Thursday, 23 March 2023

Were cattle used to move megaliths?

Article Source: First evidence for cattle traction in Middle Neolithic Ireland: A pivotal element for resource exploitation Pigière F, Smyth J (2023) 

PLOS ONE 18(1): e0279556. 

Construction of megalithic monuments—Enabling passage tomb architecture? 

Ireland, like several northwest European regions in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, is characterised by its megalithic architecture, and the link between megalith construction and the use of cattle for traction deserves consideration. In the Funnel Beaker (TRB) culture of northern Europe, evidence includes wheel tracks associated with the megalithic tomb at Flintbek, engravings of cattle teams yoked to two-wheeled vehicles at the Züschen I megalithic tomb, and the four-wheeled wagons with drawbars and yokes depicted on the pottery vessel from Bronocice. In the later TRB, c. 3500 cal. BC onwards, it has been argued that land clearance for cultivation with the cattle-driven ard went hand in hand with the use of the retrieved material–mostly small and medium-sized glacial erratics—for megalith construction . In 4th millennium BC Ireland, the picture is somewhat different and certainly more fragmented. As outlined above, based on the current state of knowledge, ard cultivation, wheeled transport and cattle traction seem not to appear simultaneously, and the size ranges of stones utilised in the construction of megalithic monuments frequently exceed those in TRB tombs. 

Recent programmes of radiocarbon dating and mathematical modelling have also resulted in considerable blurring of traditional tomb typo-chronologies, with early passage tombs, court tombs and portal tombs all conceivably contemporary with one another and the Kilshane cattle. Nevertheless, the small amount of pottery from the Kilshane enclosure ditch, comprising a Middle Neolithic broad-rimmed globular bowl and a single sherd from a second globular bowl, links our traction data more closely to passage tomb horizons. The absence of evidence for cattle traction (and oxen) in the Irish Neolithic has created an understandable reluctance to speculate on the construction methods of passage tombs and megalithic monuments in general. In the light of the Kilshane data, some well-recognised aspects of passage tombs as a monument class can be re-evaluated, namely their tendency to be sited at higher elevations than earlier monuments and with a high degree of inter-visibility, argued to reflect more extensively networked Middle Neolithic communities. The earliest passage tomb activity recorded to date, at Carrowmore, Co. Sligo and Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, at c. 3700/3600 cal. BC, is in upland landscapes, with the Baltinglass tomb at an altitude of nearly 400 metres above sea level. So-called ‘developed’ passage tombs c. 3300–3000 cal. BC, such as those found 25 km to the north of Kilshane in the Boyne Valley, have long been recognised as incorporating kerbstones, orthostats and other stone elements sourced from long distances, up to 75 km in the case of quartz and granite cobbles from Newgrange. In these scenarios, cattle may have been used and even enabled the transport of both large and small stones over long distances and to higher terrain, as well as considerably easing efforts at a more local scale. Once on site, manoeuvring large structural stones into position would presumably have been easier with animal traction.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Stonehenge - A Brief History by Mike Parker Pearson -  4 May 2023 release for dead tree versions, 6 April for electronic.

Stonehenge - A Brief History by Mike Parker Pearson

Book Summary / Abstract

Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous monuments. Who built it, how and why are questions that have endured for at least 900 years, but modern methods of investigation are now able to offer up a completely new understanding of this iconic stone circle.

Stonehenge’s history straddles the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, though its story began long before it was built. Serving initially as a burial ground, it evolved over time into a sacred place for gathering, feasting and building, and was remodelled several times as different peoples arrived in the area along with new technologies and customs. In more recent centuries it has found itself the centre of excavations, political protests and even conspiracy theories, embedding itself in the consciousness of the modern world.

