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Thursday, 17 March 2016

Why would anybody be stupid enough to quarry bluestones?


 Natural stone litter, mostly dolerite, on the common near Gernos Fach, Preseli

 Natural stone litter on the surface of  a Devensian moraine, near Tafarn y Bwlch, Preseli


 Stone walls built of smaller boulders from field clearance work, near Ffordd Bedd Morris, Newport.  The larger elongated stones have generally been used as gateposts.

On several occasions on this blog I have asked the question: "Why would anybody be stupid enough to quarry bluestones?" 

Whether we are talking about the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age or historic times, the North Pembrokeshire landscape was and is so littered with large slabs and boulders, many of them elongated, that nobody with any sense would ever have considered that actually going to a rock face in a deep valley and quarrying stones there, from the living rock, would have been an option.  If you wanted "orthostats" or monoliths in the past, you would just go and pick them up from wherever was most convenient, and if it were not for our wonderful planning rules, the same principle would apply today.

The only grounds on which that principle might be overturned might be for a bedrock outcrop site to be so revered that stones taken from it might be invested with great significance -- and indeed that is why Darvill and Wainwright have argued that Carn Meini was exploited as a source of "healing stones" which had to be taken from one place, and one place only.  But as we know, that theory has fallen flat because the geologists now think that the spotted dolerites did not come from there at all.  And as for Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin, there is absolutely no evidence that the stones from those sites were revered in any way.  Spotted dolerites are used in stone settings, but as I have pointed out, we do not know of a single instance in which Rhosyfelin foliated rhyolite was used in a megalithic setting, either in Pembrokeshire or anywhere else.

This all came into mind again recently as I have been wandering about looking at the Preseli landscape, and wondering at the sheer abundance of stones available at the surface.  Then I took a look at  ET Lewis's old book called "North of the Hills" and discovered these words on p 22, relating to the area of origin of the bluestones:   "..... in the triangle formed by Foel Drygarn, Garn Alw and Cerrig y Marchogion.  Those who took them could have chosen their stock from here, without undue quarrying, for the supply of stone is practically endless."

He also says:  "It should be emphasised at this point that igneous boulders are strewn over an extensive area south of the ridge.  Almost every field in many parishes was brought into cultivation after the partial removal of these boulders.  The process of clearance continues to this day; in fact, it has accelerated immensely in recent years.  Northwards of the ridge, hundreds of boulders can be observed, but invariably these have been selected for particular purposes, notably as gateposts, over a period of many centuries."

Thus spake the prophet.

ET Lewis was a pretty astute prehistorian, and he knew the territory intimately, and I think he was on the ball as far as stone collection was concerned. 

So why all the fuss about bluestone quarries?  It would help if some people just lifted their eyes unto the hills, and looked at the landscape......

8 comments:

TonyH said...

Psalm 121, Verse 1.

Jon Morris said...

Aye. This may be a real problem given what is already in print: Any interpretation that does not require a quarry (as part of any process that might explain why stones were taken) would probably not be favourably received. This would be very unfortunate if it prevented the great and the good from reaching their stated goal during their lifetimes.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes,the idea of simply picking stones up is rather less heroic and romantic than the idea of our heroic ancestors slaving away in dark satanic quarries and overcoming all the odds in hauling them up and away.......

TonyH said...

"Where have all the good men gone and where are all the Gods?...
I'm holding out for a hero till the end of the night,
He's got to be big and he's got to be strong and he's got to be up for the fight..."

BONNIE TYLER aka Gaynor Hopkins

TonyH said...

Why would anyone be stupid enough to quarry bluestones?

How's about those who retain the Indiana Jones film rights. We've just been told the NEXT Indiana Jones film will be made in 2019. Harrison Ford says he'll reprise his role again, despite the fact he's already 73.

There's "gold", financially speaking, in them thar Preseli hills.

Hugh Thomas said...

Maybe the neolithic health and safety executive ruled they had to be quarried from controlled environments using wooley mammoths in hi-viz vests..... ;)

TonyH said...

"Indiana Jones and the Quarries of Doom meet the Wild Goose Hunt" is the first draft for the title. Appropriately long - winded!

sciencebod said...

Whether quarried, or simply picked up and carried away, whether by ice or by the unmentionable, there's another possibility re the use of that igneous, non-sedimentary rock. I've just flagged it up on the ancient-origins site.

http://www.ancient-origins.net/comment/18675#comment-18675

A full posting will follow in a day or two. Suffice it to say I reckon there's a simple rationale for all those standing stones, without or without lintels.

They served simply as perches for scavenger birds (crows, ravens, seagulls). What were they scavenging, within a Neolithic funereal context (excarnation, sky burial). Go figure.

The ideal material for a bird perch is one that is easily cleaned (non-porous rock...).

Colin Berry