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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Cunnington on Aubrey Holes and bluestone chips





Purely by chance, this was in the same WANH magazine as the note about the stone axes.  Cunnington here implies that there are bluestone chips in multiple holes -- but he and his colleagues at the time were quite convinced that the holes had NOT contained bluestones, but were simply post holes.  This flies in the face of what MPP claims -- as far as I know, he still promotes the idea of the Aubrey Holes holding a full setting of bluestones at a very early stage in the history of the monument......

THE RECENT EXCAVATIONS AT STONEHENGE,
By Lt.-Col. R. H. Cunnington.
Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine, VOL. XLIV. — NO. CXLIX.  (1927-1929), p 32 

Extract: p 338 The Recent Excavations at Stonehenge.

Since it has been shown that the holes probably contained wooden posts it must be assumed that the depressions were due to the stumps gradually rotting away. The slow sinking caused by the disappearance of the wood would be balanced to a great extent by the growth of turf above, and the filling of the depressions since Aubrey's time shows how quick the process is. But in Aubrey's time there were still depressions, and that implies that the wood had not then, or had not very long before, completely decayed away.

 The presence of blue stone chips so far down in the holes can also be best explained as following down the rotting wood. They were "rarely found below 20in." (Vol. L, 33) and decreased in quantity downwards. One hole, No. 5, shows them at 2ft. 6in. depth, or 15in. below the level of the surrounding chalk (Vol. I., 83), but they were never found quite at the bottom. It is unlikely that the blue stones were chipped until after the posts were erected, for if the chips had been lying on the surface some would have fallen in with the packing, but there is no reason to suppose that any long interval intervened.

 The gradation of stone chips also shows that the filling was never subsequently disturbed by renewal of the posts.

The early reports suggested that the holes might have held a ring of the blue stones before they were trimmed. The only argument for this seems to have been that the numbers roughly correspond. The shape of the holes, round instead of oblong, is almost sufficient to preclude this idea ; they also seem to be too small ; and even without the further blue stone stumps or holes that have been found, they were probably too few. Also if stones had been taken out and the holes filled up, it is hardly conceivable that de- pressions would remain until Aubrey's time, at least 2000 years later.

30 comments:

TonyH said...

This Cunnington, as well as being a Lieutenant - Colonel, was an archaeologist like his grandfather William who is notable on this Blog as the excavator of Boles Barrow with its apparent bluestone.

William's Great - Grandson was Ben who was also an archaeologist, as was his more esteemed wife, Maud, who excavated Woodhenge and The Sanctuary, near Avebury, for example.

I maintain folk such as Mike Pitts, etc, should not be so swift in dismissing William Cunnington's claim that he had found a 'foreign stone' at Boles Barrow. The Wikipedia entry for William, originally written in German, is worth a read to get an overview of his techniques.

Dave Maynard said...

I tend not to make any comments about Stonehenge because I can claim no specialised knowledge. I know the rough outlines, but leave others to delve into the details. This is despite 4 or 5 visits to the site and numerous trips past on both roads where my eyes have seen the stones (sorry Neil...).

This text from Cunnington about the depressions in the tops of the holes during Aubrey's time, that subsequently levelled out by the early 1920's got me thinking because it didn't feel right. I looked up 'Aubrey Holes' and learnt a lot on Wikipedia. In 1666, John Aubrey visited the site and showed on his plan 5 depressions around the interior of the earthwork bank. The 56 holes do not seem to have been seen by him and were not discovered until the work of William Hawley in the 1920's when they were named after Aubrey.

Mike Pitts in 1981, suggested that the depressions seen by Aubrey may not have been anything to do with the 56 holes, but could have been the result of more recent stone removal. This seems much more probable and suits my perceptions of the nature of backfill and consolidation of a pit over 3,000 years after abandonment.

It also looks that 35 holes have been excavated, leaving 21 that have not been looked at by an archaeologist. Beyond filling in the gaps in the excavated series of pits around the circuit, have any of the remaining 21 holes been confirmed by remote sensing? This could be GPR, geophysics, soil marks, dowsing, acoustic survey, etc. (no particular order of belief).

Dave

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I keep on coming across Maud. All very confusing as to who did what, and when........

TonyH said...

They think enough about William Cunnington in his former town of Heytesbury that some residents and others want to create a fitting plaque in tribute to him in Heytesbury Church or its churchyard. I did hear that archaeologist Julian Richards has contributed/ is contributing to these attempts.

TonyH said...

Brian, Maud often gets a mention in Historical Geographers' despatchers because she dug at Woodhenge, next door to Durrington Walls and so within a Stonehenge jackdaw's casual morning flight from his favourite trilithon.

Woodhenge was recognised for being Something Under t' Ground after one of the first aerial photography flights was made during or soon after World War Two. The rest, as they say, is concrete posts (oh dear).

