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....
To order, click

Friday 14 June 2024

Credit where credit is due

In the midst of all the fun and games relating to my latest published article, it's worth reminding ourselves that almost all of the points which I make have been made before by assorted geologists and geomorphologists, and -- strange to relate -- by certain respectable archaeologists.  One of the key articles, heavily cited, is Geoffrey Kellaway's article in "Nature" journal in 1971, and the other is the big article published by Richard Thorpe et al in 1991 in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.  The latter is hugely detailed, and over 50 pages long.  Unfortunately, it is still behind a paywall, so it is not as widely read aa it should be.  Kellaway's article is also behind a paywall, and that too tends to distort the perceptions of the people who enjoy reading things about Stonehenge........... very few of them will have actually read it.

But here is another immensely valuable article by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and Richard Thorpe -- sadly, Richard died in 1991 before the article was published in 1992.  This one is NOT behind a paywall, and I hope it will be widely read by a new generation, perhaps stimulated by my own modest contributions to the debate........

Thursday 13 June 2024

Nothing new under the sun......

Courtesy David Field and English Heritage.  Too many stones?  Who knows?

I have had a number of recent comments from people who are greatly exercised by the ideas that (a) Stonehenge might have been built where it is because that is where the stones were; and (b) that Stonehenge was never completed, and went through lots or rebuilding and rearranging phases because the builders had simply run out of stones.

These ideas have been around for well over a hundred years, as others have pointed out with detailed citations.  They have been articulated most clearly by David Field and Trevor Pearson in 2010 -- as mentioned several times on this blog, in previous posts.

ISSN 1749-8775
by David Field and Trevor Pearson

If you have not read it, please do.   The following things stand out from the pages:

1. An admission that the sarsen stones might well have come from the immediate locality of Stonehenge, and that the idea of sarsen-collecting expeditions to the Marlborough Downs is dubious and probably unnecessary.

2. An acceptance that the bluestones MIGHT be glacial erratics (although the authors don't want to stray too far from the party line on this.....)

3. An acceptance of the idea that the Stonehenge stone monument was probably unfinished, and that the builders went through many changes of plans.

 4.  The builders of Stonehenge, who must have had great aspirations,  probably ran out of stones before their vision could be turned into reality.

It is often claimed by Stonehenge experts that there is a consensus on the broad outlines of the Stonehenge narrative -- and they have tried, especially in recent years, to reinforce this narrative while trying to discredit others. The "immaculate Stonehenge" as portrayed by Anthony Johnson, figures prominently.   But there is no consensus, and there never was.

By the way, back in 2012 David had a very interesting conversation with Edward Pegler, as reported here:

He talks of the attempts to portray a sarsen litter in the Stonehenge area, and was concerned that the artist involved had perhaps been over-generous with the stoniness of the landscape! He was also concerned that the bluestones were missing from the artists impression -- suggesting to me that he thought it possible that the bluestones were also in the landscape before anybody started collecting stones and building a monument.........

This is an interesting comment from David: "Today the Imber to Chittern valley has many small boulders and cobbles on the slopes and in the stream and presumably many more were once visible when the area was cultivated."  

Was he talking just about sarsens, or about stones of all types?

Wednesday 12 June 2024

At last -- a reasonably reliable press report........


Stonehenge, The Prehistoric Megalithic Structure on Salisbury Plain. (Photo by Sonia Bonet on Shutterstock) 

Thanks to StudyFinds for this report on my new paper. At last -- an article from somebody who has actually read the paper and who is prepared to report honestly on what it says.........


Boulder discovery suggests Stonehenge bluestones weren’t moved by humans

JUNE 11, 2024
by StudyFinds Staff 

For over a century, the question of how the famous bluestones of Stonehenge made their way from their source in Wales to the ancient monument in England has been a topic of heated debate. The bluestones are the smaller boulders that form the site’s inner circle and inner horseshoe. Most archaeologists have long believed that Neolithic people transported these massive stones, each weighing several tons, over 200 kilometers to the site. But a recently rediscovered boulder found during excavations at Stonehenge in 1924 may finally provide the key to solving this age-old mystery.

Geomorphologist Brian John argues that this small, unassuming stone, known as the Newall Boulder, shows clear signs of having been transported and shaped by glaciers. This suggests that ice, not humans, may have been responsible for moving Stonehenge’s giant megaliths. “The simplest explanation of the presence of the bluestones at Stonehenge is that they are glacial erratics from the west, emplaced by ice at some site still to be discovered, on or near Salisbury Plain, where they were later collected up and used by the builders of the stone monument,” John writes in his paper, published in the open-access E&G Quaternary Science Journal.

A much-discussed photograph of the Newall Boulder, annotated by the author. The shape and surface features are widely interpreted as indicators of sub-glacial transport, in spite of heavy damage by humans. (Credit: The Institute of Geological Sciences/British Geological Survey)

Methodology: Newall Boulder analysis

To unravel the Newall Boulder’s complex history at Stonehenge, John subjected it to detailed visual analysis, carefully examining its shape, facets, and surface features. The boulder, measuring about 22 x 15 x 10 cm, has a distinctive bullet-like shape with a pointed end and a blunt end. It sports at least five major facets and several smaller ones, with abraded surfaces and edges. Intriguingly, there are also fracture scars, faint scratches, and what appear to be crescentic gouges — all potential indicators of glacial transport and erosion.

A much-discussed photograph of the Newall Boulder, annotated by the author. The shape and surface features are widely interpreted as indicators of sub-glacial transport, in spite of heavy damage by humans. (Credit: The Institute of Geological Sciences/British Geological Survey)

John also examined evidence of human modification, including apparent percussion scars from when someone in prehistoric times seemed to have unsuccessfully tried to shape the boulder into a tool such as an axe. More recent damage from geological sampling was also evident. To establish the boulder’s provenance, John compared its petrology and geochemistry to potential source rocks in Wales, though a precise origin remains elusive.


The cumulative evidence from the Newall Boulder’s shape and surface features makes a compelling case for glacial transport to Stonehenge. Its bullet-like morphology with a distinct “stoss” (upstream) and “lee” (downstream) end is classic for clasts that have been subglacially dragged, rolled and lodged in flowing ice. The facets, striations, and chatter marks are also highly consistent with the boulder having been scraped and crushed at the base of a glacier.

