Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Stonehenge Bluestone Glaciation Pontification

Dr Brian John takes aim on his blog at a mystery man who raises doubts about John's theory that glaciers brought the bluestones to Stonehenge, or at least somewhere near by, by answering some questions put to him. He claims "there is not a shred of hard evidence in support of the idea of long-distance human transport of bluestones from Wales to Stonehenge, either by land or sea." Taking absence of evidence as evidence of absence he declares it must obviously be glaciers then. has the full question and answer but briefly, the questions put first, the meat of Dr John's answers for brevity's sake next in italics and my own short thoughts afterwards.

1)Where's all the other bluestones on the Salisbury Plain? Surely a glacier wouldn't have brought only the precise number of them required at Stonehenge...?

Response: this is an absurd point, and I cannot for the life of me understand why people are still making it, after all the advances of recent years. Forget the "immaculate Stonehenge" with 82 bluestones and 82 sarsens. There is no evidence that Stonehenge was ever completed.....It is far more logical to suggest that there never were enough bluestones to finish "the Stonehenge project", and that after playing around with assorted stone settings over many centuries, the builders (maybe the descendants of the originators) just gave up and walked away...... This argues for the use of glacially transported erratics which were systematically collected up and used -- until there were none left in the Stonehenge landscape.

So not a single bluestone left unfound in a till deposit? Really? No little ones that weren't big enough to be erected? No pebbles? That is stretching the bounds of believability.

2. While sampling the various types of stone isn't allowed at the site, the volume of chips found in the wide area would easily correspond with the presumed number of present and missing stones. There's lots of visual evidence that points to stone-bashing throughout the life of the monument. See also the 'Stonehenge Layer'.

Response: The suggestion that the "volume of chips" somehow corresponds with the presumed number of missing stones does not survive a moment's scrutiny. Some mathematics please!...

OK. Roughly to get order of magnitude, 30 two tonne stones missing (above ground). 60 Tonnes of Bluestone. Stonehenge layer covers roughly 120 square meters. Stonehenge layer is the debitage from making trinkets so assume wastage at a quarter the of weight, but if trinkets are made elsewhere, as bluestone debitage found elsewhere might suggest, halve that. So the expected weight would be in the order of 1/8 tonne per square meter - 125kg per square meter (1/8 of 60 tonnes spread over 120 square meters) . The layer is 350mm thick of which a large proportion is bluestone, say equivalent to 50mm of it. Which would be 130kg of bluestone at a 2.6 tonne cubic meter density. Very, very rough maths but as a first pass to get an idea of magnitude not too far off.

3. The vacant stone-pipe at Rhosefellin more than suggests it was removed by humans -- no glacier would select a single example from that face and leave the others intact. Despite what Dr Johns says, the site was a well-used quarry from as far back as the Mesolithic. The petro-chemistry of that pipe matches Bluestone-44, that stone having been sampled before the present rules applied.

Response: Ah -- Rhosyfelin! A lovely spot. Right on my doorstep. Now we are seriously into the realms of fantasy. "The vacant stone pipe" or "monolith extraction point" (as MPP likes to call it) does not exist....

You say, he says. Shall we just say the jury is out on whether the monolith was levered out or fell out? But that doesn't tell us much about how it made the rest of the journey. The question of the quarrying is a different one to the transport and conflating the two is unhelpful.

4. In the 1920s HH Thomas was wrong about a possible source being Carn Meini -- they are now known to include Carn Goedog and probably Bedd Arthur. There is a lot of archaeological evidence surrounding these sources.

...most definitely not Bedd Arthur. The latter is not a rock outcrop but a stone setting including small locally-derived monoliths; nobody has ever claimed that it was a source for Stonehenge monoliths. More care, please.

No comment to the archaeology around Carn Goedog I note.

5. There is a marked difference in size and shape between the outer bluestone ring and the inner horseshoe. This strongly suggests they arrived at different times -- the outer ring almost certainly near-original, with the taller versions being installed after the Trilithons went up, much much later. How likely is it these were collected from deposits of the near-environs in such precise order?

