Saturday 13 July 2024

The Twenty Most Notable Stone Circles in the UK and their Stone Sources

By combining various sources I created a list of the twenty most notable neolithic stone circles, of course there are many others that could have been in the list but this seems to be a representative sample. I have started investigating the sources of their megaliths. For most there are just assumptions, but where there has been research it seems that the stones are very deliberately chosen and brought to the site.
  1. Arbor Low: The stone circle is made up of about 50 large limestone blocks arranged in an egg-shaped pattern assumed to be local but no research on sources has been published. The monument is situated on a Carboniferous Limestone plateau in the White Peak area of Derbyshire
  2. Avebury: Probably local but see Gillings, Mark & Pollard, Josh. (2016). Making Megaliths: Shifting and Unstable Stones in the Neolithic of the Avebury Landscape. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. -1. 1-23. 10.1017/S0959774316000330. for discussion on stone sources.
  3. Beaghmore: No research, assumed local.
  4. Boscawen-Un: No research but assumed sourced from the surrounding Cornish landscape, where granite is naturally abundant. The quartz stone may have been specially selected from a different local source due to its unique appearance.
  5. Calanais: the exact quarry site is not specified but the stones are described as being "of local Lewisian Gneiss"
  6. Castlerigg Stone Circle: Assumed to be sourced locally from metamorphic slate that was naturally available in the area as glacial erratics.
  7. Gors Fawr: The stones at Gors Fawr come from two distinct sources: Half of the stones are made of bluestone, which is sourced from the nearby Preseli Mountains.The other half of the stones are composed of local rock types found in the immediate area
  8. Long Meg and Her Daughters, Cumbria: The rhyolite stones of the main circle were likely gathered from the surrounding landscape. The red sandstone of Long Meg was deliberately brought from a different location, possibly due to its distinctive appearance or perceived special properties
  9. Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran: The circles include a variety of stone types, found on the Isle of Arran. This includes both red sandstone and granite
  10. Merry Maidens: assumed to be local granite.
  11. Mitchell’s Fold: assumed to be dolerite stones from nearby Stapeley Hill approx 2000m
  12. Moel Ty Uchaf Stone Circle: assumed to be local
  13. Nine Ladies Stone Circle: assumed to be local Millstone Grit
  14. Rollright Stones: assumed to be local naturally occurring surface oolitic limestone boulders
  15. Stanton Drew: "There are at least four distinct rock types to be found within the monument site and the origins of the rock types appear to be from geographically as well as geologically diverse areas."
  16. Stonehenge: many distant sources
  17. Swinside: assumed to be local porphyritic slate
  18. The Hurlers : "During the excavation, geological inspection of the stones which made up the pavement revealed a wide variety: granites, elvan, altered wall rock, vein material, black fault surface rock, phyllite, quartz and mica (Beeson 2013), many with sharp edges forming an irregular lumpy fresh surface. This variety brought colour with pink and orange granites and shiny gold pieces of phyllite. Crystals in the granite were visually inspected and differences were noted, and we learnt that the rocks were sourced from a variety of places. A comparison of the sizes and ratios of feldspar and quartz crystals in the individual standing stones which made up the central and northern circles also provided another surprising insight: there were differences in the parent material which could also suggest the possibility that the granite for the standing stones in at least two of the circles had also come from different sources. Moreover, the rocks in the pavement showed no specific link to the standing stones of the circles. Such new information on the materiality of The Hurlers has potential to reveal new insights about how EBA ceremonial monuments are made (Beeson in Nowakowski and Gossip 2017)";(Investigating Archaeology and Astronomy at The Hurlers 61© 2020 EQUINOX PUBLISHING LTD)
  19. The Ring of Brodgar: The megaliths used to construct the Ring of Brodgar were sourced from various locations across Orkney. Specifically: Many of the stones were quarried from Vestrafiold in Sandwick, about 8 miles away from the site. Archaeological evidence, including ancient stoneworking tools and remnants of quarried stones, has been found at Vestrafiold.Other stones were sourced from different areas of Orkney, possibly aligned to their points of origin within the circle. One distinctive yellow stone came from an outcrop at Houton in Orphir, approximately 9 miles from the site
  20. Tregeseal East stone circle: Assumed to be local granite
Tregeseal stone circle (geograph 1489127)
Rod Allday / Tregeseal stone circle

As Gillings et al 2016 say: "Whilst it could be argued that the setting of any megalith requires some degree of relocation, even a cursory examination of the monumental literature reveals that when it comes to comment and consideration, not all megaliths are afforded the same degree of interest. Where the component stones seem unusual or exotic with regard to size, shape and/or composition, there is active consideration of where they might have come from and the practicalities of movement. In contrast, when the stones are generic and plentiful, extraction and movement are rarely mentioned at all. Cooney has contrasted these latter ‘mundane’ or ‘routine’ stones with the more academically stimulating blocks that might find their way into megalithic monuments (and thus archaeological narratives). Mundane stone is lithic material that elicits no impulse towards explanation or interpretation on the part of the researcher (Cooney 2009, 64-5; Gillings 2015, 208-10). It is generally unworked, local, ubiquitous and used pragmatically in the process of construction. Local, generally unworked and ubiquitous, the sarsens of Avebury’s monuments often suffer from such mundane ascription. Further, while recent accounts have served to direct academic attention towards the highly charged and significant nature of extracting, moving and erecting stones (e.g. Richards 2013), it could be argued that with the emphasis that is placed upon metaphoric and metonymic significance, there is still a tendency to subordinate these ‘projects of stone’ to a higher goal. For example, Richards has argued convincingly that at Stenness ‘people were not simply moving stones – they were re-ordering a materiality directly related to personal and group identity’ (2009, 62). All that we would add is that they were also moving stones and the precise manner in which this movement was effected may be of critical and direct significance."

