Wednesday 24 May 2023

Barium levels, Old Red Sandstone and the Altar Stone

I was asked about the significance of the mineral, especially barium, levels found in the Altar Stone samples as revealed in the recent Bevins et al paper. It is simple, they are the fingerprints that will reveal possible sources for the stone, and also rule out other possible sources.  Match the level and the rock type, Devonian Old Red Sandstone, and there is a possible source. 

The paper and the two interactive websites, unfortunately I haven't found one for Scotland and the Orkney:

Bevins, R., Pearce, N., Ixer, R., Hillier, S., Pirrie, D., & Turner, P. (2022). Linking derived debitage to the Stonehenge Altar Stone using portable X-ray fluorescence analysis. Mineralogical Magazine, 86(4), 688-700. doi:10.1180/mgm.2022.22

Static maps.

Map from delivered under the terms of the Open Government Licence, subject to the following acknowledgement accompanying the reproduced BGS materials: "Contains British Geological Survey materials © UKRI2023".
AlexD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Geological Map of Great Britain
white = Quaternary (alluvium);
beige = Palaeogene rocks;
lime green = Cretaceous;
blue/green = Lower Cretaceous;
light blue = middle/upper Jurassic;
mid blue = lower Jurassic;
dark purple = upper Triassic;
light purple = lower Triassic;
light orange = upper Permian;
brick orange = lower Permian;
light blue = upper Carboniferous (Coal Measures);
mid blue = middle Carboniferous;
muddy blue = lower Carboniferous (limestone);
dull orange & brown = Devonian;
light blue = Silurian;
slate blue = Ordovician;
dark slate blue = Cambrian;
mid orange = Neoproterozoic (Dalradian);
dark green = Neoproterozoic (Torridonian);
pink = Lewisian;
bright red =granitee;
dull red = Palaeogene volcanics

Saturday 20 May 2023

Faking and Mistaking Stonehenge pictures

Frank Stevens’ guidebook to Stonehenge was first published in 1916 and continued in print until 1938. It is still admired especially for the woodcut illustrations by Heywood Sumner. The first one is this.

But there is a problem with this illustration which Stonehenge geeks may notice immediately but seems not to have been noticed when the book was in print.

There is a second mistake which is with the caption, the view is towards the north east, not the south east; a mistake I have only just noticed despite studying this picture many times over the last year.

 As a clue here is a contemporary postcard from Frith’s showing the same scene, which also has a similar captioning mistake saying it is “from the N.W” when it is from the South West:

Here is an earlier version of the picture:

The problem, if you didn’t notice it is that the tall stone, stone 56, was straightened on the 19th September 1901.

It seems that the postcard printers altered the picture rather than have a new photo taken.

Which was a shame as on the evening of the 31st December 1900, the trilithon on the left, Stones 21,22 and 122, was blown down in the course of a severe storm. So you can have stone 56 upright with 22 fallen or 56 leaning with 22 standing or for eighteen months 56 leaning and 22 fallen, but at no time in the early twentieth century were 56 and 22 both upright.

So the illustration in the official guidebook was taken from a faked photograph and not from reality. 

( This post is based on a letter that I had published in British Archaeology some time ago made relevant by a copy of the fake photo being auctioned next month.)

Monday 15 May 2023

Ding Dong over Stonehenge timekeeping theory


Based on plan by Anthony Johnson, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2022 Tim Darvill wrote as an introduction to a paper: "Scholars have long seen in the monumental composition of Stonehenge evidence for prehistoric time-reckoning—a Neolithic calendar. Exactly how such a calendar functioned, however, remains unclear. Recent advances in understanding the phasing of Stonehenge highlight the unity of the sarsen settings. Here, the author argues that the numerology of these sarsen elements materialises a perpetual calendar based on a tropical solar year of 365.25 days. The indigenous development of such a calendar in north-western Europe is possible, but an Eastern Mediterranean origin is also considered. The adoption of a solar calendar was associated with the spread of solar cosmologies during the third millennium BC and was used to regularise festivals and ceremonies."   The full paper is freely available:
Darvill, T. (2022). Keeping time at Stonehenge. Antiquity, 96(386), 319-335. doi:10.15184/aqy.2022.5

His theory was not universally accepted.  My own simple take from it was a realisation that he had highlighted a triangulation of the outer sarsen ring where each of the nodes were placed where the stone settings are anomalous. I illustrated it above.

Earlier this year Magli and Belmonte published a critical response stating in their opinion: "that this proposal is unsubstantiated, being based as it is on a combination of numerology, astronomical error and unsupported analogy."
Their paper is behind a paywall:
Magli, G., & Belmonte, J. (2023). Archaeoastronomy and the alleged ‘Stonehenge calendar’. Antiquity, 1-7. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.33
But it is available to download from Cornell University

Tim Darvill has now responded, and concludes: "In their conclusions, Magli and Belmonte propose that “matters such as ancient calendars, astronomical alignments and cultural astronomy should be reserved for specialists” in a way that suggests academic arrogance. Their attempts to undermine the central idea of a Stonehenge calendar by picking at the edges and exploiting acknowledged uncertainties ultimately fails, because their positivist agenda neglects the socio-cultural contexts in which prehistoric calendars were developed and operated. Most notable of all, however, is that Magli and Belmonte do not make any suggestions as to what the settings at Stonehenge might have meant, how they might have worked, or how they might have been used by prehistoric communities. Surely modern archaeoastronomy can do better?"
His full response is freely available: "Darvill, T. (2023). Times they are a-changin’: A response to Magli and Belmonte. Antiquity, 1-3. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.61 

Sunday 14 May 2023

Mike Parker Pearson's Stonehenge: A Brief History


Mike Parker Pearson's new book, Stonehenge: A Brief History, is a concise and accessible overview of one of the world's most iconic archaeological sites. Parker Pearson, a leading expert on Stonehenge, draws on his decades of research to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the monument's history, from its origins in the Neolithic period to its current status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The book begins with a brief overview of the site's geology and landscape, followed by a discussion of the earliest evidence for human activity at Stonehenge. Parker Pearson then presents a detailed account of the monument's construction, which took place over a period of several centuries. He discusses the different types of stones used in the construction, as well as the methods that were employed to transport and erect them.