...I strongly disagree that the stones arrived at different times, as a result of two distinct stone-collecting expeditions. There is no evidence to support that contention. There was no "precise order." I agree that the stones have been rearranged many times, and my reading of the evidence is that in the last re-setting the "best" of the bluestone assemblage (including the tallest and most elegant pillars) were selected for the horseshoe, and some of them were carefully worked and embellished.

Sorry, having spent many hours in close communion with them they are an as obvious two different sets of stones as one could wish for. There are no intermediate members of the sets.

7. Show me evidence of a glacially entrained Welsh Bluestone south of Bristol.
The idea of glacial transport has been thoroughly examined and found to be implausible. It's not the conspiracy of prevailing thought -- it's very well established.

Response: If you don't mind me saying so, that is an arrogant and dismissive statement put out by somebody who does not know the literature. Can Mr X please tell us which experts have found the glacial transport idea to be implausible?....Mr X needs to do some enlightening Christmas reading. On the matter of glacially entrained bluestones south of Bristol, he just needs to buy a copy of my book...

So no answer to the key point: "Show me evidence of a glacially entrained Welsh Bluestone south of Bristol"

So still no evidence of bluestones being brought by glaciers to the English side of the River Severn, and once you accept, which he does, that the builders of Stonehenge could manoeuvre the stones a short distance then it is logical that could have moved them hundreds of miles. It is just a question of time.

I think we have moved on from Atkinson's view that the builders of Stonehenge were “howling barbarians, practically savages,” and acknowledge them as skilled tenacious craftspeople who had no need of a deus ex machina in the shape of glaciers, aliens or Merlin. So until we see a shred of evidence that glaciers brought the bluestones across the water we are entitled to ignore the Glacial transport theory. The question has rightly been put but there are no observations to support the hypothesis of glacial transport nor has the null hypothesis, that they were transported by humans, as many other stones at that period were and as even they were on part of their journey, been put in doubt by any observations.

Conclusion: There is not a shred of hard evidence in support of the idea of long-distance glacial transport of bluestones from Wales to Stonehenge, either by land or sea.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Inter-visibility of Causewayed Enclosures

(Original post from 2016) I am puzzled why the Causewayed Enclosure of Rybury Camp, which is above where I live, is skewed off the top of the hill. Because of the later Iron Age banks, which are centred on the top of the hill, it is hard to immediately see this. It means that the camp would have been invisible from the Pewsey Vale. But it struck me that it also means it faces Milk Hill to the east. Knap Hill to the east of Milk Hill also faces Milk Hill. Early Ordnance Surveyors used the sight line from Milk Hill to Neath Barrow, as Robin Hood's Ball was then called, to the south. And Windmill Hill by Avebury is just down the valley to the north.

Alastair Oswald is investigating "A sense of place: sensory perceptions of Neolithic causewayed enclosures in their landscape contexts"and notes : "The observation that many causewayed enclosures ‘tilt’ across the contours, with the result that their viewsheds are restricted by higher ground, was first made by Isobel Smith more than forty years ago (Smith 1971, 92). Smith interpreted this phenomenon as evidence that each monument was designed to be intervisible with a specific lower-lying area, perhaps equating to a 'territory' exploited by its builders. Despite a subsequent increase in the number of known upland sites, the observation still holds good for many, so Smith’s inference has been amplified (Oswald et al. 2001, 91-102) and is now accepted by key authorities (Healy 2004, 31; Mercer 2009, 766; Whittle et al 2011, 12)."

I have Anquet's OMN on my system which allows me to plot route elevations, which give sightlines and it seemed that at the very flat summit of Milk Hill there was a possibility to find a place where all four were visible, though Robin Hoods Ball being 18 km away the visibility of it may be considered more theoretical to the naked eye.

There is, it is a very small area, there is permissive public footpath across the field to the summit so I urge you to find it for yourself, and with the right camera a much better photograph than my panorama may be possible.