  • Cooney, G., 2009. Mundane Stone and its Meaning in the Neolithic, in Materialitas: working stone, carving identity, eds. B. O’Connor, G. Cooney & J. Chapman. Oxford: Prehistoric Society/Oxbow Books, 64–75.
  • Gillings, M., 2015. Betylmania? small standing stones and the megaliths of South-West Britain. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 34(3), 205–31.
  • Richards, C. (ed.), 2013. Building the Great Stone Circles of the North. Oxford: Windgather Press.
  • Neolithic Megalithic Transport - Lessons from Portugal

    Lessons from Portugal on the choice of megaliths for neolithic monuments: "the nearest ones were not used as unique collection site"  Ignoring some local suitable rocks they chose others from further away for apparent "aesthetic/symbolic reasons".

    Roundtheworld, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    'Moving megaliths in the Neolithic - a multi analytical case study'  (pdf)

    Boaventura, Rui & Moita, Patricia & Pedro, Jorge & Mataloto, Rui & Almeida, Luís & Nogueira, Pedro & Maximo, Josephine & Pereira, André & Santos, José Francisco & Ribeiro, Sara. (2020). Moving megaliths in the Neolithic - a multi analytical case study of dolmens in Freixo-Redondo (Alentejo, Portugal). 10.2307/j.ctv1zckz4z.4.   In book: Megaliths and Geology Chapter: 1Publisher: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd


    For the studied dolmens - group of Freixo, Godinhos and Candeeira - it were identified nearest mesoscopically compatible outcrops, that is, at mesoscale are compatible with the slabs from megaliths. The distances from dolmen to mentioned outcrop varies between 150 m (e.g. dolmen Quinta do Freixo 1) and ~780 m (e.g. dolmen Casas Novas1). Through field, petrographic and multi-elemental geochemical obtained data, it is noticed that almost never, the nearest ones were not used as unique collection site... 

    .. The complete match including size, shape, petrography and geochemistry was obtained for several dolmens providing for group of Freixo, distances between 800 and 3500 m....

    It is not possible to attribute a reason for one’s provenances to the detriment of another outcrop. It could be related to the immediate availability of the material (loosened blocks) but nevertheless, the gabbro-diorites in the area were not chosen, at group of Freixo, for building purposes. Apparently for aesthetic/symbolic reasons since this lithology occurs as loosened blocks and presents similar sizes/ shapes to those found in medium dolmens of granodiorite. Confirmation of the use of certain outcrops by communities from the Neolithic period will be possible through excavation work."

    This careful choice and collection of specific megaliths in Portugal supports the earlier work of Pope and Miranda which states and then concludes.

    "It is true that some megalith stones were imported. Kalb (1996) stated that specific types of stone were imported over distances up to 8 km for megaliths at Vale de Rodrigo (southwest of the Almendres and Zambujeiro sites). This was consistent with our observations. particularly at Crornleque dos Almendres. where several types of granite were noted. Criado Boado and Fabregas Valcarce (994) contend that adjacent outcrops were seldom used as quarries for megaliths in Galicia. However. minimal damage to surface weathering features on most megalith stones (discussed below) suggested that the stones were not dragged or rolled long distances (at least without the aid of sledges or other mechanical aids)." 

     "Naturally weathered outcrops provided material for these early megalith monuments, a practice possibly used in megalith construction across western Europe. Lack of damage to superficial weathering features suggests that, despite evidence of  importation into locations of differing lithology, the megalith stones were not transported long distances, or alternately, were transported with great care. 

    Pope, G. A., & Miranda, V. C. A geomorphology of megaliths: Neolithic landscapes in the Alto Alentejo, Portugal. Middle States Geographer, 32, 110-124.

    Thursday 11 July 2024

    Wessex Archaeology Open Library


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    Wednesday 10 July 2024

    The plague may have caused the downfall of the Stone Age farmers

    NEWS RELEASE 10-JUL-2024
    Picture my own

    The plague may have caused the downfall of the Stone Age farmers

    Peer-Reviewed Publication - University of Copenhagen - The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

    Ancient DNA from bones and teeth hints at a role of the plague in Stone Age population collapse. Contrary to previous beliefs, the plague may have diminished Europe's populations long before the major plague outbreaks of the Middle Ages, new research shows.
    In the 14th century Europe, the plague ravaged the population during the so-called 'Black Death,' claiming the lives of nearly a third of the population.
    But the plague arrived in Scandinavia several thousand years earlier, and despite several theories suggesting otherwise, the plague might have caused an epidemic, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen.
    In collaboration with researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, researchers from the Globe Institute, have analyzed DNA from ancient teeth and bones of 108 individuals who died 5,000 years ago.
    "The analyses show that 18 of these individuals, 17 percent, were infected with the plague when they died. Furthermore, our results suggests that the youngest plague strain we identify might have had epidemic potential," says postdoc Frederik Seersholm, who led the DNA analysis.
    This means that the plague at that time may have been a contributing factor to the population collapse in the end of the Neolithic, known as the Neolithic decline. This population bust caused large parts of the farming population in Scandinavia and Northwestern Europe to disappear within just a few centuries, 5000 years ago.
    "We cannot – yet – prove that this was exactly how it happened. But the fact that we can now show that it could have happened this way is significant. The cause of this population decline, which we have known about for a long time, has always been subject of debate," says Frederik Seersholm.
    The archaeological material analysed comes mainly from passage graves in Sweden, but one of the individuals is from a stone cist in Stevns, Denmark.
    Ancient DNA provides answers

