The View from the Otherside of the River It would appear that from its very inception, the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP) had a predetermined objective that a sceptic might be tempted to think that the archaeological finds have been made to fit that very plan.
That plan was seemingly conceived in the 1990’s when Parker Pearson worked with the archaeologist Ramilisonina from Madagascar to develop a new interpretation of the ritual landscape around Stonehenge. In Madagascar stone is used for sacred purposes to construct tombs and monuments for the dead, and belongs to the world of the ancestors. Whereas wood is used to make houses and belongs to the realm of the living. The concept has been influential on Parker Pearson’s interpretation of the findings of the two project teams discussed above. Is it feasible that the culture of Neolithic Wessex can be identified with modern Madagascar?
The notion that the inhabitants of Durrington Walls were the same people who constructed Stonehenge is certainly possible but unfounded and unprovable. That the two sites were connected by an Avenue with bluestones at each terminus joined by the River Avon in a grand ceremonial route, a rite of passage, for a huge mid-winter festival to honour the ancestors is a lovely idea but does the evidence actually support this?
There are issues with this chronology. As Julian Richards says, “it is not possible to be living at Durrington Walls (around 2500BC), make the journey to Stonehenge via the Avenue (constructed later between 2400 and 2300BC) and for your cremated remains to be buried at Stonehenge where the majority of burials date to before 2600BC.”
SRP excavated one single Aubrey Hole and determined that all 56 holes originally held bluestones in the first stone setting at the monument. However, Julian Richards, one of the excavators of Aubrey Hole 7, is not convinced it held a bluestone. Richards comments as one who closely examined the crushed chalk at the base of the hole that “the evidence was not quite as conclusive as Mike Parker Pearson states”. Richards was not alone in his doubts; other archaeologists who saw the base of the hole were not convinced of the “apparent” stone impression either. Richards also questions the profiles of the 34 excavated Aubrey Holes which vary considerably in size and shape; if they all served the same purpose should they not be more consistent? There also remains the issue of the lack of stone in the lower fills of the Aubrey Holes, consistent with the lack of stone chips in the lower fills of the ditch, which Richards suggests indicates they were dug before stone arrived at the site. It seems the matter will only be resolved by excavating an undisturbed Aubrey Hole.
Then we have the henge monument at West Amesbury encompassing a circle of bluestones (Bluestonehenge) envisaged as holding 24-26 bluestones, combined with 56 in the Aubrey Holes providing the total number of 80-82 bluestones in the final Stonehenge setting. SRP had hoped the construction of Bluestonehenge would be contemporary with the first bluestone setting in the 56 Aubrey Holes in 3000–2920 BC but evidence is lacking and the date uncertain. However, firmer dating evidence was obtained for the dismantling of Bluestonehenge which occurred around the same time as the digging of the Avenue ditches and rearrangement of the bluestones into a setting at Stonehenge using all 80 or so in a double arc or circle in Stage 3, around 2400-2300 BC.
Yet, there was no evidence of bluestones standing in the stone circle at West Amesbury; no bluestone chips in the stoneholes whatsoever. The conclusion was made based simply on the size of the holes that bore a close resemblance to known bluestone holes at Stonehenge. This assumption has a significant bearing on the proposed stoneholes at Waun Mawn, as we will see later. Dating evidence for the construction and dismantling of the proposed bluestone circle by the river Avon is not secure but it fits the overall scheme; dates that don’t fit are rejected and those that do are selected even if obtained from fewer samples. Note that at Waun Mawn only seven dates were accepted from 43 samples subjected to radiocarbon dating.
A similar strategy was employed once the source of some of the bluestones at Stonehenge were matched to locations in the Preseli Hills. But dating evidence, hazel nuts from a camp fire, which may not be linked to stone extraction from the site at all, returned dates several hundred years before the envisaged first stone setting at Stonehenge. This dating had to be made to fit the grand scheme so the bluestones had to have been employed somewhere else for the period. Where were those bluestones for several hundred of years before being moved to Salisbury Plain?
Thus, the quest moves to Waun Mawn as a potential bluestone circle located close to the proposed quarry sites that was robbed of its stones in antiquity and moved to Salisbury Plain. There are many concerns with this neat little proposal in which everything falls nicely into place:
Firstly, it is not certain that Waun Mawn was a stone circle at all, only ten possible stoneholes of uneven spacing have so far been uncovered. Only four stones survive at Waun Mawn, all unspotted dolerite, only one of these upright; were they ever all standing? We can also question why these four bluestones were not taken to Stonehenge and left behind in Wales?
If the claimed similarities between Stonehenge and Waun Mawn is evidence of migration by people from south-west Wales to Salisbury Plain who took their stones – “their ancestral identities” – with them, why were these four bluestones (relics of ancestors) left at Waun Mawn?