(2019 Update) - Since this was first published another causewayed enclosure has been discovered at Larkhill and checking the elevations it appears that it too would have been visible from the same spot. Five causewayed enclosures visible from one place.

Click to enlarge

Monday, 21 October 2019

Heritage at Risk from The Crown

Embiggenable by clicking

The Heritage at Risk map - check the link to get yours.

The red dots are heritage assets that are at risk and the details are linked. Sadly many are declining, on the Marlborough Downs it is mainly from animal burrowing and in the surrounding area it is from arable farming. In the area on the map the arable farms are mainly owned by the Crown. As landlords shouldn't we expect better from them?

I have put in a FOI to ask.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Stonehenge for the Ancestors Book Prelaunch Offer.

Stonehenge for the Ancestors: Part 1

Landscape and Monuments

Mike Parker Pearson, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Julian Thomas, Chris Tilley &; Kate Welham 

ISBN: 9789088907029

Imprint: Sidestone Press | Format: 210x280mm | ca. 520 pp. | The Stonehenge Riverside Project Volume 1 | Language: English | 202 illus. (bw) | 190 illus. (fc) | Keywords: Stonehenge, archaeology, prehistory, Neolithic, Britain, Megaliths, Stone circles, Standing Stones, Bluestone, Sarsen, Avenue, Landscape, excavation | download cover

Publication date: 20-12-2019 (according to the publisher) 20 Sept 2019 according to Amazon.

€64,95 on the publishers website for the prelaunch paperback or £90 on Amazon (but that might change on launch)

For many centuries, scholars and enthusiasts have been fascinated by Stonehenge, the world’s most famous stone circle. In 2003 a team of archaeologists commenced a long-term fieldwork project for the first time in decades. The Stonehenge Riverside Project (2003-2009) aimed to investigate the purpose of this unique prehistoric monument by considering it within its wider archaeological context.

This is the first of four volumes which present the results of that campaign. It includes investigations of the monuments and landscape that pre-dated Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain as well as of excavation at Stonehenge itself. The main discovery at Stonehenge was of cremated human remains from many individuals, allowing their demography, health and dating to be established. With a revised radiocarbon-dated chronology for Stonehenge’s five stages of construction, these burials can now be considered within the context of the monument’s development. The different types of stone from which Stonehenge is formed – bluestones from Wales and sarsen silcretes from more local sources – are investigated both at Stonehenge and in its surroundings. These surrounding monuments include single standing stones, the Cuckoo Stone and the Tor Stone, as well as the newly discovered circle of Bluestonehenge at West Amesbury beside the River Avon. The ceremonial Stonehenge Avenue, linking Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge, is also included, based on a series of excavations along its length.

The working hypothesis behind the Stonehenge Riverside Project links Stonehenge with a complex of timber monuments upstream at the great henge of Durrington Walls and neighbouring Woodhenge. Whilst these other sites are covered in a later volume (Volume 3), this volume explores the role of the River Avon and its topographic and environmental evidence.

With contributions by:
Umberto Albarella, Michael Allen, Olaf Bayer, Wayne Bennett, Richard Bevins, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Chris Casswell, Andrew Chamberlain, Benjamin Chan, Rosamund Cleal, Gordon Cook, Glyn Davies, David Field, Charles French, Robert Ixer, Neil Linford, Peter Marshall, Louise Martin, Claudia Minniti, Doug Mitcham, Bob Nunn, Andy Payne, Mike Pitts, Rebecca Pullen, Julian Richards, David Robinson, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt, Rob Scaife, Ellen Simmons, Charlene Steele, James Sugrue, Anne Teather, Sarah Viner, Tony Waldron, Katy Whitaker and Christie Willis

See the other volumes in the Stonehenge Riverside Project Series



1. Introduction
The Stonehenge Riverside Project
Background to the project
Implications of the hypothesis
Research aims
M. Parker Pearson, J. Pollard, C. Richards, J. Thomas C. Tilley, K. Welham and P. Marshall

