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Sunday, 8 April 2018

Some ancient history: those lost bluestones

This is a press cutting from 1995, just to remind us of how seriously some people take their myths.  This mad boulder hunt (which of course came to nothing) was all based on the idea that the Altar Stone came from Cosheston, on the shore of Milford Haven, and that it would not have been collected and hauled off to Stonehenge if at least one bluestone monolith had not been lost in transit, in the waters of Milford Haven.

If you think that the bluestone myths flying around today are quite mad, I can assure you that they were pretty wacky back in the latter part of the last century as well!!


Myris of Alexandria said...

So much wrong –the Beaker Folk ((back in fashion it appears). No longer is the Beaker Package as prominent as it has been, it is all that mitochondrial DNA) moving the stones vast distances.
As the Pet Rock Boys have been explaining for over a decade now (initially with P. Turner) Milford Haven has nothing to do with any bluestone from Stonehenge.

As a additional aside and for more 90s historical fun….This has been brought to mind. Incidentally the authenticator of the fourth stone was Welsh Geoffrey himself, possibly without seeing it!
The stone has sunk without trace and I fear the fires of hell do burn both doubters of the ‘ice theory’

The most wonderful folk ballad/carol Dives and Lazarus (Child 56) springs to mind.

Letter to Current Archaeology 151 p279

Steep Holm “Bluestones”
The controversy surrounding the Boles Barrow bluestone is only part of a far wider problem namely the identification, location and significance of bluestones away from Stonehenge. There are almost as many fragments of “Stonehenge bluestones” lying along the proposed transport route between the Preseli Hills and Salisbury Plain as pieces of the True Cross.

Recently (August 31st 1999)during a very low tide three dark green rocks were collected from the shoreline of the southeastern corner of the island of Steep Holm in the Bristol channel. These were tentatively identified as broken Stonehenge bluestone monoliths lost during their trans-shipment from Wales to England. This speculation has attracted some media attention.

Hand specimen and thin section petrography of the rocks confirm that they are not local to Steep Holm (which is made of Carboniferous limestones) but are exotic. Two rocks (10 x 5 x 3cms and 10 x 9 x 4cms) are probably come from the same specimen which has broken along a joint plane. They are dense, dark green with a pronounced planar fabric and are metamorphic greenstones (or more accurately a greenschist facies fine-grained metabasic rock. The third rock (10 x 10 x 10cms)which is roughly pyramidal in shape is coarse-grained, green and white flecked, altered amphibolite possibly from a calcareous sedimentary parent.
There are no examples of greenstones nor amphibolites amongst the bluestones at Stonehenge, nor do these rock types make up any known axe-group. Although the amphibolite might be from southwest Wales the greenstones probably are from further afield.
Robert Ixer School of Earth Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TR.

Email sent to Brit Arch Nov 11th 1999 Complete with typos.

More Stones from Stonehenge?????
A letter has been published recently in the archaeological literature
claiming that a 4th 'bluestone' was found on the island of Steepholm in the Bristol Channel and that this has been authenticated as being a precelleite (the bluestones of Stonehenge).
I and the University of Birmingham are mentioned and a casual reading of the letter might suggest that I am the authenticator of this (claimed)4th stone, as a number of 'phone enquiries have shown. I am not. When I did the original petrographic examination of the three stones for the finder there was no mention of a fourth stone or I would have insisted on describing that alongside the others. Since sending the report- that clearly showed the three stones to be glacial erratics and that they did not match anything from Stonehenge, nor any axe group- I have heard nothing from the finder and no request to look at more material.
Like St Thomas until I can touch and see for myself this bluestone-
or the authenticator becomes known and is acceptable I will not
believe that any stone from Steepholme has any more connection
with Stonehenge than The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon.
Robert Ixer School of Earth Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TR.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh dear -- Steepholm again. Must get there and take a look one day....... preferably at very low tide. There's a spit that by all accounts has a lot of erratic material on it. As would be expected.......

chris johnson said...

