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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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Is the glacial transport thesis now refuted?

One of the models from an Aberystwyth University research team which has examined plausible glaciation scenarios for western Britain

The new paper:
Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity, 89, pp 1331-1352 doi:10.15184/aqy.2015.177 

Quote from P 1333:  "The distant origins of some of Stonehenge’s monoliths have given rise to a variety of hypotheses about how and why they might have come so far. The theory that the stones were carried by glaciers, transported during an Ice Age to Salisbury Plain or its margins (Kellaway 1971; Thorpe et al. 1991; Williams-Thorpe et al. 1997, 2006), has not been refuted until now, even though there is no evidence for glacial deposition within southern central England (Thomas 1923; Green 1973; McMillan et al. 2005; Gibbard & Clark 2011; Clark et al. 2012)."

Among the thanks at the end of the paper:   "D.Q. Bowen (for drawing our attention to recent literature on the lack of any evidence for ice sheets reaching Salisbury Plain)."  My old friend  David Bowen might be right on some things, but he sure is very wrong on others, and I am not sure whether citing him as a learned authority does any good for the arguments presented in this new paper.

The idea that the paper somehow refutes the glacial transport thesis is of course nonsensical, since it devotes no space to a consideration of the issues, and provides no evidence to disprove or outweigh other conflicting evidence.  The citation of a clutch of references does nothing for the argument;   we call all cite selectively, whenever we want to.

Let's just get this straight.  There is indeed no evidence cited in the literature which shows conclusively that there are glacial deposits or erratics on Salisbury Plain.  That does not mean there is no evidence out there -- it is just that no conclusive evidence has been brought forward by researchers.  Unless, that is, we wish to count 43 lumps of bluestone and a lot of other debris around Stonehenge as belonging to an erratic assemblage that was lying around waiting to be gathered up.  That, in my view, is still the most parsimonious interpretation of the fact that there are bluestones in the ancient monument.  And there are certainly other erratics -- and enigmatic deposits that might be the residues of Anglian till deposits -- in central southern England, however that territory might be defined. And there are glacial deposits associated with the Irish Sea Glacier in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and associated with local ice masses around the uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor.  That is not disputed.

If we balance all of that with the hard evidence on the ground in support of the human transport hypothesis, what do we find?  Nothing at all.  And bear in mind the following:

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 for the period and the place.

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.

 I have raised those issues over and again, and they have never been properly addressed by the archaeologists who now want us to believe what they choose to tell us about what went on in the Neolithic........


Alex Gee said...

Can't wait to read it! Or is this another of those $30 a pop jobs?

Alex Gee said...

It will be interesting to see whether or not their detailed analysis of the sedimentary stratigraphy at Rhosyfellin, agrees with that of you and your colleagues in the latest QRA journal.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You will be disappointed, Alex. There is no presentation of the stratigraphy in the paper, let alone any detailed analysis of it. Zilch. It is entirely missing. Not there. Probably never was there -- or did the Editor chop it out? Can't believe that. The authors probably thought that stratigraphy and sediment analyses were a waste of time -- a worthless digression from the main matter in hand, which was the confirmation of the Gospel.

TonyH said...

Yet again (apart from someone I have met and exchanged correspondence with, who goes under the pseudonym Myris) I expect there will be another DEAFENING SILENCE from the MPP Fraternity & Sorority to your 8 points, Brian.

Silence speaks volumes, and I am entitled to quote that saying as an ex - Librarian. These Brothers & Sisters are incapable of participating in our debate.

They have their Ruling Hypothesis, I prefer to call it a Closed - Minded, Luddite Hypothesis. And,nevertheless, they are too scared to offer any contribution, let alone participate in a debate, it appears, preferring to retreat behind their parapets of prejudice. To quote one of MPP's expressions, "Oh Dear".

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, some people probably think, Tony, that participation in blog site discussions is a rather sordid and degrading activity. They probably prefer to remain aloof.

TonyH said...

