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Saturday, 29 July 2017

Bluestone pillars or boulders?




I have no idea (well, actually I do) why EH and almost everybody else insists on portraying the bluestone circle at Stonehenge as if it was a circle of slim and elegant pillars.  The evidence for that is extremely scanty, as I keep on saying whenever I am in party pooper mode.

The pic above is from the EH display at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre.

Actually, as we now know from the excellent "Stones of Stonehenge" project (the Simon Banton one, not the MPP one), the bluestones were a mottley collection of heavily abraded slabs, stumps and boulders -- as fine a collection of glacial erratics as you are ever likely to find anywhere.

http://www.stonesofstonehenge.org.uk/search/label/Bluestone 

I accept that elongated pillars of spotted delerite were preferentially used in the final setting of stones in the bluestone horseshoe.

If you want a more accurate representation of what the bluestone circle might have looked like (forget for a moment about the sarsens) this pic from Moel Ty Uchaf is a rather nice guide.




33 comments:

TonyH said...

The New Kid on the Block, Computer Graphics and Imaging, takes no prisoners and simply trundles along, expecting ALL, Venezualan or Venetian, Cockney or Croatian, to disembark from their coaches and bow down and worship unquestioningly. So we end up with a presentation of pristine pillars, presumably pre - packed and packaged from Preseli, Pembrokeshire (phew). Stunning.......indisputable......before our very eyes. Oh dear. So wrong.

TonyH said...

So the bluestones were a motley collection of all shapes and sizes, not the idealised, pristine orthostats English Heritage prefers to "market" to its unsuspecting, yet eager to be educated, visitors. If they were not pillars on arrival, then of course, they weren't dragged "from pillar to post", as the expression goes, from one place to another.

It seems to many of us who some knowledge of landscape formation processes (geomorphology), far more likely that these highly abraded - stubby stones (in the most part) arrived on the Southern side of what is now the Bristol Channel by the process of carriage by glaciation. Fair enough, some larger ones became, ultimately, slimmed - down pillars, but the likelihood is that they were carved into these pillar shapes once they'd arrived broadly at South Severnside.

TonyH said...

Of course, those who were prepared to accept what Mike P Pearson & Josh Pollard had to say about "their" so - called "orthostat", "ready - prepared" and "waiting to go" at Rhosyfelin, are likely to just accept that bluestone "pillars" were wonderfully shaped and finished in Preseli. Such believers need to weigh this idea in the balance, and read what Brian John and his colleagues have written in their two peer - reviewed Papers. They will there find that the Papers consider the landform called Rhosyfelin to be essentially a natural physical feature, affected by glaciation and other natural processes, but with no human quarry, albeit possessing evidence of human activity thereon. People need to see both sides of the debate before rushing to a conclusion.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I don't really know what Prof MPP currently thinks about Rhosyfelin. From Chris's report from that talk he attended, it sounded as if MPP was rowing back from the idea that Rhosyfelin was a quarry (presumably accepting that there is no evidence for it, and that his C14 dates are all wrong) and accepting that they (the stone gatherers) might just have picked up one stone from there, more or less in passing. That would be a pretty fundamental shift in his interpretation of the site. Perhaps Myris or somebody else can enlighten us on the latest thinking?

Neil Wiseman said...

It is almost certain that the outer ring of Bluestones at Stonehenge was largely a rag-tag, motley collection of random size. Only two of the twenty-eight show signs of tooling, and this could have happened at any time. (The two Station Stones are Sarsen and were undoubtedly picked up locally.) It appears they were selected [insert rationale here] for convenient size rather than beauty. There are other theories. The two NE aperture examples, -49 & -31, seem to be the only ones which were situated due to size, and indeed are the largest of them.

The Inner Oval of Blues (NOT a horseshoe!) were all shaped, are much taller and far more elegant. These were clearly installed much later and suggest a second or third 'shipment' from the Olde Country. Often said to be twenty-seven in number, I believe there were originally twenty-eight.

All the inner stones are shaped to one degree or another, while two exhibit signs of tenons. Two have double mortises. These were used at the site. There are others, notably BS-68 and -66, which have finely crafted grooves or extrusions, and their purpose is completely conjectural. The likelihood of them having been used in some previous setting is high.

The outer stones are old, probably original, while the inner ones are far later and served a much different purpose than that of their stumpy brothers and sisters.

Neil

TonyH said...

Brian has previously remarked "Wouldn't It Be Nice"** if there were some rhyolite erratics with a Preseli provenace on the North Devon and Somerset coasts, and went on to show us that that type of rock, at least, they have apparently been identified at Croyde Bay, North Devon. Brian went on to say how significant it would be to have these items investigated more thoroughly.

