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Monday, 23 November 2015

The Boles Barrow Bluestone -- again

We have had much discussion about the Boles Barrow Bluestone on this blog -- do a search if you want to look at earlier posts and discussions.  There are those who believe that the bluestone (spotted dolerite) boulder found in a long barrow near Heytesbury (20 kms WNW of Stonehenge) was taken to Heytesbury House and eventually found its way to the Museum to Salisbury, where it still resides.  But others are disinclined to believe this very inconvenient story, since any bluestone embedded in a long barrow must have been placed there well before the Stonehenge bluestones were supposedly fetched from Wales and incorporated into the Stonehenge bluestone settings.  Therefore they have declared themselves sceptical about Cunnington's account and have claimed that the provenance is "disputed" or "unproven";  their version of events is that the boulder was taken by Cunnington from Stonehenge to Heytesbury as a trophy,  before being moved to Salisbury.  It is suggested that this happened in 1798 or shortly thereafter, following the completion of Cunnington's work on the old stone monument.

Probably everything has been said that can be said about this, since there is no absolute proof of the boulder's real provenance.  However, I have discovered this little-known article by Geoffrey Kellaway, written in 2002:

"Glacial and tectonic factors in the emplacement of the bluestones of Salisbury Plain",  Survey of Bath and District 17 (Nov 2002), pp 57-72.

In it, he argues that at least some of the bluestones used at Stonehenge were taken from older Neolithic monuments in order to be incorporated in either the bluestone horseshoe or the bluestone circle.  He claims that there is evidence from some of the other long barrows, at Normanton and elsewhere, for this sort of grave desecration and stone robbing; and then he argues that Boles Barrow was too far away for this to have happened there, so the boulder remained in place until it was discovered by Cunnington in 1801.

Kellaway further argues that following his work at Stonehenge, Cunnington would never have dreamed of taking away a whole bluestone boulder simply because he wanted the garden of his house at Heytesbury to look more interesting.  The signs are that he had great respect for the monument, and would not have desecrated it.  And if he really had not discovered and removed the stone from Boles Barrow, why would he have written in such haste to his patron, Mr HP Wyndham, to tell him about the discovery?

The most important point is this -- and it is frequently overlooked.  If Cunnington had removed a bluestone boulder from Stonehenge, he must have done it between 1798 and 1810.  Any yet the surveys of the Stonehenge stone settings do not reveal any such stone "disappearance."  The plan made by John Wood in 1747 showed the positions of all the standing, leaning and half-buried bluestones.  When Flanders Petrie published his plan in 1877 all of the bluestones were still there.  Not one of them was missing.

It's interesting that Kellaway (writing in 2002) completely ignores the points made by James Scourse and Christopher Green in their chapters in the big Science and Stonehenge book published in 1997.  It appears that he was not very impressed by their arguments relating to the bluestone boulder's provenance -- which had already been dealt with by Dr Olwen Williams-Thorpe in correspondence.


Note:  Siegfried Sassoon, who was living in Heytesbury House in 1934, gave the stone to the Salisbury Museum, probably because it was known at that time as "The Stonehenge Stone" on grounds of  its physical similarity to some of the bluestones at Stonehenge.


Dave Maynard said...

Where is the stone now?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Still in Salisbury Museum, as far as I know.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

Yes it was on the floor in about 2010 when I last visited the museum.
Geochemistry and petrography of the stone show it to belong with the orthostats.
It is discussed in the Antiquity paper, out SOON.

PeteG said...

Boles Barrow should be re-excavated using modern techniques.
There maybe more pieces in there that were previously unrecognised.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree! But hasn't it been badly damaged by the Army? Some tank tracks seem to go right past it, and some partly over it........