Friday 1 June 2018

Ten fundamental problems with the glacial transport thesis

Brian John has a book to sell and explains on his blog the reasoning why he believes a glacier extracted the bluestones from Wales and placed them on Salisbury Plain. That there is no evidence for such a glacier and no glacial erratics in Wiltshire doesn't deter him. He has published a handy list of his top ten reasons, which I reproduce below with my off the cuff thoughts. 

Ten fundamental problems with the human quarrying & transport thesis

1. There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances (more than 5 km or so) for incorporation in a megalithic monument. The builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.

There’s an old joke where a man walks up to a woman in a bar and says, “Will you sleep with me for a million dollars?” She thinks for a second and then says, “Sure.” The man smiles and says, “Will you sleep with me for one dollar?” The woman tosses her drink in the man’s face and says, “What kind of girl do you think I am?” “We already know the answer to that,” replies the man. “Now we’re just haggling over the price.”
Once you accept that neolithic man can haul stones 5 km, then you must accept that they can haul them 50 or 500. The earthen monuments, such as Silbury Hill show that unimaginable amounts of work were performed by neolithic man to raise their monuments. Stonehenge is a unique monument in its design so it is not unexpected that its construction also was unique.

2. If ancestor or tribute stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass? Were belief systems and "local politics" quite different to the north, east and south?

Why are all the imperial monuments of the Raj in India designed by people from the places far to the west of that country? Why should the local politics of the time involve people from the north, east or south?

3. There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite or Rhosyfelin rhyolite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way. The builders always used whatever was available to them in the vicinity, and it can be argued that stone availability was a prime locational determinant for stone settings.

Professors Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright certainly believe that there were special properties to the stones that were revered in the past. But we simply do not know what the builders of Stonehenge believed and there is no evidence that local availability of stone is or is not of importance.

4. If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards? It is a complete technological aberration.

But there is evidence for the haulage technology, thousands of stones were moved around in the neolithic and there was then a complete change of culture and, it seems, change of population based on the emerging DNA evidence. There is no aberration at all.

5. The evidence for Neolithic quarrying activity in key locations is questionable. No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis. The so-called “engineering features” are entirely natural.

The transport and quarrying are separate arguments. Even if there was no quarrying and the rocks were just lying on the surface (not that I'm doubting MPP's evidence but it hasn't been fully presented yet), it is how the rocks got from Wales to Wiltshire that is the question here.

6. The sheer variety of bluestone types (near 30 when one includes packing stones and debris) argues against selection and human transport. There cannot possibly have been ten or more "bluestone quarries" scattered across West Wales.

Ever been to a crystal shop? Many reasons why it is possible, first example off the top of my head, what if 30 different families all wanted to bring a bit of their land along?

7. Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast. The one reasonably "authentic" project (the moving of the "Millennium Stone" in the year 2000) was a shambles and a disaster.

The Millenium Dome Experience was a shambles and a disaster but that doesn't show that the Romans couldn't build them.

8. Neither has it been shown that the Stonehenge builders had the geographical awareness and navigational ability to undertake long and highly complex journeys with very heavy loads.

The Durrington Walls cattle teeth analysis suggests otherwise.

9. And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it? The mooted "Preselite" axe factory has never been found, and neither has the mythical Stonehenge precursor.

I still haven't found the spare set of car keys I put down in the kitchen last month, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist.

10. Analyses of bluestone monolith stone shapes does not suggest that elongated “pillars” were preferred. Slabs, stumps and boulders of all shapes and sizes are highly suggestive of a glacial erratic assemblage.

To quote a couple of examples: "Stone 35a is particularly spectacular, ... We can see several other fractures within the rock, so it is in a dodgy state, and presumably always has been." A fragile rock then, doesn't sound like it would have survived glacial transport. "like a pillar is SH61" Some people see phalli when they look at the stones, Brian sees stumps, but I see pillars..


  1. @6: They would have had to make a request and such approved - in short preplanned contribution.

    The overriding principle - "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

    The overriding question is "Why?". We know that statistically they did these things. But why such a big monument? The answer is most likely a very important long time cycle, one which pertains to longevity of a civilisation, rather than individuals or family celebrations(shorter time cycles):

    Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany takes place every decade - why?


    Transit of Venus:

    Solstices and Equinoxes - every year
    Eclipse cycle 346.62 days: (cf: Babylonian 5923 year cycle)
    Lunar cycles - every 19 years (Metonic cycle), Lunar standstills, every 18.6 years
    Precessional cycles: Every 26,000 years approx -25920 years geometric, 25771.5 years astronomical (as at epoch 2000 - J2000)

    What's the evidence for which at Stonehenge...?

    PS. Most people bring back a keepsake from a journey to somewhere, i.e. memento.

