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Sunday, 14 August 2016

Boles Barrow Bluestone -- yet again......



Many thanks to Tony for these two photos of the Boles Barrow bluestone boulder as it is now displayed in Salisbury Museum.  It's a typical spotted dolerite bluestone boulder, looking very much like the thousands of others that litter the landscape around the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire.  It's highly abraded, roughly rectangular, with rounded-off edges and many signs of surface fractures or facets.  It seems to have a good thick patina or weathering crust.

This is the famous photo of the boulder when it was in the garden of Heytesbury House


It's as mysterious as ever, and there is still uncertainty as to how it got to Boles Barrow near Heytesbury (near the western edge of Salisbury Plain) and how it got from there to Salisbury Museum.  Aubrey Burl, Geoff Kellaway, Olwen Williams-Thorpe and I think it is a glacial erratic simply picked up near the Neolithic long barrow site and incorporated into the monument.  We think there were abundant erratics scattered about (or maybe concentrated in a few places) and that they were east to gather up for incorporation into prehistoric burial mounds and stone settings.  Kellaway actually thought that the bluestones used at Stonehenge might all have been robbed from long barrows.

Others including Chris Green think that this famous boulder never was in the long barrow at all, and that it came to Heytesbury House (where it was in the garden for many years) after being stolen from Stonehenge as a souvenir.  The arguments will continue.......

If you use the search box on this blog, and type in "Boles Barrow", you will find many other posts on this topic.

The latest twist involves Mike Parker Pearson and his "proto-Stonehenge" theory.  MPP seems to think that the boulder was indeed incorporated into Boles Barrow in the Early or Middle Neolithic (some of the long barrows are 6,000 years old),  and that it was carried from a "proto-Stonehenge" circle somewhere in Pembrokeshire around the time when the fantastical bluestone circle was dismantled and carted off from Pembrokeshire to the chalklands of Wessex around 5,500 years ago.  He needs to have bluestones in the Salisbury Plain area by the Neolithic, since none of the radiocarbon dates from Rhosyfelin,  Carn Goedog or anywhere else do anything to confirm any of his quarrying theories.  And the only way to get them there, without accepting the possibility of glacial transport, is to push the "bluestone expeditions" further and further back in time..........

Like many others, I am confused.  Is he now suggesting TWO proto-Stonehenge bluestone circles, one in Pembrokeshire and another somewhere on the western edge of Salisbury Plain?  And is he now suggesting that the latter was dismantled, with some of the stones re-used locally (as at Boles Barrow) and the others shipped off to Stonehenge for use in the bluestone circle and horseshoe?  Or was the Boles Barrow bluestone boulder carried from west to east as a one-off, private enterprise effort or as a "trial run"for something altogether more ambitious?

Watch this space........

17 comments:

TonyH said...

There will be approximately 4 or 5 of my photos of said Boles Barrow bluestone that Brian will probably reproduce on the Blog very soon. I photographed the bluestone whilst on a visit to Salisbury Museum last month. N.B. I was assured by the Museum staff that it was fine to take the photographs: and now Brian has acknowledged Salisbury Museum being its Custodian.

Mr Parker Pearson's latest twist in the tail of how it came to be in Boles Barrow (2nd paragraph from end of Brian's Post) does seem to be a very convoluted way of attempting to justify to people that his claims about Rhosyfelin so - called Quarry and dates of alleged human "removal" of bluestones ready for embarkation - now, we are being asked to believe the Intrepid Old Boys took an overland, not an overseas route, towards their ultimate destination, The Old Ruin down Wessex Way - are plausible etc. As we have often heard on Brian's Blog, the Geomorphologists' Jury is still very much Out: they think that Rhosyfelin, whilst it may have had intermittent human activity upon it, is in essence a Natural Landform, affected by Glaciation.

Mike Parker Pearson enjoys spinning a Good Yarn around his metaphorical Campfire, surrounded by those eager, rather suggestible, general members of the public who enjoy a Tall Tale and are not too discerning as to its plausibility. Step back, Arthur Conan Doyle, with your Lost World, you have a worthy Successor!




