Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Little Britain Stonehenge

Kenny Brophy - "...recently visited Stonehenge, curious to see how this icon of Britishness is presented to visitors and tourists. ...It is very clear that the Stonehenge experience – the real Stonehenge – is a long way removed from the idealised Stonehenge we keep getting told about. If this monument is a jewel in the crown, it’s a fake.

The reality is sadly many miles removed from the glossy airport adverts – make no mistake, visiting Stonehenge in the summer these days is a tawdry, tacky experience...

...The very existence of Stonehenge is political, created in many phases of activity that were designed to empower and boost certain individuals and interest groups. Medieval stories about the stones were political too, origin myths to support claims of power and the status quo. These stones have been and continue to be used to peddle myths about the past while conserving power and control today – academic power, political power, power over access, an essential celebrity and politician photo opportunity, a place that one has to be associated with...

Thanks Kenny, it's a great gift to be able to see, what we might think of as ours, as other see it. It should free us from many blunders and foolish notions. If only the fanciful wrappings and devotions might be stripped from it and reveal the real Stonehenge. 

One of the many reasons I preferred the old visitor centre was its honesty of purpose and architecture.   

Thursday 24 August 2023

An Erratic Train of Thought

As we continue to wait for the analysis of the Mumbles erratic, which was claimed to be the "smoking gun" of the Stonehenge Bluestone Glacial Transport idea, it is worth reconsidering the pantheon of coastal erratics in the southwest of Britain. Conventional glacial theory says they shouldn't be there, but they are, so the theory needs refining. That they were entombed or carried on icebergs seems to be the most probable answer.

Quaternary of South-West England edited by S. Campbell, C.O. Hunt, James D. Scourse, D.H. Keen, N. Stephens

The good Dr John, however, seeks inadvertently to confuse:  "Whatever its erratic history may be, the boulder demonstrates that the Irish Sea Glacier impinged upon the Gower coast, carrying erratics from the west and displacing local Welsh ice on at least one occasion."

The source of the erratic is important, if it was entrained in a glacier and dropped by the glacier then the source and destination must be connected by a plausible path. But if it sailed free in or on an iceberg then the source could be unconnected, and its position doesn't demonstrate the extent of the glacier at all.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

The Ice Rafted Giant's Rock at Porthleven, Cornwall (probably).

Photo thanks to Rob Ixer

"...many authors have favoured ice-rafting as the most likely mechanism for emplacement of the Giant's Rock and similar large erratics in the South-West. Indeed, Tricart (1956) also favoured this mechanism to explain the presence of large erratics on the French Channel coast. However, if floating ice carried the erratics to the south coast, then problems arise regarding contemporary Pleistocene sea levels. Mitchell (1972) sidestepped the problem of low sea levels during glacial stages by arguing that these erratics were rafted into position at the beginning of the Saalian Stage when the level of the sea might still have been relatively high after the preceding, warm, Hoxnian Stage. Similarly, Stephens (1966b) argued that the large erratics could have been emplaced by pack-ice and icebergs during the waning of an early pre-Saalian (Anglian?) glacial period when world sea level would have been high enough to allow the erratics to be `floated' into position (Fairbridge, 1961). As an alternative hypothesis, Stephens suggested that towards the end of the Saalian ice-sheet glaciation, isostatic depression of the land had allowed the sea to move icebergs against these coasts despite a generally low eustatic sea level. Such a mechanism is similar to recently proposed models of Late Devensian glaciomarine sedimentation in the Irish Sea Basin (e.g. Eyles and McCabe, 1989, 1991). Bowen (1994b) recently suggested that the Giant's Rock could have originated in Greenland and then been transported to the South-West on ice-floes from a disintegrating, Early Pleistocene, Laurentide ice sheet. In support of the ice-rafting hypothesis, the most convincing evidence is that the erratics are very largely confined to a narrow coastal zone, invariably below 9 m OD, and within the reach of storm waves today..."


"The Giant's Rock is the most impressive and intriguing of the large erratics found around the south and west coasts of Britain. Despite having attracted scientific interest for nearly a century, its exact origin and mode of emplacement are still unknown and it remains the subject of much controversy. Although some workers have maintained that the 50-ton erratic was emplaced directly by glacier ice, most believe that it was delivered to its present location on floating ice..."