Curiously, the boulder has a weathering rind up to 5 millimeters thick on its upper surface, but fresh, unweathered facets on its flanks and underside. This suggests it once lay partially buried for an extended period, with its top exposed to the elements. Subsequent human modification left percussion scars on this weathered surface, hinting that Stonehenge’s builders found the boulder as a loose, pre-weathered erratic at the site – not as freshly quarried stone.

Six of the Stonehenge bluestones belonging to the bluestone circle, in the NE quadrant of the stone monument. They are overlooked by the larger sarsens of the outer circle. For scale, stone 47 is 1.45 m tall. For the most part the bluestones are not elegant pillars but heavily abraded and weathered erratic boulders and slabs. (Credit: Brian John)

‘Shortcomings’ Of Human Transport Theory

Despite the prevailing belief that Neolithic people transported the bluestones to Stonehenge, John highlights numerous studies showing why there are numerous problems with this theory. First and foremost, there is no evidence from any other British Neolithic site of megaliths being moved such vast distances. In fact, the builders of other monuments consistently used whatever large stones were locally available. If Stonehenge’s stones were specifically selected and brought from Wales, it’s odd that they come from at least 30 different rock sources — a geological diversity more consistent with the random “sampling” of glacial action than deliberate human choice.

The sheer variety of stone types at Stonehenge also argues against the idea of a special connection to Wales or the “sacredness” of the bluestones, as does the lack of any evidence that these particular rocks were prized or venerated in their homeland. If acquiring the bluestones was a major driver of Stonehenge’s construction, it’s puzzling that no Neolithic quarries, stone-moving equipment, or infrastructure have been found. Experimental archaeology has also highlighted the immense practical challenges of transporting multi-ton monoliths across the boggy, densely forested Neolithic landscape using only Stone Age technology.

Perhaps most damningly, there is no evidence of the kind of sophisticated stone-moving culture that should have existed if Neolithic Britons had undertaken such a massive feat of megalith transport. The skill, planning, and organization needed to move Stonehenge’s monoliths is curiously absent from the archaeological record before and after the monument’s construction. If the builders had such advanced capabilities, why did they not use them at other sites or pass them down to their descendants? The lack of any corroborating evidence for large-scale human stone transport suggests that this theory, while entrenched, rests on shaky foundations.

Discussion & Takeaways: Stonehenge bluestones a ‘gift’ from Mother Nature?

The implications of the Newall Boulder’s glacial origins are profound. If this diminutive “reject” found in the monument’s debitage is an ice-rafted erratic, then it’s probable that Stonehenge’s giant standing stones — many of which are also faceted, abraded boulders geologically out of place on Salisbury Plain — were likewise delivered by glaciers. Rather than being purposefully selected and heroically transported by Neolithic builders, they may simply have been fortuitously lying around the site, gifts left behind by ice age glaciers.

This “glacial theory” elegantly explains many puzzling aspects of Stonehenge’s megaliths, from their sheer diversity of rock types to the lack of any evidence for stone-moving infrastructure. It suggests that the monument’s location may have been chosen precisely because of the convenient scattering of giant boulders, not the other way around. And it would overturn the orthodox archaeological narrative of long-distance human transport in favor of a simpler story of our ancestors opportunistically making use of an “erratic quarry” created by nature.

Whether the bluestones were moved by human hands or by the irresistible momentum of glaciers, Stonehenge remains a testament to the ingenuity, adaptability, and sheer ambition of our Neolithic ancestors – and a source of enduring wonder for us today.

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Daily Mail gets in on the act

Following a long interview with the Daily Mail reporter, here is the press coverage.  It gets all sorts of things spectacularly wrong, but I guess that is par for the course..........

I find it quite instructive to see that national newspapers like this one work to such tight deadlines that there is virtually no fact checking or editing of content. The reporter interviewed me after lunch, and an hour later the article was out there on the web, attracting comments of the nonsensical sort from readers who seem to know very little about anything.  You know the sort of thing..........

 So abundant mistakes just creep in and nobody tries to correct them.  I suppose there is an Editor, but where is he?   "Get it out there, as fast and as BIG as possible.......If there are mistakes and misunderstandings, never mind -- by tomorrow this story will be dead, and replaced by another one......" drags the debate into the gutter

With a little help from his friends, Tim Daw (over on has decided to drag the debate about bluestone transport into the gutter.  In a series of posts he makes a serious attack on my integrity, concentrating on citations and protocols -- while ignoring the fact that my latest article is carefully considered and respectful to previous authors and publications.  I have tried to respond through comments on his blog, but that is effectively impossible, and one just ends up going round in circles.  So I have to respond here.

In one post he refers to the old article written by Lionel Jackson and myself (in Earth magazine in 2009) as "sensational".  In fact, in 2009 the Earth magazine was a perfectly respectable "popular science" journal, carefully edited, reporting on developments in the earth sciences.  It was certainly no more sensationalist than "Current Archaeology", "British Archaeology" or a number of other popular journals used over and again by Ixer, Bevins and Parker Pearson for the perpetration of their theories to non-specialists.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Here are his headlines:

Bibliographic Negligence in John's 2024 Paper

In his garbled piece on "bibliographic negligence" Tim criticises me for failing to mention the OU work on samples from the boulder in the late 1980's.  I do cite their work and thought I had made it clear that I was referring to examinations of the boulder rather than to the laboratory examinations of geochemistry and petrology.  With reference to text citations, one is constantly making judgements about where to place them; you just cannot overload a paper with multiple citations of the same source.  And then he has the cheek to accuse me of disregarding antecedent research, while simultaneously trying to defend the reputations of the likes of Ixer, Bevins and Parker Pearson who have cynically and deliberately ignored the two 2015 papers written by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself in peer-reviewed journals simply because what we say is extremely inconvenient.  That's almost a decade of selective amnesia and bibliographic negligence.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

I'm accused of egregiously failing to cite the 2023 paper by Bevins et al.  Because the paper was published in 2023 (and was therefore a late addition to the literature) I had to add it to my article at a relatively late stage in the editing of the manuscript -- but it's petty in the extreme to pretend that it should have been cited here rather than there, or there rather than here.  Life is too short for such nonsense.  The article is cited in several places in the text.  Tim complains that the authors of the 2023 paper made a "complete detailed examination of the boulder".  They did nothing of the sort.  Their examination was superficial and misleading, and missed many key features.