Alex Gee said...

What easy it must be to be an archeologist rather than a scientist!

You put forward your hypothesis and the evidence that supports it, and when your peers

or critics bring forth evidence that disproves your hypothesis, you can either

ignore them? or as is the case with the Boles Barrow Bluestone and other matters

you can get away with saying that's what you really believed all along!

The real genius is that your fellow archeologists will let you get away with it!

Presumably because they're upto the same tricks?

dean said...

Intriguing... I arrived here after clicking on a random clickbait that appeared in my FB newsfeed regarding Mike Parker Pearson's bluestone hypothesis. Having failed to be convinced by the article's claim that these stones were dragged the 140+ miles from Preseli to Stonehenge I went searching for better explanations and by happenstance found this Blog.
It's only 140 miles as the crow flies (and none were involved) so given that the uneven terrain was still relatively heavily forested (compared to later post-medieval standards) and the land around the Severn Estuary was tidal marshland I suspect the path-of-least-resistance that 2 - 4 tonne stones would have to be dragged could exceed 250 miles (if anyone has the inclination to plot a route based upon 3000BCE terrain). Estimates show that around 80 of these stones were used (with only 43 remaining) which equals over 200 tonnes of material. Egyptologists have estimated that 45 men could move a 2.5 tonne block at 18 m/min over prepared ground. Looking at the landscape we can assume that this speed would drop by a magnitude but let’s assume 5m/min over unprepared terrain could be achieved, which equates a year to transport a bluestone 250 miles and 80 years for all, or a total workforce of 3,600 men from a total population of 100,000 spread over southern Britain in a series of small settlements or any permutation thereof. All of which presumes that these able-bodied men were drawn from a surplus population. That nature did this work for free some 8,000 years earlier as the ice sheets retreated is then far more compelling.
Even if these stones were moved in a protracted series of "bunny-hops" over a longer timeframe than first assumed it does not solve the manpower conundrum. Late-Neolithic settlements were based upon subsistence farming that does not easily result in food and population surpluses required to assign able bodied men to block-moving duties, even over relatively short distances or that this organised practice would continue for several centuries. There had to be a need to move east along a straight-line route for this hypothesis to work, and there is no explanation for that – if anything any migration drift out of the southern Welsh peninsular regions would follow a random “drunken-duncan” path and result in dispersal rather than en-mass relocation.
We also have to contend with that while these people are called neolithic / bronze age they could be termed wood-and-dirt age since those two materials are the most abundant building and tool-making materials available that the bulk of them would have been most skilled in using (which is why there is a paucity of architecture other than standing stones and earthworks). It also then questions why rhyolite debris is found around Stonehenge at all if the bluestones were transported ready shaped from the Preseli 'quarry' site or held in such high regard as ancestor stones to be deemed worth moving intact over 500 years (so reworking would be unnecessary or even sacrilegious). While there is little doubt that some were skilled stoneworkers, it does not follow that all were or that there was an organised quarrying and stone working industry (either permanent or ad hoc) prevalent at either site or that they would travel any distance to get raw materials. It seems more reasonable that locally sourced material would be used, where those that were least abundant (but more useful) would be revered more highly than the more common limestone. Locals finding rarer foreign stones would regard these as more valuable so it is feasible that they would strip the landscape of every piece they could find so some 5000 years later there would be little or nothing left for modern geologists and archaeologists to unearth. It is worth noting that Preseli bluestones are not the only foreign stones used in and around Stonehenge – if it could be shown that these were also the result of glaciation or some other naturally occurring process then that would add less credence to the transportation hypothesis.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Dean -- these are very interesting points,not often made, and I am inclined to accept what you say. In citing the movement of blocks for the building of the pyramids, the "pro human transport" archaeologists tend to think very little about the nature of the Neolithic terrain and -- I suspect -- even less about how the manpower requirements for a massive bluestone haulage operation would have been met, at a time when the total population of SW Britain would have been very small. Too much concentration on technology and experimental archaeology, and too little on the social and environmental context.

chris johnson said...

