Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Bluestone Quarry news management

This is one of the press releases -- this one from the University of Manchester -- carefully designed to confirm a ruling hypothesis and to cement the "fact" that there were bluestone quarries in Pembrokeshire, at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  Note this sentence:  "New research by the team published today in the journal Antiquity presents detailed evidence of prehistoric quarrying....."  Actually, if you look at the article, it presents no evidence at all of prehistoric quarrying, but rather a lot of speculation.  At the end, editors are encouraged to talk to Mike Parker Pearson and Richard Bevins about the research.  There are big stakes here, and academic reputations to be enhanced or destroyed........ so nothing is being left to chance in the management of this story.

Never mind, folks -- I'm quite enjoying this.  And truth will out, in the end.

7 December 2015

Stonehenge ‘bluestone’ quarries confirmed 140 miles away in Wales  

• Team of archaeologists discover the source of Stonehenge bluestones in Pembrokeshire
• University of Manchester academic says they knew what they had found at first sight

Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried and transported.

New research by the team published today in the journal Antiquity presents detailed evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, helping to answer long-standing questions about why, when and how Stonehenge was built.

The team of scientists includes researchers from The University of Manchester, UCL, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.

Professor Colin Richards of The University of Manchester, an expert in Neolithic quarries, said: “The two outcrops are really impressive – they may well have had special significance for prehistoric people. When we saw them for the first time we knew immediately that we had found the source.”

Director of the project, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: “This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together. The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge’s stones were extracted.”

The Stonehenge bluestones are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite. Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the ‘rhyolite’ bluestones. The research published today details excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin specifically.

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). “The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”

“When we saw them for the first time we knew immediately that we had found the source"  Professor Colin Richards

Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops. Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) thinks that the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”

The megalith quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills, and this location undermines previous theories about how the bluestones were transported from Wales to Stonehenge. Previous writers have often suggested that bluestones were taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts, but this now seems unlikely.

“The only logical direction for the bluestones to go was to the north then either by sea around St David’s Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40” said Professor Parker Pearson. “Personally I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 – they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”

Phil Bennett, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Culture and Heritage Manager, said: “This project is making a wonderful contribution to our knowledge of the National Park’s importance in prehistory.”

The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Parker Pearson and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2900 BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2500 BC.

“Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far”, said Professor Parker Pearson.

Further excavations are planned for 2016.

Notes to editors

1. For more information, images, copies of the paper, or interview requests with Professor Parker Pearson, please contact Siobhan Pipa in UCL Media Relations on tel: 020 7979 9041, mobile: 07717 728 648 email:

2. For interview requests for Dr Richard Bevins, please contact Catrin Taylor, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales on Ffon/Tel: 029 2057 3185 , Symudol/Mobile: 07920 027067 , Ebost/Email:

3. ‘Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge’ is published in the journal Antiquity on Monday 7th December 2015. The results will also be outlined in the next issues of British Archaeology and Current Archaeology and will feature in a new book published this month by the Council for British Archaeology, Stonehenge: making sense of a prehistoric mystery.

4. The project is led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales), Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester), Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton), Professor Colin Richards (University of Manchester), Mr Duncan Schlee (Dyfed Archaeological Trust) and Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University).

5. It has been funded by the National Geographic Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Archaeological Institute, the National Museum of Wales and the Cambrian Archaeological Association, with support from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.


Timothy Daw said...

I would think it might be better not to publish the mobile and phone numbers of the contacts on the blog - I also remove email addresses so as not to help spammers.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tim, the whole idea of a maximum-impact press release is that you want people to come to you for more info. Those involved have given Email addresses and phone numbers by choice -- and if one of the consequences is that they collect more spam, they probably accept that that is one of the prices to be paid!

Alex Gee said...

Now that the "geologists" have confirmed beyond doubt that these were quarries, you may as well admit defeat. It was a brave effort, but you can't ignore real evidence from real geologists! LOL.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, it's all very entertaining. I am rather intrigued, because the statements of the geologists designed for public consumption, and featured in all the media frenzy, demonstrate that they are singing from the same hymn sheet as Messrs Parker Pearson, Pollard, Richards et al. Three line whip, no doubt. But if you read the paper, the section written by the geologists is very careful and measured, and it's the only bit I have any respect for since it conforms to scientific publication norms.

TonyH said...

I politely asked David Dawson, Director of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, to supply either a PDF, or notes, of Richard Bevins' recent talk (November 2015) there on "Sourcing The Bluestones", as I was unable to attend. I asked as not only a paying Member of WANHS for over 30 years, but also as a keen participator in the on - going debate on bluestone transportation, something of which the Director is well aware.

He said he would look into it and see whether Richard would agree to being recorded. Thia would no doubt have included any questions and answers at the end. I never received any further response from David Dawson. This in stark contrast to the Publicity Machine that is now swinging into action.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Do you think people are actually FRIGHTENED of a proper scientific dialogue? There were certainly some people involved in the dig in past seasons who were "disciplined" for asking too many questions or for publicly expressing doubt about the quarrying obsession. Several of them, after one of MPPs lectures, whispered "Thank God somebody like you is asking some hard questions. We just happen to agree with you." At least one was invited to leave the dig. Hearsay, I know, but my source was pretty reliable. What interests me particularly is the manner in which people (not just archaeologists) are sometimes affected by a sort of mass hysteria or by the unthinking acceptance of a powerful orthodoxy, thereby losing the capacity for independent and rational thought. I recall seeing it in India, where some people we met were seriously disturbed after a time in an ashram under the spell of some immensely powerful guru. It was rather scary........

Myris said...

No it is very simple, most of the Antiquity team could not tell a Jovian texture from Cupid's Bow and took on trust those that can and the implications of such nice provenancing. Similarly those who cannot recognise ancient signs of quarrying/excavation take on trust those that can. The credentials of the archaeologists with respect to the evidence of quarrying are sufficiently high for the geologists to be happy to be included in the results of a team of diverse specialists.
As I say before, loud and often, the views of the gabardine swine are 'clouds in my ertsatz coffee'. Were we to worry about them we would still be watching public hangings or following the Gee Gees and fretting about the cost. Think of the ratings for a reality show where the bush tucker trial is hemlock or ground glass or anthrax-flavoured dead-dog scrumpy.Through the roof I would hazard, pass me the 'phone I have a nominee.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, Myris, I fear that you are just as gullible as everybody else...... "The credentials of the archaeologists with respect to the evidence of quarrying are sufficiently high for the geologists to be happy to be included in the results of a team of diverse specialists." Hey man! You cannot be serious.......!!!

TonyH said...

Hey, bruv! You aint no part of no authentic multi - disciplinary team..... there ain't no geomorfologists! It's a sham, man.