In his piece on "misrepresentations and omission" Tim makes similarly absurd claims.  Referring to my discussion of the idea that Stonehenge was built "where the stones were found", he takes issue with my cited sources.  He claims that the opinion of Judd in 1901 or 1903 was "near worthless."  I happen to disagree;  Judd was an astute observer who made many valuable contributions to the debate and who had a number of impressive insights. As for the views of Field et al, it is disingenuous to quote their conclusions and ignore what went before.  Maybe I could have cited other sources, some involving David Field -- but over and again in a paper of this sort one makes judgments about which of multiple sources one should cite and which one should leave to one side.

Then I am criticised for not citing the paper by Nash et al on sarsen sources. Of course I was fully aware of that paper, which I found interesting but unconvincing.   My paper was about the bluestones, and not about the sarsens.  But to pretend that Nash et al (2020) were infallible ("Nash et al provide evidence that the sarsen stones of Stonehenge were not found where the monument was built") is more than a little foolish.  Nash et al did NOT demonstrate that all or most of the stones were carried from West Woods, and subsequent work (reported faithfully in this blog) by Ixer, Bevins and others across the Atlantic suggests that the sarsens came from multiple sources.  And this work has done nothing to eliminate the possibility of the local use of locally derived stones.

This attack from Tim is all very petty and ill-judged, and does nobody any credit.

On glacial erratic transport


It's not easy, being an geomorphologist trying to communicate relatively straightforward concepts to people who have no background in the earth sciences.  One has to communicate with members of the public in language which is understandable and yet tight enough to pass muster with the referees and editors of scientific journals.  So I must be patient with those who have a problem in understanding the text of my latest article (on the Newall Boulder) around pp 8 and 9 where I explain why I think the boulder was transported by ice.

Our old friend Tim Daw, on his blog and on Twitter, seems to be suggesting that if the boulder found at Stonehenge has indeed been glacially transported over a great distance, it must look demonstrably different from similar boulders (of many sizes) that are found at Rhosyfelin.  He says that unless I can demonstrate that to his satisfaction, my research and my conclusions are meaningless.  Sadly, that demonstrates a misunderstanding of how natural processes operate.  Transport distance is indeed one of the factors that influences clast shape and surface characteristics, but as I explain in my text, it all depends on where and how a clast is being transported.  Clasts carried supraglacially or englacially (ie either on or within a glacier) may not be affected at all by abrasion or crushing, even after hundreds of kilometres of transport.  On the other hand clasts carried subglacially may be dramatically modified -- if bed conditions are right -- over a transport distance of just tens of metres. Clasts may become trapped or stuck on the basal ice-sediment interface, or they may be rolled over or broken, leaving abraded facets or percussion scars such as those described on the surfaces of the Newall Boulder.

If you look at the clasts featured in my Figure 7,  you will see that each one has a unique combination of features and a different history.

And as indicated in my paper, far-travelled clasts tend to follow zig-zag paths over hundreds of thousands of years, as a result "re-entrainment" and "re-mobilisation" in successive glacial episodes.

There is no way you can look at one clast at Rhosyfelin and another at Stonehenge and say "This one has been subjected to glacial transport and this one has not".........

That having been said, there are certainly abundant glacially-transported clasts at Rhosyfelin that do display typical "diagnostic" surface features, as described in earlier blog posts.

My new paper makes a very simple point:  namely that the Newall Boulder displays a number of features that are characteristic of glacially transported clasts.  I cannot understand why that should be such a problem for some people......

And by the way, we do not know that the Newall Boulder has come from Rhosyfelin.  I am pretty convinced that it has not.  It's all explained in the text.

Saturday 8 June 2024

"Lost Bluestone Boulder" -- Quaternary Science Journal article now available on Researchgate


Some of the features of the boulder (courtesy BGS)

Here it is -- open access and issued under a Creative Commons license. So it is easy to get at, I hope.  No paywalls here, thank goodness.........

The article, published in Germany in a long-established journal which is part of the Copernicus Group, has a very tight publishing process.  The article took a year to get into print, partly because of the heavy involvement of two referees who raised quite different issues and who sometimes gave conflicting advice, which I and the editor had to negotiate as tactfully as we could. There were several rounds of consultations and manuscript drafts, so the input of the peer reviewers was considerable. There was heavy involvement from the editorial team as well.    Anyway, I tried to take all the advice offered -- and what started as a short note expanded inexorably into something far more substantial at the request of the referees.  

So I hope that this paper will have a role in opening up the bluestone debate and showing interested parties that there are several sides to every question.....


Salisbury Journal -- first with the news

All credit to the Salisbury Journal for getting out of the blocks quickly with their coverage of the new article in QSJ.

Millennium Stone project 2000: the pole bearers

Somebody posted this photo on Facebook, from the great stone pull in which I participated in the year 2000.  It shows the importance of the pole bearers, who are marching along behind the sledge with the stone on it.  Phil Bowen, the organizer of the whole thing (and the slave driver who kept us all hard at work in a vaguely coordinated fashion) realised right from Day One that even on asphalt roads in perfect weather conditions the sledge kept on sticking or stalling, making it impossible to move even with considerable pulling power ahead of it.  Over and again levers had to be used to get the sledge moving again -- and so that is what the poles were for.  The friction on the road surface was an almost insurmountable problem, and as described before, low friction "netlon" netting had to be used, with a special team rolling it out between the pullers and the sledge.  And then, on hills, the friction was too little, and the sledge (and its precious load) kept on sliding sideways off-course.

A nightmare.  And that was on asphalt roads -- in areas of boggy woodland (which would have been the prevailing landscape type at the time) the movement of a sledge with a two-tonne boulder on it would have been virtually impossible.  It's sad that the human transport believers are in a permanent state of denial about the realities of the exercise which they so loudly trumpet.....

