Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Friday, 12 August 2016

Is the Stonehenge Mound a degraded moraine?

I did a post about this back in 2012, but in our discussion we got rather sidetracked by Wilts Museum and copyright issues!  I am still interested in this topic, and wonder if anybody knows of any further research / discussions in publications over the past 4 years?

Reference:  Field and Pearson report from 2012: Stonehenge, Amesbury, Wilts Archaeological Survey Report (EH Res Dept Report 109-2010.)  Downloadable from the web. 

The image above is acknowledged as copyright Wiltshire Heritage Museum:

The EH Report is available here:

Several things come into the frame here.  One is the nature of the majority of the bluestones used in the settings.  See this about "The Erratic Bluestone Circle"

The bluestone boulders appear to be abraded and heavily weathered, and many of them appear to be faceted -- just like far-travelled glacial erratics.  So if they look like glacial erratics, they just might be glacial erratics, and the place where they were found just might be a degraded moraine.

Another issue is the "honeycomb" nature of the bedrock surface at Stonehenge.  This has been remarked upon by many of the Stonehenge archaeologists.  It would be stretching things to extremes to claim that the WHOLE bedrock surface is a result of human interference and that it has ALL been affected by work on multiple stone settings.  Are at least some of the chalk rock surface pits and hollows natural rather than man-made?  Are some of these features solutional hollows and solutional rills?  And more to the point, are some of them actually extraction pits from which bluestone and sarsen erratics have been taken -- to then be used in the stone settings?

Interesting topic.  I shall explore this further in another post.

One of the old Atkinson photos of the surface exposed during the investigations of stumps 32c, 32d and 32e.  Old monolith sockets, or extraction pits from which glacial erratics were collected?


Myris Of Alexandria said...

Dear dear Sun Tzu (The art of war) famously said when you are strong appear weak and when you are weak appear strong.
One has to sit back, sigh and just admire the Hutzpah.
This is almost a Kostas in enormity.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not the first time I have mentioned this, so it should not be too surprising to anybody. Never mind the sighing and the moaning, Myris. Just give us some facts. You don't like the idea? Give us some reasons.

Myris said...

The complete lack of any other recognised glacial erratic material from the Druidical Plains.

Many of the pits have FLAKED debitage in them. I don't know if any have pottery sherds.

Of course the best pit had 4th cent Roman coins in its bottom.

The pits in circles around a common centre. matched pairs even.

We are getting dangerously close to Kostas' frozen whirl pool with orthostats dropping into soft carbonate.

Of course conspiracy thinkers might conclude that you and Kostas are but one person,
you would not be the first person to troll thems elves.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Come now, Myris. Not good enough. "Complete lack of recognized glacial erratic material?" Recognized by whom? Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her colleagues will disagree with you -- and they have substantial peer-reviewed publications to support their arguments. As you know, there are bluestone erratics -- mostly small fragments -- all over the place. An erratic does not have to be a monolith, although certain geologists would like it otherwise. And the Boles Barrow bluestone? A pit is always older than the stuff found in it, as I have tried to explain to all those who have been banging on about the mythical "quarry" at Rhosyfelin. A Chinese teddy bear in a Stonehenge pit would not mean the pit is five years old. And the pits are not all in circles and not all in pairs -- just look at the wholesale chaos of intersecting pits shown in that Atkinson photo. Look at Anthony Johnson's book, p 157. He refers to a "maze of holes, hollows, abandoned settings and residual stone fragments" and to the underlying chalk as looking like a "badly mauled Swiss cheese." Please try harder.

Myris said...

As you well know Dr Ixer's is amongst the (few still living) authors of that 1991 glorious Williams-Thorpe paper and, I hope I can speak for him, when I say he knows it better than most!! As an author he agrees, I feel, with me.

Small bluestone erratics 'all over the place' NOT on the Druidical Plains there are not, a bit in Lower Cwmglenllardy etc does not count. Welsh erratics are dull unless they occur in Wessex.

The Boles Barrow spotted dolerite has been largely discredited as being coming from inside Boles Barrow but is spoil from the 'Stones'.