Dave Maynard said...

My first weekend as an undergraduate at Sheffield involved a whistle-stop tour of the Salisbury Plain sites. I have a photograph somewhere of all my fellow students sitting one each, on the concrete posts!

Myris of Alexandria said...

Auntie Maud is an important Wessex Prehistorianin(sic)not just Woodhenge but much else, she worked at and made important the LBA/EIA site of All Cannings Cross.
Tim Daw farms that land now and picks up the odd stone and sherd.
M

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Dave M,

It's true that it's now almost certain that John Aubrey did not discover the holes named for him.

Whatever it is he describes prompted Mike Pitts to speculate that there might be an additional set of holes outside the circumference of the ditch. The idea never had much traction and I suspect that what Aubrey saw were the possible depressions for stones -B and -C, long lost to antiquity.

32 Holes have been excavated, while the remainder were confirmed by Atkinson with a trusty length of re-bar in 1953. Geo-fiz has subsequently confirmed this, so the northwest layout of size and placement is thought to be pretty accurate.

In a disturbing twist, a great deal of what Hawley recovered from the Holes was either discarded or buried in what's known as 'Hawley's Graves' - a series of 8 site-dumps slightly to the south, outside the Henge. These have never been investigated, as anything found there would have had its context destroyed.
But he did retain the the mysterious 'Ceramic Object' found in Hole-27.
Details upon request.

He also saved samples of many cremated remains and sent them round to various museums for curation. But no one was interested in ash or bits of bone, so the ensemble was returned to Hole-7 in 1935.
MPP, et.al. re-excavated them in 2008 to find the jumbled mess we've all seen. Though the context was lost, 62 men, women and children have been identified, some with burial dates which exceed the age of the henge, which has been accurately cross-dated by a number of antler tools found in various original contexts.

Neil

TonyH said...

So what is "the mysterious 'Ceramic Object' found in Hole-27. Details upon request", Neil?

I seem to recall the website owner of 'Eternal Idol', whose pen name is Dennis Price, writing a lot about the so - called Hawley's Graves.

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Tony,

Dennis isn't the only one who knows about this item or Hawley's so-called graves.

The Ceramic Object is a distorted disk approximately 4.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches thick. (I'm doing this from memory, so bear with those potentially incorrect dimensions!) It is slightly concave on one side, and this surface shows evidence of being scorched prior to the cremation process. The rest of it displays evidence of exposure to high temperature. It is compressed on one side, meaning perhaps that it was heated before the clay material was fully cured.
It also has what looks like three small holes running in thirds around the diameter. It is fashioned out of typical pottery material, locally obtained.
It's displayed in a museum at present, but I'll be dickered if I can remember which one ...

I have pictures of both this object and Hawley's Graves, but I don't know how to upload them here, and though I realize that this is somewhat off the main thread, perhaps Brian would like to post them?
___________________

My interpretation is: It was suspended over a body with lit incense or the like during a death ritual prior to the cremation process - possibly at the bier itself. Its crude craftsmanship speaks to immediate necessity; the purpose short-lived. I say this because that folk made otherwise good pottery. There are similar examples recovered elsewhere in much better condition.(Unused?)

That it was found amid cremation ashes suggests that the strings suspending it burned as expected in the funerary process and fell into the flames. Then it was bagged with the human ashes and placed into Aubrey-27.

Nothing like it has been found from any other examined Hole, and I believe that its proximity to the solar axis makes the placement significant. The fact that Hole-28 falls on the true axis at the time makes that suggestion problematic, but still implies that this person was a big-shot who died unexpectedly.

Neil

Dave Maynard said...

Hi Neil,

Thanks for the answer. There is a huge complexity to this place, rather like a medieval cathedral with sequences of graves laid upon graves only represented with inscribed floor markers. What may actually be underneath is unclear and a general reluctance to raise anything. Of course I fully agree with preservation in situ of deposits, even if we know the history of deposition, such as Hawley's 'graves'.

Can you recommend a single book to read that would adequately describe the sequences at Stonehenge? I suspect the answer is 'all of them' to get the detail I'm thinking of.

Do X and Y stones feature in the story these days?

Dave

Dave Maynard said...

Sorry 'Y' and 'Z' Holes. Hawley had previously been calling the Aubrey Holes 'X' Holes.

Thanks Wikipedia.

It's the bane of my life people renaming or renumbering things, particularly in an archaeological context.

Dave

TonyH said...

The Ceramic Object Neil has mentioned above: there is a black and white photographic illustration on page 207, described as "the unique, drum - shaped, small pottery object found with one of the cremation burials at Stonehenge and interpreted as an 'incense burner'. From CLEAL et al 'Stonehenge in its Landscape' plates 8.1 & 8.2 copyright English Heritage.

