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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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?


Tony Hinchliffe said...

Aah yes, I remember it well......( in the canyons of my memory....). And the Imber - Chitterne valley is on my to - do list, at least up to the Red Flag area!

Joost van den Buijs said...

While I certainly think that both sarsens and bluestones are very likely to be local, I keep coming back to two questions:

1) I wonder why the bluestones were set up way before the sarsens at Stonehenge.
Were they nearer to the place or were they just lighter and easier to transport, or were they easier to find? In my experience in most megalithic monuments stones were used that were conveniently nearby and of the right shape, regardless of their type. So why the distinction in these two phases of Stonehenge?

2) The late Neil Wiseman argued that the sarsens could not have been nearby Stonehenge because local conditions did not allow for that.
I am no geologist, but I would expect that where chalk is there could be sarsens.
Any idea what he is referring to?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hello Joost -- yes, interesting questions.

1. I'm not sure that the bluestones were all set up and "used" way before the sarsens. I think small stones of all shapes, sizes and lithologies might have been used in the early stone settings -- maybe including some sarsens later used as lintels. Some of the bluestones also seem to have been used as lintels (mortice & tenon joints) and some may have been joined by tongue and groove joints as well. They ran out of smallish stones and rearranged them in many different settings, while at the same time getting more ambitious and putting up the sarsens. The honeycomb pattern of intersecting stone sockets is quite instructive..... I think size and availability were the main factors.

2. I don't know where Neil got that idea from. Most geologists and geomorphologists seem happy with the idea that there could well have been a litter of large sarsens at and around Stonehenge.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Well worth reading chapter 6, " Landscape With Stones" within NEOLITHIC HORIZONS - monuments and changing communities in the Wessex landscape, David Field & David McOmish, Fonthill, 2016. Excellent coloured photos too.

chris johnson said...

I always find this argument "they could not count" to be dubious. Today my 7 year old grand-daughter asked how old I am. I said I was born in August 1952. She spent about 15 seconds thinking about this puzzle before saying "71" - which I think is the right answer.

So did the builders have a plan? I would think so. There are enough alignments to heavenly events, the building of a circle would seem to be a deliberate activity, and the sheer effort would hardly be undertaken without a good reason even if the stones were not carried from Wales.

The argument that the SH builders did not have a vision, and plan, and yet could not count their available material - well it seems far fetched!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- who said the builders of Stonehenge could not count? I think they could count all right, but embarked on their grand project without having a security of supply. They would not be the first -- or the last -- building team to make that stupid mistake. So they ended up having to use everything they could lay their hands on -- including many rough and mis-shaped "rubbish rocks".

Jon Morris said...

I wonder why the bluestones were set up way before the sarsens at Stonehenge.

This is based on an observation by an archaeologist of compression of chalk at the base of one or more Aubrey Holes? If so, there isn't any other evidence other than that observation (such as base debitage) as far as I am aware. There are alternative explanations for base compression marks in chalk.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Your link to the English Heritage Research Report doesn't work

BRIAN JOHN said...

You can download it here:

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Brian, I had meant to have submitted another Comment, saying a few extra things David Field and his co - author state in the Neolithic Horizons book mentioned earlier. Has it not reached you!

Tony Hinchliffe said...

In the Neolithic Horizons book, co - author David Field says sarsen stones may have been extracted from potential swallow - holes close to the monument. " One such massive feature exists just to the SW, and other depressions that may have contained stones occur on the slopes to the NE."

Flinders Petrie also speculated that the stones originated in the immediate vicinity and,indeed, that the reason for the location of the site rested on the presence of a cluster of large sarsens. Stonehenge excavator (early 1900s). William Gowland and 2 geologists Judd and HH Thomas all came to similar conclusions.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Following on from my comment earlier today, 20th June, it's worthwhile looking at Figure 3.10 in "The Stonehenge Landscape: Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site" by Bowden, Soutar, David Field and Barber, Historic England, 2015, page 42 - 43. This shows various hollows near Stonehenge. "These, and other similar depressions, do not appear to be artificial and are likely to be solution hollows"[swallow holes], which may have contained sarsen blocks.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Jon, regarding what you said here earlier about the alleged base compression marks in the Aubrey Holes, I reckon MPP's analysis is a classic case of confirmation bias ( similar to what MPP deduced about his self - titled " bluestonehenge " that the rest of denote by a less speculative name, West Amesbury Henge.).

Tom Flowers said...

The Stonehenge geometers were far from being simpletons. The Southern Circle, found inside the Durrington Walls henge, proves their utilisation of the megalithic yard, advanced grasp of Pythagorean geometry, and adeptness in handling intricate mathematical series, undeniably proving their prowess in counting. And this is not to mention astronomy!