Nevertheless, I am convinced, by virtue of direct observation of the Main Man at work, that, however aloof they may prefer to remain, nevertheless they do look at blog site discussions.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Bah I am no pseudonym but an entity in my own right, beloved of Sublime Apollo.
Like 'agios Kostas I search for the Truth, mine is better than most, and believe that a prod here, a poke there,a little stroking moves us all further along.
Personal blogs are just that, however solid or sordid, the literature is the correct place. Good for Brian et al for quite ably interpreting the Cryf data. I know both versions can now be set alongside, stripped of their excessive flesh, and forensically examined.
This blog is fun but I am not certain that it has contributed enormously to the debate on the Stonehenge stones movement story, other than to keep the glacial theory comatose.
The general glacial guff is always enticing and the southern movement of the ice front in the past decade eyewatering.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I agree that blogs are just a bit of fun. But actually I suspect that the things I say on this one are more critically appraised -- in an open and respectful way -- than many papers submitted to learned journals. Every now and then trolls cause a degree of mayhem, but I have now decided simply not to feed them, and they go away to cause trouble elsewhere. As I have said before, some articles are well refereed and are dealt with competently and fairly by editors, but many others which should never have seen the light of day are allowed to slip through the net. Editors have complete freedom to choose their referees, and if you and an editor and you want to see a paper published, that can always be arranged........

But yes, papers published in journals are indeed on the record, and are then available for forensic examination by all who have an interest / expertise on the topic.

Thinking of which, how on earth did this latest article in Antiquity ever make it into print?

TonyH said...

What does your latest comment "The general glacial guff is always enticing and the southern movement of the ice front in the past decade eyewatering" actually mean, Myris, me old mate? Are you acknowledging then, that the ice front HAS INDEED moved southwards over the last decade of research, thereby giving a somewhat poetic yet cryptic nod to the veracity of these recent research findings?

Myris of Alexandria said...

The recent research has brought the maximum ice front further south than was taught in the 1960s.
Or even in the 1990s. If that front brought large orthostats onto the Druidical plains is is as reasonable as saying there was a BA phase of stone movement that intended the proto orthostat the be dragged/carried to said plains.
I miss HK and his talk of the mountains on Salisbury Plain and bones and stones slipping down.
On balance, I think, the stones were moved by man/strong women to the sound of shaman wails and undercooked pork. Rather takes me to some festivals I went to in the early 70s. Though there far more patchouli in the 70s, just love that smell.

chris johnson said...

My mother always said that undercooked pork rotted the brain. Perhaps that is why nobody remembers what actually happened - applies to the 1970s too for some festival goers

TonyH said...

I remember zooming slowly past Durrington Walls and Stonehenge on my seriously underpowered moped in 1968 on a mammoth** journey from Norwich to North Devon..........all the rest of the '60's was just a blur......

** it has to be emphasisied that no mammoths nor aurochs nor '60's English Heritage archaeologists were killed during this journey

Myris of Alexandria said...

I noted the singular ommission of flint ducks in that list.
Norfolk to north Devon, can only have been love. I did London to Port Eynon by Lorry about the same time. Just to think of the time lines crossing somewhere like Swindon.
Very Dr Who.
You are more than correct 're Mike Pitts, accurate,acute and a touch acerbic.Excellent journo/Archie.

Jx said...

I'm a late-comer here, so I'm sorry for that--and I hope you see this message, and that I might be able to comment:

Can I just remark how the ice limit line of this map on this post (Aberystwyth study) and your map Brian, is beginning to very closely match the St Michael ley-line (most significant of all ley-lines. THE ley-line.)

I have always had the intuition that ley-lines are the end of ice sheets, or else the paths of glaciers moving rocks, and of course this would leave rock morraines along these lines that ancient man would built megalithic sites out of, that either remain, or later became sites of castles and temples and later churches.

It is interesting that this theory, and the most recent glacial extent maps by yourself and others, matches your theory of ancient people using glacial morraines more or less where they found them (which has always been an obvious intuition of mine also.)

The only additional thought being that these lines/paths do indeed have 'charge' and electromagentic/energetic significance on their own. I have walked ley-lines and touched megaliths in West Cornwall and have had some notable consequences (light bulbs exploding when I turn on the light, etc) afterwards. I would not try to convince anyone--as only direct personal experience convinces in such matters.