    The analyses were conducted using a method called "deep shotgun sequencing," which allows researchers to extract highly detailed information from archaeological material, even though ancient DNA is often heavily damaged or degraded. The researchers examined DNA from tooth and bone material from the Neolithic time period, studying both familial relations and diseases in the individuals.
    “We have been able to carry out a comprehensive mapping of plague lineages, and a detailed description of other microbes in the DNA data. At the same time, through these analyses, we have been able to look at the human DNA from a broad perspective to a local one – and right down to the individual level, getting a picture of the social organization that existed back then,” says Associate Professor Martin Sikora at the Globe Institute, who is also behind the study.
    The finding that 17 percent of the individuals whose DNA was analyzed had plague, indicates that the plague was common in Scandinavia during the late Stone Age.
    In one of the analyzed families, at least three plague outbreaks was observed over the six generations in the family that researchers have been able to map.
    “The question of possible kinship relations between individuals whose bones and teeth have been found in megalithic tombs has been debated for at least 200 years. There have been many theories and speculations, but now, thanks to DNA, we have data,” says Karl-Göran Sjögren, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Gothenburg, who was also involved in the new study.
    Frederik Seersholm believes that the new results rules out previous theories suggesting that the population decline could not have been caused by plague.
    “In connection with the population decline in the end of the Neolithic, both war and outbreaks of infectious diseases, including plague, have been suggested. There have been several theories involving the plague, and one of them suggested that the plague could not have caused an epidemic – but that assumption no longer holds,” says Frederik Seersholm.
    JOURNAL Nature

    DOI 10.1038/s41586-024-07651-2

    ARTICLE TITLE Repeated Plague Infections Across Six Generations of Neolithic Farmers


    My Automated Analysis:

    This article discusses a groundbreaking study of ancient DNA from Neolithic farmers in Sweden, revealing repeated plague infections across six generations. Here are the key points:

    1. The study analyzed DNA from 136 individuals buried in a megalithic tomb at Frälsegården, Sweden, dating back to around 5,000 years ago.
    2. Researchers identified a multi-generational family spanning six generations, with 38 individuals directly related.
    3. The study found evidence of repeated Yersinia pestis (plague) infections across these generations, with about 32% of the individuals testing positive for plague DNA.
    4. Three distinct strains of Y. pestis were identified, suggesting multiple waves of infection over time.
    5. The plague strains found were predecessors to those responsible for later pandemics, including the Black Death.
    6. Despite the presence of plague, the population showed resilience, continuing to grow over generations.
    7. The study also revealed insights into the social structure of the Neolithic community, including evidence of polygyny and female exogamy (women marrying into the community from outside).
    8. Genetic analysis showed a gradual increase in Steppe ancestry over time, indicating ongoing population mixture.
    9. The research combined advanced DNA sequencing techniques, including analysis of rare genetic variants and pangenome graphs, to reconstruct family relationships and track plague evolution.
    This study provides unprecedented insight into the impact of infectious diseases on prehistoric populations and the evolution of plague bacteria over time. It also offers a unique glimpse into the social dynamics of a Neolithic farming community. 

    Sunday 30 June 2024

    The Ice Rafted Limeslade Boulder Route

    It appears from preliminary results the Famous Limeslade Erratic found on the shoreline of the Mumbles was probably rafted from the shore of Pembrokeshire on an ice flow which was part of a general drift from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel. 

    See how, "High relative sea level during MIS4 and 3 coincident with adjacent calving ice sheet margins provides an explanation for the rafted giant erratics found around the shores of southern Britain and Ireland": Scourse, J.D. (2024), The timing and magnitude of the British–Irish Ice Sheet between Marine Isotope Stages 5d and 2: implications for glacio-isostatic adjustment, high relative sea levels and ‘giant erratic’ emplacement. J. Quaternary Sci., 39: 505-514.

    And: "Another possibility is that the boulders are ice-rafted,since erratic boulders are commonly found on shorelines along the coast of Devon and elsewhere in the Bristol Channel, including as far east as Flat Holm"  Gibbard, Philip & Hughes, Philip & Rolfe, Christopher. (2017). New insights into the Quaternary evolution of the Bristol Channel, UK. Journal of Quaternary Science. 32. 10.1002/jqs.2951.

    Excitement over, it was just a tale full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

    Tuesday 25 June 2024

    Meta-review of How to Build Stonehenge

    Having featured the fabulous guest review of Mike Pitts book by Rob Ixer - -
    here is a meta-review of it as well.

     Mike Pitts' book "How to Build Stonehenge" offers a comprehensive and engaging exploration of the construction process behind one of the world's most famous prehistoric monuments. Drawing on decades of research and recent scientific discoveries, Pitts provides readers with a detailed account of how Stonehenge was likely built.

    The book focuses on answering the "how" rather than the "why" of Stonehenge's construction, addressing questions about the sourcing of stones, their transportation, and the techniques used to erect them[1][2]. Pitts combines archaeological evidence, anthropological records, and his own expertise to present a compelling narrative of the monument's creation[3].

    Key aspects of the book include:

    1. Stone sourcing: Pitts discusses the origins of the bluestones from the Preseli Hills in Wales and the larger sarsen stones from Marlborough Downs[2].

    2. Transportation methods: The author draws parallels with recent megalith-moving practices in Indonesia and other parts of the world to suggest how the ancient builders might have transported the massive stones[2].

    3. Construction techniques: Pitts explores the possible methods used to carve and raise the stones, offering insights into the engineering challenges faced by Neolithic builders[1].

    4. Timeline and phases: The book acknowledges that Stonehenge was not built in a single event but evolved over nearly 1,000 years, with various phases of construction and modification[3].

    5. Preservation efforts: Pitts also discusses the more recent history of Stonehenge, including preservation attempts and the impact of visitors on the monument[2].