In addition to providing a detailed account of the monument's physical history, Parker Pearson also explores its cultural significance. He discusses the various theories that have been put forward about the purpose of Stonehenge, and he presents his own interpretation of the site as a place of ritual and ceremony. He also discusses the role of Stonehenge in the wider context of Neolithic Britain, and he considers the impact that the monument has had on people throughout history.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Parker Pearson's discussion of the relationship between Stonehenge and the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls. Parker Pearson argues that the two sites were once part of a single ceremonial complex, and that they were used by the same people. This new understanding of Stonehenge has important implications for our understanding of the site's purpose and significance.

Stonehenge: A Brief History is an essential read for anyone interested in learning more about this remarkable monument. Parker Pearson's clear and engaging writing style makes the complex subject matter accessible to a wide audience, and his insights into the monument's history and significance are sure to fascinate readers of all levels of interest.

In addition to its comprehensive and informative text, the book is also beautifully illustrated with photographs, drawings, and maps. These illustrations provide a valuable visual aid to Parker Pearson's text, and they help to bring the monument to life for the reader.

Overall, Stonehenge: A Brief History is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about this iconic archaeological site. It is a well-written, informative, and engaging book that is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

(A review by the Google AI bot...)

Thursday 11 May 2023

John Day and the 1802 planned restoration of Stonehenge


On January 3, 1797, an entire trilithon, stones 57,58,158, collapsed at Stonehenge. The trilithon was re-erected in 1958.

Archaeologia Volume 13 Plate 10

"View of Stonehenge as it appeared before the third of January 1797, taken from the West. a b c the Trilithon lately fallen."
William George Maton Rev. T. Rackett Del.J. Bafire fc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

M Barber (2014) 'Restoring' Stonehenge 1881-1939; English Heritage Research Dept Report Series 006/2014; takes up the story: 

"The desire to do something about the state of Stonehenge seems first to have been discussed in the wake of the collapse of a trilithon in January 1797 .During 1800, the Rev. William Coxe, Rector of Stourton, managed to raise some £50 by subscription to go towards the cost of putting the collapsed stones back up again. The owner of Stonehenge at the time, the 4th Duke of Queensbury, refused permission. Chippindale (2005, 115) described the Duke as ‘notoriously mean and unpredictable’, and mentioned his serious neglect of Amesbury House as evidence. However, a near-contemporary account of a subsequent request to re-erect the stones suggests that Queensbury’s refusal may have been rooted more in aesthetics than meanness.The antiquarian Thomas Stackhouse’s reference to the Duke came in his account of a further effort to raise the collapsed stones. The date of this attempt is unclear, but must have occurred prior to 1810, the year the Duke died. Stackhouse described the events in his Two Lectures on the Remains of Ancient Pagan Britain..., published in 1833: 

“In contemplating the lofty and weighty masses of Stonehenge, many people conclude that the ancient Britons possessed a knowledge of the mechanical powers, or the combination of them, superior to that of the moderns; this can only be the conclusion of those who are totally unacquainted with the present state of mechanical science in this and the neighbouring countries... About eight years ago, a gentleman of Salisbury, one of a small association of antiquaries, of whom the learned and persevering Sir R. C. Hoare may, I believe, be considered a member, very obligingly, drove me to Stonehenge. In our way thither he informed me that these gentlemen and himself being determined to give the world a practical confutation of the error, agreed to send for a person from London to survey the spot and give an estimate of the charge for re-erecting three of the fallen stones, that is, one entire trilithon; they did so: after duly considering the matter, the person applied to, agreed to raise the uprights, and replace the top stone for £300; this,he told me, they were willing to give him, and would have done it, but it was necessary to have permission from the lord of the manor, (the late Duke of Queensbury,) on applying to him for the purpose, he declined giving his consent by saying, that he thought the whole more picturesque in its present state, and desired that, on that ground, they would excuse him”. " 

In 1802 William Cunnington who mainly worked for Sir Richard Colt Hoare excavated at Stonehenge and that may be the year that the plan to re-erect the stones was discussed as above.

In 1802 a J.Day and W.Law Masons (from) Camberwell carved their names on the back of Stone 56. 

John Day was a Stonemason in Camberwell and I think his firm still survives to day  But as well as being being a successful Stonemason he also was an inventor and registered a couple of patents which suggest he would have had the interest and skills to work at Stonehenge.

"John Day, of Camberwell-green, in the parish of St. Mary, Lambeth, stone-mason; for an engine for the purpose of loading and unloading vessels, and also for raising large anchors and other immense weights to any height required. Dated February 12, 1807."

So it seems likely that the "person from London" who quoted £300 to re-erect the trilithon was John Day of Camberwell who left his mark behind.  Maybe the Duke wasn't pleased and that is why the project never proceeded.