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Thursday, 8 December 2016

The aurochs and snow sledge theory

Thanks to geologist Paul Sanday for reminding me of this article which he wrote about a year ago:
"To Stonehenge by snow sledge", Pembrokeshire Life magazine, Dec 2015, pp 4-8.

Paul said he won't be upset if I say it's nonsense, so here we go.  It's nonsense. (I suspect he wrote it with tongue firmly in cheek anyway.........)

He goes through the various theories of bluestone transport -- by boat, glacier ice, by land, aliens (ancient astronauts) and air (using magical powers).  He dismisses the boat or raft transport theory pretty quickly, and I agree with most of his points on that.  Then he comes to glacial transport, and goes seriously adrift -- a pity, but as we all know geologists do not necessarily do much homework on glaciology or geomorphology.

Paul's points re "problems" with the theory:

1.  Ice in the last glaciation didn't go further south than South Wales. He cites "Cambridge University" as his source.  Sadly, Cambridge University does not do research -- people do research, and some of them happen to be based at Cambridge. In any case, the assertion is incorrect.  Devensian ice extended as far south as the Isles of Scilly.  In any case, we are not talking about Devensian ice here, but Anglian ice.

2.  The ice was moving towards SW and not towards SE.  "Cambridge University" is again cited as the source.  Where on earth did this idea come from?  Of course the ice in the Bristol Channel was moving towards the E and SE -- that has been well known for over a century.

3.  Stonehenge is just one location -- erratics should be widely spread.  Maybe, and maybe not.  Lots on this blog on just this topic.  and we still do not know how far the Stonehenge builders needed to range across country during their efforts tomgather up stones.

4.  No other erratics found, such as Gower ORS or quartz conglomerate.  How many erratics do we want?  One might as well say that there "should" be erratics from Ailsa Craig at Haverfordwest or erratics from Anglesey at Milford Haven...... Glaciers tend to be rather unaccommodating for most of the time.

5.  The size and shape of the Stonehenge bluestones are "pretty consistent", rather than involving a range of sizes.  Not true.  The bluestones at Stonehenge are a pretty mottley collection of slabs, pillars, boulders and stumps.  The best collection of glacial erratics that you are likely to find anywhere in southern Britain.

6.  Bluestones at Stonehenge are either monoliths or flakes.  Not so.  There are stumps and lumps of bluestone too, and also all sorts of stones classified as "packing stones, hammer stones and mauls".

7.  Very specific rock types have been selected -- eg Preseli spotted dolerite.  Not so.  There are many rock types represented in the bluestone assemblage, including some that are not really very suitable for use as monoliths.

After all of this, Paul considers land transport according to MPP et al, and finds the theory wanting.  Similarly, he does not sound too impressed with aliens, space ships, giants, fairies and wizards.

And so he comes to his central hypothesis, partly based upon all sorts of things, including a new Cambridge University map of the Devensian glaciation.  I haven't got a clue what he's talking about there, or what its relevance is, so let's move on.  Paul starts off by saying that a lot of things happened earlier than previously thought.  We can live with that.  He then proposes that the bluestones were moved to Stonehenge "at the end of the last Ice Age"  around 12,000 -10,000 years ago, when the Severn Estuary would have been "non-tidal and frozen."  Well, we know that it wasn't frozen in the Younger Dryas, and it certainly wasn't non-tidal.  Sure, there was intermittent permafrost on land, but I have never seen any evidence of coastal ice action at this time.  Then he says that the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary area beyond the glacier front was a permafrost plain, just right for hauling sledges with bluestones on them. So that assumes a much lower sea level.  The trouble is that the low sea level associated with the last glaciation was around 20,000 years ago, and that by Younger Dryas times it had risen to about -20m.  Quite low, but not low enough to leave the centre of the Bristol Channel as dry land. Sadly, Paul has got his glaciations, his sea levels and his permafrost episodes all screwed up........

Essentially, the thesis is that tame aurochs were used to haul bluestones from Pembrokeshire in the Palaeolithic or the Mesolithic, across a frozen landscape in the Bristol Channel, in nice snowy weather when sledges could be made to slide nicely.  How?  Why? When?    It's a very jolly image  -- why let lots of specifics get in the way of a delightful generalisation?  Why, indeed, let the truth get in the way of yet another jolly story?


MoA said...

Ah of course there is a germ of an idea here.
But aurochs were not tameable (I think) and fellow geologist has overlooked evidence on the ground.