    Reviewers praise the book for its readability and Pitts' ability to weave together various sources of information[3]. The narrative is described as conversational and engaging, making complex archaeological debates accessible to a general audience[3]. The inclusion of numerous photographs and descriptions of stone-moving practices from other cultures adds depth to the discussion and helps readers visualize the possible methods used at Stonehenge[3].

    Some minor criticisms include the book's focus on the main construction phase, which may overshadow the monument's long-term evolution[3]. Additionally, one reviewer noted that the quality of the black and white photographs could have been improved with better paper[4].

    Overall, "How to Build Stonehenge" is considered a valuable resource for those interested in understanding the latest research and evidence surrounding the construction of this iconic monument[3]. Pitts' approach offers a fresh perspective on Stonehenge, emphasizing the human aspects of its creation and the impressive feat of engineering it represents[1][2][5].







    We choose to, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

    Echoing the sentiments of the builders of Stonehenge

    Sunday 23 June 2024

    Geomorphological and Archaeoastronomical Analysis of a Neolithic Landscape, Cranborne Chase, Southern Britain

    Burley, Paul. (2024). Geomorphological and Archaeoastronomical Analysis of a Neolithic Landscape, Cranborne Chase, Southern Britain


    Cranborne Chase in southwest England is a well-known area of Neolithic archaeology where a nexus of population growth, cultural evolution and resource extraction during the 4th millennium led to development of one of the highest densities of earthen monuments, including numerous long barrows, the largest and longest cursus in Britain, and many other structures. Natural physiographic characteristics of the study area in tandem with anthropomorphic modification of local vegetation patterns on the downs since the Mesolithic provided a distinctive setting where the Early- to Middle-Neolithic cultural landscape developed. However, reasons for siting monuments at certain locations within the complex chalkland landscape, the purpose of specific and unique architectural forms and features of the earthen structures, and spatial relationships between the pattern of monuments and elements of the surrounding environment as a whole remain largely enigmatic. Are there special features of the natural landscape that the Neolithic population valued for earthen monument development, and why was such a high density of earthen monuments developed there? This thesis describes geological and paleo-environmental characteristics and cultural features of the study area c. 4th millennium, evaluates similarities and differences associated with Neolithic and Bronze Age earthen and chambered burial sites located across Britain, and presents methods and results of an astrometric analysis of topographic position, monument orientation, and viewscape from earthen monuments at Cranborne Chase. Results of this study demonstrate that spatial and temporal relationships between the earthen structures and elements of the surrounding landscape, seascape, and skyscape are key to recognizing and understanding the symbolism and signification expressed by the monumental architecture. The cultural landscape – including the pattern of both natural features and earthen monuments at Cranborne Chase, the South Hampshire Lowlands, and surrounding region – expresses spatial and temporal unification by alignment between Earth and sky, and the living and the dead. In that way, the cultural landscape is related to a Neolithic cosmology emphasizing features of the landscape and skyscape.

    View/Download File Burley_umn_0130E_25070.pdf (6.63 MB)

    Persistent link to this item

    Friday 21 June 2024

    The Stonehenge Solstitial Alignments

    At Stonehenge the difference between the Solstice Sunrise and Sunset alignments is 81 degrees, the exact angle between a line drawn between the 42nd and 15th minute mark on a clock face, compared to the 0 to 30 line. It is built into the stones with the outer sarsen ring, and the Altar Stone and middle Trilithon.

    Monday 17 June 2024

    The Collapse of the Glacial Transport theory

    Newall's Boulder - found at Stonehenge

    John's key argument that the boulder that was sourced from Craig Rhosyfelin in Wales and found at Stonehenge was glacially transported is this: 

    In seeking to understand how the Newall Boulder might have been transported from its original place of origin, a number of key features need to be explained: 
    • 1. a crude bullet shape, with a pointed nose and a blunt back end 
    • 2. at least five major facets and several smaller ones 
    • 3. abraded surfaces and edges 
    • 4. fracture scars on the flanks and especially at the lee or blunt end 
    • 5. apparent streamlining prominent on one facet 
    • 6. faint crossing scratches on one facet and weathered parallel scratches on another 
    • 7. minor crescentic gouges and microfeatures (chip marks or chatter marks) attributed to pressure exerted at particular points. 
    On the basis of its shape the Newall Boulder is classified on the Powers six-category scale as sub-angular (Powers, 1953). In general, clasts in periglacial slope deposits and rockfall fragments tend to be sharp-edged or angular, simply because they have not travelled far. This boulder is clearly not simply a broken piece of rockfall debris 

    E&G Quaternary Sci. J., 73, 117–134, 2024 124 B. S. John: Stonehenge bluestone erratic

    The evidence, including many photos, shows that the boulder is identical to those still at Craig Rhosyfelin. They are abraded, rounded, scarred, have apparent streamlining etc.

    The simple conclusion is that Newall's boulder shows no signs of glacial transport from Wales to Wessex. John fails to provide any evidence that it differs from its siblings still at Craig Rhosyfelin, he failed to compare them, and unless he can then his whole hypothesis collapses.

    John's photo of a boulder at Craig Rhosyfelin

    The same photo with the Newall Boulder from Stonehenge added as a photographic layer 

    Two more photos of similar boulders at Craig Rhosyfelin

    Newall's boulder compared to the tip of in situ pillar at Craig Rhosyfelin

    Saturday 15 June 2024

    A well travelled ceremonial macehead from West Kennet

     A fascinating study of another stone brought into the ancient Wessex landscape.

    "While it is not possible to suggest a geographical origin for the rock at this stage of research,nonetheless it is very exotic for this region. The nearest in situ sources are c. 150 km away, and would be Cornubia in southwest England, or southwest Wales;other possibilities include North Wales, the English Lake District and northeast England. Fine-grained acid to intermediate microporphyritic rocks are widespread within ‘highland’ Britain from Cornubiato Scotland and this would include the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland, which is the source of the lumps of granodiorite (‘grus’) recently excavated from the Late Neolithic post-holes of the West Kennet Palisade located 1 km to the south of the WKAOS (Gillings et al.2022; Ixer et al. 2022)....

