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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A plea for Stonehenge samples......

I came across this pic of a fellow doing some rather naughty sampling of a chunk of rock somewhere or other, and it got me thinking about what a lot of time we all waste on this blog and on scores of other blogs, and in the learned journals, speculating on the nature and provenance of the 93 (correct number?) of monoliths at Stonehenge.  There are about 43 bluestones and 50 sarsens.  A small sample, used for a thin section slide for each stone, would unlock a treasury of information that would advance Stonehenge research by light years -- and Rob and Richard are trembling in the wings, microscopes at the ready, waiting for global stardom.........

So why, oh why, does EH refuse to contemplate that as a project?  Judicious sampling as agreed in advance would do less damage to the stones than all those starlings do every winter.  The organization is absurdly precious about the "value" of the stones -- anybody would think that they have magical properties, and that a curse will fall upon the heads of all who tamper with them.

Please, English Heritage, get organized and allow a proper sampling programme, and allow some proper science to move us forward to a much improved appreciation of what Stonehenge is all about!

PS.  I hasten to add that I am not encouraging Richard and Rob to go prowling about there at dead of night, with jackets over their heads. 


Myris of Alexandria said...

These are the final paragraphs of Ixer et al 2017. They are in total harmony with the ever-wise words of Dr John and even 'Agios Kostas.

"The two buried and ill-described stumps can
be added to the ever growing list of Stonehenge
orthostats that require sampling, namely the potential
parents for Rhyolite A–C (Craig Rhosyfelin) SH32d
or SH32e; parents for Volcanic Group A namely
SH32c, 33e, 33f, 40c, and 41d and now the Lower
Palaeozoic Sandstone SH40g and 42c.
Wainwright et al. at the conclusion of the Cleal
et al. (1995) monograph stated in their ‘future
directions’ for research at Stonehenge that ‘A
detailed petrological description of each stone
and the identification of its source’ was needed
(Cleal et al. 1995, 492). This paper completes the
initial petrographical descriptions of the major
types of non-dolerite bluestone debitage from the
Stonehenge landscape begun in 2006. Now that there
is enough petrography to enable a convincing match
between buried Stonehenge orthostats, their surface
debitage and their potential geographical sources
to be realised, it only needs the buried stumps to
be sampled".

A few years ago informal soundings were made and the response was swift and sharp.
I think that all the major players have had similar experiences.

The above-ground orthostats have been sampled -some of the dolerites need to be done
but it is the buried ones that hold the greatest interest. Hence the pet rock boys would need a spade in addition to hammer and chisels.

Dear dead John Watson dined out on the story that at the exact moment he put the drill to the first orthostat and turn it on, there was the most enormous clap of thunder. And, as I oft say, all the main authors (except OWT)of the 1991 OU paper died young (John Watson not so young but still 10/15 years light).

I think the chances of Dr Ixer wearing a hoodie are as slim as his dressing in a mankini, neither thoughts are to be dwelt upon.

Does that odd simian gesture hoodies make, throwing their hands forward have a technical name?
Typically I don't know that but do know (and use, see google street view!) most of the fashionable Elizabethan/Jacobean obscene gestures, they were Italian imports and largely imply being cuckolded. Highly expressive and give the hands a greater work-out than 'flipping the bird'.

ND Wiseman said...

35 of the upright sarsen stones remain of 40 originals. 26 are standing, 9 are fallen or broken, but only 5 are missing altogether. The previously undetected sockets for Stones -17 & -18 were discovered in July of 2013, so these are now accounted for, if only as placeholders.

Only 44 bluestones remain out of perhaps 90. 13 stand while the rest are either prone or buried stumps.
By far the largest percentage of missing stones are the lintels, with only 13 of 40 originals on-site. 9 sit in place, 4 are fallen, the others are long gone. Out of an estimated 165 original stones, only 92 remain, or sixty percent.


Evergreen said...

Hi Myris, a quick question if I may, I read a post from 2011 in which you say there are no 20thC samples of the Altar stone, and the sample you have from the Implement Pet collection (I won't pretend I know what that is) you believe to be altar stone as it looks to be the same lithology as the examples in the Natural history museum. Has a sample been taken in recent years?

Myris of Alexandria said...

Oh what about missing bluestone lintels?
There is that odd highly dressed dolerite stone suggesting a likelihood of lintel-hood.

Wanton waste at least in Avebury they built pig byres etc with the 'reused' stones.

Where did the SH lost stones go? It is lot of polished stone axes or fairy talisman or post Media-evil souveniers.

Or, and you heard it here first. Is this a record of some unrecorded (even by Kellaway) westward moving micro-glacier returning the stones to their Welsh heartland. Brian often tells us how selective glaciers can be in what they pick up and what they leave and we know the west country had a fondness for micro-glaciers.
I guess so far nobody has looked to see if there be glacial striae and if yes what direction they would suggest the ice was moving.
I await my summons to the ignoble awards.

