Sunday 28 January 2024

A few thoughts on the 2024 Sarsen Debitage Paper

Local and exotic sources of sarsen debitage at Stonehenge revealed by geochemical provenancing

T. Jake R. Ciborowski, David J. Nash, Timothy Darvill, Ben Chan, Mike Parker Pearson, Rebecca Pullen, Colin Richards, Hugo Anderson-Whymark,
Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 53, 2024, 104406, ISSN 2352-409X, (

An exciting addition to Stonehenge Research, identifying the sources of the stones not only satisfies the Stonehenge completist but also provides hints into the society that built it. The paper is very thorough and open and deserves study, even if the technicalities are beyond your ken.  

The authors have been admirably restrained in drawing conclusions about the sources of the debitage but it is worth emphasising the shortcomings they admit to. This is very much a preliminary paper and the tentative sources are just that.

The first problem is that they are using only twenty sample sites to compare with, the sites are detailed in David J. Nash et al. , Origins of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge. Sci. Adv.6,eabc0133(2020). DOI:10.1126/sciadv.abc0133  

Click to embiggen

There is much more work to be done in sampling and plotting the variations in Sarsens before there can be confidence that all potential sources or areas are known.

Secondly because of the well explained constraints they were working under the analysis had to be purely geochemical, whilst it isn't quite true that Coal and Diamonds are the same geochemically the principle that identification needs more than just the chemistry is valid.

These points are known and acknowledged by the authors but in the excitement of considering how and why sarsen may have come from across southern Britain to Stonehenge they need to be born in mind.

That long distance transport of stones and maybe even soil, Silbury?,  was a Neolithic practice is well known, but this study points to where new archaeology research may be fruitful.

There is one small inconsequential archaeological error I think I noticed in the paper. The position of excavation STH08 is erroneously plotted. I believe it is nearer the red rectangle I have overlain below.

As I blogged before it is a shame the excavation report* doesn't include a plan so it might be a problem if the plan becomes the record that is referred to in the future.

*(The Antiquaries Journal, 89,2009,pp1–19r The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2009 doi:10.1017⁄s000358150900002x. First published online 21 April 2009)   

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