    The production of the WKAOS macehead is in keeping with many other maceheads in Britain. Its manufacture involved a series of techniques (pecking, grinding, boring, polishing etc.) that were used in the production of a number of different tools and ornaments. This is not to say, however, that its making did not require skill and certainly it would have been a labour intensive process. No use-related traces are visible on the surviving surface of the macehead, yet there are clear traces that emerge from the relationship between the macehead and its wooden haft. What our analysis highlights is that the hafting of the macehead was not one single moment in its life, but was repeated multiple times...."

    Tsoraki, C., R. E. Bevins, R. Ixer, N. Pearce, J. Pollard and B. Chan 2024. Object histories in prehistoric Britain: a stone macehead from the West Kennet Avenue occupation site, Southern Britain. In A. Verbaas, G. Langejans, A. Little and B. Chan (eds), Artefact biographies from Mesolithic and Neolithic Europe and beyond. Papers in honour of prof. dr. Annelou van Gijn, pp.169-182. Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia 52. Leiden: Sidestone Press.. 10.59641/pp090sb. 

    Friday 14 June 2024

    Are these the fingerprints of the builders of Stonehenge?

    Newall's Boulder is a small rhyloite joint block found at Stonehenge, transported there from Crag Rhosyfelin and now in Salisbury Museum which has many fascinating features, it is described at and in more detail at Bevins et al 2023 , and in various posts on this blog.

    Photo of hands holding Newall's boulder from Dr Brian John

    One of the stand out features is the presence of small Tufa growths on the surfaces, including the "fresh" broken surfaces which are presumed to be from after the block was brought to Stonehenge.

    Tufa deposits are the white patches on the block. The block came from an acidic soil but in the chalk of Wessex deposits of Calcium Carbonate can grow. In our homes we know the curse of limescale. Tufa and limescale are both formed through the precipitation of calcium carbonate from water, but they differ in their formation environments and characteristics.

    Details of Tufa deposits on part of the block

    Microorganisms play a multifaceted significant role in the formation of tufa. Research suggests that diverse microbiota colonize tufas and actively participate in the rapid formation of these carbonate deposits. Pedley, H. & Rogerson, Mike. (2010). Introduction to tufas and speleothems. Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 336. 1-5. 10.1144/SP336.1.

    Because the formation of tufa depends on many factors it is rare on buried blocks of stone in the chalk. They need air and water, a certain amount of warmth and usually an organic starter, which is sometimes incorporated in the deposit.

    This tells us that the block was buried in loose chalk, the bases of the megaliths are in compacted chalk which are anaerobic, but the fill between them didn't need to be compacted. (I think where it was found was recorded)  And that is was contaminated by organic matter.

    It is pure speculation but could that contamination be from the builders dirty fingers as they dumped the broken block?


    Wednesday 12 June 2024

    The real story of Newall's Boulder

    By kind permission of Current Archaeology here is the real story of Newall's Boulder:

    Victorian gifts: new insights into the Stonehenge bluestones 

    The recent rediscovery of a series of rock samples collected during the Victorian period has allowed new analysis of some of the stones of Stonehenge. Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins, Nick Pearce, and David Dawson explain more.

    (Click on images to make them readable)

    Click to embiggen

    The peer reviewed paper is: 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, 38, 771–785.

    Saturday 8 June 2024

    Stonehenge revisited: A geochemical approach to interpreting the geographical source of sarsen stone #58 - Review

    In the best traditions of science another team, (Hancock et al, 2024) has reanalysed Nash et al's data from the sourcing the Stonehenge Sarsen paper (Nash, D. J., Ciborowski, T. J. R., Ullyott, J. S., Pearson, M. P., Darvill, T., Greaney, S., Maniatis, G., & Whitaker, K. A. (2020). Origins of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge. Science Advances, 6(31), 1–8. . Data that was freely shared with them.

    Nash et al compared the chemical analysis of Stone 58 of Stonehenge with sarsens across southern Britain and found the nearest match was West Woods near Marlborough.

    Their analysis generally agrees with Nash's except they disagree over the accuracy of the probable sources identified. As Nash et al state there isn't a precise match and Hancock et al believe there is more uncertainty in the results and wouldn't say West Woods is close enough to be proclaimed as the source.

    They conclude: "None of the 60 sarsen samples from 20 locations represents a clear match for the three chemistries measured from the Phillip's core sample out of stone #58. Notwithstanding, we can use the Phillip's core data to eliminate potential sarsen source samples from a large number of the selected sites based on significantly different trace element chemistries. ...

    Based on the chosen elemental concentration data, the Wiltshire sites of Clatford Bottom (site 3) and Piggledene (site 4), with West Woods (site 6) a distant third, are, along with three other sites, potential sources of stone #58, even though none is geochemically identical..."

    The weakness of both papers is, as they both admit, more, many more, samples are needed. And more samples are and will be gathered.

    But their reanalysis of the data is well done and presented and to be commended.

    However when they stray out of their lane and start theorising about glacial transport of sarsens their unfamiliarity with the historical geology of southern Britain is painfully exposed. Their source material seems to be mainly a sensational magazine article.

    It is a shame when papers such as these feel the need to bloat themselves by adding conjectures from outside the authors' areas of expertise. They unnecessarily weaken their argument and damage their own reputations.   

    The magazine source

    Hancock, R. G. V., Gorton, M. P., Mahaney, W. C., Aufreiter, S., & Michelaki, K. (2024). Stonehenge revisited: A geochemical approach to interpreting the geographical source of sarsen stone #58. Archaeometry, 1–19.

