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....
To order, click

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Late Neolithic movers and shakers

 Pic:  Mail Online

An interesting paper from Prof MPP and assorted others:

"Resourcing Stonehenge: Patterns of human, animal and goods mobility in the Late Neolithic"
Benjamin Chan, Sarah Viner, Mike Parker Pearson, Umberto Albarella and Rob Ixer.
Chapter 3 in:
Moving on in Neolithic studies: Understanding mobile lives
Neolithic Studies Group Seminar Papers 14
Edited by
Jim Leary and Thomas Kador
Oxbow Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-78570-176-4


Sarsen and occasionally flint and bluestone was also used for the hammer-stones and mauls used to dress the Stonehenge stones and reused as packing material in the stone-holes. In a 5m × 5m trench within the area of a much larger sarsen dressing floor just north of Stonehenge the SRP recovered 348 cobble-sized hammer-stones. Nine of these were made from saccharoid sarsen, 12 from flint and 327 from quartzitic sarsen. Bearing in mind that Trench 44 covered only a small proportion of a single dressing floor many thousand cobbles would have had to have been collected for the dressing of the Stonehenge sarsens. Both the quartzitic sarsen and flint hammer-stones were made from water-worn cobbles which occur naturally within river gravels in the area. They would have most likely have been collected from river beds and this would have been best achieved during the summer when the rivers were low and the cobbles were more easily visible and accessible.

Question:  what is the evidence of bluestones being used as hammer stones?  Presumably that means that there must be bluestone cobbles on the site, used as hammer stones and then chucked into stone sockets as part of the packing process needed to stabilise the standing stones, both large and small.  What is the evidence on this?  Does anybody know?


The origins of the sarsens and bluestones that make up Stonehenge’s famous lintels and standing stones has been the subject of extended debate which does not need repeating here (e.g. Thomas 1923; Thorpe et al. 1991; green 1997; Scourse 1997; Williams-Thorpe et al. 1997; Williams-Thorpe et al. 2006; Bevins et al. 2011; 2014; Ixer & Bevins 2011). Suffice to say that the bluestones originated in north Pembrokeshire and the Preseli mountains of southwest Wales and, whilst the glaciation hypothesis continues to have its proponents, the majority of archaeologists currently believe that the stones were brought to the Stonehenge landscape in the Neolithic. The SRP is continuing its work by investigating the potential quarry sites for the bluestones (Parker Pearson et al. 2011b). Regardless of the precise quarry location, roughly 80 bluestones weighing two tons or less (Abbott et al. 2012, 60) were moved over a distance of approximately 140 miles as the crow flies. The exact route that they took is still a matter of debate (Parker Pearson 2012, 289–91) but would have been considerably longer than 140 miles and, whether by land or sea, it would have been fraught with difficulty and potential danger.

I don't suppose we should be surprised by any of this, although I am as ever irritated by the assumption that Stonehenge was once complete, and that around 80 bluestones were involved.  Let's just ignore all that stuff about "potential quarry sites" and "precise quarry locations"......

In the Conclusions:

People were probably involved in collection and processing activities across large parts of southern and western Britain throughout the course of the year in order to facilitate periods of large-scale construction in the Stonehenge landscape. The logistics involved in this endeavour would have been extraordinarily complex and would have drawn upon a deep understanding of the appropriate ways to manage, harvest and process a wide variety of plant resources and the best locations from which to gather antlers and hammer-stones. The choice of which trees, sarsen boulders and bluestone outcrops to select for monument construction also relied on an equally deep knowledge. 

One grows weary of this sort of circular reasoning. People collected up bluestones from a long way off because we know they were clever enough and organized to do so, and the fact that the stones were collected up from Wales shows that they were clever enough to do all sorts of other wonderful things too.  Round and round we go.......



Jon Morris said...

"I don't suppose we should be surprised by any of this, although I am as ever irritated by the assumption that Stonehenge was once complete."

I'm not sure why Brian: Though our idea of what 'complete' meant to them may be different to what we think 'finished' should mean, major construction projects tend to get finished by all societies. Because it is so common for our species to finish projects, it's a reasonable assumption that it was 'finished'. You may be right, but unless you have a specific reason to promote an alternative point of view, the assumption made (that it was finished) is the least unreasonable.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, it depends on what you mean by "complete". My preferred interpretation is that since there are only 43 known bluestones on the site, and not 80, they probably ran out of stones and had to make do with what they had. Maybe, using those 43 stones, or maybe a few more (some of which have been broken up or stolen), they put them into assorted settings which were, as far as they were concerned, finished and complete. Then they moved them back and forth in assorted other settings, and maybe each of those was also deemed to be finished and complete.

TonyH said...

