Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Stonehenge and the arrival of the Beaker hordes

An interesting article in the paper today:

It suggests that during the construction of Stonehenge there was a major incursion into Middle England of the Dutch tribes bearing beakers.  Must check out how strong the evidence is -- there is clearly some debate.  But it's suggested in the article that this all happened before "the Stonehenge project" was completed.  So does this back up my thesis that Stonehenge never was completed?  I have always had concerns that the "immaculate Stonehenge" made of c 80 sarsens and c 80 bluestones -- as imagined by generations of archaeologists, tourist operators and artists -- is not actually supported by hard evidence on or in the ground........

I'm also intrigued by what this new research means for all the current hype relating to Durrington Walls.  Were the gigantic hog roasts much beloved of MPP and others jolly international affairs to which the Dutch were invited, or were they the last hurrahs of a culture about to be replaced?

 Postscript:  Is migration making a comeback, at the expense of acculturation?  And the idea that beer was a key component of the movement of beakers and tribes is an interesting one.  Maybe all those wild BBQ events at Durrington Walls really were drunken orgies initiated by the Dutch invaders?

From Wikipedia:
Migration vs. acculturation
Given the unusual form and fabric of Beaker pottery, and its abrupt appearance in the archaeological record, along with a characteristic group of other artefacts, known as the Bell Beaker "package", the explanation for the Beaker culture until the last decades of the 20th century was to interpret it as the migration of one group of people across Europe. However, British and American archaeology since the 1960s had been sceptical about prehistoric migration in general, so the idea of "Bell Beaker Folk" lost ground, although recent genetic findings lend renewed support to the migratory hypothesis. A theory of cultural contact de-emphasizing population movement was presented by Colin Burgess and Stephen Shennan in the mid-1970s.[29]
Under the "pots, not people" theory the Beaker culture is seen as a 'package' of knowledge (including religious beliefs and copper, bronze and gold working) and artefacts (including copper daggers, v-perforated buttons and stone wrist-guards) adopted and adapted by the indigenous peoples of Europe to varying degrees. This new knowledge may have come about by any combination of population movements and cultural contact. An example might be as part of a prestige cult related to the production and consumption of beer, or trading links such as those demonstrated by finds made along the seaways of Atlantic Europe. Palynological studies including analysis of pollen, associated with the spread of beakers, certainly suggests increased growing of barley, which may be associated with beer brewing. Noting the distribution of Beakers was highest in areas of transport routes, including fording sites, river valleys and mountain passes, it was suggested that Beaker 'folk' were originally bronze traders, who subsequently settled within local Neolithic or early Chalcolithic cultures creating local styles. Close analysis of the bronze tools associated with beaker use suggests an early Iberian source for the copper, followed subsequently by Central European and Bohemian ores.


Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Brian
Finally! Something about Stonehenge!

In my opinion ...
The sequence with the longest use in the active life of Stonehenge was the first one; pre-sarsen, probably around 500 years long. This regional cemetery was governed by the moon, with the Aubrey Holes, sighting posts and so on attesting.

Then it was abandoned for a couple of generations before the Trilithons were erected. As the purpose and meaning of these stones radically altered original intent, it tends to indicate a major shift in the cultural landscape.

Many like to characterize the influx of Beakers as an invasion, but there's really no evidence for large scale violence. I believe the assimilation of outlanders into the extant society was gradual and welcomed. This was most likely caused by a healthy trade system whereby people came and eventually stayed. I have a sense that they'd brought copper with them from an early period, but because this material is useless for stonework, there's no evidence for it at Stonehenge. There is a bit of conjecture for its use at Durrington in that period.

So the stones were raised by people of a certain technological sophistication who had greatly influenced the native culture, and this process gently closed the door on the late-stage Windmill Hill folk.

