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Thursday 2 June 2022

The Stonehenge bluestones -- some dressed, most naked

Stone 46 (rhyolite group F) -- courtesy Simon Banton, Stones of Stonehenge

In section 4.1.3 of the Bluestones Chapter in "Stonehenge for the Ancestors", around p 175, Parker Pearson and Richards describe the 43 (or is it 44?) bluestones at Stonehenge and talk about the extent to which they are altered or dressed.   They say that 18 are dressed -- numbered 80 (Altar Stone), 36, 45 and 150 in the outer circle,  and 14 in the bluestone horseshoe (61-72, 61a, 70a and 70b, 71 and 72.

Some of the dressing is substantial -- as on stones 67, 69, 70 and 72 which have or had tenons, and 66 and 68 which have sophisticated tongue and groove shaping.

So only 3 of the 29 surviving stones in the outer circle are dressed -- but the other 26 receive scant attention from the authors, probably because they are very inconvenient indeed.  They are not beautiful tapered pillars, but rough boulders and slabs that shout "glacial erratics" to anybody who has had a modicum of education in the earth sciences.

That the authors are in a complete state of denial about glacial entrainment, transport and dumping is obvious from virtually every paragraph of this chapter.  In section 4.1.4 the authors  remark upon the presence of bluestone cobbles and fragments across the Stonehenge landscape and even as far afield as Avebury, 18 miles north of Stonehenge.  Then of course Boles Barrow is 9 miles west of Stonehenge.  We are talking about a wide area of scatter -- and yet the authors seek to explain these distant occurrences as either adventitious, not found in "stratified contexts" or debris from the "quarrying and demolition" of Stonehenge long after it was built.    There is a list of "concentrations and occasional finds" on pp 175-76 of the chapter, and even the suggestion that bluestone finds near Airman's Corner and in a barrow south of the Great Cursus might be related to "dismantled bluestone circles".  

See also section 4.5.1 on p 212.  In this, the authors speculate about  the largely undressed stones of the outer circle having more in common with the "undressed stone circles" of Britain and Ireland than with the bluestone horseshoe -- and of course they return to the fantasy of such crude features being built all over the place, and occasionally being shifted from one location to another.  Waun Mawn comes into the frame, as do speculative stone circles in various positions on and around Salisbury Plain.  Speculation piled on speculation and a narrative quite out of control....... with tiny bits of "evidence" used to underpin gigantic leaps of the imagination.

One might think from this section that crudeness in the ancient stone circles was a virtue, highly prized and specially designed for!  It is vastly more likely, of course, that the builders of all these circles simply used whatever stones were lying around, and that most of them happened to be glacial erratics because most of northern and western Britain was glaciated.  One might even argue that the presence of erratic clusters was a far more important locational factor than landscape position or astronomical alignments......

As ever, the obsession with convoluted reasoning and the need to create yet more fanciful narratives blinds MPP, Richards and their colleagues to the fact that Salisbury Plain has an erratic litter of bits and pieces of rock of all shapes and sizes that initially owe their origins and positions to natural processes. At Stonehenge the great majority of the monoliths are rough, abraded and weathered boulders and slabs.  Some were used and moved; others were damaged or dressed; and others were destroyed.  Perfectly simple. When are these people going to get real?

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