There are some 'incense burners' on display in the Prehistoric Galleries at Devizes Museum.

TonyH said...

That first illustration referred to above was in MPP's "Stonehenge", 2012.

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Dave,

You won't get any argument from me about Complexity!
Medieval Cathedrals are far easier to crack than most things Neolithic because we can read what they wrote. Conversely, Stonehenge gives use some pretty direct and indirect clues as to what was going on because - from an engineering standpoint - it's mostly intact, while holes in chalk are forever.
Rendering motivation? LOL - that's an entirely different thing!

Yes, the 'X-Holes' are confusing because they were re-named, which leads the uninformed to wonder why the 'Y&Z Holes' were called so. And those 'Q&R Holes'? Don't get me started!

It was decided that because the stone numbering system worked its way out from the circle, the lettered holes and pits should work their way in. But X should clearly be Z, because the Y&Z's hadn't been discovered yet! They finally threw up their hands and went back to naming. (Good luck with the vague, newly discovered depressions between those sets!)
Luckily, the Flinders-Petrie 1888 numbering system for the Stones remains intact.

Then we have Helio-Stone, Friar's Heel, Sun-Stone, That Big Pointy Rock, finally settling into Heelstone. But without context people are further confused by even that weird name. His excellent drawings notwithstanding, did Stukeley mean Stone-14, or was it -12? What's a 'Horn Stone'? People today hear: 'Leaning Stone' but have no idea it's S-56 because it no longer leans. They see Stone-11 and think that's the one.
There's legitimate schools of study in simply finding the origin of certain names in the vicinity!

Not all ~600 books about Stonehenge tell the progressive story, but there are a few recent ones which try. Cursed though he is on this blog, Mike-Parker Pearson is very close to the story we now accept in 'Stonehenge: Making Sense of a Prehistoric Mystery'. If it were ever updated, Mike Pitts' 'Hengeworld' would also be a good one. Atkinson's 'Stonehenge' was the bible for researchers for 25 years, but is now woefully outdated. Julian Richards shouldn't be overlooked in 'Stonehenge: The Story So Far', and Chris Chippendale's 'Stonehenge Complete' is an exhaustive tome concerning the historical record. If you've got money to spend and a really long time to wade through its impenetrable density, Roz Cleal's 'Stonehenge in its Landscape' is the touchstone reference for all serious researchers, giving a detailed compilation of every 20th century investigation, previously scattered across many germane museums or repository.

The glaring lack of cohesion compelled a certain American author to pen 'Stonehenge and the Neolithic Cosmos' in 2015, which details not only the sequences, but an interpretation of the intention behind them. Having the utter temerity to explain what Stonehenge's final purpose was, the conclusions have not been universally endorsed, but has been favorably reviewed. Among others, some strange vagabond geologist named Rob Ixer thought enough of it to jot down a few remarks ...

Neil

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Tony,

A certain well-known Wiltshire historian has arranged a private tour for me of that gallery at the Devizes Museum on Friday the 22nd. With cotton gloves, I'll be handling many of these items, including the famous gold Lozenge recovered from Bush Barrow.
I will dutifully report my findings here and elsewhere.

Neil

TonyH said...

Well done, splendid! So you'll be treading the earth of Wiltshire too! Enjoy your visit.

I had a very close - up view of the gold lozenge Bush Barrow discovery with my wife and quite a few other Members of WANHS a few years back. Phil Harding of Channel 4's sadly - missed Time Team (was that available to your TV in North America?) was right by the object too, and chatted. He's our County Treasure, humanly - speaking! Also have seen him at Wainwright & Darvill's Stonehenge 'Inner Sanctum' dig a few years back, as well as on other occasions and talks.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Mike Pitts has promised to rewrite Hengeworld once the dust has settled and that will be the definitive tome.
Tim Darvill's book is good too, but any book prior to 2010 now seems hopelessly out dated whilst some prior books post 2010 are mainly derivative, apart from some exciting early chapters and so could be skipped. His detective novel had a neat ending that made up for some of the belaboured pages and I recommend it.
Now what about a collaboration between BJ and FP. Mistress Martha detecting, forensically, serial killers. In between killing her love interests, think a type of Celtic Typhoid Mary who also likes to cook and investigate. 25% Film rights please.
Many recent SH books have been reviewed by the vagabond geo reviewer. See his page on academia.edu. A couple of collections of SH and Wessex related reviews including two of the little blue book. Food for thought indeed.
He recommends, as a gentle primer, Rosemary Hill's SH book, not as good as her fabulous biography of the Supreme Pugin. (No carbuncles on him). Nice writer (Hill) who chooses good subjects.
Cleal is difficult but possibly is THE one essential book. When in doubt read her, Hengeworld was Pitts making Cleal accessible for all but the most exacting specaialist and what a splendid job he made. Still like Darvill's book and use it more than Hengeworld but only because it is more focussed on the pile of stones in a field. Wearing that, eh.
M
M

Neil Wiseman said...