2. Fourth millennium BC beginnings: monuments in the landscape
The landscape of the fourth millennium BC – (C. Tilley, W. Bennett and D. Field)
Geophysical surveys of the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow – (K. Welham, C. Steele, L. Martin and A. Payne)

3. Fourth millennium BC beginnings: excavations of the Greater Cursus, Amesbury 42 long barrow and a tree-throw pit at Woodhenge
The Greater Stonehenge Cursus – (J. Thomas)
Amesbury 42 long barrow – (J. Thomas)
Investigations of the buried soil beneath the mound of Amesbury 42 – (M.J. Allen)
Stonehenge Lesser Cursus, Stonehenge Greater Cursus and the Amesbury 42 long barrow: radiocarbon dating – (P. D. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey and G. Cook)
Antler artefact from the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow – (G. Davies)
Pottery from the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow – (R. Cleal)
Chalk artefact from the Greater Cursus – (A. Teather)
Lithics from stratified contexts of the Greater Cursus – (B. Chan)
Lithics from the ploughsoil of the Greater Cursus – (D. Mitcham)
Lithics from stratified contexts of Amesbury 42 long barrow – (B. Chan)
Human remains from Amesbury 42 long barrow and the Greater Cursus – (A. Chamberlain and C. Willis)
Charred plant remains and wood charcoal from the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow – (E. Simmons)
Woodhenge tree-throw pit – (J. Pollard)
Pottery from the Woodhenge tree-throw pit – (Rosamund M.J. Cleal)
Lithics from Woodhenge – (B. Chan)
Faunal remains from Woodhenge – (C. Minniti, U. Albarella and S. Viner)
Charred plant remains and wood charcoal from Woodhenge – (E. Simmons)

4. The Stonehenge bluestones: excavations at Stonehenge and environs
The bluestones at Stonehenge – a reappraisal – (M. Parker Pearson and C. Richards)
Aubrey Hole 7 at Stonehenge: Trench 39 – (M. Parker Pearson, B. Chan, C. Casswell, M. Pitts and J. Richards with R. Ixer)
Fargo bluestone scatter – (C. Richards, J. Pollard, D. Robinson and M. Parker Pearson)
Airman’s Corner pit circle – (M. Parker Pearson)

5. Bluestonehenge at West Amesbury: where the Stonehenge Avenue meets the River Avon
Research background and pre-excavation investigations – (M. Parker Pearson, K. Welham, C. Steele, A. Payne, L. Martin, D. Mitcham and C. French)
Archaeological excavations of Bluestonehenge within West Amesbury henge – (M. Parker Pearson, R. Nunn and J. Rylatt)
Radiocarbon dating of Bluestonehenge and West Amesbury henge – (P. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey and G. Cook)
Neolithic and Beaker pottery – (R. Cleal)
Lithics from stratified contexts – (B. Chan and J. Rylatt with P. Pettitt)
Other artefacts of stone, antler and bone – (M. Parker Pearson with G. Davies and R. Ixer)
Faunal remains – (C. Minniti, U. Albarella and S. Viner)
Charred plant remains and wood charcoal – (E. Simmons)

6. Sarsens at Stonehenge
Stonehenge reworked – sarsen construction – (C. Richards and M. Parker Pearson)
The sarsen-dressing area (Trench 44) – (B. Chan and C. Richards)
The flint assemblage from the sarsen-dressing area – (B. Chan)
Sarsen stone from Trenches 44 and 45 – (B. Chan)
Sarsen-working at Stonehenge – (K. Whitaker)