How can you account for the large number of concentric circular holes without Kostas help. So some don't, coincidence would suggest that few if any DO.

Serious workers rely on Cleal et al 1995 rather than Anthony Johnson for their information, pictorial or otherwise..

Why has no Welsh small erratic been found on the Plains outside of archy contexts?
Brian even for you this is a pile too far. I thought you had abandoned this on-off glacial dump.


Dave Maynard said...

As a thought, is there any pertinent information from the geo-technical survey for the Stonhenge tunnel?

Not sure how far the project planning has progressed (if at all), but there should be a large number of boreholes into the subsoil along the route, which is of course, south of the Stonehenge mound. This could add a great deal to the understanding of the formation of deposits in the area.

Is Myris trying to develop a Kostas scale of unbelievability?


TonyH said...

Myris, my Old Thing, I take it that in saying:-

"Many of the pits have FLAKED debitage in them..." are claiming to be able to differentiate glacial erratic small pieces from man- made flakes of debitage? How so? You are not, you must admit, a Glacial Geomorphologist like Brian and his colleagues (who together recently commented on Rhosyfelin).


BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris, are you saying that Anthony Johnson is an unreliable source? I find his work both readable and carefully considered. I am not denying that there are stone sockets used in stone settings, some of them circular. I am saying that there are far too many pits to explain away as all being sockets -- and that there is a pretty fair chance that some of them are actually extraction pits, once occupied by bluestone erratics, some of which were elongated and others not. Seems a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. Why do you have such a problem with it?

Myris of Alexandria said...

Quantify some?

I am saying that the primary source for the 20th cent excavations has to be Cleal et al. All other sources however good (Pitts' Hengeworld for example is good) are secondary.

Yes secondary retouching is not I think, heavy sigh, a feature of Jack Frost. The argument that much of the debitage is struck (although I have made that circular by calling it debitage)debris is struck has been recognised for over 150 years and reconfirmed by many INFORMED lithic experts ever since. Much of the very fine debitage is too small.

Dr Ixer (for whom I am speaking) has the advantage of physicaly handling over X000 pieces of debitage -the number is recorded in the lit (often)twice!! Plus 50 years in the minerals industry -seen a few rocks.

The debitage is debitage, the interesting question is why? Not axe manufacture and I doubt knock-off Lourdes trinkets.

Most of the pits show sigsn of an anthropogenic origin Some may not but are they important? Probably not.

Yes A Kostas scale was in my mind. We had a very thick ug colleague called G****** we measured normal dumbness in milleG******ts.
He probably went on to lead multi-million dollar oil companies whilst for me it is thin gruel again. But we thank the Gods and try to remain cheerful.

Brian. Francis Pryor's new Stonehenge book is readable.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I am happy to accept that much of the collected and analysed debris (let's not call it "debitage" since we are indeed then into circular reasoning) from those parts of Stonehenge that have been excavated appears to be made of bits and pieces struck off larger stones. But let is not forget that most of the area within the confines of the outermost Stonehenge earthwork has not been excavated. And more than 50% of the area of the stone settings is also unknown. What might still be there, waiting to be discovered?

TonyH said...

Mike Parker Pearson is now (2015) in his Archaeology For All & Sundry series contribution speculating that the Boles Barrow Bluestone did NOT come from Stonehenge shock horror but direct from Pembs. by virtue of virtuous, manly/womanly [Neolithic equal opportunities law] Labourers who moved them by sheer Olympic- grade willpower, not sure as yet whether there were any Labourers possessing within their characters substantial amounts of Yorkshire Grit a la Jessica Ennis - Hill.

That scenario enables him to explain his rather dubiously arrived - at Time Gap of 500 years minimum between "excavation" at something he calls the 'Rhosyfelin "Quarry"' and the arrival of motley collection of bluestones of sundry geological types of rock at Stonehenge.....He speculates that some of the Stonehenge Bluestones were originally located in Salisbury Plain earlier Neolithc long barrows.

M said...

There is a more scholarly discussion of Boles Barrow in the Antiquity 2015 paper.
Essentially it is free on the web at the UCL website.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Myris -- yes, there are a couple of pages in the Antiquity article. How scholarly the discussion is might well be debated, given that it is full of unproven assumptions and circular arguments, just like the rest of the article.