I quote from Prof. MPP's recent booklet:
"The position of the suspected former stone circle of Waun Mawn close to a south facing pass across the Preseli hills would have made it possible to bring the bluestones southwards to Milford Haven and from there by sea, as originally proposed by Richard Atkinson."

And, for those who need a higher level of blood pressure yet, please check today's Daily Mail. There seems to be a major difference of opinion regarding chronology - or perhaps the Mail just gets it wrong.

Jon Morris said...

The main problem with finding the Altar Stone source, as I understand it, is that the material isn't particularly special/unusual. To get a good enough match, one would have to find the exact location of the bedrock that it came from (regardless of what/who transported it to Stonehenge)

That sum it up or is there more to it?

BRIAN JOHN said...

That's a nice piece of identification by Rob for the three bits of rock from Steepholm -- when looked at alongside the info from Flat Holm there is clearly a lot of erratic material in the Bristol, Channel and the Severn Estuary. We can expect boulders, cobbles and smaller stones from the west and the north.

Altar Stone -- Rob will no doubt explain the situation, but yes, as I understand it there are many beds of sandstone at Craig Ddu and elsewhere which have very subtle differences, and provenancing is difficult. It's not helped by the doubt over that famous thin section, which might or might not have come from the Altar Stone itself. ( A bit like the Boles Barrow provenancing dispute....) If it didn't, then it's back to the drawing board......

Myris of Alexandria said...

The Altar Stone we really should not try to make a cult object out of this or even a fetish.
It is correct to (re)state that there has been no sampling of the Altar Stone in the 20th or 21st centuries.
The Altar Stone described by Ixer and Turner is a thin section in the BMNH labelled Altar Stone. It is true also there are other Victorian thin sections labelled altar stone that clearly are not (not within the BMNH museum). This is all very clearly documented in Ixer and Turner and in the later Pet Rock Boys publications. Sometime it will all be thrashed to within an angstrom in a Pet Rock Boys paper.
Too soon for detailed Thomas bashing (but soon Boys very soon) but there is no proof that he saw the Altar Stone so can be ignored. His descriptions are mixed to say the least and are in part the Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone or more likely material from Milford Haven.
There is little non-Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone within the debitage –anywhere- but amongst the few sandstone chips are half a dozen or so (it is all catalogued and described in I and B ‘chips of the old block’ paper 201X) These are a very very close match to the BMNH Altar Stone thin section. Occam would agree, I am sure were he with us and interested, that to attribute these to a sandstone orthostat is reasonable and the only suitable one is the Altar Stone.
The sandstone will be difficult to provenance but the Pet Rock Boys and help are trying at the moment to see if it can be done mineralogically. However as has been suggested on numerous occasions it may be that matching the dimensions of the Altar Stone to bedding joining characteristics of Devonian sandstone outcrops may be more productive.

Agreed a swift hammer blow to the Altar Stone and a POLISHED THIN SECTION would solve this problem in 30 seconds- when a quick look would bring a feeling of familiarity and relief.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Can anybody arrange a small accident with a hammer?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh dear -- just as we were all getting used to the idea that our hairy ancestors just picked up the bluestone monoliths and carried them off along the A40, stopping in Llandeilo and Brecon for coffee breaks, we have to revise everything -- yet again. Now they carried them off over Preseli, stopping for coffee in Tufton and Crundale, and launched off into the Haven from Milford. I can hardly stand the pace.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, Mike Pitts has certainly worked hard with his press releases ...... the story is all over the media. Will do a post shortly, but it's rather encouraging that common sense appears to be breaking out at last. (Mike can't bring himself to doubt the bluestone quarrying fable, but maybe that would involve too many radical changes of opinion all at one time. That will come later.......)

TonyH said...

