Monday 11 February 2013

Sarsen Pick Dressing Question


Stones on Solstitial Axis most Carefully Shaped and Dressed

A detailed analysis of the first comprehensive laser survey of Stonehenge reveals that those stones on the outer sarsen circle visible when approaching from the north east have been completely pick dressed - that is, the brown and grey crust on the surface has been removed exposing a fine, bright grey-white surface. ....
The study also shows that the techniques and amounts of labour used vary from stone to stone. These variations provide almost definitive proof that it was the intent of Stonehenge's builders to align the monument with the two solstices along a north-east/south-west axis.
The sides of the stones that flanked the solstice axis were found to have been most carefully worked to form very straight and narrow rectangular slots. These stones include two of the north-east facing sarsens in the outer circle, the Great Trilithon in the inner sarsen horseshoe, and a now isolated upright stone in the south-west segment of the outer circle.
Since all other stones have visibly more natural, less neat outlines, this strongly suggests that special effort was made to dress those that flank the NE/SW axis to allow a more dramatic and obvious passage of sunlight through the stone circle on midsummer and midwinter solstices.
Stone 56 elevations
Laser scan of the Great Trilithon reveals its extremely straight, neat outline and smooth surface, compared with all the other trilithons. It suggests that Stonehenge creators made deliberate efforts to shape and dress it more carefully due to its special position on the solstice axis, just as they did for other stones that flank this axis.

Reading Gowland's report of his 1901 excavation around Stone 56 adds to this story.

He says;"The underground face was found to be carefully tooled over its entire surface as shown in fig.28, which represents a large flake that became detached during the operation of raising the stone."

"This was particularly well seen on the base of No.56 where it extends below the ground, and had thus been protected from the action of the weather..."

"This tooling was apparently executed with small quartzite hammers. In order to demonstrate that a piece of sarsen was tooled in a similar manner by Mr Stallybrass with a quartzite pebble. On comparing it with the blocks tooled by the builders of Stonehenge, they were seen to be almost perfectly identical. I may say in this connection that Mr Stallybrass failed to produce anything at all like it with any of his mason's tools."

So why did the builders carefully dress the large area of the stone that was going to be buried?


  1. So why did the builders carefully dress the large area of the stone that was going to be buried?

    Depends whether or not you believe that the builders were following ordinary logic or some sort of extraordinary logic (perhaps based in superstition). Following ordinary logic, this sort of thing is often done in construction. However, the reason why it is done does not suit theories of alignments.

  2. I think it bolsters the argument that the Trilithon Stones were being collected in a pile before selection for location. They set to work shaping and smoothing them as more were delivered while the 'wise men' debated which was to go where.
    One possibility is that the boys doing the banging just kept on working till the decision was made concerning location and height. With the layout of the entire set firmly in mind, it makes sense that the Great Trilithon would be the first one emplaced, so because of its location and significance greater care was taken to ensure the smoothing was consistent.
    By the same token, they must have had a fairly good idea concerning height as clearly S-55 was the next longest Stone they could find. It's been estimated that this Stone may have been 60-tons originally and was pared down to leave the heel we see today. This would have helped support the shorter Stone.
    Perhaps due to this feature S-55 was also worked all the way down. Maybe Tim or Simon can report on the degree of the fine-work on -55 the next time they wander through the Stones.
    S-53 & -54 of the South Trilithon were excavated in 1963. Were observations concerning texture made? i.e. were those Stones also worked below ground to the same degree?

  3. Hi Neil

    it makes sense that the Great Trilithon would be the first one emplaced

    The Great Trilithon might have gone in last? We know that one of the stones was broken at the base during mounting. Delivery of stones would probably be done in stages.

    If it had been put up first, the logical thing on finding a breakage would be to re-shape the stone and re-use it elsewhere: Order a new one to be found (or re-shape one of the others which were still being delivered or shaped).

    So the Great Trilithon might have been a less important design feature than everything else: Shaped below ground and turned 180 degrees also points to it being the excess delivery. If it is in effect a large re-usable "excess part", you would finish the whole thing, even below ground, so that it could be re-used as necessary.

    At the very last stage, having fitted all of the rest of the stones very carefully, they broke it.

    "Fudge the foundations to that they work" said the foreman. "We don't really need it, but it looks nice like that".


  4. I think the GT went in first - so there!
    Seriously though, if I'm a Practitioner-In-Good-Standing it follows that I'd want the Big Boys in place right from the get-go.
    1. The Cool Factor.
    2. Use the biggest Stones first (you never know if they'll be available later.)

    I don't know of any Trilithon Stone that is broken at the bottom. S-58 had a pointy end, but this was either natural or shaped that way for stability purposes.
    (Fat lot of good that did!)
    If it's true that the Q&R Crescent was either already there, or was being constructed simultaneously, it makes sense to put the Great Trilithon in first. The big pit in front notwithstanding, it was raised from the inside.

    I'll recheck my Gowland, but if S-56 broke, it happened when 55 went down. If we look at the Tenon on it's head and the corresponding Mortise in L-156, we see that Stone is mated very securely. (The south-side mortise of L-156 was the 56 end) When 55 went down, it flung the Lintel out and away, yanking hard on 56, which is why it leaned so precariously against BS-68 all those years.
    The placement of the Lintel-fall and the fact that 55 is broken tells us that it didn't go down gently, but dead-weight hard, and lends support to the 'Earthquake theory'.
    If 56 is broken below the surface, that's when it happened.


