THE BOOK
Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Monday, 9 July 2018

A spot of book bombing.....



Don’t blame me for this — Tony has been up to his mischief again!  Nice pic of Prof Michael Wood at a recent lecture and signing session in Frome, with a copy of a certain well-known book on his desk.  Anyway, I hope he reads it and goes on to buy the new one........


18 comments:

sciencebod said...

Speaking of the webmaster's "Bluestone Enigma" (which I purchased many moons ago at the Stonehenge visitor centre), and taking "bluestone" in its widest sense to means non-sarsen, non-local megaliths, can someone explain something to me? Why is the broken so-called "Altar Stone", allegedly of Welsh origin, though from a site different from the more iconic bluestones like rhyolite etc, not just recumbent but largely buried, with just the top surface visible where not obscured by fallen Stone 59? Why are we constantly told it was once upright, slap bang in the middle of the Stonebenge site, so hardly "peripheral" in any sense of the word? How does a fallen once-upright stone manage to get itself buried, or largely so? Since when has underlying chalk had the consistency of spongecake, such that he weight of a falling stone shoves most ot it underground, largely out of sight?

I say that the Altar Stone was always recumbent, at least in its final installed/re-installed position at the centralfocus of Stonehenge, despite a shaped end (the only evidence adduced for it once having stood upright, though maybe elsewhere, earlier in its history).

Why have a central recumbent stone, showing a top-surface only, somewhat paving-like?

I say Inigo Jones was right. It did serve as an "altar stone". But I'll spare this largely geological site the details (my all-encompassing explanation for Stonehenge and other stone or timber circles having been referred to here yesterday here by one "Jasmine-C" on the end of the earlier "Magalithic (sic) Portal" posting as a "cockeyed theory".

Having one's ideas being labelled "cockeyed" comes as a welcome development after years in the wilderness...

I believe I'll be proved right in the fullness of time. Nope, not arrogance, just scientific gut-feeling from this retired PhD.


Colin Berry (aka sciencebod)

sciencebod said...

Postscript: sorry, hastily-penned comment, relying on jaded memory re the numbering of the overlying stones.

Here's the correct version:


Altar Stone (Stone 80)



"The Altar Stone lies at 80° to the main solstitial axis beneath the collapsed upright of the Great Trilithon (Stone 55b) and its lintel (Stone 156), sunk into the grass. The stone itself was broken by the fall of the Great Trilithon's upright and is in two pieces."

http://www.stonesofstonehenge.org.uk/search/label/Altar%20Stone



BRIAN JOHN said...

I sympathise with the view that the Altar Stone never was a standing stone, and that it was always recumbent. In fact, Aubrey Burl (as far as I can make out) preferred the view that it was used as a recumbent stone, and not as a pillar. It seems to be more slab-shaped anyway. We can make a perfectly good argument that the stone was simply used where it was found, solidly embedded in the ground with only the top surface showing. Somewhere else on this blog, I argued that the location of this big stone bedded into the ground was the original focal point of Stonehenge, and maybe the reason that the original earthwork and then the stone monument were built here in the first place. (That’s a far more reasonable argument than the “periglacial stripes” one, in my view.)

Alex Gee said...

Is there any evidence that it was ever used as an altar? Or is this yet another groundless invention?

Neil Wiseman said...

A couple of small observations ...
Yes, the Altar Stone was always recumbent, but it wasn't placed flush with the ground. As demonstrated by Charles Darwin with experiments in the 1860s, the action of earthworms over time would have settled this stone -- just as it has many other recumbents at the site. Additionally, it now has the mass of L-156 and S-55A on it, and this must have a major effect.

It is cocked at 80-degrees to the solar sightline, and this corresponds with a sightline to the winter solstice sunrise, and so was clearly intentional from the early days.

Excavations in the early 1950s reveal no stonehole for it.

Colin -- it is not 'centrally located', but sits about 14 feet back from the center, and this position corresponds to where the Heelstone's shadow apex reaches into the Circle at summer solstice sunrise. This has always been an extremely important stone, and had been since placed there well before the Trilithons or Stone Circle were erected.
Sorry -- it has nothing to do with birds.

Neil

sciencebod said...

I'm still waiting to be told that the recumbent Altar Stone was a specially selected bluestone rock.

Purpose? Archaeoastronomical of course! Our Neolithic ancestors knew it was dangerous to look at total and especially partial eclipses of the Sun with unprotected eyes. So while waiting for candles and smoked glass to be invented, they polished up the Altar Stone to make it as reflective as possible, allowing them to worship both Sun and Moon simultaneously at their moment of conjunction while looking not up but DOWN at the space between their feet. That's how the "megalithic foot" as a unit of length measurement was discovered of course, being the combined diameters of sun and moon at the instant of lunar/solar overlap, roughly the length of the adult human foot. Working out the precise distance between Moon and Sun (in megalithic megamiles) took a little longer...

Neil Wiseman said...

The Altar Stone is a micaceus sandstone, the provenance of which is debated. In certain light it has a green hue to it. It was once thought to have come from Milford Haven in Wales, but this is now discounted. There are other locations in Wales where it may have originated, but no one really knows.
There are also places in Scotland where this type of stone can be found, and since there was communication between Scotland and south central England at that time, there's those who suggest it may have come from there.

All that said, it's the only stone of its type at Stonehenge.

Neil

TonyH said...