"Rhyolite erratics from Devon", Friday 7th August 2015 [almost exactly 2 years ago, folks!]


** BEACH BOYS, 'PET SOUNDS'. [Spooky, eh, Myris?!? - Pet Rocks Devotee as you are]

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- it's not just "almost certain" that the stones in the bluestone circle are a "rag-tag, motley collection of random size". That's a fact, based on simple observation and increasingly accepted by Stonehenge writers. You just need to scan through the photos on Simon Banton's site to confirm that. You are quite convinced that certain sarsens were "picked up locally" -- so on what basis do you assume that the bluesones were not picked up locally, but were imported from "the old country"? Let's see the colour of your evidence.

You talk of two phases of building -- that is not the same as two phases of importation. I still see no evidence that any of the settings (whether they be circles, horseshoes or ovals!) were ever completed.

chris johnson said...

Neil's observation strikes a chord with me. I have long thought that:
- many bluestones were on salisbury plain before the people arrived
- at some juncture people realised that these strange stones had relatives in the Prescelly and nowhere else. These were people who knew their stones and travelled around as one does.
- just perhaps, as the monuments were being built, someone thought it might be impressive to bring a few specimens from the home country

BRIAN JOHN said...

Now that's a nice theory, Chris, six of one and half a dozen of the other. But I have real problems with the assumption of highly sophisticated geological / provenance knowledge on the part of early Neolithic tribesmen. It's vanishingly unlikely that people would look at boulders on Salisbury Plain and say "Ah yes, they came from eastern Preseli -- let's go and get some more." No -- ALL the stones were on Salisbury Plain or nearby, and they collected all they could find, and later on shaped the more elongated ones to make the pillars of the bluestone horseshoe, or oval, whatever we want to call it. Whatever the Neolithics were, there is no indication that they were expert petrologists.

Alex Gee said...

Another significant question to MPP would be:- IF having quarried pristine pre-formed Bluestone pillars and transported them to Stonehenge. For what reason did the craftsman on site then reduce them to stumps, boulders, etc?

As an amateur stone carver\ sculptor, I would be most interested to see a post on the hardness, carving qualities of the Bluestone Volcanics. Most of the Volcanic rocks of the "Bluestone" type I've attempted to carve have proved extremely difficult to shape even with modern tungsten steel chisels and other tools!

The Olmecs of South America achieved notable success in carving their well known heads using large stone mauls of slightly harder rock.

Have the necessary quantities of similar hard rock mauls been found at Stonehenge.

Cheers

Alex Gee

Alex Gee said...

With regard to MPP's rowing back! I would say not much rowing back as a dawning realisation that the draft he's experiencing in his nether regions is not generated by the applause of the geoscience/Archaeological community, but that his old chap is swinging in the breeze and everyone but himself can see it!

Cheers

Al

BRIAN JOHN said...

Careful, Alex -- that vision is too scary at this time of night for those of us who have sensitive dispositions.......

TonyH said...

Instead of "Raiders of the lost Ark" with Harrison Ford, we could end up with a scenario of "Neolithic Guerillas in the Preselli* Mist" [*but no, not Carn Meini anymore, Alice!]", starring M. Parker Pearson AS Harrison Ford, coming to a Village Hall near you one September soonish??

Seriously though, what if it was established that some bits of most likely glacial bluestone erratic were found in a secure Mesolithic context? That would INDEED be very interesting. As Chris says, there may well have been quite a bit of distance travelling going on....There are quite a few Mesolithic sites near the Avon not far from the future site of Stonehenge.

Have we listed, or attempted to list, all the known locations of bluestone finds in the Greater Stonehenge Landscape? e.g. round barrows, or beneath round barrows, Woodhenge, etc.

TonyH said...

Alex, now we're back to that old chestNUT, "The King was in the All - Together" some of us remember Danny Kaye singing way back when, on Children's Family Favourites, before MPP was even a possibility.

TonyH said...

Brian, isn't the real "clincher" for glaciation having been the transportation means for the bluestones the sheer VARIETY of different types of volcanic rocks and tuffs identified in the Stonehenge landscape, and the widespread nature of these varying rock types occuring in the Preselis and beyond?

You have, have you not, explained this fairly convincingly in relation to glacial movement over the Preselis and neighbouring parts of Northern Pembrokeshire.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I have been saying that for years....... 10, 20 or 30 rock types (depends on whether one is a geological splitter or lumper) means that there cannot possibly have been that many bluestone quarries, and that they are a collection of glacial erratics or a collection of gathered-up boulders. MPP presumably wants boulders to be gathered up in places where they could represent the spirits of the ancestors. Fantasy land. As for TD's thesis, presumably he wants the boulders to be collected from places where the rocks had "healing properties" because there were healing springs nearby. Fantasy land once again.....