The Stonehenge sarsens probably did NOT come from West Woods

Stonehenge revisited: A geochemical approach to interpreting the geographical source of sarsen stone #58
Archaeometry, June 2024
DOI:  10.1111/arcm.12999
by Ronald G V Hancock,  Michael P Gorton,  William C Mahaney, Suzanne Aufreiter and Kostalena Michelaki


It is tempting in material sourcing analyses to treat chemical data primarily as numbers to be sorted, while disregarding their interlinked geochemistries. Consideration of geochemistry, however, often leads to the drawing of more nuanced and reliable conclusions. In this paper we re-examine data published in 2020, related to the sourcing of stone #58 at Stonehenge, paying attention to geochemistry. We question the potential single-source interpretation of these data and suggest instead that three to six sources cannot be ruled out.


Well well -- this is a surprise.  I knew that some new research was under way involving the Altar Stone, but I was unaware that new geochemistry work was also going on with regard to Sarsen 58 and the West Woods connection.  Readers of this blog will recall that I had a vigorous spat with David Nash a few years ago, in 2020, on the grounds that I was not convinced that his analytical plots did actually show a strong connection between West Woods and Stonehenge.  I thought that there was "over interpretation" going on, particularly with regard to the visual messages coming out of scatter diagrams etc.

See also:

Quote from the new article:

........the Nash et al. (2020) proposal of West Woods as a possible source for stone #58 from Stonehenge was taken to be more certain by Ixer and Bevins (2021) and Worsley (2021), and by 2024 it was treated as a given by Ciborowski et al. (2024).

In fairness to all concerned, the original stark proposition which got the full media treatment in 2020 ("Stonehenge sarsen mystery solved" and so forth)  has subsequently been abandoned and replaced by something more nuanced, with multiple sarsen sources for Stonehenge now broadly accepted.  Unfortunately, the media do not do subtlety and truth -- they just want spectacular discoveries and banner headlines -- and so the developments since 2020 have been largely ignored.  That's the way of the world, and those who rush into print should perhaps be more mindful of the fact.....

Anyway, the other thing that is interesting about this article is that it cites Lionel Jackson and myself (2009) as the authorities on glacial transport, ignoring the fact that there has been a vast literature since then.  As authors based in North America, I am not sure that they are up to speed on the different arguments involving sarsen origins and bluestone origins, but they say:

"........... two samples (MD2 and TF2) severely question the assumption that all three chosen stones are always geochemically similar at each geographic location. Their presence at their find-spots may contribute to the idea of John and Jackson (2009), and others (e.g., Briggs, 2009; Burl, 2006; Kellaway, 1971), that the huge stones of Stonehenge were moved naturally over long distances and were deposited by ice during the last glacial maximum (LGM),  20 ka ago. This does not preclude them from being removed from their find-spots at Lenham Quarry and Totterdown Wood and taken to Stonehenge."

and also:

"Given the range of chemistries from the limited sample selection available, the data reveal a broad sweep of source rocks. Some of the data may support the importation of rock to southern England by glacial transport, an idea first proposed by Kellaway (1971) and later fine-tuned by John and Jackson (2009). Sarsen stone #58 does not closely correlate well with the sampled sarsens. If the current sampling of sarsens from southern England is representative of the total geochemical variability to be found in southern sarsens, then stone #58 may have come into southern England by glacial transport. This would make it a megalith erratic derived from glacial plucking of bedrock or derived from a nunatak upstream all the way to Scandinavia. Glacial plucking is often related to regelation, a process causing mechanically induced melting and refreezing at the base of the ice, producing joint blocks up to 3–4 m that can be “plucked” and deposited or thrust to the surface of the ice. Glacial plucking both exploits pre-existing fractures in the bedrock and is most proficient where rock surfaces are well jointed or fractured or where exposed bedding planes allow meltwater to penetrate more easily. For an example of such glacial transport, see Stalker (1956, 1975). A similar situation may have occurred in southern
England as the last Pleistocene ice melted, as documented by John and Jackson (2009). While the sources of sarsen stones remain controversial, glacial transportation should be considered seriously in the explanation of the source of silicified sandstones used to form Stonehenge."

So it's good to see the glacial theory applied to both sarsens and bluestones, although many of their statements relating to dating and ice movement directions are rather unreliable.

Friday 7 June 2024

Tim and the identical boulders


Annotated photo of the Rhosyfelin dig from

Over on Tim Daw is having another go at my research work, this time concentrating on boulder shape and seeking to rewrite the fundamentals of glacial geomorphology.........

Worthless claims of glacial transport.

"A reminder that any claim that a boulder at Stonehenge shows signs of being glacially transported is worthless unless it explains how it differs from identical boulders found at the source. If that is what they look like in Wales then if they are the same in Wiltshire then their transport hasn't left any evidence on them."  

He has also take to Twitter to make the same point.......

I have not got a clue about what he is trying to say. The boulders circled in his photo may or may not be "identical" with the Newall Boulder, but who cares anyway?  The boulders contained in till and in fluvioglacial deposits at Craig Rhosyfelin are in some cases far-travelled, and in other cases not.  Some are striated, and some are not.  Some are larger than the Newall Boulder, and some are not.  Does Tim want the Pembs boulders to be the "same" as the one at Stonehenge, or does he want them to be different?  And what is it anyway that makes my claim of glacial transport "worthless"?  Oh dear oh dear......... who put him up to all this nonsense?

Another puff for the human transport myth

The Carn Goedog dig, at the site of an imaginary quarry. Photo acknowledgement: Adam Stanford.

Here we go again.  Another plug for the human transport theory, this time from Chris Catling, on the website called "The Past" -- linked to Current Archaeology magazine.  The feature article is called "Rolling Stones"....... and it reports on Chris's involvement in the long walk undertaken by Prof Keith Ray in April.  The walk took about two weeks, and the energetic professor was accompanied on different days by different people who had an interest in Stonehenge and the bluestones.

We know where the author is coming from very early in the article: "Disappointingly, many people find it hard to accept that the bluestones were deliberately quarried in west Wales, preferring to believe that they were carried by glaciers."   Outrageous!! Whatever next???

While he does at least acknowledge that there is a glacial transport theory, and while he does give it some space in the article, his assumption is that it is deeply flawed and that the evidence of bluestone quarrying and monolith provenancing is so strong as to be incontrovertible.  He refers to the "hard science" of Ixer and Bevins, and fails to mention that the precision of their provenancing was seriously questioned in 2015 by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself.  He also refers to "archaeological excavations at several quarry sites in the Preseli Hills" by Prof MPP and his colleagues, and fails to recognise that the "quarry sites" are hotly disputed.    So his bias is obvious and disappointing.....

