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, 21 June 2021

More on the Stonehenge dolerites — multiple sources and no quarries

One of the unspotted dolerite samples from Stonehenge probably came from near here. This is Cerrigmarchogion.  The other dolerites — spotted and unspotted — came from many different places.

There’s a big new paper from Bevins, Pearce and Ixer. As with their other papers, the intention seems to be to find common sources for multiple samples from Stonehenge, and to identify the locations of “bluestone quarries” — but with every paper they publish they inadvertently demonstrate that almost all of the samples are unique and that they have come from different places.  This is exactly what we would expect of a collection of glacial erratics.  The idea of bluestone quarrying is dead, and it’s about time the geologists admitted it.

 Anyway, here are the details of the new publication.  It’s difficult to do a proper review right now because of the constraints of using an iPad in the wilds of Sweden, rather than my very versatile iMac at home. (Copying and pasting is difficult on an iPad.......). It’s a highly technical paper intended for specialists, and it continues the efforts by these three authors to study very intensively all the categories of rock found at Stonehenge and its environs, and to find provenances for all of the samples on the record. Unfortunately, there is no new fieldwork here — it appears that the sampled rock fragments and cores are the same ones that have popped up over and again in the literature from Bevins, Ixer and Pearce, mostly collected more than 30 years ago. Those samples have effectively been worked to death, and one has to wonder why there has been no new sampling around Mynydd Preseli which is more suited to the “bluestone debate” as it currently stands.

There are a couple of things that significantly detract from the value of this new study.

First, as mentioned above, the underlying assumption on the part of the authors that the bluestones at Stonehenge were quarried and transported by Neolithic tribesmen from the Preseli area to Stonehenge, rather than being collected up and used more or less where found. That forces them into other assumptions, including the assumption that two quarries have already been found, and the assumption that there are other quarries waiting to be found. This forces them, in their interpretations of the evidence, to assume a modest number of sources, whereas for any independent reader the evidence clearly points to multiple scattered sources, as one would expect of a collection of glacial erratics.

Second, the authors still refuse steadfastly to acknowledge that their ideas about quarrying and stone transport are hotly disputed in my book on the Stonehenge bluestones and in two peer-reviewed papers. I have said it before, and I will keep on saying it — this is reprehensible and is tantamount to scientific malpractice. I’m amazed that the referees and the editor responsible for the publication of this paper did not insist on proper careful citations of “inconvenient” papers and a consideration of pros and cons in the discussion and interpretation of the evidence.


The accurate identification of the sources of stones used in the construction of stone circles has the potential to play an important role in understanding the movements of people in ancient times, having a particular relevance and potential significance when long-distant transport has been involved. Tracing of sources to particular rock outcrops provides the opportunity for focussed archaeological excavations which might inform questions such as why particular stone sources were selected and exploited, as well as potentially revealing material evidence as to how the stones were extracted and subsequently transported from site. In the context of this paper, recent detailed provenancing of particular Stonehenge bluestones (see Ixer and Bevins, 2010, Ixer and Bevins, 2011, Bevins et al., 2011, Bevins et al., 2012, Bevins et al., 2014) has led to the discovery of two Neolithic quarry sites in the Mynydd Preseli area of north Pembrokeshire, at Craig Rhos-y-Felin (Parker Pearson et al., 2015b) and Carn Goedog (Parker Pearson et al., 2019). It has also recently been suggested that some of the bluestones may have been part of an earlier stone circle in the Mynydd Preseli area, at a location called Waun Mawn, which was partially dismantled, with some of the stones transported to Stonehenge (Parker Pearson et al., 2021).

So this article is hugely devalued by the ongoing adherence of the authors to a very silly ruling hypothesis which should have been abandoned years ago.  It’s also devalued by a lack of comparative sample analyses; I should like to have seen some analytical data from unspotted dolerites in other parts of the UK.    How similar, or how different, are they from the analyses presented in this paper?

All that having been said, it is of some interest in that it brings a new technique to the table — the analysis of rare earth elements.  It is suggested that one Stonehenge sample (SH45) probably comes from the Cerrigmarchogion area, but the other unspotted dolerite samples from the Stonehenge area are difficult to fix.  They are most likely to have come from eastern Preseli, around Carn Ddafad-las.  But the samples are different — they have not all come from the same place.  Sample SH44 is an anomaly — unlike anything else found at Stonehenge and different from all of the Preseli unspotted dolerites sampled.  

So once again, as with the studies of spotted dolerites, sandstones, rhyolites and ashes, the conclusion is that there are no preferred and known sources which can be identified as quarries, but rather multiple scattered sources, not one of which has yet been “nailed down” by hard evidence.  I have made the point over and again over the last decade that there are around 30 different sources for the Stonehenge bluestones and the “bluestone debitage” — and every geological study published by Ixer, Bevins and their colleagues supports this contention.  They claim to have fixed some foliated rhyolites as having come from a quarry at Craig Rhosyfelin to “within a few square metres”, but the presented evidence does not support that claim.  They also claim that there was a spotted dolerite quarry at Carn Goedog, with “evidence” that is even more equivocal.  It is high time that they faced up to reality, as presented in their own papers.  