TonyH said...

Of course, in the Strange, Closed, Blinkered, Ruling Hypothesis World of Messrs Parker Pearson et al, there is simply NO ROOM at Stonehenge for a degraded moraine, because glaciers and their effects are SIMPLY OUT OF THE QUESTION, MY OLD THING! [By the way, PERIGLACIAL features are PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE!: it's okay to accept periglacial fissures down the nearby Avenue, MPP says so,having been advised by a couple of his SRP specialists, so that's okay]

TonyH said...

The intrepid pair, Darvill & Wainwright, dug close to the edge of the Mound in 2008 when conducting their "Inner Sanctum" [anyone remember 'Lotus Blossom', etc, in Round The Horne?] "surgical incision/ keyhole surgery" excavation that year.

More on this anon. MPP mentions the Mound in his 2016 Stonehenge: Archaeology For All book.
Will do a quote from MPP's book very soon (almost time to put the cat out here in Wiltshire, so nighty night, punters everywhere).

I will just mention that D & W found a piece of charcoal from the Mound which dates to the Mesolithic. Also, possible traces of settlement, Neolithic/?Mesolithic was found by MPP's SRP team broadly towards the SW of Stonehenge, within a few hundred yards of t'Old Ruin.

TonyH said...

Brian, your link to the EH Report does not seem to work for me.

TonyH said...

MPP's 2016 book: Stonehenge - making sense of a prehistoric mystery. Chapter 2, The Stonehenge Landscape.

After discussing the so - called periglacial ridges and fissures.....

"The centre of Stonehenge has been heavily disturbed by people digging there over many centuries so it is difficult to know whether something special was located here. However, there are hints that this may not have been a 'greenfield'site. The so - called 'north barrow' within the enclosure could have been an earlier, smaller enclosure cut into by the enclosure's ditch. There is also a LOW MOUND JUST SOUTH-EASTOF THE CENTRE OF STONEHENGE; part of its edge was revealed during [GW & TD's] excavations in 2008, and it appears to be a NATURAL MOUND OF SOME SORT. Intriguingly, a loose piece ofcharcoal found in that excavation produced a radiocarbon date of the same age as the Early Mesolithic posts."

"Just where the builders of this first Stonehenge lived is unknown. One possible location is Wilsford Down, SW of Stonehenge, where finds of pottery and arrowheads of this date have been found on the ground surface".

BRIAN JOHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BRIAN JOHN said...

On the matter of glaciation at Stonehenge, a little bird tells me that Francis Pryor, in his new book, says this: “fields......once would have been covered with large and small sarsen stones left stranded on the surface by the movement of Ice Age glaciers.” Not quite sure where that came from, or what evidence he cites -- but it sure is unusual for an archaeologist to give Ice Age glaciers any credit for doing anything, anywhere, let alone at Stonehenge. There are plenty of other people who have referred to bluestone transport by glaciers, but he seems to be suggesting that ice has moved sarsens as well. In principle, that is of course perfectly logical. Ice transgressing onto Salisbury Plain would have picked up and moved anything convenient -- and that includes a litter or sarsens lying on the chalk surface. I gather there is also a reference to "glacial runnels" -- could that relate to the so-called "periglacial stripes" beloved of MPP? Has anybody out there read the book, and is there more to be reported on these comments?

Stonehenge, by Francis Pryor, 14 Jul 2016, Hardback, pub Head of Zeus, 202 pp.
£11.46 or £16.99, depending where you buy it.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for the note about MPP comments, Tony. This confirms what Anthony Johnson says about the ground surface beneath the regolith and debitage being such a mess that it's very difficult to know what has been going on in the past.

TonyH said...

Francis Pryor did, I recall dimly, have the temerity to mention glaciation on a Time Team dig towards the end of Time Team's run. This was to do with a large hill fort/settlement on the edge of Cardiff. I think various people on this Blog rather dismissed his fairly vague statement about the effect of glaciation on the landscape thereabouts.