Chris also claims that in his 2012 book on Stonehenge, MPP "tries to do justice to the critics on their own terms" by acknowledging that glacial deposits do exist in the Bristol - Bath area -- but then he contradicts himself by stating that Chris Clark of Sheffield University claims that the last glacial ice sheet "did not extend beyond Wales."  To the best of my knowledge, Chris has never claimed that -- and neither has anybody with access to modern data claimed that the Solent was created by glacial activity.  Then we get confusion about the ability of ice to flow uphill.  

It's all a bit of a mess, and the article descends into just another puff for the human transport hypothesis, with the author simply assuming that the "bluestone expeditions" were established as actually having happened.  He even cites MPP's latest view that we should abandon the use of Occam's Razor in Stonehenge studies: ‘we have to fight an innate prejudice that often makes us try to explain prehistoric activities in terms of what we see as “common sense”’ because this ignores the role played by symbolism. From the earliest times, particular stones have been invested with meanings over and above their utility."

Quote:  "Being part of the great enterprise of bringing the stones to Stonehenge would have appealed to Neolithic people for any number of reasons: satisfying curiosity, seeking novelty, pursuing self-realisation, seeking freedom from constraint, meeting new people and experiencing new ideas – not to mention any ritual or religious motivations. Taking part was transformative for the individuals concerned, not unlike taking part in an archaeological excavation. All the hard work would have been mitigated by a similar sociability and camaraderie, and enough memories made to furnish participants with a lifetime of anecdotes."

This is all very well, but neither MPP nor Chris Catling has yet come up with a shred of hard evidence supporting the long-distanc human transport of the bluestones for either symbolic or utilitarian reasons.  It is all speculation, assumption, and assertion, dressed up when it is deemed appropriate, as science.

Thursday 6 June 2024

Lost in Salisbury Museum -- the Newall boulder emerges into the sun

At last, my article about the Newall boulder (examined in June 2022 when Tony and I paid a visit to Salisbury Museum) has been published in the international Quaternary Science Journal.  It was submitted a year ago, and has been through a rigorous and extended peer review process in which the reviewers were given the chance to check over and approve my responses to their comments.  Frustrating, but ultimately rewarding since one reviewer in particular kept on asking for expansions and extra detail -- which in the end turned a short note into a paper of rather wider significance. 

Anyway, here it is.  Enjoy!!

John, B. S.: A bluestone boulder at Stonehenge: implications for the glacial transport theory, 
E&G  Quaternary Sci. Journal 73, 117–134,, 2024


There has been considerable dispute over the mode of transport of the Stonehenge bluestones from their multiple sources in West Wales. For a century most archaeologists have accepted that the stoneswere transported by humans, but a number of earth scientists have taken the view that they were entrained and transported to Salisbury Plain by glacier ice. There is remarkably little evidence in support of either theory, and for this reason any new description of a possible glacial clast found at or near the stone monument is of potentially great importance. A small bullet-shaped boulder of welded tuff was found in a Stonehenge excavation in 1924, and apart from a brief examination by geologists from the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS) around 1970, it has been stored out of sight and out of mind. Its geological source is uncertain. Following a detailed examination of its shape and surface characteristics it is now proposed that it has been subjected to glacial transport and that it has had a long and complex history. It is also proposed that the abundant weathered and abraded bluestone boulders and slabs at Stonehenge were also glacially transported, along with many of the cobbles and stone fragments found in the sediments of the local landscape. The elaborate archaeological narrative of bluestone quarrying and human transport to Stonehenge must now be re-examined.

As you will see, I take this boulder far more seriously that Bevins et al in their article published last year, in which they were intent on showing that it was just an insignificant "joint block" or bit of rocky debris left lying around at Stonehenge.  They claimed it was just the broken off top of a rhyolite standing stone of which there is no no trace.........

Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Nick Pearce, James Scourse, Tim Daw. 2023.
Lithological description and provenancing of a collection of bluestones from excavations at Stonehenge by William Hawley in 1924 with implications for the human versus ice transport debate of the monument's bluestone megaliths. Geoarchaeology 2023: 1-15

Victorian gifts: new insights into the Stonehenge bluestones
Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins, Nick Pearce, and David Dawson explain more.

Our old friend Tim Daw is so enraged by my new article that he has accused the editors of QSJ of "letting through" a highly defective paper -- which has understandably left them feeling pretty furious, given the meticulous review and rewriting process which I was forced to go though prior to publication.

Truth will out, regardless of the attempts being made by certain people to shut me up or claim that I am a doddery and incompetent old fool.

Thursday 16 May 2024

West Angle interglacial site


Thanks to Nick Cleary for publishing the top two splendid drone photos on Facebook.  The lower photo is an annotated satellite image from Google Earth.  I'm publishing these here because together they show the setting for the interglacial deposits which I have described in other posts.  I am now pretty well convinced that during the last interglacial, at a time of higher relative sea level, there was an extensive boggy area in this through valley that runs across the peninsula to Angle Bay, and that at the western end there was a dune slack in which the interglacial sediments accumulated, to be later overrun byDevensian Irish Sea ice as the glacier came in from the NW.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Gurreholmsdal ice retreat stages and advances

Moraine ridges and other morainic features in Gurreholmsdal, identified by Kelly et al.

Moraines and sample locations

"A 10 Be chronology of lateglacial and Holocene mountain glaciation in the Scoresby Sund region, East Greenland: implications for seasonality during lateglacial time." 
Meredith A. Kelly et al, 2007.
Quaternary Science Reviews xxx (2008) 1–10


Thirty-eight new cosmogenic ( 10 Be) exposure ages from the Scoresby Sund region of east Greenland indicate that prominent moraine sets deposited by mountain glaciers date from 780 to 310 yr, approx- imately during the Little Ice Age, from 11660 to 10 630 yr, at the end of the Younger Dryas cold interval or during Preboreal time, and from 13010 to 11630 yr, during lateglacial time. Equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) interpreted from lateglacial to Early Holocene moraines indicate summertime cooling between 3.9 and 6.6 deg C relative to today’s value, much less than the extreme Younger Dryas cooling registered by Greenland ice cores (mean-annual temperatures of w15 deg C colder than today’s value). This apparent discrepancy between paleotemperature records supports the contention that Younger Dryas cooling was primarily a wintertime phenomenon. 10 Be ages of lateglacial and Holocene moraines show that mountain glaciers during the Little Ice Age were more extensive than at any other time since the Early Holocene Epoch. In addition, 10 Be ages of lateglacial moraines show extensive reworking of boulders with cosmogenic nuclides inherited from prior periods of exposure, consistent with our geomorphic obser- vations and cosmogenic-exposure dating studies in other Arctic regions.