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Debating Visual Truth at Stonehenge in the Seventeenth Century

Inigo Jones, perspective of Stonehenge, from Stone-heng Restored (London: Printed by James Flesher for Daniel Pakeman, 1655), plate 42


Over the course of the seventeenth century, two representations of Stonehenge—one published in William Camden’s Britannia (1600) and the other in Inigo Jones’s Stone-heng Restored (1655)—were invoked repeatedly in an intensifying debate over the monument’s origins. This debate engaged both the virtuosi community of the Royal Society and members of the closely related, fledgling world of English architectural discourse, and the two representations became the common ground for both conversation and contestation. This paper traces the entangled afterlives of these two images, and argues that their reproduction and reinterpretation by members of natural history, antiquarian, and architectural communities created both discord and new, collective knowledge. Drawing on recent work exploring how images produced for divergent purposes and audiences were integrated into natural philosophical study, I explore how, through their reproduction, alteration, and recontextualization, these images functioned as tools of both division and mediation, and created space for debate and new investigation.

Kaemmer, H. (2023). Description or Design: Debating Visual Truth at Stonehenge in the Seventeenth Century. Nuncius, 38(2), 278-310. https://doi.org/10.1163/18253911-bja10064

William Rogers, perspective of Stonehenge from William Camden’s Britannia (London: Printed for George Bishop, 1600), 252

Inigo Jones, inscribed plan of Stonehenge, from Stone-heng Restored (London: Printed by James Flesher for Daniel Pakeman, 1655), plate 38 Citation: Nuncius 38, 2 (2023) ; 
10.1163/18253911-bja10064  Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Monday 14 August 2023

Erratic Castaway

Just a reminder that any Glacial erratic found on the edge of a body of water is probably a boulder that hitched a ride on an iceberg rather than evidence of actual glaciers. 

"An iceberg carries a rock though Jökulsárlón, Iceland's glacial lagoon." https://pin.it/3xNpM9M

Norway, Svalbard, Spitsbergen. Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park, Liefdefjorden, Monacobreen aka Monaco Glacier. Large boulder floating on iceberg in front of glacier.  https://www.alamy.com/norway-svalbard-spitsbergen-nordvest-spitsbergen-national-park-liefdefjorden-image156487112.html

It seems that the erratic found on the Mumbles seashore - https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=56283  - is just another fascinating example of this phenomenon, having probably enjoyed a cruise around St David's Head rather than the proof of anything else, despite the lurid headlines and press release:

Stonehenge mystery solved: 'Smoking gun' discovery provides 'missing piece' of puzzle

Across the water in North Devon there are about twenty examples of these probable dropstones, Baggy Point is one https://www.geographysouthwest.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/PTV-Baggy-Point-Erratic.pdf explains more.

A fuller explanation of them, and the debate about how they arrived is at: https://data.jncc.gov.uk/data/965f9190-c00b-4a6b-aa9f-8e3855492404/gcr-v14-quaternary-of-south-west-england-c7.pdf

And at   https://data.jncc.gov.uk/data/965f9190-c00b-4a6b-aa9f-8e3855492404/gcr-v14-quaternary-of-south-west-england-c2.pdf

Thursday 10 August 2023

Current terminology of the Stonehenge bluestones lithologies.

From: Bevins, R., Ixer, R., Pearce, N., Scourse, J., & Daw, T. (2023). Lithological description and provenancing of a collection of bluestones from excavations at Stonehenge by William Hawley in 1924 with implications for the human versus ice transport debate of the monument's bluestone megaliths. Geoarchaeology, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1002/gea.21971  

Sunday 6 August 2023

Moving Poetry from Google's Bard


From a distant land carried
By the hands of ancient people
Stones still stand tall


Bluestones from afar,
Carried by ancient hands,
Standing strong today.


Old men recount a fantastic tale,
That the ancient 'henge stones are glacial.
But their theory lacks,
Any supporting facts,
So the myth is complete cock and bull.


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said, "Dost thou know
The bluestones are the work of a human hand ?
And do they not still stand, and still they show
That their sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things?"
For the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
The false words that icy fingers brought them here
The King of Kings, pure proven truth, has clearly said
To tell the charlatans to look and despair.
Of their theory nought remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level grasses stretch far away.”

(Image from Microsoft Bing Image Creator)