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Thursday, 13 July 2017

The first use of exotic stones on Salisbury Plain



When were bluestones (ie exotic or erratic stones) first used in the Stonehenge landscape?  I asked this question a couple of years ago, and we had a useful discussion following the post.  It can be found here:

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.se/2015/09/when-were-bluestones-first-used-at.html

This is actually one of the most important questions if we are ever to sort out the question of bluestone transport and use.  The question is still not adequately answered, even though there are now abundant radiocarbon dates associated with stone settings.

As I understand it, there are currently two schools of thought among archaeologists:

1.  According to Mike Parker Pearson bluestones were first placed in the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge, which means that they were present in the Stonehenge landscape around 3,000 BC or 5,000 BP.  This "early date" might be supported by the presence of fragments of bluestone at the western end of the Cursus -- which was by all accounts earlier than the main phase of building at Stonehenge.

2.  According to Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, the bluestones were imported from Wales around 2,500 BC -- 500 years later than the MPP proposal.  That late date is presumably supported if one is sceptical about bluestones in the Aubrey Holes -- and it must be agreed that the evidence of "crushed chalk" at the bottom of one Aubrey Hole is not exactly convincing evidence for a bluestone circle.  Some versions of the story have it that the bluestones were not used until 2,300 BC --  when there was a "new bluestone setting" using stones freshly imported, or else used again following a period of storage in the local bluestone depot.

As I have suggested on this blog, Prof MPP appears to be pushing the "first use" date back and back towards the Early Neolithic, partly in order to accommodate those very inconvenient radiocarbon dates from Rhosyfelin, and partly to tie things in with the "megalithic" phase in West Wales.  This would also of course be supported if the Boles Barrow bluestone really did come from a long barrow that appears to have been constructed around 3,500 BC. (The long barrow building phase on Salisbury Plain is assumed to have been at around the same time as the cromlech / dolmen phase in West Wales.) Also, spotted dolerite ("Preselite") axes apparently dating from the period 4,000 BC - 3,000 BC appear (not very often) in the Stonehenge landscape, and one explanation by Olwen Williams-Thorpe is that they were made close to Stonehenge from in situ erratic material.  That is in my view more likely than the "trading" hypothesis.......

Of course, the earlier the first established use of bluestones can be shown to be, the greater the likelihood that the bluestone erratics were simply used more or less where they were found.  No need for human transport; glacial transport is the obvious and simple explanation.  That's because:

(a) the technology for bluestone transport would simply not have been available before 3,000 BC;
(b) if bluestones were used right at the beginning of the "stone phase" at Stonehenge, that suggests they were collected indiscriminately along with sarsens in the immediate vicinity;
(c) it is vanishingly unlikely that "the bluestone expeditions" would have occurred before the Salisbury Plain tribes had accumulated any skill in the setting of stones into the ground.

As I have said many times before, in the period 3,800 - 3,000 BC, in West Wales, where stones were being used in megalithic structures, those stones were ALWAYS used where found.  No matter what fantasising our archaeological brothers may indulge in, there is no reason why a different set of rules should have applied in the Stonehenge landscape.  Avebury seems to confirm that -- only sarsens were available, and only sarsens were used.

22 comments:

TonyH said...

If you are an archaeologist whose mantra is that human beings heroically handled and humped heavy orthostats all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, then you have no problem whatsoever with your ruling hypothesis. You "know" you have a 'One Size Fits All' belief system, and your Ancient Ancestors "just did it". Perhaps they also had Nike tee - shirts proclaiming the same. You have probably believed your human transport mantra since you were knee high to a grasshopper, and you feel very comfortable in proclaiming your belief to all and sundry, sometimes to packed halls. You may have a cottage industry parroting your belief system mantra, and that cottage industry may extend to England's tourist industry. Therefore, when a Doubter assails your belief system mantra with questions such as "When was the first use of Exotic Stones on Salisbury Plain?" you feel unthreatened in your comfortable, cosy apathy. You are merely presented with a "how long is a piece of string" argument. Your Good Ole Boys simply DID IT.

Evergreen said...

"Also, spotted dolerite ("Preselite") axes apparently dating from the period 4,000 BC - 3,000 BC appear (not very often) in the Stonehenge landscape, and one explanation by Olwen Williams-Thorpe is that they were made close to Stonehenge from in situ erratic material. That is in my view more likely than the "trading" hypothesis..."

How do you imagine the jadeite axe from the Sweet Track got there? Deposited 3200BC (from the surrounding peat).