The moraine ridges on the flanks of the Gurreholm Valley, to the south of the Little Ice Age features, suggest three late glacial stages: one at around 12,000 BP, another around 11,500 BP, and a final one around 11,000 BP.  The last one might be referred to as Early Holocene, from the Preboreal phase -- but it might be more appropriate to think in terms of the Older Dryas and Younger Dryas cold episodes, given the spread of dates presented by the authors.  There are also some anomalous dates  from the oldest moraine ridges, suggesting "inherited ages" and some recycling of materials.

So how do these ridges relate to those of Schuchertdal and Kjove Land.?  It would be logical to relate the higher ridges on the south side of Pythagoras Bjerg to the two older phases in Gurreholmsdal -- when rsl might have been at or above 134 m -- implying in turn that the most recent moraine ridges were formed at the time of the 101m stillstand.

Our colleagues Jimmy Cruickshank and Eric Colhoun noticed in 1962 that the pingos in the middle section of the Schuchert Valley were formed on a substrate of shelly silt and clay beds of marine origin, and that these deposits extended at least as far inland as the Little Ice Age moraine of the Roslin Glacier.  The 100m contour crosses the Schuchert sandur between the Roslin Glacier moraine and the Storgletscher moraine, and  Jimmy and Eric suspected that marine beds run up-valley at least as far as that contour -- again suggesting an association between a 101m stillstand and a significant glacier snout position / retreat stage / advance limit.  The associated moraines are yet to be described.

No doubt further work in the area will confirm the full sequence of events.........

Tuesday 7 May 2024

The Milne Land Stage, East Greenland

This is a fabulous image of the prominent moraine that runs along the southern edge of the Pythagoras Bjerg plateau, overlooking Hall Bredning and Syd Kap.  The ridge -- in reality a complex of morainic hummocks -- runs approx W-E.  It is assumed by Kelly and Long (2009) to be the lateral moraine of the Nordvestfjord Glacier which was spreading eastwards across the Syd Kap embayment, having crossed the fjord threshold into the wider reaches of Hall Bredning.   They date the morainic complex to the Milne Land Stage as defined by Funder -- and now reasonably well dated to the Younger Dryas or European "Zone III" climatic episode, around 12,000 years ago.

See these posts:

Svend Funder

Sugden & John (1965) have reported from Kjove Land (fig. l) evidence of two glacier advances during which Nordvestfjord and Schuchert Flod valley contained major ice streams, the oldest being earlier than a shoreline at 134 m, the younger contemporaneous with one at 101 m altitude. It seems 1ikely that these two advances are equivalent to the oldest and one of the younger advances of the Milne Land Stages. It is also interesting to note that Lasca (1969), from Skeldal in Kong Oscars Fjord (150 km NNE of Bregnepynt), reported two major glacier advances during which Kong Oscars Fjord was occupied by ice streams; the younger of these occurred just before the formation of a marine delta at 110 m above present sea-level.

Funder S. 1970. Notes on the glacial geology of eastern Milne Land. Rapport Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse 30, 37-42

In one of my posts I drew attention to the signs of ice flow across the plateau, involving an "overflow" ice stream from the Holger Danskes Briller trough:

I am still convinced that this situation prevailed at some stage during the Last Glaciation (Devensian / Wisconsin / Weichselian), but I now think that the morainic ridges on the plateau are unrelated to that phase, and are related instead to the two "Late Glacial" phases of glaciation which we identified in our 1962 fieldwork:

From Sugden and John (1965) -- based on our 1962 research findings

We were not able to do accurate levelling work up on the plateau, but we were quite convinced that there were traces of the highest regional shoreline -- at 134 m -- beneath some of the higher morainic ridges, and that the ice edge prior to deglaciation was at more than 200m asl.  The bg morainic ridges associated with Hjornemoraene seem to be associated with the 101m sea-level or stillstand -- and tht is esactly the same relationship as that observed at the south-eastern end of the HDB trough, where there is a massive terminal moraine with a planed top at 101m asl.

The ice edge here was probably grounded, and the glacial advance episode came to an end when the ice edge floated off,  permitting the creation of some indistinct shoreline traces at c 134m asl.  The ice front probably retreated back into the Nordvestfjord trough.  After a period of isostatic uplift associated with deglaciation, there was another short-lived advance of the Nordvestfjord Glacier and a marine stillstand at 101m asl.  The ice advanced  at least as far as Nordostbugt, and through the HDB trough as far as the end of the eastern lake, where a massive terminal morainic ridge was created.  Other shoreline traces at the same level were created on the southern flank of the moraine, overlooking Syd Kap Bay.

All things considered, it appears most likely that there were the following Last Glaciation episodes in Kjove Land and on Pythagoras Bjerg:

1.  Large-scale inundation of the landscape by ice from the Nordvestfjord Glacier and from other glaciers in the southern Staunings Alps. Diffluent ice flow through HDB trough and over part of the Pythagoras Bjerg plateau. Large scale isostatic depression of crust.   Relative sea-level maybe 150m asl.

2.  Substantial ice melting and ice edge retreat, leaving Kjove Land ice free and submerged -- highest shorelines indistinct. Marine limit unknown.

3.  Glacier advance, covering Kjove land, Syd Kap Bay etc but leaving Pythagoras Bjerg unglaciated or more probably supporting a local and relatively thin ice cap.  Higher morainic ridges formed on ice edges on the eastern and southern flanks of the Pythagoras Bjerg upland.  Multiple ridges formed between 300m and 100m asl as ice surface dropped.  Shoreline traces at around 134m asl after deglaciation - floating off of ice edge.  Older Dryas age?