7. Sarsens in the Stonehenge landscape
Sarsen origins within the landscape – (C. Richards, K. Whittaker, M. Parker Pearson, C. Tilley and W. Bennett)
The Cuckoo Stone – (C. Richards)
Geophysical surveys of the Cuckoo Stone – (K. Welham and C. Steele)
Lithics from the ploughsoil – (D. Mitcham)
Excavation – (C. Richards)
Cuckoo Stone radiocarbon-dating – (P. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey and G. Cook)
Lithics from stratified contexts – (B. Chan)
Antler artefacts from the Cuckoo Stone – (G. Davies)
Faunal remains from the Cuckoo Stone – (C. Minniti, U. Albarella and S. Viner)
Charred plant remains from the Cuckoo Stone – (E. Simmons)
Wood charcoal from the Cuckoo Stone – (E. Simmons)
The Tor Stone, Bulford – (C. Richards)
Geophysical survey of the Tor Stone at Bulford – (K. Welham and C. Steele)
Extraction and erection of the Tor Stone – (C. Richards)
Charred plant remains and wood charcoal from the Tor Stone, Bulford – (E. Simmons)

8. The Stonehenge Avenue
Geophysical surveys – (K. Welham, C. Steele, N. Linford and A. Payne)
The Stonehenge Avenue at Stonehenge (Trench 45) – (M. Parker Pearson and R. Pullen)
Geology, geomorphology and buried soils – (M. Allen and C. French)
The Stonehenge Avenue Bend ((Trenches 46, 47, 48, 57, 58 and 59) – (D. Robinson and O. Bayer)
The Stonehenge Avenue’s ‘northern branch’ (Trench 56) – (M. Parker Pearson and A. Teather)
Radiocarbon dating of the Stonehenge Avenue – (P. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey and G. Cook)
Lithics from the Avenue in front of Stonehenge (Trench 45) – (B. Chan)
Lithics from the Avenue bend and the Avenue’s ‘northern branch’ – (B. Chan)
Lithics from the ploughsoil of the ‘northern extension’ – (D. Mitcham)
Chalk artefact – (A. Teather)
Charred plant remains and wood charcoal from the Stonehenge Avenue – (E. Simmons)
The orientation of the Stonehenge Avenue and its implications – (C. Ruggles)
The Avenue’s construction and purpose – (M. Parker Pearson)

9. Stonehenge and the River Avon
Along the River Avon – (C. Tilley and W. Bennett)
The Avon palaeo-channel – (C. French and M.J. Allen)
Palynology – (R. Scaife)

10. The people of Stonehenge
Human osteology – (C. Willis)
Radiocarbon dating of human remains from Stonehenge – (P. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey and G. Cook)

11. Radiocarbon dating: the Stonehenge modelling and results
P. Marshall, C. Bronk Ramsey, G. Cook and M. Parker Pearson

Monday, 5 August 2019

Gunsite Road Archaeology

The iconic farmhouse scene from Saving Private Ryan was filmed on Gunsite Road, West Kennett. With Wiltshire standing in for Iowa. The farmhouse and barn were temporary props.

On a walk over to the West Kennet Palisade excavation I took a moment to pinpoint the location - marked with a star.

Archaeology from 1998 was complemented by an older find at the spot of a pure black flint hammer stone of a far earlier date.

My short walk from All Cannings had already passed an Iron Age midden, Hill Fort, Causewayed Enclosure, Bronze Age Dykes, an ancient Sheep Fair ground and mediaeval sheep walk features and a 1950's Firing range to say nothing of the views of barrows, mounds and stone circles. It is quite an area for exploring.

Gunsite Road - also known as Gunsight Road or Lane - the Ordnance Survey call it Gunsite which as it was a site for guns when there was a firing range there is logical and in line with the common usage at the time. The National Trust and Historical Monuments Record use Gunsight which until a few minutes ago I also preferred as a commoner word, but I have changed my mind and now vote for Gunsite, and Road rather than Lane.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Golfhenge - the planning statement extracts.