  5. Hi Neil

    Someone wrote about how 55 had been damaged by the original builders but I can't for the life of me remember who. The index refers me to page 52 of Burl for this (but I know there's a better reference):

    "'A quantity of material has been removed ro give the required form to the part which would be above ground leaving a thick bulbous base to give more bulk to the foundation which was of insufficient depth'.. Gowland's report of the excavations was rather unclear but he did realised how ramshackle the means of constructing 55-56 had been"

    Doesn't sound to me like it went in first. Sounds more like an end of job botch.


  6. Or ...
    being the first, they lacked experience with raising Stones of that size.

    But I'm not convinced that 56 is broken on the bottom.

    The reference from both Gowland and Burl concern the 'bulb' or heel on 55. A little too short and quite stout, it's estimated that ~18 tons of material had to be removed from the Stone in order for it to match 55, leaving this foot-like protrusion. In my view, both men rightly assume this was left because the Builders knew well in advance that the Stone was technically inadequate.
    Perhaps this is a reason why the tenons were so obtrusive - they added as much support as they could to the material at hand. If true, this tells us that they had great foresight before the Stone was even shaped.
    That said, who knows how long it was before some genius dug the huge pit in front of these Stones. This disturbed ground must have played a role in 55's ultimate collapse, and also helps explain why 56 isn't broken - the loose ground simply gave way when she was initially jerked forward by the falling lintel.

    I give as an example the East Trilithon, which collapsed en masse in 1797. When Atkinson removed them and began the excavation in the near vicinity it was discovered that someone had dug a large pit just outside the 2 Stones. Coupled with sustained, near hurricane-force east winds, this pit no doubt played a role in the fall.

    55 is a good reason why many believe the Trilithons - if not the Sarsens in the Circle - may have been finished well below the surface. They were.
    Whereas the final polish on the Circle Stones was performed with them standing in place, I suspect that the shaping of most others ends at roughly ground level.

    'End of Job Botches' occurred in the SW of the Circle, i.e. 21/22 and perhaps 19. 12 & 14 are decidedly asymmetrical and would have looked 'funny' standing up.
    As you know, this was because the rear section Stones were really just place-holders for the final shape.

  7. 'End of Job Botches' occurred in the SW of the Circle, i.e. 21/22 and perhaps 19. 12 & 14 are decidedly asymmetrical and would have looked 'funny' standing up.
    As you know, this was because the rear section Stones were really just place-holders for the final shape.

    Aye, they're definitely end of job botches. Any word on 17 and 18 yet?

  8. Re: '17 & 18'
    It's weird - nobody talks about it, at least to me, (which may be smart, seeing that I am presently regarded as possessing the growing stigmatic aura of yet another among ubiquitous armchair parochials ... lol.
    Pariah-Status can't be far behind!)

    I found a very quick and easily overlooked reference in the GPR Study released in '11. (a good read, btw) It referenced the 1989 and 1994 scans, saying that they may have found the shadow of what appeared at the time to be the socket for 18.
    Inconclusive, with no follow-up.
    No mention anywhere else concerning the two, other than the private communique I received in Aug 2011 from a well-placed person.
    I'm told by other sources that MPP knew about the never-present Stones. In spite of numerous opportunities, he mentions them nowhere.
    Much like several glaring omissions in the Laser Scan Report, maybe this silence means something.

    Perhaps our boys with boots on the ground can shed some light.
    Tim? Simon? Dan? Peter?
    Anybody out there?

  9. 17 & 18 - I think the jury is still out. There is no firm evidence that the stoneholes exist, but a hole back filled with chalk can be indistiguishable from virgin ground to GPR so absence of evidence definitely isn't evidence of absence.

  10. Thanks Tim. I decided to leave just 17 and 18 out when doing the graphics in 2010-11 because this was the most logical place to show a gap (long story).

    It would be nice if those two were shown to be the missing ones, but the logic of the theory says that the whole of the south west segment would have been the least important part of Stonehenge.

  11. Thank You Tim.
    Now we're getting somewhere ...

    Here's my thinking, based upon that report:

    1. Intact stone holes would mean that they were dug and then almost immediately re-filled with original material. Radio ambiguity would still infer no placement.

    2. If the Stones were installed, then kicked over and robbed, the perps would not have spent time neatly back-filling the cavities with the original chalk. At best, they would have simply pushed the fill in haphazardly leaving a clear shadow of tumble for GPR to see. Personally, I would have used the ready-made hole as a firepit to crack them, also leaving a vivid trace.

    3. Fallen, then robbed Stones would also leave a conclusive radio-shadow. See also holes 8, 13, & 20.

    4. 17 & 18 were never installed and were probably left out as a convenient 'Service Entrance' for the continuously shuffled Bluestones, perhaps Jon's unwieldy apparatus, or maybe just 'Builder's Fatigue'.
    They were certainly running out of material so the "Can't see it from my house" method may have been employed. Making errors or omissions look intentional is among the oldest building tricks in the book!