Revisiting the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones: Refining the provenance of the Group 2 non-spotted dolerites using rare earth element geochemistry

Bevins, RE, Pearce, NJG and Ixer, RA

Jnl of Archaeological Science: Reports Vol 38, Aug 2021, No 103083.


The doleritic bluestones of Stonehenge, sourced from the Mynydd Preseli in west Wales, have been previously classified into three geochemical groups on the basis of compatible element geochemistry (Bevins et al., 2014). The majority of Group 1 (spotted) dolerites were identified as coming from the outcrop of Carn Goedog, Group 3 (spotted) dolerites were linked to the outcrops Carn Breseb, Carn Gyfrwy, outcrops in the vicinity of Carn Alw and an un-named outcrop west of Carn Ddafad-las and Group 2 (non-spotted) dolerites were identified as coming from either Cerrigmarchogion or Craig Talfynydd. A sub-set of the samples used by Bevins et al. (2014) have been re-analysed by solution nebulisation ICP-MS, including analyses of the rare earth elements (REE).

Analysis of the REE data reveals that Groups 1 and 3 dolerites from both Stonehenge and the Preseli have very similar REE patterns which strongly suggests that they are derived from a single intrusive body. Group 2 non-spotted dolerites are now divided, on the basis of their REE contents, into four Preseli and two Stonehenge sub-groups, (Groups 2i-2iv and Groups 2v-2vi, respectively) while Stonehenge orthostat sample SH44 plots apart from all other Stonehenge and Preseli samples in all discriminant diagrams used. The new data show that Preseli Group 2i dolerites have very distinct concave down “humped” patterns and bear no resemblance to any analysed Stonehenge dolerites. The source of Stonehenge Group 2v dolerites remains equivocal; they plot close to Preseli Group 2ii dolerites from Carn Ddafad-las and Garn Ddu Fach and have in common the presence of notable positive Eu anomalies, but they show minor differences, especially in relation to their Gdn/Ybn ratios. However, Stonehenge orthostat sample SH45 shows a near identical REE composition to Preseli Group 2iii dolerites from Cerrigmarchogion.

In terms of the interpretation of REE contents and chondrite-normalized patterns we found no differences whether using the ‘standard’ techniques used by geochemists, based on chondrite-normalized elemental ratios and values, or the quantitative approach using shape factors derived from polynomial curve fitting.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

It is ridiculously and profoundly weird how these earth scientists seem incapable of considering the potential impact of acknowledging glacial geomorphology when it comes to weighing up how the disparate collection of geological "bluestones" may have pitched up somewhere in the approximate general area where we now find Stonehenge. Anyone would think it might be just academic hubris rather than academic brainpower that has led Messes Bevins and Ixer etc to their conclusions. Or are they just led astray by a Maestro Pied Piper from UCL? They wouldn't be the first.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not only do these geologists have a problem with accepting that another earth science — geomorphology — might have something relevant tom say about bluestone origins and transport, but they also appear to have been suckered into believing that the glacial transport of the bluestones was ”impossible”. On that basis they have jumped onto the ”bluestone quarrying” bandwagon driven with gay abandon by MPP. And once on it, they have not had the courage to jump off as it careers wildly downslope. It will all end in tears……..

Tony Hinchliffe said...

"Once in it, they have not had the courage to jump off as it careers wildly downslope...."

it is their own CAREERS and reputations that will suffer in the long run.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Parker "poker face" Pearson admits that the Stonehenge bluestones come from multiple sources, but still has the sheer SAUCE to cling onto his human transport ruling hypothesis through thick and thin, with a straight face, despite this knowledge coming from his supportive geologists Ixer & Bevin! As award -winning singer - songwriter Joni Mitchell said in a farewell note to one boyfriend, " if you grasp sand too tightly in your hand, the sand particles will fall away".

BRIAN JOHN said...

I am as mystified as ever by the refusal of Bevins and Ixer — even in their own papers ln which MPP has no part — to admit that any of their ideas are disputed or that there are peer-reviewed articles which interpret things very differently. In geomorphology, if two authors behaved like that, their reputations would be as good as zero. I wonder what the geological establishment thinks about them? I know what some geologists think, and their comments about the bluestone boys are not very flattering………

Tony Hinchliffe said...

A YouTube piece from " The Infographics Show"[U.S.] Mystery Revealed: Scientists Finally Crack Stonehenge Mystery" 8.01 minutes. Aug 2019. INCLUDES acknowledgement of the Glacial Theory

BRIAN JOHN said...

Extraordinary — the Toddlers Guide to Stonehenge. Does that chap never stop for breath? But at least this generation of toddlers will have a slightly better understanding of Stonehenge than their parents and grandparents — so I suppose that represents progress…….