I'd very much like to get a chance to look at the ENTIRE CONTENTS of the book from which this is only Chapter 3. The whole book is entitled Moving on in Neolithic studies. Understanding mobile lives. I guess the only way for me here in Wiltshire to view a copy for free may be to ask Wiltshire Council's History Centre, based at Chippenham, whether they've got it, which they surely (?) must have, in the County containing Stonehenge, Avebury, and much more.

Moreover, Jim Leary of the University of Reading is the co - author, and he may be fairly reliable in what HE, at lwast, has to say.....

TonyH said...

Michael Parker Pearson, when you desperately WANT something to have happened in Prehistory, really, really much, all you need to do is simply state that it DID, frequently, and vociferously, or at any rate to Microphone or Camera, and with the right emotive tremor in the voicebox......and....Bob's your Uncle! (or should that be, Taff's your Uncle!)


It's easy...all you need is CONVICTION!

[ FOOTNOTE: There is a further punch - line to this Comment, see if you can guess what it might be]

TonyH said...

There are some intriguing sounding Chapters (as well as MPP & Co's piece) I managed to summon up on the Oxbow Books website, A.G, for example, may well be interested in a Chapter which focusses to some extent on the Mendips - he may find it in Taunton's Somerset Archaeology library There is also a chapter on Cursus Monuments ans mobility, though I suppose this is fairly obviously mostly likely to be about moving ALONG the Cursus, procession - wise, rather than any large - scale geographical movement.

TonyH said...

QUOTE [Para on the Origins of Sarsens and Bluestones]:-

"...whilst the glaciation hypothesis continues to have its proponents, the majority of archaeologists currently believe that the stones were brought to the Stonehenge landscape in the Neolithic...."

The keyword above is BELIEVE.I feel received wisdom is involved, though quite how exacting and scientific the arrival at this received, or conventional wisdom was, is rather vague, as regular readers of this blog know only too well.

So that's a done deal, then. If you're an Undergraduate Archaeology student reading MPP's piece, you are warmly invited to TAKE IT ALL AS READ AND DONE AND DUSTED. The majority of archeys BELIEVE it, so YOU'D BETTER BELIEVE IT TOO, THAT IS, IF YOU WANT TO STAY ON - SIDE,

PeteG said...

the Line has always interested me as there used to be a huge collection of Prehistoric stones circles on the Somerset side of the Severn, now all long gone.
There are still lines of stones in the woods at Weston-in-Gordano and a few single standers still in the valley.

BRIAN JOHN said...

This is interesting, Pete. Never mind about the line -- but what more do you know about these stone circles? That Grimm sketch is rather intriguing...... eight stone circles, four on each side of a ridge?

Myris of Alexandria said...

The papers are patchy there is an incisive short review in CA or BA published or out soon.

The Mendip paper is rather slight and very disappointing. The cursus paper is about cursus distribution rather than walking along them. There is some of that.

The volume is quite specialised and the SH paper is one of the most approachable. I don't think there is much of interest for the mainstream SH wallah.

Quite a bit of post-processualist fellow travelling.


TonyH said...

Thank you, Myris.

PeteG said...

there were a lot more stone circles in that area including one huge one with an evenue and a smaller circle to it's side. All had views over the River Severn. I've visited the sites and found odd stones scattered around the edge of the fields.
Someone should visit who knows about stone types.

search the website for Clevedon and Walton for more.

Alex Gee said...

It's disappointing to see that Geoffrey Kellaway's work (the man who started all this ) is not cited? Is the word out amongst the Archies that his work is not to be mentioned?

I note that the authors also fail to cite the papers published by your geomorphology chums! Papers that demonstrate that the Quarrying hypothesis is nonsense!

Perhaps the same applies to your views Brian?

I feel that it does not bode well for the future of our society when undergraduates are encouraged by their tutors to smother alternative views and possible truths!
It is also quite depressing that said undergraduates appear to lack a backbone!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree -- they all prefer to ignore Kellaway, presumably on the grounds that he has been "discredited" by James Scourse in the Science and Stonehenge volume. Further, they all prefer to cite Scourse and Green (who wrote chapters in that book) as if they are the only "glaciologists" who are worth listening to.... For a start, neither of them is a glaciologist, and their chapters leave a great deal to be desired (I have dome some analysis on this blog) as well as being way out of date. It's actually very convenient simply to ignore all the glacial geomorphology and glaciology done with respect to the Irish Sea Glacier within the last 20 years. Kellaway had some rather wacky ideas, but he was a good field geologist, and a lot of what he said was very insightful.

TonyH said...

At least Brian has just got a letter on the merits of the Glacial Hypothesis published in October 2016, Issue 319 of Current Archaeology. And they published his original letter in full.

He was challenging statements made by Chris Catling in his "From the Trowel's Edge - Sherds" column in the previous issue.

TonyH said...

Weston - in - Gordano, which PeteG mentions above, is fairly accessible to anyone wishing to do some exploring, as it's accessible fairly easily from motorway connections from Wales, the Midlands, the South West and from the M4 eastern direction.