Evergreen Teapot said...

"Where did the SH lost stones go?"

Yes, some say a westward glacier from Germany dropped off some lava and picked up a few stones as it made its way to Wexford.

A lot of Medieval souvenirs indeed, but not as many as currently available in the EH gift shop. Need a SH teapot? It's just a click away.

Myris of Alexandria said...

An astute and apposite question.
There has been no 20th or 21st century sampling of the altar stone as far as I know. The sample used by Ixer and Turner was from the mad axe collection held in Taunton, when they used to lend sections to researchers, before everything became too precious.
Later rare pieces of debitage were recognised as being the same as the mad axe thin section and described more fully in ixer and Bevins 2013?
(The debitage dilemma paper).
The whole altar stone problem is being actively 're examined with new techniques leading to new insights, it is hoped.

But of course that should be added to the list of orthostats to be sampled.
Thomas descriptions of the altar stone are just this side of bizarre.Thomas 1923, not the much later Thomas who worked on the Devonian of south Wales his petrography is of the very highest order.

Evergreen said...

I read that as Ike and Turner.
Was the altar stone from river deep or mountain high I ask myself.

Thanks Myris. I will take a look at the 2013 paper.

TonyH said...

Former English Heritage archaeologist Julian Richards who has had a long association with SH, is giving a lecture priced at £8 to non - members of Bradford Museum on Friday, October 13th in Bradford on Avon. He titles his talk "SH: old rocks, new theories". It might be very interesting to ask him afterwards what he thinks about the merits and likelihood of English Heritage being encouraged to do a scientific sampling programme at SH.

Both he and MPP worked for EH.

JR is also about to (end Sept) publish a hardback titled "Stonehenge: The Story So Far".

TonyH said...

Is the Old, Old story of bluestone human transport considered too much of a Mystical Money - Spending Machine for EH to EVEN contemplate a scientific sampling programme?

Perhaps we who are nay - sayers should form a protest petition outside English Heritage HQ, Swindon?

Or, at least send a signed petition to the Minister for Heritage.

ND Wiseman said...

Myris of Alexandria said...

"Oh what about missing bluestone lintels? There is that odd highly dressed dolorite stone suggesting a likelihood of lintel-hood."

There are two, Myris. BS-150 and BS-36. Both have 2 mortise holes that are the same distance apart. -150 isn't in too bad condition, while -36 is nearly impeccable.
It's thought that they acted as lintels for a solar corridor into the center of the site before the sarsens had been erected, then used as standers later.

BS-150 is located near the NE Entrance and -36 is not far from the SW axis. I think there were lintelled 'bluestone' corridors at both positions - but maybe that's just me.


Jon Morris said...

Please, English Heritage, get organized and allow a proper sampling programme, and al..

As far as I'm aware, English Heritage are just temporary leaseholders of the monument: An NGO but fully autonomous. From a tax-payer perspective, there was no good argument that they should automatically be allowed the rights to use the monument to gather excess revenue post 2021. It's highly unlikely that they would have been granted the power to do anything at all whilst they are the caretakers: So it would probably be pointless asking them.

Probably the relevant minister would be the person to get permission from and then negotiate access with EH (as tenants they could slow things down). Difficulty would be making the case that it's a worthwhile thing to find out (unless you can find a sponsor to send cash in the taxpayer's direction to make it worthwhile).

Or, and you heard it here first. Is this a record of some unrecorded (even by Kellaway) westward moving micro-glacier returning the stones to their Welsh heartland.

I haven't heard of that one: Has anyone informed the Daily Mail of this hypothesis Myris?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ownership / rights of way issues are highly complex. Wasn't the King of the Druids involved in some legal dispute about access? Not sure how that turned out. And I also recall some irate visitors to Stonehenge disputing the right of EH or National Trust to extract money off them if they chose to walk from the new visitor centre, or to approach Stonehenge from another direction, ie across the fields using public footpaths.

In general, big organizations will always try it on, until somebody stops them.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- 44 bluestones? I only count 43. Where have we gone wrong? Are you counting something twice?

AG said...

I wholly support those who dispute the right of EH to charge people to visit Stonehenge on Foot.

If the current situation is allowed to continue; particularly after the building of the tunnel!

The only people who will be able to even view Stonehenge, will be privilidged school children from fee paying schools, Families who can afford to pay £100 a pop per visit;and the even wealthier who can afford to pay EH for discrete private visits.

The view of Stonehenge from the A303 at the end of a days labour is actually one of lifes joys!

Taking an optimistic view point, At least EH staff, the archeos and their public school educated clientele will no longer have to mingle or deal with working class scum and other riff raff like myself!