers' laying horizintal on the ground in the Marlborough area. Weathering need not come into the equation.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Fair enough points, chaps. I agree that if people really wanted to sort things, they did that -- the fact that all the bluestones in the horseshoe seem to be dolerites indicates some selection skill. But in the bluestone circle they literally used whatever they could get their hands on. And from all my knowledge of Pembrokeshire standing stones and cromlechs all I see is utilitarianism ans opportunism, with no attempt at stone selection by type or lithology at all.

Hugh Thomas said...

Would it help if we considered possible reasons WHY a culture would pick bluestones from Preselau and transport them to Salisbury plain when none, if any of the local monuments(built by the same contemporary people ) had any at all ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree, Hugh. The archaeologoists have dreamed up assorted reasons for what they see as a wondrous quarrying and transportation effort, but none of them is supported by any evidence. Stones of the ancestors? Tribute stones? Healing stones? Stones of special beauty? If any of those, why were the locals apparently completely disinterested in rhyolite from Rhosyfelin?

Hugh Thomas said...

I feel that in order for there to be ANY true merit for the human transportation of a Preselau bluestone circle to Salisbury plain then the original site of such a circle needs to be found . Correct me if I am wrong but does the evidence now suggest the stones came from the northern slopes ? I am aware of a few circular features in the landscape around these flanks which as far as I know have never been looked at by archaeologists . There is only one stand out site that could serve any purpose in eastern Preselau and that is Bedd Arthur purely from an alignment point of view(after a few years of investigation) , as far as I know there are no bluestones standing there.
So unless there is a lost site which would mean a forgotten religion of the ancients using the stone for ancestral representation in Preselau then it all goes no where.
I have thought long and hard pondering these things while trapesing all over those hills but keep coming back to one question , what was so important about those hills and outcrops to warrant moving these standing stones ? The people living there had to be aware of the vast importance of what was being built on Salisbury plain OR those in Salisbury plain were VERY aware of Preselau and a link based on an unkown religion had to be forged , I can think of no other reason for it but have found nothing in the Preselau landscape to support it. What factors could have possibly driven the ancients to do this we can only speculate. The logistical practicalities are soul destroying for anyone who does not study it on paper alone , the average weight of stone being around two tons, not huge but enough people could shift it , but they would have to keep moving it over 150 miles on some downright dangerous and impractical landscapes . There is no answer because even the greatest theories cannot answer "why from here " ? Sorry to ramble..... ;)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Spot on, Hugh. And yes, it does look as if the majority of bluestones have indeed come from the northern slopes -- precisely where glacial entrainment of erratics would be expected.

beeman said...

Hi all,
I read your comment for what it was, an allusion to the fact that you don't believe long distant human transport was possible during the Neolithic. If this wasn't the implication then why make the point at all, seeing as it would little bearing on the overall argument?

I would not disagree that glacial transport was possible (though debate still exists on the limits of glaciation), just less likely than human transport on the weight of evidence available.

Returning to point 4. What form would you expect this evidence of hauling technology to be in exactly? I would say the most unequivocal would be preserved ropes and sledges, the preservation of which is particularly problematic in the acidic soils of Wales. That said, a quick google will reveal rare examples of preserved cordage and advanced wood working from prehistoric contexts.

Also the long distance transport of stones is not completely unknown in the British Neo. New Grange is composed of rocks from various sources considerable distances apart. These are not large stones but have been transported all the same. Why was this done? Not sure but the point is it was done.

Hugh Thomas said...

Beeman , you make some interesting points regarding Newgrange , perhaps the inclusion of rocks from various points in the landscape into the structure of Newgrange brought representation of those places or people from those places into the spirit of the monument.
It is true that stones CAN be moved by people over large distances if they have enough enthusiasm and grit to do it, but in the case of Stonehenge we cannot simply say "it WAS done " , the evidence lies within Newgrange FOR it but NOT in the construct of Stonehenge , they are different animals.
As Brian stated some selection WAS made for the inner horseshoe but in order to do so someone must have had a lot of the stones in a row or heap in front of him at some point in order to do so , which emplies a delivery system of sorts. Even with what we know now that delivery system brought in a different type of delivery for the outer bluestone circle so something changed. It means either the " Eddie Stobart" of the neolithic did not get enough stones from west Wales OR an outcrop in Preselau was overun by ice, hoovered up and only a smattering of it was dropped in the Salisbury plain area by a glacier, again not leaving enough stones for both features at Stonehenge.
If you visit the Stonehenge experience now we are bulldozed into accepting only one theory , which is dangerous because with the advancement of sciences we may not even dream about yet , one day COULD be proven wrong . We are in an age where no one can PROVE human transport 100% yet, so open sensible minds need to be kept because in 100 years time they could well be scratching thier heads wondering what the hell some were believing in....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Beeman -- I did not say anything was "impossible", even if you think that is what I meant. I made it clear that on the basis of current evidence I see no reason to believe that the bluestones were transported from West Wales to Stonehenhge by human agency. The weight of evidence, in spite of what you might think, favours the glacial transport theory.