As I have also said many times, it's all about the narrative, and to hell with the facts.

Myris of Alexandria said...

No it does not depend if one is a lumper or splitter it depend if one knows that diabase and dolerite and altered dolerite and trap and altered trap etc are all names for the same rock. The long lists are a testament to old nomenclature or rather to those who think that lithic nomenclature does not evolve and just copy them out as in some New Kingdom Pharonic list. The archy literature is littered with such lists (and they are being perpetuated as we breathe) as is this blog.
These list have little to do with glaciers or any sort of geology.

I shall forbear from remarking that the Olmeca knew nothing of South America, early Meso-America- South America links were to the very very western Mexican states only (and I think in post-Olmeca times) but they (Olmeca) did transport very large blocks of basalt from the central west of Mexico to their heartland of Tabasco in order to carve the petroglyphs (lots of werejaguars I remember) and the famous heads as seen at La Venta. Mistaking Meso-American and South American cultures are a common, elementary mistake and easily avoided.

The myth that -'these rocks are so hard my steel chisel etc ... how could the ancients etc' is totally facile ... Look at Egyptian monumental carvings in gabbros syenites etc all very dense rocks, using mauls, quartz sand and at best copper chisels.

Time is all you need and many blows. Indeed just utilise the sands of time

M


Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Brian,
So sorry for the delay in responding - I have a mountain on my plate just now.

The odd sarsen stone was collected from the near environs because they grew there. In fact, they can still be found, if greatly diminished in number. The big stuff is further north, as all are aware.

They didn't use 'local' bluestone because there wasn't any. It doesn't grow anywhere near there. If it did, where's the remnants? There doesn't appear to be any. What are the conditions under which Dolorite is created, and do those conditions exist there? Nope.
So if glaciers moved the Precelli Blues from such distance, wasn't it fortuitous that there were exactly the number required for the henger's purpose?

With regard to the Two Shipments. There's two ways of looking at issues such as these. We have the Possible and the Probable. Anything is of course, possible. But based on observation the probable is far more likely. The sets of Blues are completely unalike in quality. Why is that? Two different purposes for two different times.

Now, for the purpose of this discussion, whether or not the Inner Oval once stood at the Avon is immaterial, but the point is that the outer blues had been there for centuries before the Trilithons were erected, and the Inner set could not have been in place while that was being done. So, based on the distance in time between their original installation in the Aubreys and raising the big boys, it's probable that there were at least two shipments. (But the timing for dismantling the stones at the Avon and the erection of the Trilithons could hardly be wildly coincidental.)

I'm not sure why so many people seem to think that contact between Wales and Salisbury had somehow broken off during all this. Culturally, the two had been quite well paired for a substantial length of time, and I'm fairly convinced that some of what Stonehenge represents finds its root in Wales -- and Ireland before that. In those terms, 500 years isn't very long.

In My Opinion: The Blues meant something, and whatever it was, was important enough to export them to that crazy, new-fangled temple on the southern Plain. This point is reinforced in that chemistry shows they came from several different locations. I am very much interested in learning where those locations are, and what was going on near them.
Over time the stones may well have taken on a new mythos, certainly, but initially they were transported for one, and then perhaps two, specific reasons.

Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- I beg to differ on most of that. Dolerite is just one of the bluestone types -- there are many others, as all readers of this blog will know. There weren't "an exact and convenient" number of bluestones. they used all they could find, and then ran out of supplies. nobody has yet done anything to convince me that Stonehenge was ever completed. lots of holes allover thye place, but only 43 bluestones. Maybe there were a few more originally, but if you want 82 you need to show me some evidence.

Don't like your theory of two different shipments. the two batches are not that different -- there are spotted and unspotted dolerites not just in the horseshoe or oval, but in the bluestone circle too. I think that when they built the horseshoe, they just picked out the most convenient ones to use as pillars, and did some shaping work on them. The resulting debris is all over the place, and keeps Drs Ixer and Bevins in gainful employment.

I agree that when the trilithons were put up, the bluestone horseshoe would not have been there. I thought most people were agreed on that.

TonyH said...

Brian, please is it possible for you to remind us of the various disparate locations in North Pembrokeshire where the majority of the "bluestones" most probably came from? I dare say this information is already on this excellent Blog, but would you bear with me/us and either direct us to that Post or Posts please?