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm not denying that there was trading, and that stuff got moved about. People travelled, lost things, died, and traded things -- so lots of items turn up in unexpected contexts. But context is everything, as the archaeologists say. In the case of "Preselite" axes, some of them occur in places where the raw materials also occur, so the most parsimonious explanation of their presence is to say that they were made from the material readily to hand. Many people have suggested that Stonehenge was used as a quarry for tool making...... and tools could also have been made from local boulders before Stonehenge was built.

Evergreen said...

What it does indicate is movement and/or trading over vast distances and an interest in exotic stone.

In accepting this, your argument becomes solely about the size of the objects traded/exchanged/ moved and the effort required to shift them.

Add to that the absence of bluestone in any major monument west of SH (Stanton Drew, Stoney Littleton for example) (you'll mention BB i'm sure) and the obvious importance and unique nature of SH , and the selective nature (why didn't they just use sarsen, or at least incorporate it?)

Why did the builders of WKLB move a ton of oolitic limestone 30 miles? Or was that was lying around on the surface nearby too? Or perhaps in your mind it was a more 'reasonable' thing to do?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not quite sure what you are getting at, Evergreen. Nobody doubts that items were traded or exchanged (or collected from one's dead enemies maybe) in the Neolithic and Bronze age -- but that does not mean that those who finally used them or paraded them as status objects actually knew where they came from. A pretty stone is a fine thing, and even finer if it is more colourful than your neighbour's pretty stone.

And the fact that small objects were traded does NOTHING to support the human transport hypothesis in relation to 80 (or however many takes your fancy) extremely large lumps of stone from West Wales and other locations that ended up at Stonehenge.

Who says that there are no bluestones at Stanton Drew? The geology of those stones is very uncertain, and they don't all seem to be local.......

Tell us all about the ton of Oolitic limestone at West Kennet -- I am sure we are all dying to hear.

Evergreen said...

It's very basic knowledge, the drystone walling, (filling the gaps between stones, on the facade and supporting the roof at WKLB) is oolitic limestone.

Evergreen said...

Some of the original stone came from Calne (7 miles) and some from the Frome area (25 miles). It would seem they required something specific so off they went to get it. Perhaps those locations were important? It all sounds very familiar..

Evergreen said...

"From the earlier periods we might think of long barrows such as Stony Littleton in Somerset, with Blue Lias slabs from more than 8km away (Donovan 1977); Hazleton North in Gloucestershire with key orthostats from outcrops of Farmington Freestone more than 6km away (Worssam 1990, 229-30); and West Kennet together with at least half a dozen other long barrows in the Avebury area with oolitic limestone slates, used for walling, from at least 32km away (Piggott 1962, 58). Slightly later, the developed passage graves show a similar trend. La Hougue Bie on Jersey incorporates at least nine kinds of stone from sources across the eastern half of the Island (Patton 1992), while Newgrange in Ireland incorporates five main stone types from distances of up to 40km both north and south of the Boyne Valley (Mitchell 1992). Stone circles within henges at Stennes and Brodgar (Fig. 1) probably include slabs of sandstone from the monolith quarry at Vestra Fiold 12km away (Richards 2005). And if the movement of a block of granite weighing some 350 tons over a distance of 4km from a quarry at Kerdaniel to form the Grand Menhir Brisé at Locmariaquer in Brittany (Burl 1985, 134-5) is brought into the picture (Fig. 2), it is clear that this is not an insular practice born of what Aubrey Burl once called 'megalithic madness' (Burl 2000, 46)."

http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue26/6/toc.html

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks for drawing our attention to this article, Evergreen. Written by Tim Darvill, so we know what case it is making -- but sure, it needs consideration. I shall read it carefully and report back.

TonyH said...

MESOLITHIC STONE TRANSPORT DORSET - HAMPSHIRE

The Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, Vol. 27,1970, published Suzann Palmer's excavation report on a Mesolithic Camp on the banks of the Avon at a point where it converges with the Stour river. The conjoined waters flow into Christchurch Harbour before discharging into the English Channel via 'The Run'. (continued).

TonyH said...

Two hearths with large areas of burnt, concreted sand were found in trench 1. One hearth consisted of 2 slabs of Purbeck limestone, and the other consisted of one big slab of limestone. 3 large stones, also of Purbeck limestone, were found in trench 2.

Archaeologist Suzann conclusions included that the slabs of Purbeck limestone from the hearths and also Portland chert artefacts also found are of particular interest as they indicate Mesolithic folk movement from west Dorset, possibly from the Isle of Purbeck in the case of the hearth stones, and from the Isle of Portland or the Fleet. (continued)

TonyH said...