In this book Mike Parker Pearson draws on two decades of research, the results of recent excavations and cutting-edge scientific analyses to uncover many of the secrets that this prehistoric stone circle has kept for 5,000 years. In doing so, he paints the most comprehensive picture yet of the history of Stonehenge, from its origins up to the 21st century, and reveals how in some ways trying to explain its power of attraction in the present is harder than explaining its purpose in the ancient past.

Who built Stonehenge, how and why are questions that have baffled people for almost 1,000 years. Its secrets are now being revealed to provide a new understanding. Stonehenge’s construction sequence straddles the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, a time of momentous changes in society, technology and population. Long before it was built, Salisbury Plain was already a special place for people to gather. Some of its stones – the Welsh ‘bluestones’ – came from an already ancient ceremonial complex many miles away. Initially a burial ground, Stonehenge was later remodeled with huge sarsen stones at the same time that a large settlement was constructed nearby. People came to this sacred place from many miles away to gather, feast and build. After the arrival of people from continental Europe bringing knowledge of metallurgy and the wheel, Stonehenge was remodeled another two times. It was now a magnet for the illustrious dead, buried in hundreds of mounds around it, in their finery of gold and other precious substances. Stonehenge’s landscape was later converted into fields, leaving this great monument isolated and alone. Stonehenge eventually reestablished its popularity through the writings of medieval authors, early modern antiquarians and 20th-century archaeologists. Never free from controversy, it also attracted tourists, hippies, New Age travellers, pagans and druids. Interpreted as everything from an alien landing strip and a vortex of mystical energy to a cenotaph, a temple, a calendar, an astronomical observatory, a place of healing, a place of the dead and a monument of unification, Stonehenge has enthralled and perplexed.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

A Mesolithic Blade from Stonehenge Down from before the Stones

I was lucky enough to notice a flint blade excavated by a rabbit on Stonehenge Down when I wandered across to look at Dr. Philippe De Smedt of the University of Ghent,  Dr. Paul Garwood and Dr. Henry Chapman (both of the University of Birmingham) excavations in 2017.  

The rabbit hole shows up on Google Earth and so I could fix the find spot.

They were having the day off so I couldn't show them and so belatedly I have had it properly recorded.

PAS record number: WILT-6F2BBE
Object type: Debitage
Broad period: Mesolithic
County of discovery: Wiltshire
Stable url:

Claire Goodey illustration:

Rights Holder: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
CC License: 

The excavation results have now been written up: -  Philippe De Smedt, Paul Garwood, Henry Chapman, Koen Deforce, Johan De Grave, Daan Hanssens, Dimitri Vandenberghe,

Novel insights into prehistoric land use at Stonehenge by combining electromagnetic and invasive methods with a semi-automated interpretation scheme,

Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 143, 2022, 105557, ISSN 0305-4403,


Tuesday, 10 January 2023

The Avebury Papers

The Avebury Papers is a four-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project to develop, explore, and digitise the multimedia archive of Avebury’s Neolithic origins and its subsequent life-history. 

Photo - Wiltshire Museum -  close up view of ditch section during excavation of stone circle, Avebury, Wiltshire, 1911, an image from the Wiltshire Life Society collection

Currently dated to the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE, the megalithic monuments at Avebury, North Wiltshire, form part of the UNESCO Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Avebury includes the world’s largest stone circle at almost 350 metres across, with avenues of paired standing stones that extend for 3.5 kilometres. 

 The only large-scale archaeological excavations to take place at Avebury were carried out just before the outbreak of WWII. Materials and objects collected and made at this time were left under-analysed for decades. As a result, we have – until now – only had a partial understanding of Avebury’s past and present. 

We will add to the archaeological work that ended so abruptly due to the war, bringing together findings from 1939 and subsequent excavations. The archive also includes creative work inspired by Avebury, and these stories are just as important as the stones for understanding Avebury today. Importantly, the entire archive will be made available online on an ‘open access’ basis for anyone to use for research, enjoyment, and artistic projects. xx By providing a fuller understanding of the history and modern significance of this World Heritage Site, this research and the creation of the multi-media digital archive will enable more effective heritage management, education, and tourism programmes. We look forward to visitors, enthusiasts and students of prehistory, artists, and heritage organisations, exploring the many stories of the origins and re-use of Avebury across over 5,000 years. 