Myris,

There's some impressive, honest reviews by Dr Ixer, fer sher. I was unaware that he had reviewed the Little Blue Book twice. It seems I must contact him.

I recently got notice that I am mentioned 13 times in various papers on Acedemia.Edu, but unfortunately they're behind a paywall so I've yet to see what all the fuss is about.

Neil

Dave Maynard said...

Thanks for all the references. I was aware of all, but never opened the cover of any. The only relevant book on my shelves is Hawkins' Stonehenge Decoded, that came via my wife, but I've not opened that either.

I'm tempted to start with Mike Pitts as I enjoy his blog and views on Stonhenge. MPP could also be a strong candidate. My old association with the landscape around there might lead me to anything by Julian Richards, in fact, it might lead me to walk about the landscape to give me a view about the tunnel.

Neil,

Any chance that you may come west to see the source of one of the talking points of SH?

Dave

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Dave,

I have a great interest in seeing a certain major location in Wales as it relates to the Pile of Rocks which has little to do with 'Transport' -- but unfortunately the Grand Tour I had planned is dead on arrival. The upcoming visit is very short, on a short budget, with a number of places I won't be able to see.

I will, however, return in the spring for a month, and all these locales will be examined with minute scrutiny. There's a theory that I'm pursuing and Wales is integral to it. More details as we receive them ...

Gerry Hawkins' tome is now quite dated, and though he's worked out some interesting details with regard to the Aubrey Holes, his eclipse prediction theory is rubbish.

Among other excellent send-ups, Stonehenge: A History in Photographs by Julian Richards is a fascinating collection of rarely-seen pictures complimented with keen narrative on several aspects of the site which are frequently overlooked.
Here's a guy whose career as a TV presenter has overshadowed some of the important work he's done.



Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Is that really a "send-up"? Or does that expression mean something else in the US of A?

Best books? Most of them (including Hengeworld) have far too much fantasy and too little evidence. They belong in the storytelling tradition of archaeology, which was started off by our old friend HHT. For me, Ros Cleal and her colleagues are tops, although that book is one hell of a price. But incredibly comprehensive, and SCIENTIFIC too. Anthony Johnson's book is excellent as well. We all have our favourites......

Dave Maynard said...

Sorry, the book on my shelf is Fred Hoyle 'On Stonehenge'. I probably know even less now I've leaved through it.

TonyH said...

Enjoy your brief imminent visit to the UK, Neil, including the Wiltshire (Devizes - based) Museum with its Bush Barrow Gold Lozenge. Glad you intend returning to these shores in the Spring for a longer stay. Perhaps see you in Wiltshire then.


Tony

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thinking of bluestone chips, on checking through the great Ros Cleal book, they seem to be abundant in every Aubrey Hole that has been investigated -- scattered through the debris. Unfortunately they are just called "bluestone" chips so we have no idea whether they are spotted dolerite, rhyolite or anything else. Myris, have you done any systematic work on these Aubrey Hole fragments?

Neil Wiseman said...

Tony.

Thank you very much!
Though the Pile of Rocks is my focus, Avebury, Marden, and Durrington are on the landscape list. (Rain nearly all week ...)
But there's been a specific, open-ended time slot allotted to the Devizes Museum, and I look very much forward to that visit!

By the clock on my desk, I lift off in 11 hours 47 minutes. (But who's counting?)

Neil

Dave Maynard said...

If these bluestones were abundant throughout the Aubrey Holes, were they treated in the same way as the human bone in those holes? All lumped together and buried in a convenient pit somewhere, or could each stone be matched to a specific hole leading to a more detailed group analysis?

Dave

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sound question, Dave. Of course, MPP thinks that all of the Aubrey Holes held bluestones,and that this was the first use of bluestones on the site, maybe as early as 5,000 BP. So does each Aubrey Hole hold bluestone fragments specific to the stone that stood in that particular hole -- or are they all jumbled up? Myris will now, if anybody does....... we are all ears!

TonyH said...

Neil, if you were to say between what times you will be at the Devizes Museum, then it is possible I might be able to drive over and shake your hand there at some point (I am a Museum member) during that visit, though I realise that as you are being specially shown round, presumably that may not be practicable.

From my aspect, my health issues may prevent me travelling over. I am away until Wednesday night from Monday late morning, so will be away from computers and emails then. But if you wish to say when there might be a slot for us to meet at the museum, you could put it as a Comment on here and I'll see it at some point. I know David Dawson, the Director, by the way, and he's well aware of Brian's bluestone blog etc and my interest!

Tony

TonyH said...

Enjoy your visit to Long Street, Devizes, and the Wiltshire Museum therein, Neil. Visitors from North America particularly welcome.