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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The dressing of the bluestones



I have been pondering on the dressing of the bluestones.  As we all know, of the 43 bluestones at Stonehenge, those in the bluestone circle are undressed, and are best described as an assortment of boulders which appear to be in their natural state — greatly abraded and deeply weathered, and of many different lithologies.  These characteristics are conveniently ignored by the quarrymen who, by all accounts, want them all to have been quarried from Carn Goedog, Rhosyfelin and presumably from another twenty or so quarries as yet undiscovered.

Turning to the bluestones in the bluestone horseshoe (or oval), we see stones that are more obviously shaped.  Six of them are pillar-shaped, and their shapes are of course used by those who oppose the glacial transport thesis and who argue for human transport.  “It is quite impossible,” they say, “for stones with these shapes to have been carried for 200 km or more by glacier ice.”  There is weight to this argument, for although there are plenty of elongated glacial erratics known from around the world, glacial transport processes, whether in the ice, on the ice or beneath the ice, would tend to break up stones whose length is up to five times their width or depth.  So the natural conclusion might be, if you are a believer in the “glacial erratic” hypothesis, that the shaping of the stones was done at the Stonehenge end rather than in the stone source area.  There has of course been much debate about this; some have argued that it would make no sense for “undressed pillars” to be transported by Neolithic argonauts all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, if the fellows involved knew that much of the weight of the stones would be got rid of on arrival.  No, goes the argument — the stones must have been shaped in the quarries where they came from, and then carried in their dressed state. Economy of effort an all that......

So we come to the Stonehenge Layer and the debitage which — to their great credit — Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins have concentrated upon in many of their papers.  Look up “debitage” on this blog and you will find many entries and much discussion.  Ixer and Bevins have concentrated in recent years on the “non-spotted-dolerite” material, because it is inherently more interesting although it is less abundant.  Because much of the debitage studied (all from the 50% or so of the stone setting area that has been investigated) does not apparently come from known standing stones, the thinking goes that it must have come from “unknown standing stones” which have been destroyed.  This conveniently slots into the argument that there were once 80 or more bluestones on the site and that almost half of them have been taken away or systematically destroyed over a long period of time.  We know from written records that Stonehenge has indeed been used as a quarry in historical time, and there is also some evidence, as Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her colleagues have pointed out, of certain stones being used for the manufacture of axes and other tools.

Now take a look at this very influential article from Aubrey Burl.......

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/2011/03/stonehenge-how-did-stones-get-there.html

What if the bulk of the debitage and the Stonehenge Layer has not come from stone setting destruction at all, but from the much earlier period of stone setting CONSTRUCTION?  I know no no evidence that might contradict this thesis.  As I have argued in my book, the most parsimonious explanation of the bluestones and the related debitage at Stonehenge is that the monument was built more or less where the stones were found; that a recumbent Altar Stone might have determined the location; that much of the debitage (and maybe some of the packing stones and hammer stones) came from the breaking up of “inconvenient” smaller glacial erratics; that there never were many more than 43 bluestone monoliths on the site; and that the known shaped dolerite monoliths in the bluestone horseshoe were shaped on the site from larger blocks of dolerite that were dumped in the vicinity at the end of the Anglian Glaciation. Again, economy of effort.....

I know that this contradicts the interpretation of Ixer and Bevins, writing in “Chips off the Old Block” and other papers —  but it makes a great deal more sense.





9 comments:

TonyH said...

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, The Sign of The Four".

BRIAN JOHN said...

It is somewhat ironic that that’s the very quote that James Scourse used in support of the human transport hypothesis back in 1997, when he argued that since glacial transport of the bluestones was impossible, the alternative hypothesis was the one to go for! His reasoning was based upon a series of assumptions about the behaviour of glacier ice which I found very strange indeed,

TonyH said...

Well, there you go! As I have also quoted from songwriter Paul Simon many times on the Blog, a Man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest! [from 'The Boxer']

What your new book, The stonehenge Bluestones, requires of those in its audience who are prepared to be intelligent and discerning, is HUMILITY AND THEN FLEXIBILITY OF MIND AND WILLINGNESS TO BE CHALLENGED BY NEW EVIDENCE; AND ALSO REVELATION OF LACK OF EVIDENCE.

RackRunner said...

Since this discussion concerns the Dressing of the Bluestones,I though it maybe of interest to the readers to post a link to the report "Stonehenge Laser Scan: Archaeological Analysis"(http://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15106).

This report attempts to explains the different techniques used to "Dress" both the Sarsen and Bluestones.

Regards
Paul

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Paul. Yes, that’s a useful report. I think we have discussed it before. It doesn't really move us forward much, although there is an interesting discussion on whether Stonehenge was ever completed -

http://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15106

TonyH said...

As regards JAMES SCOURSE and that Conan - Doyle quotation mentioned in previous comments, here are his current academic details. He doesn't appeared to have said anything about the Preseli to Stonehenge Human Transport claim since 1997.

JAMES SCOURSE Professor of Physical Geography, University of Exter, tel 01326 - 371883.
Email JScourse@exeter.ac.uk

TonyH said...

Not sure, Brian, how you, as a glacial transport proponent, are explaining the issue that "much of the debitage studied does not come from known standing stones"? Is it your contention that a lot of the this remainder debitage is from the so - called "bluestones" that are not standing and that have not yet been sampled?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, that’s perfectly possible, but it’s also possible that much of this debris has come from the destruction of smaller stones which were inconvenient in the sense that they were not big enough to serve as monoliths. If there really was a glacial deposit — maybe a moraine, and maybe not — there must have been erratic stones of all sizes, ranging from gravel to pebbles and cobbles. The hammer stones, mauls and packing stones that litter the site have never, to the best of my knowledge, been systematically analysed. What are their sizes? What are their shapes? What are their lithologies? They have always, during digs, been thrown onto spoil heaps because nobody has been very interested in them — but they may hold the key to the riddle........

Ixer and Bevins haven’t taken these packing stones and stone clutter very seriously either, concentrating instead on the chips and flakes in the debitage and assuming that the bigger stones (many of which are more than 50 cms long, with interesting shapes) are adventitious or late introductions of no importance. I have argued with Rob about this on many occasions....

TonyH said...

I wonder how many of the hammer stones and mauls etc are stored at the Salisbury Museum.