It was a whopping girt big hill fort (as Phil Harding might have said), that I do recall. Expect Uncle Myris, who is of course regularly in touch with various Gods, Egyptian or Roman, INCLUDING good ol' Zeus, who seems to be using one of his mighty Arms for publishing Pryor's book these days.....good luck to 'im' I say.

TonyH said...

I think it may be worthwhile taking a look at Mike Pitts' [editor of British Archaeology] 'Digging Deeper' Blogsite - attached to the journal site and mentioned quite a lot over the years here; also., the same writer's "Hengworld".

Francis Pryor's new Stonehenge book is mentioned here, where it also says you can have it delivered, for free, by Tesco!!......

Francis is an engaging, articulate communicator. I have his Britain B.C. book. He and his good lady have done practical farming using traditional methods, over in East Anglia.

TonyH said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MoA said...

Pryor's book will be reviewed in the next Current Archaeology. Quite a long review.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Interesting that CA is willing to publish reviews of glossy tomes, but apparently has no wish whatsoever to publish anything that might challenge the "bluestone quarrying" orthodoxy. Are we surprised?

MoA said...

BA took a review of your Bluestone book years back as did the Ferret Club mag the latter long and constructively critical and I have no doubt both/either and CA mag would find a reviewer of any second edition.
Perhaps you don't have the krisma (sic)of Francis Pryor or as much land?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, I have five acres, a pretty river, a shady lawn and a big gabbro erratic in my garden. That should be enough to satisfy anybody.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks to David S for sending this, following a look through Francis Pryor's new book:

I looked up Ice Age, and found the following references, one of which Brian has already mentioned on the blog:

'It is hard to imagine as one drives through the rolling Wiltshire countryside, that the neatly laid-out fields of wheat and barley would once have been covered with large and small sarsen stones, left stranded on the surface by the movement of Ice Age glaciers'

'But as soon as the project's two soil scientists examined the ridges, they were absolutely in no doubt: the ridges were entirely natural, the results of erosion when the glacial ice sheets had begun to melt'.

He doesn't suggest where these melting ice sheets may have been in relation to the location of Stonehenge.


I'm confused by all of this -- the wording suggests to me that Francis Pryor may not know the difference between "glaciation" and "periglaciation" or the difference between ground ice and glacier ice.......

TonyH said...

MPP's 2012 earlier Stonehenge book does have a rather surprising mention within its chapters of glaciation to the north of Stonehenge.....I'll see if I can "unearth" it.

MPP has also just published an article on whether the Beaker folk arrived by migration or assimilation in the new edition of B.A.No doubt Myris and/or his very good friend will have had a read of it - I've only just started. There is a cute little insertion by Mike of the "famous" bluestones and weaving their arrival in proto - Wiltshire to his tale. Much on isotope analysis, etc.

TonyH said...

Brian (in particular!), HERE is part of the quotable quote from the Maestro, MPP himself of the Ruling Hypothesis [which is, of course,that Human Beings Wonderfully Carted them thar Bluestones, by Hell or High Water..... or was it entirely Overland along a proto - non - MacAdamised A40?]:-

Page 242 of MPP's 2012 Stonehenge book in the Chapter, 'Why Stonehenge Is Where It Is':-

'In 1978 one of Atkinson's and Evan's trenches had cut into a SMALL RAISED FEATURE immediately east of The Avenue. THIS IS CALLED "NEWALL'S MOUND" after Hawley's assistant......It is a periglacial feature, a large solution hole, about 5 meters across, that has filled with a mass of clay - with - flints CREATED IN ICE AGE CONDITIONS NOT FAR SOUTH OF THE GLACIERS' LIMIT.'

MPP may well be paraphrasing what his "periglacial experts" have told him. THEY are Mike Allen and Charley French. Both were, we are told in MPP's 2012 book, keen students of John Evans, descibed as an Environmental Archaeologist, who was at Cardiff University along with Prof. Richard Atkinson. I think MPP has rather contradicted himself with his statement " NOT FAR FROM THE GLACIERS' LIMIT"!! How far is not far, Mike, Old Thing? As regards contradicting himself,see elsewhere in MPP's book vis a vis the Bluestones' Glacial Hypothesis, pages 270 - 274 et seq.