Statement – Archaeology & Cultural Heritage Land north of The Packway and east of Larkhill Former Stonehenge Golf Centre Phase 4 Date: December 2017

Air photos were obtained from the Historic England Archive in Swindon. The earliest photo (1924) showed the landscape prior to the construction of the sports pitches and with small arms ranges terraced into the hillside on the west side of the site. One small area of possible military trenching was also shown. No evidence of archaeological remains was identified on or around the site. An undated photo taken a short time after the construction of the sports pitches, demonstrated by the lack of trees around the boundary, shows a series of features consistent with probable Prehistoric ring ditches and in-filled linear earthworks immediately to the east of the site. By 1943, a USAF air photo shows a well-established sports pitch that is clearly terraced into the hill on its southern side and built up with fill materials to the north. By 1954, a photo shows that the trees around the site are maturing along their present lines. The historic maps consulted show open downland on the 1887 Ordnance Survey 6” First Edition, which is how it remains until the 1923 revision (published 1941) which shows the “Recreation Ground”. Neither maps shows any record of antiquities on the site.

 Archaeological works undertaken in support of the Phase 3 development have identified limited archaeological remains; however, a hengiform that included a ring ditch with a ring of large postholes encircling it was identified immediately north of the north-east corner of the Golf Centre.

An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Wessex Archaeology during geotechnical investigations (Wessex Archaeology report 11598.1.01). This demonstrated that the whole hilltop had not been truncated during construction works and that a cut and fill method had been employed to level the playing fields, prior to their conversion into the Golf Centre. However, no archaeological features or deposits were identified during the watching brief.

While it was anticipated that the terracing of the sports pitches into the hill top may have truncated part of the site, the use of fill materials to level the pitches was anticipated to have potentially protected archaeological remains in other parts of the site. In addition, the nearby remains indicated high potential for archaeology to be present on the site. As a result, an archaeological evaluation was requested by the Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, to better inform the planning application. The evaluation was to include trial trenching, equal to a 5% sample of the site area.

The archaeological evaluation of the proposed Phase 4 site was undertaken in December 2017. While no evidence for archaeological finds, deposits or features was identified across the greater part of the site, one trench, in the north-east corner of the site, revealed a large posthole and section of curved ditch. The trench was extended and revealed remains indicative of a hengiform similar to that seen in Phase 3, and this was confirmed by a further trench that showed more of the arrangement of ditch and attendant postholes very similar to that recorded in Phase 3.

Discussions with the Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service have indicated that either full excavation or preservation by design would be acceptable but that the latter option would entail more evaluation to better characterise the monument prior to its reburial. Full excavation has potential to provide extra information relating to the Phase 3 hengiform, which was lacking in any dateable material, and to the relationship between these two, similar monument. Discussions with Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service indicate that there will be no objection to the planning application but that an archaeological condition will the recommended, so that appropriate levels of mitigation, including the treatment of the hengiform, will be undertaken. A Written Scheme of Investigation for the excavation is currently in preparation by Wessex Archaeology for Lovell.

UPDATE - Wessex Archaeology kindly supplied this description: Hi Tim, one of two hengeforms fully excavated and recorded during the Army Basing Programme. They occupy a ridge of high ground and may be integral components (possibly earlier) of a linear (probable Bronze Age) barrow cemetery visible via Google Earth immediately to the east.

Golfhenge Stone Holes and Alignment Speculation

More on the hengiform that seems to have been uncovered on the site of the Larkhill Golf Range in 2018  and is now built over. See for more. The ditch with eight pits around is in the excavated square within the tree girt area, the small hengiform at the top right was previously known about.
Click to embiggen

I haven't found  any official reports of it and so this is just based on public aerial photos.

The Bing aerial photo from 2018 isn't as clear as the Google one but shows the ditch is about 14m across and the eight holes are about 1m in diameter. More like stoneheles than post holes? Or just pits?

The pits to the north east are wider apart than the other three pairs but there is no noticeable entrance. But if that is the entrance then it is close to the summer solstice sunrise direction which is handily marked on the planning documents constraints plan in yellow.

What a shame it is now under a housing estate, I await the reports on it  with interest.
Comparisons with Bluestonehenge and other circles in the area are obvious, if a little premature at this stage. See the excellent for more on those.

The planning statement