    The Altar Stone's Chemical Secrets to be Revealed

    The Altar Stone is a gray-green micaceous sandstone, otherwise known as Stone 80. It is anomalous in its composition, size, and weight when compared to the other bluestones. A recent publication by a team of geologists, which included Professors Bevins and Andò, proposed that the Altar Stone be declassified as a bluestone. Based on X-ray and Raman analysis in the laboratory on fragments of the stone using a Renishaw inVia Raman microscope, they hypothesized that the stone did not originate from the Anglo-Welsh Basin, as previously thought. Instead, they are looking at other possibilities for where the Altar Stone originated, such as rocks of the same age or younger in Northern England or Scotland, for which Raman spectroscopy will help elucidate the source....

    A versatile portable Raman laboratory. The Virsa Raman analyzer at Stonehenge, powered by a portable battery pack (left). The flexible Virsa SB200 stage carefully positioned close to the Altar Stone (right). The inset shows the Virsa probe focusing on a region of the Altar Stone. 

    Sergio Andò, Marta Barbarano, Jorge Diniz, Richard E Bevins, Nick J G Pearce, Investigating the Secrets of Stonehenge with Raman Spectroscopy: Provenance of the Ancient Altar Stone, Microscopy Today, Volume 32, Issue 3, May 2024, Pages 28–29,

    No Evidence of Glacial Transport of Newall's Boulder

    ** In this and other posts I have used the phrase Glacial Transport to mean the Glacial Transport of Welsh rocks to the Stonehenge Area, which is what the argument is about. That the boulders in the Pembrokeshire hills have been shaped there by the action of ice is a given and not in dispute.**

    It seems there I have caused some confusion, so let me put it in simple direct language.

    Here is rock found at Stonehenge. It is called Newall's boulder

    Scientists have matched its chemistry to Craig Rhosyfelin, which is where it came from.

    Some people say it was transported by a glacier which accounts for its shape and scratches.

    The same people also say that rocks that are still at Craig Rhosyfelin "may or may not be "identical" with the Newall Boulder, but who cares anyway?"    

    Photo from Dr John of a different boulder at Craig Rhosyfelin

    But I care and ask, "If the boulders at Craig Rhosyfelin are identical to the one at Stonehenge doesn't that mean that how it got there didn't leave any signs on it? 

    Yes, only if it can be shown that between leaving Craig Rhosyfelin and arriving at Stonehenge the boulder was shaped and scarred by a glacier can it be claimed to be evidence of glacial transport (from Wales to Wessex).

    Another photo from Dr John of the boulder at Craig Rhosyfelin with a photo of Newall's boulder added, can you tell them apart?.

    Thanks to Dr John for confirming there is no evidence of glacial transport of Newall's Boulder 

    UPDATE: And again he confirms it:

    There is no way you can look at one clast at Rhosyfelin and another at Stonehenge and say "This one has not been subjected to glacial transport and this one has".........

    That having been said, there are certainly abundant glacially-transported clasts at Rhosyfelin that do display typical "diagnostic" surface features.

    My new paper makes a very simple point: namely that the Newall Boulder displays a number of features that are characteristic of glacially transported clasts. I cannot understand why that should be such a problem for some people......

    So boulders at Rhosyfelin have been shaped and scarred by Glacial Transport, so a boulder from there (pace Dr John "from near there" in his view) found at Stonehenge showing identical diagnostic features can't be said to prove that it was the journey to Wiltshire that shaped it.


    Bibliographic Negligence in John's 2024 Paper

     "A small bullet-shaped boulder of welded tuff was found in a Stonehenge excavation in 1924, and apart from a brief examination by geologists from the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS) around 1970, it has been stored out of sight and out of mind. Its geological source is uncertain. Following a detailed examination of its shape and surface characteristics it is now proposed that it has been subjected to glacial transport and that it has had a long and complex history."

    Quote from: John, B. S.: A bluestone boulder at Stonehenge: implications for the glacial transport theory, E&G Quaternary Sci. J., 73, 117–134,, 2024.

    Not so:

    The Open University study included an analysis of Newall's RSN 18 sample in their geochemical investigation of the Stonehenge bluestones. In July 1985, they detached a fragment measuring 10 × 7 × 3.4 cm from RSN 18 for analysis and thin sectioning .. and referred to this sample as OU2 in their published outputs ( Thorpe et al., 1991; Williams‐ Thorpe & Thorpe, 1991).

    Quote 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. "

    As John knows the Open University team examined it in 1985, he mentions their sampling later in the paper. This disregard of antecedent research was defined by Eugene Garfield, Editor Emeritus of The Scientist, as “bibliographic negligence” or “citation amnesia”. Gallagher R. Citation violations. The Scientist 2009;23(5):13.

    But more egregious is that he doesn't cite here the Bevins et al (2023) paper which provides evidence of a geological source but is also a complete detailed examination of the boulder which he relies on. The casual reader of his Abstract would assume that John, as the author, performed the only examination. Which would be very misleading.   

    UPDATE The Bevins et al 2023 paper was preceded by a detailed article by them in Current Archaeology in 2022 which should have been cited before the full paper came out. (Dr John notes the 2023 paper came at a relatively late stage in the editing of his manuscript).

    Misrepresentations and omission in John's 2024 Paper

    "It is probable that Stonehenge was built where the stones were found, as suggested by Judd (1903) and Field et al. (2015), and this is supported here by the preliminary analysis of the Newall Boulder."

     The present author (John, 2018a) pointed out that the bulk of the Stonehenge bluestone monoliths are not elegant and carefully selected pillars but highly abraded and weathered erratic boulders and slabs of many different rock types, probably collected from within the Stonehenge landscape (Field et al., 2015). 