Much has been made of the diameter of the putative stone circle at Waun Mawn, which at 110m is said to be the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge. Yet we are told that the first stone setting at Stonehenge was bluestones standing in the Aubrey Holes, a circle which has a diameter of 87m. For this argument to hold water shouldn’t we be comparing two identical features, i.e. stone circle to stone circle or ditch to ditch, not two dissimilar features such as ditch to stone circle.
The claim that no other stone circle bears this similarity in size is therefore also flawed, but at 110m the suggested stone circle at Waun Mawn is closer to Stanton Drew at 113m rather than the Aubrey Hole circle at 87m, the first stone setting at Stonehenge according to SRP.
It is claimed that both Stonehenge and Waun Mawn are aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise; a large gap in the proposed stone settings at the north east of Waun Mawn is claimed to target the midsummer sunrise like a gunsight. The gap in these stone settings at this point is so large it could target many things; is it actually an entrance?
SRP argued that the Stonehenge axis aligns with periglacial fissures uncovered in the Avenue which happen to align with the midwinter- midsummer solstice. This they argue is the reason for the monument being sited at this precise location on Salisbury Plain. If Stonehenge is modelled on Waun Mawn we should expect to find a similar feature there, but none has been reported. If this is the reason for the Stonehenge axial alignment what is the reason for the Waun Mawn alignment, and as mentioned above, if there is one which is far from certain? If the claimed Waun Mawn alignment to the midsummer sunrise is correct then serious consideration must be given to the suggested chronological sequence of the two monuments.
But what really lets down the overall hypothesis is the size of the stoneholes at Waun Mawn. The stoneholes at Waun Mawn are smaller than recognised bluestone holes in the Stonehenge environs. Most of the stoneholes at Waun Mawn comprised shallow pits 0.80–1.20m diameter × 0.30–0.50m deep. [ANTIQUITY 2021 Vol. 95 (379):pp.85–103] These are substantially shallower than bluestone holes from the Stonehenge environs:
Regardless of the absence of lithic evidence, the size of the stoneholes at Bluestonehenge was used to determine the monument once held bluestones. At Bluestonehenge the average stonehole measured 1.5 diameter x 1.12m deep [ANTIQUITY 90 352 (2016): 991–1008]
“It is important to note that the profiles, depths and diameters of the Aubrey Holes (averaging 1.10m in maximum diameter and 0.88m deep; Cleal et al. 1995: Table 10, Figures 51–5) are indistinguishable from those of known bluestone sockets of later phases (averaging 1.12m in maximum diameter and 0.96m deep;” [ANTIQUITY 83 (2009): 23–39]
By the evidence of the size of the claimed stoneholes at Waun Mawn alone we must reject the suggestion that it was once a stone circle that held bluestones of similar size to Stonehenge.
The story of Stonehenge and Waun Mawn is told in the journal Antiquity but if you thought it would be any more scientific than the BBC television program The Lost Stone Circle Revealed, then think again.
Parker Pearson said: “I have been leading projects at Stonehenge since 2003 and this is the culmination of twenty years of research. It’s one of the most important discoveries I’ve ever made.”
This is not a major discovery by any means; it is a supposition painting a romantic image of a people migrating from their homelands bringing their stones, representative of their ancestors, with them in an attempt to solve the mysteries of Stonehenge. But there is one significant element missing: firm evidence.
Finding Bigfoot is more convincing.
Bibliography: Michael J Allen et al, Stonehenge’s Avenue and ‘Bluestonehenge’, ANTIQUITY 90 352 (2016): 991–1008. Richard Atkinson, Stonehenge, Penguin, 1979. Timothy Darvill et al, Stonehenge Remodelled, ANTIQUITY 86 (2012): 1021–1040 David J Nash et al, Origins of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge, Science Advances, 2020; 6. Mike Parker Pearson, Who was buried at Stonehenge? ANTIQUITY 83 (2009): 23–39. Mike Parker Pearson et al, The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales, Antiquity 2021 Vol. 95 (379): pp. 85–103. Mike Parker Pearson, et al, The Origins of Stonehenge: On the Track of the bluestones. Archaeology International 2017, No. 20: pp. 52–57. Mike Parker Pearson, et al, Waun Mawn stone circle: the Welsh origins of Stonehenge: Interim report of the 2018 season M Parker Pearson and Ramilisonina, Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message, Antiquity , Volume 72, Issue 276 , June 1998 , pp. 308 – 326 M Parker Pearson and Ramilisonina, Stonehenge for the ancestors: Part Two Antiquity , Volume 72 , Issue 278 , December 1998 , pp. 855 – 856 M Parker Pearson, et al, Materializing Stonehenge – The Stonehenge Riverside Project and New Discoveries, July 2006, Journal of Material Culture 11(1-2):227-261. M Parker Pearson, Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery, Simon & Schuster, 2012. M Parker Pearson et al, Stonehenge: Making Sense of a Prehistoric Mystery, CBA, 2015 Stuart Piggott, The Sources of Geoffrey of Monmouth. II: The Stonehenge Story, ANTIQUITY 1941 Vol. 15, (305). Julian Richards, Stonehenge: The Story So Far, Historic England, 2017. Christie Willis et al, The Dead of Stonehenge, ANTIQUITY 90 350 (2016): 337–356 Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, ed. & trans. Lewis Thorpe, Penguin, 1973.
