Sunday, 22 May 2022

Expert Review of The Field Guide to the Glacial Erratics of Salisbury Plain.

The field guide to the glacial erratics of Salisbury Plain.

Tim Daw.

Limited edition

The presence or absence of generally accepted glacial erratics on the Plain has been a matter of speculation and controversy for a century and for many people the debate has been central to any discussion of why Stonehenge was built were it was built. This debate has included both professional and amateur geologists, archaeologist, antiquarians and quite frankly the barmy. Indeed these groups are not mutually exclusive as Stonehenge seems to bring out the bizarre and absurd in everyone it touches.

Although the text of this self-published book is succinct almost to a fault it is suitably illustrated and this above all else provided food for Daw’s scepticism. Simply, this is the definitive tome on the subject for here each picture says a thousand words. 

Also remarkably, the back cover blurb is totally accurate with no hyperbole stating “A complete guide to glacial erratic stones, such as Welsh Bluestones, known on Salisbury Plain to have been naturally deposited”.

R.A.Ixer FSA

Sunday, 24 April 2022

The Field Guide to the Glacial Erratics of Salisbury Plain - The Book.

The proof copies were sent out and well received by the expert reviewers: 
"Pithy, well researched, exhaustive."

I'm not sure I can be bothered with the hassle of looking for a larger print run, the information is out there and does anyone care enough about erratics to buy a book?

"said it was the best Stonehenge book she has ever read …..told her everything she wanted to know about Stonehenge."

Mike Parker Pearson has described it as the authoritative and definitive volume with an exhaustive and comprehensive handling of the subject. And he has read a copy.

And the first review is in from someone who hasn't seen or read the book:

".. I have a Geography degree which included studies of glaciation processes etc, and since having been a Chartered Librarian specialising in information, I place prime importance on accuracy and objectivity. As I expected, you are predictably sadly not engaging with the subject sensibly, unlike Dr Brian John. Your so - called publication is simply a parrot-like mimic of Mike Pitts' dismissive remark in his recent book. Sand, head in, and ostrich are the keywords that apply. You take a purely binary stance and insist on adopting an adversarial approach instead of showing consideration. Putin, aggression and imperialism over Ukraine are not dissimilar. Some people insist they know-it-all whilst immediately saying there is nothing-to-know.....But do you think they are serious in their pursuit of all the possible scientific evidence? Ostrich, sand, head in, "I see no ship", looking with my blind eye' all spring to mind. Also, flat-earthers."


Saturday, 2 April 2022

All Cannings Cross Round Barrow?

On the edge of the downland promontory above All Cannings Cross I think there is a round barrow. It wouldn't be unusual to find a barrow in such a position overlooking the vale. The Historic environment record only has an undated ring ditch in the same approximate position. 

Friday, 18 March 2022

1916 - The Glacial Drift Question

From the 1916 Stonehenge guidebook - the key question that the Glacial Drift theorists still can't answer.


While the Sarsens usually awake the greatest interest by reason of their bulk, and the problem of how a primitive people was able to deal with them, a far greater problem is presented by the small uprights, or Foreign Stones, the like of which cannot be matched within a hundred miles of Salisbury Plain, while some can only be found upon the continent of Europe. Fragments carefully removed and submitted to mineralogists have made this fact abundantly clear, and consequently it is possible to arrive at the very definite conclusion that Stonehenge is certainly not a "Wiltshire " monument, and probably that it is not even "British" at all.

Where have the stones come from? One school of writers ventures to suggest Kildare in Ireland. Others suggest Wales, Cornwall, Dart moor, Shropshire, or Cumberland, where similar rocks are to be found, though perhaps not absolutely identical in character. Yet another theory advanced is that the Foreign Stones were transported to the plain as boulders of the "glacial drift." It has even been stated that the gravels of the district contain small pebbles composed of rock similar to these mysterious Foreign Stones. The statement has indeed been made, but as yet no Wiltshire geologist has produced one of these pebbles of which so much is written, and so little seen.

These Glacial Drift theorists, further account for the absence of these foreign stones elsewhere than at Stonehenge, by yet another theory, that they, like most of the Sarsens, have all been used up for millstones, gateposts, and road metal.

There are many millstones and gateposts in Wiltshire, but where is there one which corresponds in any way to the upright Foreign Stones at Stonehenge? The production of pebbles from the gravels of Wilts, or of a specimen gatepost or millstone would at once settle this question. Unhappily this tangible evidence is wanting, so, alluring as the Glacial Drift theory may appear, it must reluctantly be set aside for want of convincing evidence.

Finally, there seems every reason to believe that the small upright stones are "naturalised aliens. from abroad, and that is why they have been described at the commencement of this section as "Foreign Stones." It must not be taken for granted that the small upright stones at present standing represent all the foreign rocks employed. Probably they are merely the hardest and most durable of those used in the original structure, the softer and more friable examples having disappeared entirely, owing to the action of the weather, and possibly also to the assaults of the unchecked relic-monger, who until recent years could with his hammer collect souvenirs with impunity.




Curator of the Salisbury museum with Plans and Illustrations by HEYWOOD SUMNER.F.S.A.


Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd Price 1/3 net



Thursday, 3 March 2022

Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways.

Keeping time at Stonehenge - Timothy Darvill - - may not have "solved the mystery of Stonehenge" by detailing how the sarsens may have been used as quotidian markers but it has brought to attention one of the puzzling features of the sarsen ring. 