I have heard (from a very reliable friend) that The Times had an article by Mike Pitts this Monday or Tuesday in which he says, based on his own research, that the Stonehenge sarsen stones most probably were gathered locally rather than all the way from Marlborough Downs. He says 2 stones, one being the Heel Stone, were already there virtually in situ, and were the main reason why our hairy ancestors picked this as the location for building Stonehenge. My friend remarks that Mike Pitts is thus agreeing with what archaeologist David Field said.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, Mike Pitts was in the Times, Mail, Sun, Sky News etc etc in the last few days. And yes, he is arguing that the Heelstone and A.N. Other were there to start with, aligned on the Summer Solstice line. So yes, he sort of agrees with some of the things David Field and co have said, and plenty of other people as well. But of course it has to be made to sound incredibly new and surprising. Stonehenge puzzle finally solved etc etc........ Will do a post tonight.

TonyH said...

Brian, I have since realised that all these Mike Pitts press releases in effect owe their origin to what I think is an excellent, recommended new article in the latest edition of "British Archaeology" magazine (which Mike Pitts edits), May/June 2018 [gosh, it's almost Summer Solstice and I've yet to see even a swallow!), Number 160, price £5.95, pp 20 to 35 [a very long article] "Stonehenge Without Borders".

It has a sub - heading.

"An unprecedented amount of fieldwork is happening around Stonehenge. Mike Pitts draws together some of the new discoveries"

You may order this issue of the magazine from W H Smith.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I have a copy of the article -- thanks Tony. Rob alerted me to it, and I even shelled out all that dosh to buy a copy. I wasn't thinking of doing a post since it does not say anything we didn't know already -- but in view of all the media interest in those two sarsens I'd better say something! Watch this space.....

Jon Morris said...

The sandstone will be difficult to provenance but the Pet Rock Boys and help are trying at the moment to see if it can be done mineralogically. However as has been suggested on numerous occasions it may be that matching the dimensions of the Altar Stone to bedding joining characteristics of Devonian sandstone outcrops may be more productive.

Thanks Myris. Useful comment. I hadn't picked up on that suggestion.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Indeed as I typed the Pet Rock Boys were being sent detailed (and expensive) mineralogical data on the Altar stone debitage and Mill Bay samples. It looks as if the next but two papers from the boys will, after all be Mill Bay-Altar stone and LPS and not the Aubrey Holes one.

Sarsen 'throws' (oh England's earliest house and other pink canards)are not a new thought. A few large sarsens in the vicinity of SH have been accepted for at least a decade, including the Heel Stone and its undisputed depiction of the four Gospel Makers and buried Viking? gold(Good to hear, that Gary, you are stalking within this dimension).

Mike's take on things is ALWAYS worth serious consideration even when wrong. This one has legs but do not get carried away, nobody is seriously saying LOTS of sarsens in the surrounding Fields about SH. Well almost nobody.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Jointing not joining. woops

TonyH said...

Myris, David Field WAS seriously suggesting that there could have been significant quantities of sarsens around Stonehenge AND on Salisbury Plain, and that there was no need to invoke a mass removal and transportation of sarsens from the Marlborough/ Avebury Downs in an example of conspicuous long - distance delivery of rather heavy monoliths. First use what's available on the doorstep, metaphorically speaking, THEN go on to further afield, as Brian's been insisting probably occurred. Still a tremendous feat of human endeavour, sweat and brawn (perhaps they got their women to do it, as in women today in Africa having to cart the water in jars on their heads whilst the men rest).

BRIAN JOHN said...

I sense that there is a drift towards an acceptance that the sarsens were collected up locally -- as Summerfield and Goudie pointed out many years ago, common sense first and exotic theories later on, maybe...... but only if needed. If those olf fellows were smart enough to build Stonehenge (or to try and build it), they were surely clever enough to do a cost / benefit analysis on stone transport.

Myris of Alexandria said...

The great chairman Mao said
"Women hold up half the sky"

Turns out he was fond of holding (other) women during his long walks. Not so keen on his wives.


TonyH said...

I think the Law of Diminishing Returns may have been understood, albeit intuitively, by those heroic old boys (and girls).