Provenancing the Stones Beyond the Stonehenge Riverside Project the team took on further research as The Stones of Stonehenge Project (SOS) once again directed by Professor Mike Parker Pearson (now UCL Institute of Archaeology), to explore the origin of the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge: sourcing the huge sarsens and the bluestones using geological analysis to pinpoint the precise locations.
After matching source material to core samples taken from a limited number of sarsens at Stonehenge in 1958 researchers have identified West Woods, 15 miles (25km) north of the monument on the edge of Wiltshire’s Marlborough Downs as the exact origin of the sarsen stones. Yet, the sarsens fail to excite many people and the real interest is in the bluestones.
Modern science has managed to pinpoint the exact source of some of the bluestones owing to advances in technology since Herbert Thomas’s day. Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have now identified the outcrops of Carn Goedog (near Carn Meyn) as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the ‘rhyolite’ bluestones, oddly abundant in the debitage at Stonehenge but absent as a standing stone.
At Craig Rhos-y-felin the SOS team claimed to have found traces of prehistoric stone extraction along with a prepared but abandoned megalith and a stone hole within which another was apparently extracted. Continuing investigations claimed to have uncovered evidence of further megalith quarrying in the Preselis at Carn Goedog, identifying this site as a source for spotted dolerite bluestones, not Carn Menyn as originally claimed by Thomas. However, it is debatable whether there is any direct evidence of quarrying at either site.
The dating of Craig Rhos-y-felin was obtained from radiocarbon testing of charcoal from a fire claimed to be the quarry-men’s camp revealed a date several hundred years before the construction of the first stone setting at Stonehenge. Parker Pearson said, “We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC”.
This anomaly of several hundred years before SRP’s revised dating for the Stonehenge sequence with the first bluestone settings in the Aubrey Holes raises the question of where the bluestones stood for up to 500 years or so after quarrying but before their arrival on Salisbury Plain?
As noted above (Part I), the bluestones at Stonehenge show clear signs of reworking from a previous setting; lintels with mortices and pillars with tenons removed; deep grooves and projections. However, the chalk under Stonehenge has been described as “swiss cheese” owing to the amount of stoneholes and postholes from over a thousand years of continuous reworking of the megalith arrangements making positive identification of stone settings extremely problematic.
In summary, we have a 5oo year gap from quarrying and second hand bluestones used at Stonehenge; Parker Pearson argues that the bluestones must have been set somewhere else before arriving on Salisbury Plain. In his search for the first Bluestone Circle Parker Pearson appears to have been influenced by a 900 year old myth which tells how the monument was moved to south-west England.
The Magic Numbers Around 1136 AD Geoffrey of Monmouth completed his account of the history of the kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae). In his book Geoffrey claimed that around the time of King Arthur, the prophet of Vortigern known as Merlin brought the Giants Ring stone circle from mount Killaraus in Ireland to England as a memorial to the British nobles murdered by the Saxons at a peace conference. Merlin says that no one of this age could raise these stones of such vast magnitude that the giants of old brought from Africa and placed them in Ireland when they inhabited that country. Uther Pendragon, the brother of Aurelius Ambrosius the king, is despatched to Ireland with 15,000 men to bring back the Giants Ring. After defeating the Irish and moving the stone circle with Merlin’s magic it was reconstructed near the convent at Ambrius where the murdered British nobles had been buried. Later, both Aurelius and Uther are buried in the Giants Ring. When King Arthur is mortally wounded in his last battle with Modred he is taken not to the Giants Ring to be buried alongside his kinsfolk as might be expected but to the Isle of Avallon to be cured of his wounds by Morgan and her sisters. After the passing of Arthur the crown passed to his kinsman Constantine who was “buried close by Uther Pendragon within the structure of stones, which was set up with wonderful art not far from Salisbury, and called in the English tongue, Stonehenge.”
It is easy to see why Geoffrey’s tale of the Giants Ring appeals to Mike Parker Pearson in his search for a lost bluestone circle as the original Stonehenge; the stone circle is brought from the west, in the Antiquity paper he states that this area of west Wales was considered Irish territory in Geoffrey’s day. The stone circle is set up at Ambrius, near Salisbury, clearly meant to be Amesbury; it is a burial ground for British nobles; the Giants Ring is called Stonehenge in English. The monument at Stonehenge seems to tick all the boxes.