4. Renewed glaciation and advance.  Ice from Nordvestfjord flowed eastwards as far as Nordostbugt, leaving a prominent morainic ridge and associated features.  Eastern flank of upland overlooking Kjoveland unaffected by glacier ice.  HDB terminal moraine created.  Sea level at c 101m.

The massive flat-topped HDB terminal Moraine, related to a substantial glacier readvance (Younger Dryas?) through the trough and towards the camera.

Surveying on the flat surface of the HDB terminal moraine -- at 101m asl

5. Glacier retreat up Nordvestfjord and ice edge retreat up all Staunings Alps glacial troughs. Substantial meltwater activity and delta formation at stillstands as sea level dropped episodically due to isostatic recovery and short-lived climatic oscillations. Creation of Gurreholm "staircase" and many other shoreline traces in Schuchertdal.

6. No further substantial glacier advances until Neoglacial / Little Ice Age expansion of valley glaciers within last 500 years.


I still have some questions regarding the extent of glacier ice in Schuchertdal during the Milne Land stage.  Funder and others think that there was an ice front in the middle section of the valley, south of the Bjørnbo Glacier trough.  I don't think the evidence for that has been presented in adequate detail, although there are references to lateral moraine ridges on the valley sides with a relief of c 5m.  But marine sediments extend up the valley as far as the Roslin Gletscher morainic loop, and they contain shell fragments and other organic materials dating back as far as  11,000 yrs BP.  The details are still to be worked out......... 

Sunday 5 May 2024

Borgbjerg and Löberen glaciers, East Greenland -- the most recent surge


There is much in the literature about the surging behaviour of Löberen, on the north shore of Nordvestfjord. We can see it here on the right, in the satellite image.  Since the 1955-65 surge came to an end, the glacier has retreated c 8 km up-valley, leaving relatively few traces on the valley floor.

But I realised when looking at the image that the next glacier to the west -- Borgbjerg Gletscher -- experienced a much bigger surge, probably at the same time, with a calving ice front out in the fjord. Also -- and this is extremely rare -- there is an extensive area of dead ice or ice-cored moraine very close to the shoreline, around 6 km from the present glacier edge. You can see the pockmark pattern of small meltwater pools. As with Löberen next door, the ice edge retreat post-surge is approx 8 km over approx 60 years.

If you look at the glaciers as they are today, they are covered with bright blue meltwater pools -- a characteristic of glaciers that are "healing" themselves following the drastic changes in ice surface elevation caused by a period of rapid ice flow.

Dead Ice Terrain -- Little Ice Age morainic loops

Click to enlarge.......

Sometimes, when you are looking for things on satellite imagery, you get lucky.  If you see an interesting feature and zoom in on it, you sometimes find that the  image manipulation programme used by Google, or Bing, or Apple, flips from one piece of satellite imagery to another.  In the above case, as I zoomed in on some areas of dead ice terrain around the snouts of glaciers on the west shore of Alpefjord in East Greenland, the imagery changed from summer to winter.....

And the result is the above, with (purely by chance) a combination of low winter sun and a sprinkling of snow, showing up the details of dead ice terrain around the snouts of the glaciers decanting down into the trough.  These must be the morainic loops formed in the Little Ice Age, between 1550 and 1950.  There were several ice advances or surges during this period, and as far as I know the precise ages of these features have not yet been fixed.

Saturday 4 May 2024

Little Ice Age Glacier Surges in Schuchertdal, East Greenland


Morainic loops and trimlines at the outlets of four glacier catchments in the upper part of Schuchertdal, as defined on modern satellite imagery. The lost spectacular loop is related to the LIA (Little Ice Age) surge of the Roslin Gletscher, which culminated in an ice edge on the eastern edge of Schuchertdal.

Surging behaviour is now recognized on many of the small glaciers (ie less than 40 km long) in the uplands of East Greenland. Those of the Werner Mountains and the Staunings Alps are better documented than those of more remote areas, and Roslin Gletscher and Björnbogletscher are mentioned in a number of research publications such as this one:

See also:

See also:

The last surge (or advance) of the Björnbo Gletscher was contained within its upland trough, but that of the Roslin Gletscher (once called Ivaar Bardarssons Gletscher) involved the creation of a spectacular morainic loop which effectively blocked the Schuchert Valley -- and this has attracted attention since the early days of map making and mineral exploration in the 1950's.

Roslin Gletscher ice front in 1954 -- photo by Ernst Hofer. He described the ice front as being 30m high at the time.

The maximum extent of the Little Ice Age surge morainic loop. The 1954 ice edge is also demarcated. This is possible because some of the landforms -- such as the large lake -- can be identified on all existing aerial photos.

I am quite intrigued by the Ernst Hofer oblique photograph, because it shows a steep ice front and an extremely rough and crevassed ice surface. This suggests to me that the photo was taken shortly after the culmination of a new surge that might have occurred around 1950. When we walked across this glacier in 1962 the ice edge was more or less in the same place, but the glacier surface presented us with no difficulties at all, and we did not even need to rope up. So I think we might have signs here of two (or maybe several) surges, of more or less equal extent.

Were these surges matched in time by the surges in the adjacent glaciers?

At the top of the photo we can see the maximum extent of the ice lobe at the head of the Schuchert Valley -- carrying ice from several linked glaciers -- namely Schuchert Gletscher itself, Arcturus Gletscher, Sirius Gletscher, Aldebaran Gletscher and a number of smaller tributary glaciers in the Werner Mountains. The ice edge has since retreated by about 4 km. 

The Storgletscher advance, also involving ice from Gannochy Gletscher, also pushed across to the eastern edge of the Schuchert Valley -- but there was also an input from a smaller unnamed glacier to the south. The extent of the ice-cored moraine (with abundant small meltwater lakes) is very clear on the satellite image.

The timing and nature of these surges will no doubt be the subjects of future investigations. But how do they relate to the surging glaciers of NW Iceland? In the area which Dave Sugden and I studied in 1960, and which I revisited with the Vestfirdir Project in 1973-76, the surging behaviour of the Drangajokull outlet glaciers (particularly Kaldalonsjokull, Reykjarfjardarsjokull and Leirufjardarsjokull) is now well documented, with the most marked advances of the ice edges dated to c 1740, 1850 and 1994.  In NW Iceland there does not seem to have been a big readvance or surge around 1950.

