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Wednesday 24 April 2024

Our ancestors were not as stupid as you might think........

All hail the bluestone route to Stonehenge.  Used in an article demanding greater respect for the intelligence of Neolithic tribesmen -- a nonsense illustration clearly created by artificial intelligence.  Or maybe by artificial stupidity.
How ironic is that?

This is quite wonderful.  Our old friend Tim Daw, over on his blog site, is fighting the corner on behalf of our heroic ancestors, and accusing people like me of a lack of respect for their intelligence.   He reproduces a press release (presumably from EH at Stonehenge, or from Cardiff University) in which Win Scutt accuses sceptics of the human transport thesis of "insulting our Neolithic ancestors" and urging us to have a greater appreciation of their capabilities.

Not for the first time, Tim completely misunderstands the situation. I have the greatest respect for the intelligence of our Neolithic ancestors, and I should have thought this is pretty obvious to anybody who reads this blog as avidly as Tim does. 

After all, they had aspirations to build Stonehenge, and even if they never managed to finish it because they ran out of stones, they did at least try. They moved a lot of rather large monoliths at Stonehenge, Avebury and elsewhere, and used some rather smart building techniques. They shaped some of the stones into rather elegant pillars. They may even have been smart observers of the movement of the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky. But to suggest that they were stupid enough to try and transport 80 big bluestone boulders and slabs all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, across savage terrain, and then shaped some of them into pillars, thereby reducing their bulk and weight by maybe 50%, is a real insult to their intelligence. I think they did what any smart group of individuals would have done when they saw an opportunity to use relatively abundant stone resources on the rolling chalklands of Salisbury Plain. They decided to build a highly imaginative structure more or less where the stones were found. That was truly exceptional. 

They were smart enough to know all about cost / benefit analysis, and carried on with the work for as long as they had available stones. They had to go further and further afield to find the stones that they needed, but as they did so their costs (in manpower and effort) increased inexorably, and the benefits diminished. At last, when the costs far outweighed the benefits, and with only about 50% of the desired stones in place, they experimented with various stone settings, decided that none of them were exactly what they wanted, and eventually gave up on the whole thing. Just as any other group of intelligent human beings would have done, they went off and did something else which involved less effort and which brought them more pleasure.......... maybe an orgy or two over at Durrington village........

So three cheers for our Neolithic ancestors. May they continue to thrive!!


Here is the press release:

Doubting the overland transportation of the stones is insulting to our Neolithic ancestors.

Professor Keith Ray, a university professor and archaeologist, embarked on an extraordinary journey—a 222-mile trek through the Welsh and English countryside. His mission? To reach the iconic Stonehenge on schedule. But this wasn’t just a leisurely stroll; it was a quest to trace one of the possible routes that Neolithic peoples might have used to transport the massive megaliths from the Preseli Hills in Wales to the Salisbury Plain.

On Sunday, April 21, Professor Keith Ray achieved his goal, arriving at Stonehenge. Along different sections of his walk, he was joined by numerous academics, archaeologists, and other experts who accompanied him to learn about the terrain first hand. The journey took less than a month, and it provided valuable insights into the ancient landscape.

Win Scutt, senior properties curator for English Heritage, labeled Keith’s trip an “absolutely astonishing, heroic achievement”. At the seminar about the trip it was emphasized that doubting the overland transportation of the stones was insulting to our Neolithic ancestors and researchers were urged to have appreciation for their capabilities.

Keith Ray’s low-tech research method led to an interesting discovery: a route through the hills and mountains between Wales and England that never required more than a 20-degree climb. Along the way, he was joined by over 20 other academics. Keith observed that the lines of travel often followed ancient paths, demonstrating how the ancients navigated the landscape by going with the land and following the path of least resistance.

Kate Churchill, an archaeologist at Churchill Archaeology in Monmouthshire, walked part of the way with Keith. She found the experience comparable to walking during Neolithic times, allowing her to “stop and look at the landscape and be inspired.”

Professor Keith Ray’s remarkable journey sheds light on the historical connections between Wales and Stonehenge, revealing the ancient pathways that once connected these distant lands.

(Press release via Microsoft CoPilot)


In the Salisbury Journal, we see the following: Win Scutt, senior properties curator (west) for English Heritage, who labelled Keith’s trip an “absolutely astonishing, heroic achievement”,  said it was insulting, in light of all the evidence, for academics to still doubt the stones’ overland transportation.

Er, excuse me, but "in light of all the evidence" ??? ........and what evidence might that be? Does Win know something that the rest of us don't?


Tony Hinchliffe said...

As an aside, I wonder if " Kate Churchill, an archaeologist at Churchill Archaeology in Monmouthshire", [ penultimate paragraph] is Welsh, and related to my friend Judith Churchill originally from Caerphilly? She worked as a Librarian at Caerleon College. Anyway, good luck to both of them. Kate Churchill the archaeologist has a vivid imagination and I'm glad she enjoyed the walk and the company.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

How many acceptable academics does it take to wend their weary way 220 miles without encountering any slopes greater than 20 degrees and without falling out or falling over?

Jon Morris said...

This is a most odd set of arguments. But I don't think it comes from Tim (I think it's a quote). But assuming only low grade technology proven by archaeologists to exist, all of the proposed routes (which rely on transport methods that aren't all that good) seem to be pretty insulting to the intelligence of the people to me (there's far better ways to do long distance transport, so to go with these methods, a ritual journey for the journey's sake has to be assumed).

Doubt it matters all that much, but it's just such an odd argument to make.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Jon you say.... " there's far better ways to do long distance transport..." I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Jon said...

Hi Tony

The methods suggested by various groups are based on arguments for single technologies to go over specific types of ground. However, it's possible to combine various technologies (known to be available at the time) to produce a system/strategy that could be used for safe stone transport at one or more magnitudes less effort over very large distances (a "long distance strategy" rather than short haul dribs and drabs). Most haulage methods seem to view Neolithic people as being not all that intelligent; so unable to think through the problem in the way we do in the modern era.

However, just because they could have done it does not mean they did (or that they knew how: it's very much a retrospective view). Also, the general view that people of the past were less intelligent than us would make this sort of contribution to the debate of little or no value.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

When you consider for example, the technical skills and precision involved in, for example, the creation of the lozenge discovered inside the Bronze Age Bush Barrow (admittedly later than Stonehenge itself) we ought to acknowledge great intelligence was involved.