    Definitions of memento/s:

    I used to keep a marine aquarium. Some 30 years ago I brought back some creatures from the north east coast of Scotland. When I decided to stop keeping it, I did not kill the creatures - I released them into similar territory on the south coast of Wales. Did I change the ecology of the location. No idea! I've never come across any evidence of any ecological imbalance or anomaly. We humans do many things for many reasons - good or bad. The evidence for individual actions is often non existent, for deliberate community actions - plenty!

  2. All sound arguments, Tim.
    Another bullet-point that's frequently overlooked, but's glaringly relevant, is: Stonehenge is quite young when compared to most other henges or barrows in the wide vicinity. If the Bluestones were scattered around by glacier, why weren't they incorporated into, say, Avebury or the West Kennet Long Barrow?

    It seems to me that they would be much easier to man-handle than the big boys, and anyone with COPD that's climbed that bloody hill to see the barrow will tell you: the lighter the better!

    From our: Out on a Limb Department.
    I am of a mind to believe that the Bluestones at Stonehenge came in two shipments. First the stumpy lumps of the outer ring were brought and slid into the Aubrey Holes, moved later to the Sarsen Circle.
    Then the tall and elegant versions were brought for, first the W. Amesbury Henge, then schlepped up to the big works at the monument to create the inner oval.

    Did they find these stones in discrete piles in Somerset or elsewhere? Unlikely. The '30 families bringing mementos' is a good idea for the first incarnation. But the second wave was brought specifically to serve a single purpose.

    The sampling of the older examples produces results from all over the map. The varying fabric of them tells us this. Admittedly, the inner Blues have not been sampled to any great degree, but looking at their similarities it wouldn't surprise me if most, if not all, were found to originate in very close proximity.


  3. Sorry guys, but this all verges on the ethereal -- simply saying "We know they were very clever. They wanted to do it, and therefore they probably did....." is not a very good substitute for evidence. Have any of you guys tried hauling a single bluestone cross-country in authentic conditions? I have, in the Millennium Stone pull in the year 2,000, and it was, as we all know, a complete shambles, even when we tried pulling on asphalt roads, with modern ropes and friction-reducing ground netting. Come on now -- get real!

  4. Hi Brian,
    Though I haven't yet read the new book it has been reported on to me by two people who have -- both of whom you know. I will be in England in 10 days or so and will pick up a copy.

    I'm not sure that asking where all the other glacial debris is is particularly ethereal. Nor is: "Why do no older monuments use found bluestones?"

    Evidence? Admittedly conflicted, scarce, and even unreleased in some cases. But some of the commanding arguments are bolstered by a simple little thing I like to call: Logic.

    And please, with the tired old trope: "Absence of evidence ..." I'm no geomorphologist as you know, but it seems to me that a glacier of the magnitude you describe scouring across Wilts as recently as 500,000 years ago would leave behind some considerable evidence.

    Best wishes my friend,

  5. You are free to think it's "tired", but it is fundamental nonetheless, whenever someone argues nonsense - such as "..have any of you guys tried...I have...". Sorry, because Brian John - in company with... - failed to convince themselves, doesn't constitute "proof" that our ancestors wouldn't or couldn't have done it. Another way of putting it is, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of proof". Try discussing the philosophical arguments with Martin Rees, as did Carl Sagan, or try reading scientific papers which use the same quote as the basis of discussing statistical analyses.

    And, for clarity, I wasn't saying "..they wanted to do it...". They built these monuments, of which SH is arguably the prime example in our part of the world - full stop. That's why the real question is "why?"!

    The closer we get to answer this question, then the closer we will get to answer if they really did transport those stones as theorised.

    "Logic" is equally not evidence, in fact arguably a much lesser consideration when looking for evidence!

    Building monuments on a grand scale is evidenced throughout every culture, world wide, from as far back as we now know, Gobekli Tepe - where they also buried the things after all the trouble to put them up!

    And Stonehenge is nothing compared to Baalbeck - but do we have a theory that says the many stones (800 - 1000 tons) carted off to the temple can only have been a result of glacial transport..."come on now - get real"!

  6. Hi Richard,
    I dunno, my friend. I think if we take a look at what we Know they had, measured against what we Know they did, then it's a small leap to presume what technology they Must have had to do it.
    In quite a broad sense, we do the same thing today.

    I could be wrong, but I've never seen or heard of rope being found anywhere in the record. But they Must have had it. The same is true for the use of heavy livestock, which would have been a boon for transport. There's plenty of other examples.

    So, even if the stones were laying in a heap nearby the site, they still had to move, lift, and set them into precise positions. See also: Avebury, where it's likely the stones Were on-site.
    I believe it's a fair assessment to presume that the methods they used to do this could have been employed over the long haul -- from either Fyfield or of course Preselli.

    Of course the reason Why they did all this lingers in the ether, but human logic and logistics is essentially unchanged.

    We don't Know that Steve-the-huntsman brought his dogs to Durrington from Yorkshire, but the dog is there, and the reason for his presence can only be drawn from a small pool of rationale.

    Yes -- the Glacial Hypothesis is completely applicable in many cases. Just not this one.