Apart from the Altar Stone I am not aware of any other foreign stones used in the monument beyond the various Presell types.

Dean raises an interesting point in that, had glaciation been a contributor, then other foreign stones might be expected.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Shall we say "various North Pembrokeshire types"? We await the paper on the Palaeozoic sandstones found in the debris -- where did they come from? at least, i think there is another paper coming -- Myris will enlighten us and bring another ray of sunshine into our lives. Yes, it is a puzzle -- whether there are ten, twenty or thirty different stone types represented in the erratic assemblage. (Myris insists on just counting "orthostats" and the assumed debris therefrom, and I insist on counting all foreign material at Stonehenge except material deliberately introduced in modern times, eg from roadbuilding operations.) But it is of course an equally great puzzle if we want to invoke human transport -- where are all the stones that might be expected from north, east and south?

TonyH said...

The Maestro of All Knowledge, Real or Supposed, MPP himself, has written an allegedly reassuring piece [reassuring, that is, to all his suggestible Believers] regarding how relatively easy - peasy it must have been for our Heroic Ancestors to have got off their backsides, and, with a fervent yet undefined will, carted all those ancestor - packed Bluestones of the West by LAND along what we may well call the Proto - A40.

It's in his most recent Stonehenge book, 2016, in the Archaeology For All series. My typing spped isn't up to quoting it all on here, anyone else care to do it THIS TIME!?!

By the way, he'll probably convince you too, if you attend one of his Talks.

TonyH said...

If any Member of Salisbury Museum wishes to "adopt" the Boles Barrow Bluestone, they may do so. They will then receive updates on its treatment, display, etc, etc. IF you adopt it, your name will be prominently displayed next to it.

Oh, I almost forgot, you have to be prepared to pay a minimum of £100. Perhaps we could each contribute a tenner, and collectively publicise Brian John Mountainman's Blog Site in the process? Plenty of rich, and probably quite a few intelligent, i.e. sceptical North Americans, for example, visit Salisbury and its museum.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

If you adopt it, are you allowed to take it home every now and then to meet your family and friends, take it away on holiday, and cheer it up when it feels sick or lonely?

dean said...

Thank you for taking the tine to read and comment on my rambling comment. Due to the 4095 character limit on comments you were spared half of what I had actually typed as reading just a small fraction of your blog posts triggered a myriad questions and tangential thoughts. Such as: why the bluestones that are assumed to have been reworked into stone tools at Stonehenge were transported and then reworked when less effort would have been required to fashion them into axe-heads in situ; and what prompted the alleged easterly (re)migration out of South Wales when the migration drift into Britain of mesolithic and neolithic people from mainland Europe was east to west.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dean -- again, interesting points. By the way, if you like, you can always send things in 2 episodes......

TonyH said...

Dean, Brian, and everybody.

The latest issue of Mike Pitt's British Archaeology, published under the auspices of the C.B.A., priced £5-50, contains a 6 - page article on the topic of the so - called Beaker folk migration. MPP puts a lot of faith in his notion that some migration may have occurred West - East, and justifies this via a rather tenuous link established by isotope analysis of a rather small sample of bones found at, and near, The Old Ruin near Amesbury. Nevertheless, MPP leads a large team of specialists on this, over several years so it's worth a read. Could send you a photocopy, Brian?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tony -- I subscribe to BA, so shall take a look.....

T said...

Yeah, I think you should - he cannot resist mentioning Stonehenge and the Bluestones within his article!! At least he didn't declare overtly they'd been moved by human beans.

