Yesterday I gave a talk to a group of Oxford college alumni, and I was introduced as "someone who holds very controversial views on the origins of the bluestones". It was all very jolly, and my talk was well received, but the introduction got me thinking. Is it really my views that are controversial, or should that word be used to describe the views of the other lot?
To put it simply, if we forget about druids, giants, aliens and Merlin the Wizard, there are two views of the bluestones at Stonehenge:
1. The bluestones (43 of them, and maybe a few more originally) are glacial erratics that were scattered about in the Stonehenge landscape before they were gathered up and built into the stone monument. In all of the other Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monuments of the UK, that is exactly what happened -- suitable stones were found and used locally, involving minimal effort.
2. The bluestones (80 of them, nearly half of which have mysteriously disappeared) were quarried from rock outcrops in West Wales and transported about 380 km to Stonehenge by our Neolithic ancestors -- carried as an act of reverence because they were deemed to be sacred or magical. There is no other example in British prehistory of such an enterprise, and no evidence anywhere of a technique of long-distance stone transport being developed, reaching a climax, and then declining. In other words it was a complete anachronism or aberration, out of place and out of time.
Now which of those alternatives qualifies as more likely to be true? Which might be considered normal and thus predictable, and which is eccentric and controversial? Think Occam's Razor and Hitchens's Razor. This is from an old post on this blog:
"The burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. It is named, echoing Occam's razor, for the journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens, who, in a 2003 Slate article, formulated it thus: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
"... extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...."....... on the basis that this is an elementary rule of logic. Well, from every possible angle, Thomas's idea about the human transport of the bluestones was "extraordinary", since there was and is no evidence from Wales that the bluestones (of many different types) were considered special in any way; since there are no other records of the long-distance transport of megaliths for use in ritual or other settings anywhere in the British Isles; since there are no radiocarbon or other dates which can verify the haulage of the stones at the time required by the archaeologists; and since no ropes, sledges or rafts have ever been found which might demonstrate that the haulage project was technically feasible.