As for the other glaciers in NE Greenland, we do know that some of the Nordvestfjord glaciers including Oxford Gletscher and Løberen are liable to surging behaviour, and that the latter (the "galloping glacier" started a massive surge in 1950 and which continued until about 1965.

So I have a little theory that there might have been a regional "surge event" in the Staunings Alps area in the period 1950-1960 which affected many of the smaller glaciers which originated in the uplands, and that this event was just slightly less dramatic and less extensive than some of the other surges associated with the Little Ice Age in Greenland and Iceland.


To set this in context:

Glacier response to the Little Ice Age during the Neoglacial cooling in Greenland
Kurt H. Kjær et al, 2022.
Earth-Science Reviews
Volume 227, April 2022, 103984


In the Northern Hemisphere, an insolation driven Early to Middle Holocene Thermal Maximum was followed by a Neoglacial cooling that culminated during the Little Ice Age(LIA). Here, we review the glacier response to this Neoglacial cooling in Greenland. Changes in the ice margins of outlet glaciers from the Greenland Ice Sheet as well as local glaciers and ice caps are synthesized Greenland-wide. In addition, we compare temperature reconstructions from ice cores, elevation changes of the ice sheet across Greenland and oceanographic reconstructions from marine sediment cores over the past 5,000 years. The data are derived from a comprehensive review of the literature supplemented with unpublished reports. Our review provides a synthesis of the sensitivity of the Greenland ice margins and their variability, which is critical to understanding how Neoglacial glacier activity was interrupted by the current anthropogenic warming. We have reconstructed three distinct periods of glacier expansion from our compilation: two older Neoglacial advances at 2,500 – 1,700 yrs. BP (Before Present = 1950 CE, Common Era) and 1,250 – 950 yrs. BP; followed by a general advance during the younger Neoglacial between 700-50 yrs. BP, which represents the LIA. There is still insufficient data to outline the detailed spatio-temporal relationships between these periods of glacier expansion. Many glaciers advanced early in the Neoglacial and persisted in close proximity to their present-day position until the end of the LIA. Thus, the LIA response to Northern Hemisphere cooling must be seen within the wider context of the entire Neoglacial period of the past 5,000 years. Ice expansion appears to be closely linked to changes in ice sheet elevation, accumulation, and temperature as well as surface-water cooling in the surrounding oceans. At least for the two youngest Neoglacial advances, volcanic forcing triggering a sea-ice /ocean feedback, could explain their initiation. There are probably several LIA glacier fluctuations since the first culmination close to 1250 CE (Common Era) and available data suggests ice culminations in the 1400s, early to mid-1700s and early to mid-1800s CE. The last LIA maxima lasted until the present deglaciation commenced around 50 yrs. BP (1900 CE). The constraints provided here on the timing and magnitude of LIA glacier fluctuations delivers a more realistic background validation for modelling future ice sheet stability.

and this:

Meredith A. Kelly et al, 2008
A 10Be chronology of lateglacial and Holocene mountain glaciation in the Scoresby Sund region, east Greenland: implications for seasonality during lateglacial time.
Quaternary Science Reviews
Volume 27, Issues 25–26, December 2008, Pages 2273-2282


Thirty-eight new cosmogenic (10Be) exposure ages from the Scoresby Sund region of east Greenland indicate that prominent moraine sets deposited by mountain glaciers date from 780 to 310 yr, approximately during the Little Ice Age, from 11 660 to 10 630 yr, at the end of the Younger Dryas cold interval or during Preboreal time, and from 13 010 to 11 630 yr, during lateglacial time. Equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) interpreted from lateglacial to Early Holocene moraines indicate summertime cooling between ∼3.9 and 6.6 °C relative to today's value, much less than the extreme Younger Dryas cooling registered by Greenland ice cores (mean-annual temperatures of ∼15 °C colder than today's value). This apparent discrepancy between paleotemperature records supports the contention that Younger Dryas cooling was primarily a wintertime phenomenon. 10Be ages of lateglacial and Holocene moraines show that mountain glaciers during the Little Ice Age were more extensive than at any other time since the Early Holocene Epoch. In addition, 10Be ages of lateglacial moraines show extensive reworking of boulders with cosmogenic nuclides inherited from prior periods of exposure, consistent with our geomorphic observations and cosmogenic-exposure dating studies in other Arctic regions.

.......... and this:

The most extensive Holocene advance in the Stauning Alper, East Greenland, occurred in the Little Ice Age
Brenda L. Hall, Carlo Baroni & George H. Denton
Polar Research 27(2)

DOI:   10.3402/polar.v27i2.6171

We present glacial geologic and chronologic data concerning the Holocene ice extent in the Stauning Alper of East Greenland. The retreat of ice from the late-glacial position back into the mountains was accomplished by at least11 000 cal years B.P. The only recorded advance after this time occurred duringthe past few centuries (the Little Ice Age). Therefore, we postulate that the Little Ice Age event represents the maximum Holocene ice extent in this part of East Greenland.


The paper by Hall, Baroni and Denton confirms what David Sugden and myself proposed in 1965: namely that by around 11,000 yrs BP most glacier ice has melted away in Schuchertdal, allowing a substantial marine incursion of the valley -- at least as far up-valley as the side trough of the Roslin Gletscher. This allowed the creation of marine terraces at and below 67 m asl. This may have coincided with the formation of the major marine delta terrace at c 67m in the "Gurreholm Staircase" as measured by David and me in 1962.  Radiocarbon dating of marine mollusca contained within these terrace remnants suggests ice-free conditions at around 10,700 yrs BP. The presence of marine terrace fragments all the way down the valley confirms that there was no substantial Neoglacial ice advance until the Little Ice Age  -- at which time the spectacular loops of moraine at the glacier fronts were created.

Funder S. 1970. Notes on the glacial geology of eastern Milne Land. Rapport Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse 30, 37-42

Funder S. 1970. Notes on the glacial geology of eastern Milne
Rapport Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse 30

Funder S. 1970. Notes on the glacial geology of eastern Milne
Rapport Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse 30

Funder S. 1970. Notes on the glacial geology of eastern Milne
Rapport Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse 30