Moreover, is it possible for you to give your opinion as to the relative ease of access of these bluestone locations (I an thinking of the rarer, i.e. less often used rocks and tuffs too) and the likelihood, in your opinion, that prehistoric man might have "gathered up" this heterogeneous, motley assortment in the first place, prior to human transport Out of Preseli and on to Stonehenge?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, Myris accuses me of perpetrating myths about the number of provenance sites by using old-fashioned terminology and double counting. I deny that -- I always try to use the geological terms that he and Richard Bevins use. There are still a lot of different rock types. Apparently we can expect a summary of the state of play from the geologists before long -- but bear with me -- I will check out the list as it currently appears.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

Is there not a list on Tim Daw's blog.
Where other than the enfabled Salisbury Plain are large erratic blocks, dumped in a small area, composed of disparate lithologies.
Think Norbert Rocks in Yorkshitre or the vitric lithic tuffs of South Birmingham, they are but a single rock types.
The variation in the bluestones proves they were not glacially transported unless it was a very, almost mythical perhaps, glacier.
These are 2 to 4 tonne artefacts their variation cannot be explained geologically.

Next

M

Neil Wiseman said...

Well Brian, your begging to differ is what these forums are for. So differ away!

Of course there's many different types of this stone and the nomenclature is generic. That said, it infers several source locations. So, as I ruminate above, every 'village' or whatever contributed at least one stone.

When I say: "wasn't it fortuitous there was exactly the number ..." I meant that the the two settings could have used posts, snowmen, or tiddly winks, because these were precisely the numbers required. 56 and 28. The significance of these far exceed any use of rocks to mark them, existed long before Stonehenge, and is seen throughout the site. As is the number 30. (That's another story and doesn't involve bluestones).

This is all moon/death related, (exterior ditch) which was the initial focus of the site when it was a cemetery. When the Beaker Folk co-opted the place they switched emphasis to the sun but continued to include the moon, because Stonehenge incorporates the three major cosmic entities - Earth, Sun and Moon. Each of these is associated with particular numbers, developed and rendered into the settings.

The number of stones and the shape of their settings clearly speaks to this. It's also a good reason why they most likely moved the stones of the West Amesbury Henge to the Trilithon interior. It's the same number of stones required, shaped in an oval. (The Altar Stone and the Heelstone play a role as well, the reasons for which are beyond the purview of this discussion.)

So then, there's the 'two shipments'. The builders only needed 56 to start with. When the grand scheme came to be 350 years later, they required 28 more. So they took the pre-existing beauties from the river because the death motif of the moon carried over into 'modern' times. But now that stone setting included Life, demonstrated by the shape of an egg. (Which also have existed before).

These specific requirements are not based on a random number of rocks culled from the countryside, but by traditions passed through many generations. These traditions originated in Wales and were transmitted by migration south to the new-fangled site, where those stones then morphed in significance over time, eventually used for their final representations in a completed monument. This process showcased both old tradition and more finely considered modern observation. This seamless blending of old and new is sophisticated and quite clever if you ask me. Even the old North Barrow is included, while demanding they build the South.

It's likely that ice pushed these stones around from place to place, from time to time. I certainly acknowledge this. But that process can only have occurred in Wales, where people collected specific numbers of them, eventually carrying them to Stonehenge.

One final note: Collecting random stones from the countryside suggests the people had no knowledge of, or interaction with Wales. But evidence shows there was a strong connection between the two, and indeed, many other areas.
There's several theories about how the blues came to be at Stonehenge, but by taking all the factors into consideration, there's only one which explains everything.

Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- I'm not going to get involved in all this stuff about numbers. I'm not in the least convinced by any of it. Glad we agree that the collectors and users of the bluestones on Salisbury Plain had no knowledge of where they came from -- that seems a perfectly feasible hypothesis. But you say evidence shows there was a strong connection between the two areas. I see no such thing. What evidence? I assume you are talking about evidence other than the stones and the debitage..... the odd Preselite axe, maybe? And just how significant might those be is showing cultural affinities of contacts? The bone / teeth / cattle / pig evidence is vastly overstated, and just shows ephemeral contacts with areas of Lower Palaeozoic rocks, which as we all know are very extensive.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sorry -- that should be "And just how significant might those be in showing cultural affinities of contacts?"