Incidentally, MPP's earlier book on Stonehenge, dated 2012, devotes its chapter 14 to Stonehenge and the Beaker People. However, the BA article summarises very neatly all the research MPP's Boys & Girls have been beavering away at beyond 2012, up to the present day. MPP did put a lot of faith into Alison Sheridan's researches, including within Pembrokeshire, and including, for example, Carreg Samson closed chamber tomb south of Strumble Head.

dean said...

Hmm..

One thing that bothered me was MPPs demarcation of Welsh and English tribes (for want of a better word) since the post-Ice Age Mesolithic and Neolithic colonisation of the British Isles was from the southeast. This would suggest that the more southerly and easterly areas were settled earlier and therefore more established than any found on the southwest coast of Wales even though many of the people now occupying those earlier settlement areas were relative newcomers. This raises questions concerning any later west to east reverse-migration (i.e., of the bluestones following the migration of people) while the southeast to north and west migration trends were continuing during the Neolithic era. That’s not to say that reverse-migration could not have occurred, but there is usually a reason for it – e.g., the migration of Brythonic people from Wales and Cornwall into Britany in the early Middle Ages was the result of their displacement by Angles and Saxons.

Geology vs. geography: Migration of Europeans into the British Isles from 10,000BCE onwards concentrates on land occupation and population expansion, which really doesn’t make a great deal of sense considering that population densities for hunter-gatherer and subsistence farming were not being exceeded in the lands emigrated from. By comparison with other areas of Western Europe Britain did not offer much in the way of farmable land even after deforestation so the overspill into virgin territory doesn’t appear to be that attractive as a proposition. The migration could have been driven by some other factor, such as the richness and diversity of usable deposits found in the region, many of which could have been brought to the surface by glaciation, albeit in small quantities (not in usable quantities perhaps but as indicators of what lies beneath). It is now suggested that the Roman occupation was for mineral resources, not land or food.

For example: as bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and Europe had few tin deposits, Britain then became more attractive for colonisation as without British tin western Europe would have remained in the Chalcolithic (aka Copper) Age and Britain Neolithic, and a consequence of this is Britain didn’t have an intermediate Chalcolithic step. While this explains the influx of Beaker people into Southern Britain from north-eastern Europe around 2500BCE, it could also indicate alternative reasons for Mesolithic and Neolithic colonisation of the area other than simple population drift. The question that poses is what prompted those early pre-Bronze Age peoples to look for rock and mineral deposits such as cassiterite (tin ore) in Britain in the first place, and the accepted answer there is alluvial and eluvial deposits, but what if glaciation initially played a part in bring those deposits to the surface (albeit locally around Devon & Cornwall perhaps)? Since the Mesolithic and Neolithic settlement areas of the British Isles are concentrated at the edges of the previously glaciated regions where glacier deposited erratics could be found without a great deal of excavation then this apparent correlation could more than just coincidence.

Returning (briefly) to the topic of experimental archaeology: as this branch of science becomes more prevalent we should be more wary of any wider assertions made by it and using it. Tasks that seem impossible to modern thinking evidently weren’t impossible 5,000+ years ago so this gives us insights into how those tasks could have been done but they are not irrefutable proof of how they were done. Perhaps its real value is only in dispelling all the fanciful pseudo-scientific explanations that cloud any lay discussion on these subjects – the problem therein is when these small experimental exercises are extrapolated onto a larger scale and venture into the realms of speculative fiction and shaky science themselves (e.g. selecting data to fit an hypothesis rather than adjusting the hypothesis to fit all known data or relying on untestable assumptions of a social or religious nature).

TonyH said...

Dean, and others interested.

I'd recommend, if I may, purchase or viewing of the article in British Archaeology, Sept/Oct 2016, Number 150, pages 30 to 35. by Mike Parker Pearson: Beaker migrants - Force? Or Fantasy? - in which he "reports on behalf of a large team".

AG said...

A.G. Said Its difficult to see why having carefully selected and quarried your precious bluestone you would then dump it unseen within a barrow?

IF it came from Stonehenge it would be interesting to know what process the quarrymen/Barrow builders used to severely abrade this particular bluestone and why they did?