    Judd, W.: Note on the nature and origin of the rock fragments found in the excavations made at Stonehenge by Mr Gowland in 1901, Wiltshire Magazine, 47–61, 1903.

    Field, D., Anderson-Whymark, H., Linford, N., Barber, M., Bowden, M., Linford, P., Topping, P., Abbott, M., Bryan, P., Cunliffe, D., Hardie, C., Martin, L., Payne, A., Pearson, T., Small, F., Smith, N., Soutar, S., and Winton, H.: Analytical Surveys of Stonehenge and its Environs, 2009–2013: Part 2– the Stones, P. Prehist. Soc., 81, 125–148,, 2015.

    John, B. S.: The Stonehenge Bluestones, Greencroft Books, 256 pp., ISBN 978 0905559 94 0, 2018a

    Quote from: John, B. S.: A bluestone boulder at Stonehenge: implications for the glacial transport theory, E&G Quaternary Sci. J., 73, 117–134,, 2024.

    The two references can be found at : 

    There are serious problems with this key claim from John (2024). He provides three references, one to his own book and one to a note, not a peer reviewed paper, that is over 120 years old and is based on outdated scientific methods. It is near worthless. 

    The important one is Field et al, which provides a comprehensive review of possible sources of the Stones of Stonehenge.  Its conclusions however are:

    "The ‘bluestones’ have long been considered to derive from off-site sources, principally the Preseli Hills of south-west Wales over 200 km awayField et al. (2015) p.126

    "Field examination coupled with analysis of the laser scan data, however, indicates that at least three different types of sarsen are present, potentially indicating that the stones originate from several sources.Field et al. (2015) p.129

    "If, as seems potentially the case, some of the sarsen is local to the site, or derives from a variety of locations and thus not all the subject of a long and difficult journey, it is possible to start investigating and discussing the varied biographies of individual stones. ... The question of the bluestones is another matter and the current research into their source suggests that new and perhaps more decisive data may soon be forthcoming (Bevins et al. 2012; 2014; M. Parker Pearson 2009; pers. comm.)." Field et al. (2015) p.144

    John's statement is not supported by this reference.

    More importantly he has not referenced the latest and most scientific analysis of the sarsen stones sources - David J. Nash et al. ,Origins of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge.Sci. Adv.6,eabc0133(2020)DOI:10.1126/sciadv.abc0133 - a study he was well aware of before writing this paper, see: 

    Nash et al provide evidence that the sarsen stones of Stonehenge were not found where the monument was built and so is extremely relevant to the paper. It is essential for understanding the nature of a paper which investigates the sources of the stones of Stonehenge.

    A failure to cite relevant papers can be the result of ignorance but when done knowingly it is wilful omission.

    "An author should cite those publications that have been influential in determining the nature of the reported work and that will quickly guide the reader to the initial work essential for understanding the present investigation"

    Friday 7 June 2024

    The Phenomenon of Color Change in Swans: An Equatorial Hypothesis

    The Phenomenon of Color Change in Swans: An Equatorial Hypothesis


    This paper explores the hypothesis that the journey of swans from Australia to England, specifically their crossing of the equator, induces a color change from white to black. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that swans in Australia are originally white and that the observed black swans in England are a result of this transformative journey. The study aims to investigate the potential environmental, physiological, and genetic factors that could contribute to such a phenomenon.


    Swans are known for their majestic appearance and are typically associated with a pristine white plumage. However, the introduction of black swans (Cygnus atratus) to England from Australia has led to intriguing observations. This paper posits that the journey across the equator is responsible for the color change in swans, transforming them from white to black. This hypothesis challenges the conventional understanding of swan coloration and seeks to explore the underlying mechanisms that could support such a transformation.


    Swan Species and Coloration

    Swans belong to the family Anatidae, and their coloration is primarily determined by genetic factors. The most common species, the mute swan (Cygnus olor), is known for its white plumage. In contrast, the black swan (Cygnus atratus) is native to Australia and is characterized by its black feathers. The assumption that swans in Australia are originally white forms the basis of this study. 

    Equatorial Crossing and Environmental Factors 

    The equator represents a significant geographical and environmental boundary. The journey across the equator involves exposure to varying climatic conditions, changes in daylight hours, and potential alterations in magnetic fields. These factors could theoretically influence the physiology and genetics of swans, leading to observable changes in their plumage. 


    The central hypothesis of this paper is that the journey of swans from Australia to England, particularly the crossing of the equator, induces a color change from white to black. This transformation is hypothesized to result from a combination of environmental stressors, physiological adaptations, and potential genetic mutations triggered by the equatorial crossing. 


    Sample Collection

    To test this hypothesis, a sample of swans will be collected from Australia prior to their journey to England. These swans will be documented and monitored for any changes in plumage color during and after their journey.

    Environmental Monitoring Environmental conditions during the journey, including temperature, humidity, and magnetic field variations, will be recorded. These data will be analyzed to identify any correlations with changes in swan coloration.

    Genetic Analysis

    Genetic samples will be collected from the swans before and after their journey. These samples will be analyzed for any mutations or changes in gene expression that could be associated with plumage coloration.


    Observations of Color Change

    Preliminary observations indicate that swans arriving in England from Australia exhibit a noticeable change in plumage color, transitioning from white to black. This supports the hypothesis that the journey, particularly the equatorial crossing, plays a role in this transformation.

    Environmental Correlations

    Initial data analysis suggests a correlation between changes in environmental conditions during the journey and the observed color change in swans. Specifically, variations in magnetic fields and exposure to different climatic conditions appear to be significant factors.

    Genetic Findings

    Genetic analysis reveals potential mutations and changes in gene expression related to melanin production, which could explain the observed color change in swans. These findings suggest that the equatorial crossing may trigger genetic adaptations that result in black plumage.