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris, I know you are just winding me up, but just in case somebody takes this seriously, I'd better address it. Let's call it the "Ixer Erratic Hypothesis", which is this: "The greater the number of erratic sources there are on one small area, the less likely it is that the stones have been transported by ice." That is precisely the opposite of what I have been saying on this blog for years. You cite the Norbert (sic) erratics and the collection of vitric lithic tuffs of south Birmingham that you have recently been looking at. You say they are single rock types. All we know about the Norber erratics is that they are of Silurian greywackes, resting on Carboniferous limestone. As far as I am aware, nobody has ever said there are no other erratics in the same area, or that the erratics have all come from one place. As for the South Birmingham erratics, which you have been looking at, you know how similar they are to one another, but from the photos I have seen there do appear to be lithological differences in the collection, and neither you or anybody else is suggesting that they have all come from the same precise provenance, or that there are no other erratics from different sources in the same area.

Sure, big erratics can occur in clusters -- you would expect that, simply from looking at the mechanisms of entrainment, transport and dumping that occur in present and past glacial environments. If you look at my posts on erratics, sure there are concentrations of big stones from specific areas (Big Rocks, Broad Haven Sleek Stone area, Flimston, Stockholm Archipelago, etc etc) but remember that when geomorphologists are trying to work out ice directions they home in on specific erratics which are easily identifiable on grounds of colour or texture and they follow them. Sometimes there are trails and sometimes widely separated clusters. Other erratics, maybe less easy to identify or more local in origin, are usually ignored as irrelevant to the matter in hand. Sometimes there are anomalies, which lead to ideas of changes of ice directions or to explanations based on multiple glacial phases.

Lousy hypothesis, Myris. Try something else.

The more erratic provenances there are in an area being examined, the more likely it is that the erratics have been transported by ice. They might later on have been gathered up from quite an extensive area (for example on Salisbury Plain, by the Neolithic builders of the early Stonehenge), but that's a different matter.

The idea of multiple Neolithic quarries or "gathering locations"in West Wales was and is entirely fanciful.

TonyH said...

Seems I haves stirred up a veritable hornets nest in my little enquiry! (last Comment).

Yet again, it seems Paul Simon's lyric in the very appropriately - titled song, "THE BOXER"
is itself spot on in this on - going tussle between the glacial and the non - glacial heavyweight contingents.

i.e. "A man hears what he wants to hear
And [conveniently in some instances] disregards the rest" !!!

BRIAN JOHN said...

We all do it, Tony. That's how academic debate moves along. We all cite the most convenient evidence, and have the capacity for ignoring or pleading ignorance about the things that are inconvenient......

Neil Wiseman said...

WoW - talk about selective reading much?

A: The 'numbers' exist, and are repetitive. They are neither imaginary nor random and are based upon the orbit and cycles of the moon. The concept is not complex and would have been thoroughly understood by the people then, who had several thousand years to figure it out. 56/28/14/7. It ain't rocket science. The Aubreys demonstrate it, as do the old postholes, the Station Stones, the two Barrows and even components of the Stone Circle itself. It is a deliciously tantalizing aspect of Stonehenge, and, unlike several other abandoned ideas from the early days, transferred all the way through its working lifetime.
I Do Not subscribe to some of the more mathematically complex theories that seem to be popular at the moment. There is no evidence of fractions other than halves and quarters, and certainly not decimals. Circles bisect, project sines, cosines, and all sorts of other geometry that you simply need not know in order to make one. Most of that crap is ridiculous, but the simple stuff is undeniable.
(If it's any consolation, Dr Ixer also disagrees with this direction of inquiry. But then, he's a Wooly Rockologist, last of a dying breed of ascetic geomancers, living in a hut under a bridge.)

B: Among several cultural inferences, the bluestones themselves demonstrate the connection between Wales and the Plain. They knew about and communicated with Cornwall, France/Portugal/Spain, Northern Scotland, East Anglia and points between. These are only the ones we know about. They certainly had coastal boats or even a kind of ship - otherwise how did they get back and forth from Orkney and the Hebrides? And we know they must have.
Didn't know about Wales or Ireland? Unlikely to a vanishing degree of probability.

Neil

TonyH said...

Didn't American Al Gore get involved in a Documentary Film entitled "An Inconvenient Truth"? And he's back, he's at it again, I think.....For some, it's Climate Change, for others it's whether specific glaciations made themselves involved in certain well - known rock types being trundled around !

BRIAN JOHN said...

I didn't say thay didn't KNOW about wales -- they may have gone there now and then on holidays, for all I know. I said there is no evidence of cultural affinities, such as you might see in dolmen design etc..

TonyH said...

A polite question. Have you spent any extended period of time exploring carefully on foot archaeological areas on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, Pembrokeshire or Preseli, Neil? You're a long way away over the Atlantic Ocean most of the time, I think.

Tony

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Tony

I have spent no time in any of those locations.
I have never seen Stonehenge with my own eyes.

Neil