BRIAN JOHN said...

We have discussed Newall's Mound before on this blog:

...and of course we have explored the clay-with-flints phenomenon quite often too. So we are talking about quite different mounds -- of which there are many in the area -- mostly very subtle features in the landscape, and quite unexplored. I'm sure there is a lot still to be revealed.

I agree -- a solution hollow with a mound over it sounds rather strange. Not sure how strong the evidence is for that. I sense that there is great confusion over the differences between glacial, pro-glacial and periglacial conditions, and a substantial need for some geomorphological education among those who trot off wild theories all the time......

TonyH said...

There is another potentially periglacial mound of some sort that MPP discusses, and, from memory, Josh Pollard excavated as part of the SRP's work, some distance north of Durrington Walls Henge and just off the eastern end of the Larkhill army village.

Perhaps you recall this, Brian - it may have also featured on your Blog.

MPP and JP did speculate he may have been on a sight line of some significance, perhaps to do with the Durrington Henge. I think Bronze Age evidence was discovered in it.

As regards Newall's Mound, the SRP led by MPP claim "it contained a buried early post - glacial soil and had been thoroughly bioturbated (that is, the layering had been mixed up by biological action - in this case, tree roots)."

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tony -- I had not realised that some of those who have been so dismissive of the glacial transport theory seem to be referring to glacial deposits all over the place in the Stonehenge area!

BRIAN JOHN said...

I remember John Evans very well -- nice fellow, and very smart. He used to have a cottage near Abermawr, and I met up with him there occasionally. Haven't heard anything of him for many years -- not sure if he is still alive. He was a very good environmental archaeologist and ecologist, but he was not a geomorphologist, let alone a glacial geomorphologist. I suspect that those whom he taught in Cardiff were not geomorphologists either, although they may have been very good at identifying land snails and pollen. I still don't know of any geomorphologists who have actually been involved in archaeological work in or around Stonehenge -- so maybe we should not be too surprised when people get very confused about all sorts of things, or use the wrong words.......

TonyH said...

Sadly, I have to report that John "the snail man" Evans died a while back, in his early sixties, succumbing to throat cancer - take a look in MPP's 2012 Stonehenge..exploring the mystery..." book, top of page 240.

It's a small world, Brian, as you and I keep saying. Abermawr, where you met John Evans occasionally, is a popular visiting place for my brother and his wife.

I wonder, Brian, if we might pursue Southampton University's Geography Department for Geomorphologists there that have researched glacial evidence, including e.g. erratics, in Hampshire and South Wiltshire? I'll give it a go if you like.Archaeologist Josh Pollard has mentioned to me the names of one or two Geographers also at Southampton, if you recall. Is there some contention that the Solent was created by some degree of glacial involvement?

BRIAN JOHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for the update, Tony. I remember now -- John died far too young. The cottage that he used to hire was in the woods behind Aberbach beach, and Tony reminds us that he kept a boat at Abercastle. He and I discussed the sequence at Abermawr many times -- he was especially interested in the Holocene deposits behind the storm beach ridge.

Cardiff, Southampton, Reading -- lots of geomorphologists, but sadly very few of them have studied the Ice Age on Salisbury Plain. I have of course devoted various posts to the sarsens -- and geologist Ian West has written a great deal which is relevant.

The Solent and glaciation? Well, Geoff Kellaway has various theories about that, and attracted the ire of James Scourse, who wrote in the big book on Stonehenge and Science that the theories were thoroughly unreliable. I tend to agree with James -- the idea of an English Channel glaciation is not well supported by the evidence. But on that basis I would not go so far as James in questioning the competence of Kellaway. Most of what he said and wrote was perfectly sensible.

TonyH said...

You mention three Universities fairly near what we might broadly call Wessex, what about Bristol? always was a highly - rated Geography Department. We need some young men and young ladies to take up the Ph.D specialism into glacial geomorphology! Surely, there must be SOME!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Quite so. Apologies to Bristol. There have been some great field workers there -- I have mentioned them often on this blog. Great work in the Mendips and other parts of Somerset.....