Re ropes and sledges, here we go again. If they did it over there they could have done it over here as well, in spite of us having no evidence to support the idea. Gets us nowhere.

Newgrange's shiny white facing stones were, as far as I know, all small enough to have been carried by individuals -- presumably for cosmetic purposes. Different matter entirely, as Hugh says.

On the nature of the "erratic assemblage" at Stonehenge, as I have said many times before, we see such a mottley collection that there was probably no pre-selection involved prior to the stones being put into settings. I agree with Hugh that at that stage the builders may have asked themselves what they had, and then placed some stones of similar types (eg the spotted dolerites) together, leaving the rest as a strange assortment of all shapes, types and sizes, to go in the bluestone circle. And as I have said many times before, they may have wanted around 80 stones, but they only ever managed to find 43 by scouring the local contryside, at which point they gave up and left the monument uncompleted.

Hugh Thomas said...

Incomplete ? Ssshhhhh man if the staff at Stonehenge read that they would go into melt down.... ;) Perhaps some later generations realised the outcrops in Preselau looked bare ( or felt short changed in some way, or due to neolithic consumer rights were returning faulty Rhos Y Felyn goods )and decided to bring them back.... ;)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh, that's not so radical, High. Plenty of others have suggested that they ran out of stones, and that Stonehenge was never completed because of that. Some of them are even archaeologists.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

What is a quarry, what are 'tired stones' I very strongly suggest reading the papers on the Pre-inka stone collection close to Puno, Bolivia.
I have found the work to be highly informative and am still working through its implications.
Especially the quasi-Koan "Is this stone tired" still better than "Does this stone have a Buddha-nature". I do hope no to the second or I shall come back as some disgusting manganese hydroxide whereas I want be xingxongite.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Clearly there are lots of big stones used in enigmatic ancient settings in South America -- mostly from within the past 2,000 years. Give us something to look at, Myris -- there is a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo written about all these sites, and not enough hard science. What's written about the so-called "quarries"? How many of the large stones were genuinely quarried and genuinely dragged across country? And how many of them were glacial erratics? There was a lot of glacial activity in the high Andes, and before we all get too gobsmacked about superhuman feats of stone transport, I would like to know what the glacial / Quaternary context is........

Myris of Alexandria said...

See ref given in your blatent advert..
Ignore the van Helsing nonsense this is post-processualist TRUTH.
No a very interesting paper with plenty of ammunition for everybody.

a little quotation fro a book review.

Janusek et al relook at the use and provenance of sandstone and andesite by the Tiwanaku (one of a number of papers centred on Lake Titicaca). Their provenancing studies, based on PXRF (but with little new petrography to provide ground truth) reaffirm earlier provenance studies for the sandstone but somewhat alter the origins of the andesite. Straightforward work; their discussion of the symbolic/political use of the two materials (plus basalt) is more subjective. The influence of 20th century Peru-Bolivia nationalism/chauvinism is an interesting aside, whilst the use of the neologism architectonic is baffling to a geologist but the term tired stones is most expressive. In the increasingly warming debate on the transport mechanism bringing Welsh stones to Stonehenge finding tired stones has been the Holy Grail for decades. It has been a delight to see positive proof of rope-holds on tired stones somewhere and this chapter illuminates and moves in parallel with the Stonehenge stone debates, from debating what defines a quarry site to how the stones were moved. Are glacial boulders collected from an erratic field, are joint blocks lifted from a karstic surface, quarry sites? Just one of the germane questions this chapter inspires.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Would somebody please define for us what "post-processualist truth" is? I have looked it up on Wikipedia and am none the wiser........

BRIAN JOHN said...

Which ref and which blatant advert?

BRIAN JOHN said...

And what are "tired stones"?