As far as we can tell, the ring being incomplete, the ring seems to be marked into three equal portions by "entrances". The well known one on the solstitial alignment; by stone 11 it being noticeably thinner than average and only half height, the stone having been broken; and by stone 21. Stones 21 and 22 form the posts of the accidental trilithon nearest the path. 

Click to embiggen - Stones 21, 22, 122 

From the paper: Plot showing the spacing and size of stones forming the Sarsen Circle (figure by T. Darvill). 

Having spent hundreds of hours standing near it I became convinced that it was an entrance because of the width of the gap and the dressing of the stones. The lintel has a false keystone appearance and the uprights maybe vertical grooves.

However it would have been the trilithon of the fallen 20 and 21 that would have been either side of the theoretical Darvillian gap that would mark one of the three divisions of the circle. So this isn't the trilithon we should be looking at. 

Of course if the central trilithon wasn't twisted there would have been a sightline across its front between the two lesser doorways, but it was and so there wasn't. 

Not a solution to Stonehenge but another intriguing nugget that may help build a more complete understanding.

Monday, 21 February 2022

An explanation of the word "Sarsen"

In the Addenda and Notes to " Abury Illustrated," the following is given as an explanation of the word "Sarsen": " The term Sarsen, or Saresyn, was applied by the Anglo-Saxons, simply in the sense of Pagan, to the stones which they found scattered about the Wiltshire Downs. As all the principal specimens of these mysterious blocks were perceived to be congregated into temples popu- larly attributed to heathen worship, it naturally came to pass that the entire formation acquired the distinctive appellation of Sarsen or Pagan stones. The same epithet of ' Saresyn ' the Saxons also applied to their invaders the Danes or Northmen, who, on their coming into this country, were universally pagan. Thus Robert Ricart (quoted in Roberts' History of Lyme) says, ' Duke Rollo Le Fort was a Saresyn come out of Denmark into France ; ' and a spot in Guernsey is still designated by the same term from having constituted the temporary stronghold of certain Norman freebooters." — Waylen's History of Marlborough, p. 529.
The following is from Mr. Henry Lawes Long's ' ' Survey of the Early Geography of Western Europe : " " In addition to the suggestion advanced that our word Sarsen, as applied to the Druid sandstone, is, in fact, a corruption of Saracen, I may add that Sarrasin is the name commonly given on the Continent to ancient objects whether of Celtic or Roman construction, thereby inferring a period anterior to any remains of Christian origin. Roman denarii, which in the north of France still occasionally are current as sous, bear the name of Sarrnsins. The Roman bridge near Aosta is called the Pont de Sarrasins." And I may add the following extract from the " Journal de I'Architecture," (of Brussels,) 4"". annee, p. 84 : " Les traditions locales attribuent la con- struction des chaussees romaines aux Sarrasins. Les mines, les tuiles antiques, les poteries, les medailles, etc., que Ton trouve chaque jour, ne sont connus, comme on salt, que sous les noms de Masures, de Vahes, de JiJonnaies, ou de puits des Sarrasins, Cette denomination remonte evidemment aux temps des Croisades, lorsque les esprits etaient remplis du nom des infideles. Du reste, les armees et les populations qui revenaient de Terre-Sainte, en suivant les chaussees romaines, n'auront pas peu contribue a repandre aux environs I'epithete injurieuse de Sarrasin et de payen, dans laquelle ils auront confondu les Romaines si, comme il est probable, un faible souvenir de ce grand peuple vivait encore a cette epoque dans le souvenir de nos peres." Mr. Long quotes the following from Col. Symonds's Diary, which his cousin, Mr. C. E. Long, edited for the Camden Society: " 12"' Nov. 1644, Tuesday, though a miserable wett windy day, the army moved over the playnes to Marlingsborough, where the King lay at the Lord Seymour's howse, the troopes to Fyfield, two myles distant, a so full of a grey pibble stone of great bigness as is not usually seene ; they breake them, and build their howses of them and walls, laying mosse betweene, the inhabaitants calling them Saracen's stones, and in this parish a myle and halfe in length, they lye so thick as you may goe upon them all the way. They call that place the Grey -weathers, because a far-off they looke like a flock of sheep”.

From Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol XVI 1876 pp.68-75

I will add the old farmworkers I grew up pronounced them Saracen Stones. I note also that some of the young of the Pewsey Vale still pronounce Saracen as Sarsen: My daughter for instance:

Update: It has been pointed out by Brian Edwards that "In an experiment in 1986 Kennet Valley locals that spoke with the Wiltshire dialect were recorded saying King's Hill which when spoken translated to "King Zil", Saracen which translated to "saracen" so the same, but Saxon translated to "sarsen". Subsequently, when asked to say sarsen, the tapes reveal what distinctly sounds like Saxon."

Dialect in Wiltshire: And Its Historical, Topographical and Natural Science Contexts by Malcolm Jones, Patrick Dillon Wiltshire County Council, Library & Museum Service, 1987 reproduces from M Wakelin's English Dialects: an introduction 1977 a map that shows the boundaries of the South Western Dialect as defined by the voicing of initial fricatives in the 1950s, ie saying Varmer or Farmer.

It is noticeable that the Kennet valley between Avebury and Marlborough is close to the boundary and lay just outside the South-western dialect area. I believe the dialect area had shrunk since Victorian times, and continues to do so.

Click to enlarge

And from 1903:

Reposted from Nov 2017 in response to being referenced in Mike Pitt's How to Build Stonehenge.