The site had been abruptly repurposed from a lunar motif to the solar, while it's possible these newcomers were altogether unaware of provenance for the bluestones. Because there's no other stones like them in the vicinity, they were most likely revered in some way. The builders rearranged these ancient stones within the fancy new structure, but may not have known where they came from because the ancestral Welsh influence waned as continental ideas took precedence. Denmark, France and Iberia are the most probable sources for this influence, which continued far into the Bronze Age with wide-scale use of Cornish tin.

As you and the regular readers of this blog know, I am a firm proponent that the Sarsen Circle was completed, with evidence supplied, not just by the parchmarks, but by the site's continued use for a couple of hundred years after the stones went up. This internationally renown edifice would have looked pretty goofy if left awkwardly gap-toothed for all subsequent generations to see.


TonyH said...

Probably the best recent article about the major scientific project into the Beaker People in Britain, titled "Bronze Age Migrants........fact or fantasy?, written by MPP, appeared in British Archaeology, September/ October 2016. Regular readers will remember we have discussed aspects of this on the Blog. MPP gave a talk on this at Devizes Town Hall a few months ago, and I mentioned this shortly afterwards.

TonyH said...


In the port of Amsterdam where the sailors all meet

There's a sailor who eats only fish heads and tails

He will show you his teeth, that have rotted too soon

That can swallow the moon, that can haul up the sails


TonyH said...

Proto - DUTCH contributions to Stonehenge megalith - building? Surely not, Brian!

I thought you, Dr Ixer, and someone known as Myris at least agreed on ONE thing:-

Stonehenge, geologically speaking at least,was JERRY - built.**

**SOURCE: The Bluestone Enigma, Brian John

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, we must be very careful about political correctness here...... but there is a serious angle, relating to the debate on migration v acculturation. (We used to talk about that in our cultural geography courses back in the early sixties -- and apparently it's still going on.) There is clearly a need for much more data collection and hard evidence here -- but to my mind this suggests (a) that the building of Stonehenge might well have been disrupted to the point that it never was "finished"; and (b) that all of the great cultural contacts of the time were with the east, not the west. As Myris has pointed out, and as I have said myself many times, the recent analyses of West Wales archaeology are all suggesting a context that had everything to do with Ireland and the Atlantic Fringe, and virtually nothing to do with Middle England. The great "political gesture" relating to Neolithic bluestone transport, greatly beloved of Prof MPP, looks more and more fanciful.

Neil Wiseman said...

I am firmly in the school that says: Ireland First, then Wales, then a trickle-down to southern England.
This is all pre-5000 years BP though, as Windmill Hill etc, mimic projects found in France, while the henge-structure almost certainly originated in Orkney.

The influx I refer to involves a much later stage, re: post-Avebury.


TonyH said...

'The Bluestone Enigma', Brian John, 2008, ISBN 978 0 905559 89 6, page 27:-

" the site, while undoubtedly a wonder of the ancient world, should be seen as a testament to Neolithic ASPIRATIONS rather than Neolithic achievements. Geologist Dr Rob Ixer referred to Stonehenge as "....amongst England's jerry - built public buildings," on the grounds that he could see no logic either in stone type selection or in the numbers and shapes of stones used.

TonyH said...

Sounds as if this Guardian article over - hypes the case for Beaker Folk replacing, en masse, the indigenous 'British' population. A researcher from Durham University, Ben Roberts, says that the sample is too small to draw meaningful conclusions. And another reminds us that DNA samples are very difficult to extract from cremated bone. Cremations replaced inhumation at the time of the Beaker "invasion".

This could be another case of a "non - story" promoted on the back of alleged Stonehenge connotations.

james baker said...

Maybe. It could also be the start for some major changes in thinking though. There are some very early dates for Kurgan Bell Beaker dna in Britain now. Dating very closely to the possible time when the first bluestones were erected.

james baker said...

Maybe. It could also be the start for some major changes in thinking though. There are some very early dates for Kurgan Bell Beaker dna in Britain now. The major change in the cultural landscape that the first stones represent could very well be the arrival of a large amount of new dna.