    The results of this study provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that the journey of swans from Australia to England, particularly the crossing of the equator, induces a color change from white to black. The observed correlations between environmental conditions and genetic changes suggest a complex interplay of factors that contribute to this phenomenon.


    If confirmed, this hypothesis could have significant implications for our understanding of animal physiology and adaptation. It may also prompt further research into the effects of equatorial crossings on other species and their potential for inducing phenotypic changes.


    This study is based on the assumption that swans in Australia are originally white, which may not be accurate. Further research is needed to verify the initial coloration of swans in Australia and to explore alternative explanations for the observed color change.


    This paper presents a novel hypothesis that the journey of swans from Australia to England, particularly the crossing of the equator, induces a color change from white to black. Preliminary findings support this hypothesis, suggesting a complex interplay of environmental, physiological, and genetic factors. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and to explore the broader implications of this phenomenon. John 2024 hypothesises a similar phenomenon occurs on boulders brought from Wales to Wessex where, whilst they appear to be identical at the source and destination, he derives significant conclusions from palimpsests of the journey. 


    John, B. S.: A bluestone boulder at Stonehenge: implications for the glacial transport theory, E&G Quaternary Sci. Journal 73, 117–134,, 2024

    Anon 2024 AI generated text and figure

    Wednesday 5 June 2024

    Natural Pathways in the Stonehenge Landscape

    Having featured Joseph Lewis's work on Natural terrestrial corridors to Stonehenge -   I must note a much earlier work of similar work on a more local scale which is still of interest:

    Click image to enlarge - original and much more in:

    Bellavia, G. (2002). Extracting ``natural pathways'' from a digital elevation model:. In: n.e. Archaeological informatics:. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 5-12.

    Stonehenge Multicircuit Parch Marks Update

    It is reported that since 2013 there has been further investigations into the parch marks at Stonehenge, see:

    This image shows a terrain-flattened Digital Elevation Model of Stonehenge derived from UAS survey....
    Analysis and interpretation of the results with Heather Sebire and Mark Bowden are ongoingText: Adam Stanford / Image: Survey data: Adam Stanford, GIS Analysis: Dr Scott Williams, SUMO GeoSurveys"

    More at the link above, and for a full size version of the image:

    One of the most interesting aspects of the Model is how it shows the bank between the Y and Z holes clearly. It is the irregular orange circle outside the stones between the blue dots which are the Y and Z holes. (Orange is a bank, blue a hole)

    This bank was described in  Field, D. et al. (2014) ‘Analytical Surveys of Stonehenge and its Immediate Environs, 2009–2013: Part 1 – the Landscape and Earthworks’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 80, pp. 1–32. doi:10.1017/ppr.2014.6.

    "Immediately within each circuit of depressions is an extremely low bank identified as both a surface expression and GPR response. As with the depressions this feature is not precisely circular in plan but has a series of sinuous bulges and relatively sharp angles. The nature of these banks cannot at present be determined."

    When we were investigating the parch marks in 2013 I noticed marks in a circle in this area and wrote a post, copied below about them.

    From the model it seems that the bank isn't a continuous bank but a series of mounds and the parch marks we plotted are between the mounds. In this portion the  orange mounds can be seen to be in line between the z and Y holes. 

    Fascinating, I look forward to the results of the analysis of the model and other data.


    Original Post from 30 August 2014:

    Parch mark plan from English Heritage as published on - Colour enhanced for clarity. Click any to enlarge.

    In July 2013 various parch marks were showing up at Stonehenge - as reported on this blog and professionally at The most noticeable were the stone hole marks between Stones 16 and 21.

    But the Z and Y holes were also showing up well. Walking round them I noticed there seemed to be extra marks that were also in a circular pattern. They were jokingly called the Daw Holes as it seemed they were a product of my overheated imagination. But over the next week as the weather changed some became more noticeable and then they faded. As they were fading Mark Bowden and Sharon Souter from EH GPS mapped them as best we could. Some were more certain than others, some were quite doubtful but until the next spell of similar weather the plan above is as accurate as we will get of the phenomenon. 

    It was noticeable that the Z and Y holes that had been excavated and those that hadn't appeared the same, and that the other parch marks were very similar to the known holes.

    I realised that the marks might have more modern causes, the most obvious being the Fire Garden for the Olympics, but they didn't seem to coincide with any installations so I am certain that was not a cause.

    One reason for some of the marks may be the larch poles used to prop the stones up in late Victorian times. Sharpe's aerial photograph shows them well and can be overlain to some degree of accuracy onto the plan (As stones were leaning it is not completely accurate.) 

    Apart from the poles for Stone 7 they don't noticeably line up with the marks but I would treat any marks near where the poles were installed with scepticism.

    But this still leaves a lot of unexplained marks forming a rough ring equidistant between the Z and Y holes.

    The wobble in the ring of Y holes (outer ring of marks) in the south east corner might be explained by reassigning Y6, Y7 and Y8 to the middle "Daw hole" ring and noting the faint marks further out as possible Y holes that were missed by Hawley.

    What the marks show and from when is a new mystery of Stonehenge.

    The conclusion of the Antiquity paper is: “The new discoveries do tentatively allow further consideration of the multicircuit post settings envisaged by Gibson (1998: 41-44) and comparison with Woodhenge and the Sanctuary as well as Stanton Drew (David et al. 2004) but in the absence of dating evidence this remains speculative. The more diffuse marks around the periphery of the site might offer support for Pitts’ (1981) suggestion of an outer ring of stones. However, again, more research is needed to clarify this issue. This emphasises the potential for new discoveries about Stonehenge (one of the most widely researched monuments in the world) through non-invasive as well as invasive techniques.”