The Avebury Papers is a collaboration between Bournemouth University, the University of York, the National Trust, and the Archaeology Data Service, with support from Historic England and English Heritage.

Sunday, 1 January 2023

6th January evidence a "Smoking Gun" or a damp squib?

"A STONEHENGE mystery has been solved, according to an expert, after a "smoking gun" discovery was made to provide the "missing piece" of the puzzle.

A giant bluestone erratic just discovered near Mumbles, on the south Gower coast, has been hailed as one of the most important glacial discoveries of the last century since it proves beyond doubt that the Irish Sea Glacier was capable of carrying large monoliths of dolerite rock from Pembrokeshire up the Bristol Channel towards Stonehenge."

First discovered and  photographed by Phil Holden on 5th January 2022, I believe the next day Dr Brian John was informed. Photos:

The photos' descriptions by Phil Holden state:"Hailed by (Dr) Brian (John) as the 'greatest glacial discovery this century'"

In an email of 2nd January 2023 Dr John writes: ""Hailed by Dr Brian John as the 'greatest glacial discovery this century'..." I have never made that ridiculous claim. Kindly withdraw that remark."   

I am happy to make clear I believe him that he never made that claim, I am merely reporting what others have written. A hint: words reported in quotation marks are attributed to the source not to the reporter. There are resources aimed at Lower Key Stage 2, Year 3, for those struggling with the concept.

And on his blog he writes "I have never claimed this as "the greatest glacial discovery of the century". I may be enthusiastic, but I am not that stupid,"

The Press Release on Dr John's blog: STONEHENGE: GIANT GLACIAL ERRATIC HAILED AS "MISSING PIECE” OF BLUESTONE PUZZLE  now has:  "hailed as one of the most important "chance discoveries" of recent times." 

But as reported in the press it originally said: ( "A giant bluestone erratic just discovered near Mumbles, on the south Gower coast, has been hailed as one of the most important glacial discoveries of the last century since it proves beyond doubt that the Irish Sea Glacier was capable of carrying large monoliths of dolerite rock from Pembrokeshire up the Bristol Channel towards Stonehenge."

It seems he has forgotten what was originally written, which seems close enough to the offending quote though to be fair it said "one of" rather than "the", and "important" rather than "greatest", and then it was later altered. If Dr John is not stupid enough to make that claim who wrote the Press Release? And why did he publicise it?

 After all that hailing, or not hailing, we might echo a sage and say:

"A year is a long time in academic geology. Looking back on it, it's actually quite intriguing to see how this piece of academic intrigue was instigated by somebody with an unshakeable belief that one theory (relating to human transport) was dead and buried, and that the only other theory in town (namely the bluestone glacial transport theory) must therefore be correct. He believed that all he had to do was find the evidence."

The existence of the erratic was announced in a press release 
This note was added later: 
"Phil's close-up photo of the sample taken from the erratic can be seen here:"

The photo is dated 6th January 2022

On 8th February 2022 Dr John wrote: "We have two samples from the boulder. We have been fortunate enough to receive sufficient financial support to pay for professional laboratory analyses, and the work is in hand. The results of the tests will be reported in a peer-reviewed journal in due course." (In the comments ) and a preliminary paper written:
And since then silence.

Dr John kindly informs me:
I have no interest at all in withholding info about this boulder, and I don't actually care where it came from. The truth is perfectly simple -- we sent the Limeslade samples off for analysis to a geologist who -- for a variety of work and personal reasons -- has still not reported back to us, after almost 12 months. So in spite of many pleas, we still have no data. Rest assured that as soon as we get the info through, it WILL be published.

Is the "smoking gun" a damp squib?