I trust that Professor Michael Wood will enjoy reading all these learned observations from Neil, Alex and ScienceBod, I'm pretty sure he will in due course.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil — “this type of stone” in Scotland? I doubt it — the consensus is that it comes from the Senni Beds, but I have no idea where the idea came from that it might have come from Hay on Wye. As Tony commented, maybe that provenance was suggested because MPP was giving a lecture in the well-known Book Festival. I suppose that’s is as good a reason as any.....

TonyH said...

I would place a wager of a couple of shillings that the suggested provenance of Hay on Wye was conjured up by that self - confessed Book Reviewer Par Excellence, Dr Robert Xavier Ixer. We all know on this blog how he loves a little cryptic joke....he's the bloke who does book reviews for that very unusual magazine, Fortean Times [Google it if you need evidence].


Incidentally, back in the mists of time I took a September motorcycle ride from North Devon to Aberystwyth to start my Librarianship training. Stopped overnight in Gloucester as the bike was very low - powered.....passed through Herefordshire, its apple trees, and Hay on Wye. Those were the days, my friend, as another Quarryman, PMacca, penned......

Neil Wiseman said...

Brian --
I don't believe for a minute that the Altar Stone actually came from Scotland. Indeed, it was a surprise to learn that there was similar sandstone there. This information comes to me independently through two somewhat over-qualified rock-knowing gents. One lives in Scotland, the other in central England. Privacy on an open blog prevents my naming them -- but you know them both.

I have no idea who's talking about Hay-on-Wye as a source for the Altar Stone, or, really, why. News to me. But then, I don't follow these things as closely as perhaps I should. I guess I'd be interested to know, but will wait till all the shrapnel is filtered out and someone publishes.

btw, my friend -- I have your new book, obtained in-person two weeks ago in jolly olde Blighty. You have a deep-cover mole embedded in my Stonehenge Squad and it was presented to me as a gift. I will be diving in presently. Wish me luck ...

Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

There are “similar” Devonian sandstones all over the place — there is a vast literature. The question is “how similar?” — one thing I like about the “new” geology is that one can look for provenances not just on the basis of petrography and geochemistry but on the degree of metamorphism. That was one of the bases for the identification of the probable Ordovician sandstone fragments at Stonehenge. Neil — I was aware that you had certain meetings planned for your last trip to the UK. As you probably discovered, there are many sides to every story.... and truth will out, in the end.

sciencebod said...

Hmmm. I've heard of earthworms causing large stones to sink a few centimetres into soil, and making smaller objects - animals bones, pottery sherds etc- to sink 20 cm or even more. But making a monolith, especially one lying on its side, to sink its full thickness, vqriously described as 12 to 18 inches (approx 30 to 45cm)? I hardly think so, especially on thin soil with a fairly unyielding shallow underlying worm-unfriendly chalk bedrock.

Given that weight must contribute to sinkage, even when earthworm- assisted - correction PRESSURE (measured as weight divided by surface contact area) then all the standing-on-end mononoliths would surely be half- submerged by now, given the relatively small area in contact with the ground, and the huge weight above that area.

Theres's said to be undug chalk under the Altar Stone. Doesn't that make it likely that it was installed as a paving-like entity, flush with the ground or nearly so, intended for use as - well, who knows? - but maybe "altar" of some kind (for offerings to whatever) may not be too far off the mark. I prefer that to shadow-markers, especially when there's so wide a choice of reference light source and direction available (sunrise, sunset, summer solstice, winter solstice, lunar phases etc etc ...).

Reminder: association does not necessarily imply causation... One of my old statistics textbooks displayed a diagram showing a near-perfect correlation between annual increases in US alcohol consumption and year-on-year increases in schoolteachers' salaries ... Or there again...

TonyH said...

BIOTURBATION: discussed by MPP in Chapter 19, "Earthworms and Dates", "Stonehenge...Exploring...",page 305 et seq.

MPP quotes Richard Atkinson from his 1957 Antiquity Paper, "Worms and Weathering" thus:-

"the excavator who ignores the capacity of worms to displace small objects downwards,either through ignorance or wilfully, does so at his peril".

Brian, I have a pencilled note in my book copy that says:-

'Suggest to Brian that he quotes this back to MPP and changes the words FROM "worms" TO "glaciers" and FROM "small objects" TO "large objects".

Parker Pearson got quite annoyed with Tim Darvill & Geoffrey Wainwright's claims on a Radio 4 Science programme at this time.

Neil Wiseman said...

Could be you're right, Colin.
Perhaps the Altar Stone does sit directly on the substrate.

The sarsen standers are all fitted to sockets gouged deep into the chalk, and chalk is very stable, which means there would be little, if any, settling over time. Excavations have revealed that though the bottom ends of the uprights are not tooled, the stonework does continue down a few inches below present levels. This infers the topsoil is thicker today than it was when the stones were raised.

So then, if the Alter Stone indeed sits on chalk, the mass of the two stones now lying across it would have negligible effect. But it would have still extruded from the ground a certain distance because the ground level then was lower.

Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not quite sure how we got onto earthworms, but there we go....... I am confused by all this talk of “objects sinking” and “being displaced downwards”........ My understanding is that earthwork activity and the accumulation of fine colluvium and wind blown debris clauses the land surface to rise, leading to the gradual burial of things that were once at the surface. This is observable. Where you have lawns and adjacent concrete or paving stone paths, you can see how the relative levels change over time. We have been in our present house for more than 40 years, and I reckon the piece of lawn where we have our daffodils has risen by more than 5 cms since we arrived. Other parts have risen less, but the difference is still noticeable........

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oops — this wretched auto-correct system again... that should have been “earthworm activity”......

Alex Gee said...

Doesn't the formation the Sarsen stone is from stratigraphically overlie the chalk anyway?