They were man-hauled by dog-teams, mush mush, as the tooth from Blick Mead clearly demonstrates.
At festive times they also brought slate tools and votive pretty pink flint ducks aber nicht von dem Morganland.

Oh who was a naughty boy, slipping in a comment about Stonehenge orthostats being erratics. The shaggiest of stories. Pity the quarries prove that absurdity.

I once had to comment on a similar theory from a committee working on SH they had men sliding the orthostats on ice. My comments were short and not to their liking.

For my money SH and ice have nothing to do with each other from inception to creation to destruction. Well a bit of frost shattering perhaps.

TonyH said...

Let's call the whole thing off,
You say aurochs,
I say arochsen,
Let's call the whole thing off!

chris johnson said...

The Pembrokeshire County History asserts the isotopic work done by the University of Sheffield which suggests that cattle droving from West Wales to Wiltshire was established by 2500 BC, hence a network of well trodden paths over the hills. The method of transport was almost certainly the llsug, a traditional sled used for transport in Preseli into recorded history.

Can't we close the case on this one now?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Who asserts this? Wainwright? Which Sheffield University work? Far too many vague assertions and suppositions in there for comfort, Chris. What is the EVIDENCE for all this stuff? Case still open.

MoA said...

Is this Jane Evans- related work.
How do you say llsug? retype phonetically please. Does it rhyme with thug?? They crossed a lot of roads!

chris johnson said...

Cited is MPP 2012 p120. The appendix gives "MPP. 2012. Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest stone age mystery. London. Simon and Schuster"

Presumably the reference is to the work done on provenancing the bones from Durrington Walls and the feasting that appears to have taken place. Professor Jane Evans is generally associated with Nottingham University and the British Geological Survey and, of course, the work done on the isotopic origins. I was not aware similar work has been done at Sheffield but MPP would know better of course, or is it sloppy academic editing? Bit of a shame really as a lot of care has been taken with the official Pembrokeshire County History.

Myris - try googling Car llsug. It sounds like the slushing of a wooden sledge on a wet welsh hillside.

MoA said...

I do stand ever so humbled as in a short shrift, it is of course aurochsen.
Is it a weak noun?
In German it is der Auerochs so die Auerochsen I guess.

BRIAN JOHN said...

All slush and no substance, Chris. Sounds like sloppy writing to me -- too much of it about.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Have a look here:

Dave Maynard said...

Try 'Car Llusg'

Proper Welsh, not fingers in the wrong places.


chris johnson said...

Interesting to look back at the stone collecting article. The County History also mentions that two stones were sledded from Carn Goedog to Mynachlog-ddu (Lewis 1967, 39).

I don't know which route they would take but it is likely they passed very close to Carn Menyn where very similar stones could have been quarried.

I wonder why the stones were taken from Carn Goedog in preference?

The History also reports that the Cana Independent Chapel near Felindre Farchog was built with spotted dolerite from Carn Goedog, again not the most convenient source.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- please don't say "the County History says" this, that or the other. That invests things with a certain authority or even infallibility. The chapters were written by individuals who are not at all any wiser than the rest of us -- and in some cases a good deal less so. So -- personal opinions, often seriously flawed. That having been said, type in "Cana" into the search box -- we have 2 posts on the blog on the spotted dolerite used, and why.

MoA said...

Ah that is true for senior geomorphologists too.

Only Sublime Apollo and his most senior acolytes hold the truth (and 'Agios Kostas, of course)the rest is just opinion, prejudice and SWAG.

Scientific Wild Arse Guess.

M (beloved of Apollo).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Quite so, Myris. I still find it quite entertaining that when somebody wants to promote the idea that some statement or other is PROBABLY TRUE, the words "according to Cambridge University" or "Oxford University reports that...." or "Aberystwyth University research reveals that...." are used. Or some such nonsense........ MPP uses another old trick. He pretends that many of his more wacky ideas are not his at all, but that they have come from some other expert, sometimes named and sometimes not.....

TonyH said...

A lot of MPP's Best Buddies are still at Sheffield University, where he resided for many, many moons, before his move (utilising genetically - resurrected aurochsen?) lock, stock and barbecue to UCL, somewhat east of Stonehenge.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Very handy. Maybe, from a safe distance, he can attribute certain outrageous statements to his ex-colleagues, and be far enough away not to hear their violent outbursts when they find out about it?