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Saturday, 5 May 2018

More Stonehenge axes

The famous Wilsford ceremonial battle axe -- made of unspotted dolerite, probably from Preseli, and probably dating from the Bronze Age.  Manufactured at Stonehenge, from bluestone debris?  Photo: English Heritage.

There is an interesting new paper from Ixer and Bevins on stone axe fragments from the Stonehenge landscape -- available to read via the Academia web site:

Recently found polished stone axe fragments from the Stonehenge Landscape; expanding the range
by Rob A. Ixer and Richard E. Bevins
Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine, vol. 111 (2018), pp. 73–83

This is the Abstract:

Two gabbro fragments and a lithic tuff axehead found within secure prehistoric contexts at West Amesbury Henge, a probable prehistoric gabbro fragment from The Stonehenge Avenue and an uncontexted gabbro fragment from a test pit in the Cursus Field, have been petrographically investigated. They add to the surprisingly few axe fragments that have been recovered within the Stonehenge Landscape. Petrographically, all five artefacts are dissimilar to each other and to any recognised Implement Petrology Group axe group including Groups I–IV, XII, XIII, XVI and XXIIIb. They are also dissimilar to any modern roadstone found in the area. No precise geographical provenance is suggested but at least one may have a (west) Cornish origin. Basic and intermediate rocks (gabbros, dolerites, basalts; granodiorites and andesites) are the main igneous rock types that occur (in small numbers) randomly throughout the Stonehenge Landscape. None of the lithologies are ‘preselite’ (spotted dolerite) or any other bluestone, as currently defined and almost all of them occur in insecure or modern contexts.

Most of the paper is very technical, relating to the characteristics of the examined gabbro and tuff fragments, but in these discussion of results there is a short section on "Group XIII" axes and rock types:

Implement Petrology Group XIII is spotted dolerite and includes the Stonehenge orthostats. They have been provenanced to the Preseli Hills including the outcrop at Carn Goedog (Williams-Thorpe et al. 2006; Bevins et al. 2014). Spotted dolerite is found within the Stonehenge Landscape although not as axeheads but as debitage from the orthostats. In a number of exacting papers Williams-Thorpe and others have shown, using geochemical and magnetic susceptibility methods, that many of the artefacts (‘axes’) assigned to Group XIII do not belong to it (Jones and Williams-Thorpe 2001; Williams-Thorpe et al. 2004; 2006) stating that ‘fewer than a dozen can be reliably assigned to the Preseli source area’ (Williams-Thorpe et al. 2006, 30). Their work also confirms that, as with Groups I–IV, transmitted light petrography alone is not sufficient for safe assignments. Implement Petrology Group XXIIIb is unspotted dolerite from the Preseli Hills as proposed by Shotton (1972) but there has been little discussion of this very small axe group since. A battle axe found in south barrow 54 Wilsford, however, is a Preseli unspotted dolerite, Group XXIIIb (Williams-Thorpe et al. 2006 30).The most recent, published, total petrography descriptions of Stonehenge Preseli dolerites are those of Ixer (1994; 1997) for the spotted and unspotted dolerite orthostats sampled in 1987 and Ixer and Bevins (2011, 11–3) for two additional Stonehenge orthostats namely SH34 and SH35a sampled in 2008. Recent descriptions of preselite from outcrops at Carn Menyn are given by Ixer in Darvill et al. (2009, 48–52) with a brief petrographical description given by Bevins et al. (1989) in their account of the geochemistry of the Ordovician intrusions in the Mynydd Preseli. The group comprises altered sub-ophitic dolerite, originally with clinopyroxene-plagioclase-titanomagnetite-ilmenite-apatite intergrowths. Alteration is widespread and secondary minerals include albite, muscovite, chlorite, epidote, clinozoisite, actinolite, quartz, pyrite, titanite, pumpellyite and prehnite. The defining white alteration spots (found in ‘preselite’ ss) comprise secondary albite with fine-grained muscovite, chlorite, clinozoisite and epidote plus iron-rich chrome spinel (Ixer in Darvill et al. 2009, 48–52). Unspotted dolerites, Group XXIIIb, naturally, lack them.

This new paper confirms that axes were made, carried, traded, damaged and lost all over the place, Stonehenge included.  Nothing new there, but a possible link between Stonehenge and Cornwall is intriguing.....

It's difficult to attach any significance to adventitious finds of axes or axe fragments -- and even personal or traded items found in "secure prehistoric contexts" tell us little about how the bluestones were picked up, carried or dumped.

But the points made in the above extract about the characteristics of Group XIII and Group XIIIb axes and rock types may well come into the frame in the forthcoming discussions about Waun Mawn and its dolerite orthostats!  Watch this space.........


TonyH said...

Myris and others, was either of the gabbro fragments found at the West Amesbury Henge found within the alleged stone socket holes there? Or is it in fact incorrect to give West Amesbury Henge the moniker "Bluestonehenge"? Sorry to put the cat amongst the pigeons.

BRIAN JOHN said...

As fas as I can see, MPP still calls the West Amesbury site "Bluestonehenge" and still insists that there were bluestones here, in the sockets, in spite of there being NO physical evidence as to the rock types possibly involved......

GCU:In two minds said...

The pet rock boys have written on a number of occasions that no stone from West Amesbury Henge can be matched to any orthostat at Stonehenge aka bluestone. In or out of any socket at either henge.

The gabbros are bits of polished stone axes (probably). The polished stone axe from the area is certainly just that and is unlikely to be Welsh in origin.

I think MPP calls West Amesbury Henge that, these days.

GCU:In two minds

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sadly, your advice is completely ignored, Rob. In the big lecture given in the Netherlands on 2nd March (Chris was there, I think), MPP refers to Bluestonehenge by that name, and the caption to one of his illustrations says: "the pits proved to be sockets for bluestones." Don't want to let evidence get in the way of a good story, do we?

TonyH said...

Same as Mike's declaration that there are just a few periglacial stripes running down The Avenue which those prehistoric brawnies "must have" seen, and that it was of massive significance because it alone aligned with the appropriate solstice etc etc. Mike loves announcing his latest revelations, that's for sure, as he did when my wife and I just happened to pay a quick visit to a Stonehenge Riverside Project dig Open Day back in the naughty noughties. He'd just spoken to a Japanese film crew before enlightening us and he actually used the word geomorphological too. That must have been a very rare use of that particular word, as it is not part of his World View in his Closed Hemisphere/ Hypothesis etc.