Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Bluestone Enigma in the Stonehenge Visitor Centre

If anybody is planning to visit Stonehenge in the near future, herewith a reminder that "The Bluestone Enigma" is now on sale in the Visitor Centre shop. Although the message of the book is pretty heretical as far as English Heritage is concerned, it's to their credit that they have decided to stock and sell the book. I'm now waiting for just 1% of the visitors to the Centre to buy the book, and I'll be a wealthy fellow! On the other hand, sales will depend on how and where the book is displayed in the book collection. If it is prominently displayed, face out, then people will see it, examine it, and (I hope) buy it. On the other hand, if it is kept in a cupboard or displayed spine out, people may not even see it............ and they will be encouraged instead to buy the glossy tomes that promote the tired old orthodoxy.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

That review.....

By the way, I have a PDF of the review if anybody wants it. On the Antiquity website the reviews section is locked, and can only be accessed by subscribers.

Antiquity Review

The review of my book "The Bluestone Enigma" has now appeared in the June 2009 edition of "Antiquity". Details here:
Volume: 83 Number: 320 Page: 547–548
Book Review
Olwen Williams-Thorpe
Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK (Email:
Brian John. The bluestone enigma: Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age. 160 pages, 57 b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Newport: Greencroft Books; 978-0-905559-89-6 paperback £9.95.
It's interesting that the Editor felt obliged to put a preamble at the beginning of the review to explain that the review was by somebody "sympathetic to the thesis" that the bluestones were carried by glacier ice. It was like a sort of health warning, to ensure that no reader should become contaminated by these outrageous ideas! The word "patronising" comes to mind. Does the archaeology establishment not think that the readers of a respectable journal like "Antiquity" are capable of deciding for themselves what to believe and what not to believe? All very petty -- but I suppose one must be grateful that the Editor did at least decide to feature a review. Most of the other journal editors who were sent review copies have refused to give the book so much as a mention. There are probably many members of the archaeology establishment who think that books like mine should be thrown onto a bonfire, along with the heretical authors who wrote them........

The Erratic Train

One of the key hypotheses which I have put forward, with various colleagues, is that the erratic boulders and pillars used at Stonehenge were carried from West and South Wales in a narrow band (not much more than 1 km wide) between two streams of ice, probably at the time of the GBG (Greatest British Glaciation). We are still not sure when this occurred. But it's pretty certain that when the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier was crossing Pembrokeshire and flowing broadly SE and then E up the Bristol Channel, it was flanked to the north by a stream of Welsh Ice which came from the Welsh uplands. So there were two ice streams running in parallel -- with the erratics entrained and carried along between them. The "train"of erratics is unlikely to have been very long -- since the erosion and entrainment may only have taken place when a particular set of glaciological conditions were met -- maybe for a couple of hundred years during a glacial episode that lasted many thousands of years. When the ice began to melt, the train of erratics was let down onto the land surface as a "line" rather than as a fan. This is just what happened with the Foothills Erratic Train in North America. We still do not know how close to Stonehenge the nearest erratics from this train were dumped -- they may have been some miles to the west. But once the builders of Stonehenge had discovered them, it was easy to find more, simply by following the train westwards. When the distance became too great, or maybe when the stones had all been collected up, that was the end of the enterprise. I still think that there were no more than 43 stones suitably large for using as monoliths (standing stones or lintels). Other smaller erratics might well have been used for the manufacture of hand axes, or as packing materials in the pits.

That picture

In case anybody wonders where that photo was taken in the post before last, it is possibly a "sub-neolithic" burial chamber -- or what is left of it -- at Carn Meini. Locally it is known as The Altar Stone -- and some of the locals think it was used for Druidical sacrifices! So cultures and ages are all mixed up. Probably it is a Neolithic or Bronze Age feature -- one of many in the eastern part of Mynydd Preseli.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Sarsens

Further to Hugo's comment, my opinion, after looking at all the evidence I can find, is that the sarsens at Stonehenge did not come all the way from the Marlborough Downs, but were collected up in the vicinity of the monument. The human transport theory for the sarsens was also invented by Atkinson, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. I agree with those who have argued, for many years now, that the sarsens -- of all shapes and sizes -- were collected up locally, and when they were gone they were gone. Or rather, those that were left were so far away that the builders could not be bothered to fetch them. There are only 50 or so sarsens on the site, and this is one of the reasons for my argument that Stonehenge was never finished.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Did the Preseli Royal Family build Stonehenge?

