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




  1. I suppose I count myself as a "glacial drift theorist'!! A lot has happened since 1916, and we now know that there is a considerable scatter of "bluestone debris" across the Stonehenge landscape and further afield. See the big OU study of 1991. There are fragments of all shapes and sizes, and some materials best described as cobbles and stones. Very little of the landscape has actually been investigated, but things keep on being discovered. Think of the strange "grus" bits and pieces found at West Kennet -- who knows what might be next? And with 30 or so different tock types from the west in the bluestone assemblage, glacial transport looks more and more likely. The idea of around 30 bluestone quarries appears more than a little fanciful. The bulk of the bluestones in the bluestone circle are abraded and weathered boulders and slabs -- there is no way that they are "quarried monoliths". Since 1916 we have had the advent of glacial modelling too -- and that shows that the glacial transport of erratics from the west was quite possible, knowing what we now know about glacier behaviour and Quaternary events. But the glaciation was a VERY long time ago -- I'm beginning to think it was well before the Anglian (450,000 BP) which is normally quoted.......

  2. See also the 1997 paper - for a balanced view.