The nearest source of Purbeck limestone to the Mesolithic site is a walking distance of around 15 miles. It is difficult to explain why fairly heavy stone slabs were carried this distance, except perhaps for the fact that the stones from the Eocene beds of the Christchurch area are inclined to crack apart rather quickly when subjected to heat.

The fact that Portland chert has also been found in the Stonehenge landscape begs the question of whether the coastal Mesolithic peoples would have been in contact with those of Blick Mead, via the Avon valley route.

TonyH said...

SEE Brian's recent Post - 'Stone's Stones & the Cursus Connection' - my very recent series of comments suggesting human transfer of stones from West Dorset to the Christchurch, Hants, Mesolithis site.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Interesting report -- I have had a look at it. It's all very vague and the author does nothing to convince us that the slabs are indeed made of Purbeck limestone. By calling the slabs "fairly heavy" and "big" or "large" the impression of vagueness is reinforced!! From the diagrams it looks as if the slabs are about a foot long and a few inches thick -- but the biggest is about 2 feet long and around 8" thick. We are on the coast here, and the author gives no indication of the shapes of the slabs or their degree of angularity or rounding. She does not consider carefully how they might have got here, and there is no attempt to check whether other slabs of similar size and rock type are found in the neighbourhood, for example on the local beaches. Not, I think, anything to get greatly excited about....

TonyH said...

Nevertheless, certain archaeologists have made a great deal about a possible general link between prehistoric activity at the mouth of the Hampshire Avon and activities further upstream e.g. at Stonehenge, Durrington henge and Marden henge (Marden, incidentally, is close to the source tributaries of this Avon). David Field was involved in the excitement in recent years, so it's not all the "usual" MPP/TD - generated hype - albeit, I think he did have a new book to publicise too (see previous Posts).

Perhaps we should reflect upon this possible link up the Hampshire Avon before allocating a feeling of being underwhelmed? It would be good if others would comment, too!

Similarly, my previous comments about the Christchurch Avon - West Dorset Mesolithic connection: surely there must be others with South coast archaeological knowledge who may be in a position to make educated comments?

TonyH said...

I suppose Prof Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University must be the very obvious 'Man on The Spot' to have a very educated and current up -to - date opinion specifically about that 1970 Mesolithic excavation report under discussion above! Pity I can't get my mate David to pop round to the University of Bournemouth to ask him direct.

BRIAN JOHN said...

If this is a listed site, surely there must be an official citation in the EH catalogue? (like the Cadw / Archwilio listings in Wales) Might be worth checking.....

chris johnson said...

Interesting thread, interesting question. I am familiar with the examples cited above but not convinced about the provenancing to particular quarries. The Avebury stones and the Boyne valley stones are probably accurately provenanced but small in size.

It does seem obvious that people could move big stones short distances. If you can move short distances then you can move longer distances by working longer. Even so the idea people would move big stones almost 200 kilometers over rugged terrain is stretching the bounds of belief.

The amount of SH detritus provenanced to stonehenge makes me wonder whether people did not bring along a few small stones to the party in Wiltshire, recognizing the provenance of the big stones moved by glaciers 450k years previously. Stone age people would have known their stones and from the analysis of animal and human bones it does seem almost certain that people from Prescelly were visiting Wiltshire all those years ago.

A new twist maybe, although difficult to prove.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, clearly the Stonehenge stones -- of all sizes -- were moved about a bit, otherwise the monument would not have been built. Not that difficult on the chalk downs, even if there were some trees around at the time,

Not sure about people carting around bits of sacred stone, in the knowledge that those bits matched the bluestones at Stonehenge. I have not seen any convincing evidence that Preseli people came to Stonehenge -- the best that can be said, from the teeth and bone studies, is that some of the people and animals who ended up at Stonehenge were from the areas of Palaeozoic rocks -- and they cover a pretty vast area.

TonyH said...

New book: THE MAKING OF PREHISTORIC WILTSHIRE.

DAVID FIELD AND DAVID McOMISH 2017, Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 I 4456 4841 5 (PAPERBACK)
ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN eBOOK

N.B. This book contains in its bibliography:-

2010 Pen Pits, New Grange and Progress in the Archaeology of Extraction. IN M Brewer- LaPorta, A Burke and D FIELD (eds) ANCIENT MINES AND QUARRIES: A TRANS - ATLANTIC PERSPECTIVE, 162 -172. Oxford and Oakville: OXBOW 162 - 172.

TonyH said...

SEE ALSO VERY RECENT COMMENT OF MINE AGAINST POST DATED 10 JUNE 2011, "THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN'"

AG said...

Archaeological "Science" http://www.sciencecartoonsplus.com/gallery/physics/galphys2i.php#

Cheers

Alex