Possibly the most intriguing thing about the latest Time team programme is the theory that Stonehenge was built by a powerful tribal clan or "royal family" that originated in West Wales (presumably from somewhere near Mynachlog-ddu), moved to Wessex, and became so powerful that they could dominate and organize manpower on a vast scale. The theory is that this clan was responsible for the "Stonehenge Project" and invented the idea of carrying "ancestor spirits" in the shape of stone monoliths from their place of origin to a great "place of the dead" on Salisbury Plain. So they organized the great stone-collecting expeditions and carried 56 stones from Preseli (or wherever) to Stonehenge, and with due ceremony placed them in a circle in the Aubrey Holes, together with the cremated remains of the ancestors. Presumably other tribal groups from other parts of West and South Wales took their "stone ancestors" to Stonehenge as well -- so the Altar Stone was collected up and carried by a tribe from the Brecon Beacons, the Carningli stones were gathered up by a tribe from the Newport area, and so forth. This would of course explain why there was no attempt to differentiate between "good" and "bad" stones -- the fact that ashes and rhyolites are sometimes soft and friable wouldn't matter. The key thing, according to this theory, is that the tribes were motivated to gather stones -- any stones -- from the place where their families originated.

It's a suitably wacky theory, and of course there is not a single piece of evidence in support of it. But it does have one attractive feature, in that it would (if you refuse to accept that the bluestones are glacial erratics) explain why rock-types of so many different kinds are represented in the bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge. And Prof P-P and his colleagues do at least acknowledge that:

(a) the bluestones were on Salisbury Plain right at the very beginning of the monument, presumably in the Early Neolithic; and that

(b) they were moved about and re-used in many different stone settings after that; and that

(c) there never were 82 bluestones at Stonehenge. Their figure is 56 -- another wildly speculative figure, but much closer to my suggestion of 43!

It's difficult to convince these guys of the merits of the "glacial transport" case, because the human transport theory is so deeply embedded in their corporate psyche, but we'll get there in the end.........

Latest Time Team Programme

Last night Channel 4 transmitted the latest blockbuster about Stonehenge -- a Time team Special featuring Prof Mike Parker-Pearson and his Riverside Project, including assorted other professors and researchers digging holes all over the place, and fitting all their evidence into the ruling hypothesis that Stonehenge was "a place of the dead" whereas Durrington was the "place of the living". They talked about a "dead zone" and a "living zone" in the landscape, with a boundary between the two, and the use of the River Avon as a ritual routeway for getting from one zone to the other. The Avenue and the Cursus featured heavily too, as processional ways. There were some very strange interpretations of natural landscape features -- they could have done with talking to a geomorphologist! The programme wasn't as bad as it might have been, but it was made extremely irritating by Tony Robinson's habit of turning all Mike P-P's suggestions or musings into instant "facts" and them hyping up these "facts" as being of earth-shattering importance. That's what TV does all of the time -- it hates caution, and it hates qualifications, and thinks only in HEADLINES. Oh dear oh dear.....

Naturally enough, since this programme came from the Time Team /Channel 4 / National Geographic / Parker-Pearson tribe, it gave short shrift to the Darvill / Wainwright theory about Stonehenge being a place of healing. That idea was promoted by the OU / Smithsonian / BBC / Timewatch tribal grouping.

Strange, isn't it, that tribalism is alive and thriving, in these supposedly enlightened times?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Thanks for the comments

Thanks Ann and Claude. Glad you like the info and find it interesting. I'll be putting up some more thoughts soon... but first I have to go and enjoy my breakfast on the top of Carningli! (It's 7 am, and another perfect early summer morning here)