Having convinced himself that the bluestones must have started their monument service as a stone circle in the Preseli Hills where it may have stood for possibly 500 years before being dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain, Mike and the gang set off in search of a redundant site in south-west Wales, constructed around the same time as the quarry sites and then robbed of its stones around the time the first bluestones arrived at Stonehenge.
The ‘Stones of Stonehenge’ (SOS) project identified Waun Mawn in the Preseli Hills, south-west Wales, as a site of interest in 2010, but magnetometer and earth-resistance surveys in 2011 failed to locate any geophysical anomalies indicative of stoneholes. Waun Mawn is an arc of four bluestones, one upright at 1.6m high and three recumbent, all of unspotted dolerite. These stones are part of the Talfarn y Bwlch Stone complex, near Brynberian.
The quest for the lost bluestone circle took the Project team back to Waun Mawn in 2017, a site situated between the two sites identified as bluestone quarries at Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog. They returned to Waun Mawn in 2018 and extended excavations beyond the arc of stones and revealed 12 further features. Six of these features were apparently empty holes for standing stones said to have been removed in antiquity confirming that they were once part of a former circle which at a diameter of 110 metres would have been the third largest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset, and also one of the earliest. By strange co-incidence the diameter of the Waun Mawn circle is the same as that of the ditch that encloses Stonehenge.
However, the SOS team claimed that the six stoneholes and four surviving standing stones (ten potential stone settings in total) may have originally formed part of a circle of 30–50 stones, suggesting that other stone circles must have also been robbed of their bluestones to provide the 80 or so thought to have stood at Stonehenge in its full compliment. By contrast, only three unspotted dolerite bluestones survive at Stonehenge (stones 44, 45 & 62).
A large gap between the suggested stone settings in the northeast sector of the conjectured stone circle at Waun Mawn is envisaged as the entrance, said to be aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise, as at Stonehenge.
Furthermore, it is argued that one of the stoneholes (091) at Waun Mawn matches the pentagonal cross-section of one the bluestones (Stone 62) at Stonehenge. Sounds like Bluestonehenge again! A large flake of unspotted dolerite that is thought to have become detached from the stone during its erection or removal at Waun Mawn, is claimed to be of the same type of rock as that of Stone 62 at Stonehenge.
Dating Waun Mawn Limited prehistoric artefacts have been recovered from Waun Mawn, none of which was datable. Radiocarbon dating was restricted to small samples (less than 4mm) of wood charcoal recovered by sediment flotation, which may be either intrusive or residual as a result of reworking by plants or animals, such as by ingestion and defecation.
Therefore to supplement radiocarbon dating of these samples, sediment from within the packing deposits that were considered to have been placed at the time of the stone’s erection, and from the in-fill of empty sockets, considered to have accumulated after the monoliths’ removal, was subjected to Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), a technique which can be used to date when sediment was last exposed to light. 18 samples were subjected to OSL providing a date range from 6980 BC to AD 1900. Samples from within the secondary fills, suggests removal of the stones was before 2120 BC.
43 samples were subjected radiocarbon testing, 31 from stoneholes and the rest from other features. Most of these however were rejected as they fall outside the ranges provided by the OSL dating, leaving just seven dates, four of which are from stoneholes, ranging from the end of the Early Neolithic to Middle Neolithic leading to the proposal that the stone circle at Waun Mawn was erected in c.3400–3200 BC.
The Preseli region of Wales was an important and densely settled place in Neolithic Britain, as witnessed by the concentration of megalithic tombs and large enclosures Parker Pearson tells us. Yet, he goes on, evidence of activity in the thousand years after 3000 BC is almost non-existent. And you can guess where this is all leading.
Recent isotopic analysis of the remains of the people buried at Stonehenge removed from Aubrey Hole 7 by the SRP suggests that the first people to be buried there came from western Britain, very possibly west Wales, around the same time the bluestones arrived. Parker Pearson said: “It’s as if they just vanished. Maybe most of the people migrated, taking their stones – their ancestral identities – with them, to start again in this other special place.”
Continued in Part III: The View from the Otherside of the River
“The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge’s bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.” – Mike Parker Pearson et al, The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales, Antiquity 2021 Vol. 95 (379):pp.85–103.
The Quest Begins Following the television program Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed first screened on BBC2 on 12th February, the story claiming to unveil a dramatic discovery linking Stonehenge to its original site 140 miles distant in Preseli, south-west Wales, has gone viral across news channels and social media. Reception has been mixed with some voices accusing the program, presented by respected anthropologist Alice Roberts, as parading myth as fact and not representing good science.
The Stones of Stonehenge The huge sarsen stones, weighing around 25 tons each, comprising today what remains of the outer circle and inner trilithon horseshoe, were sourced locally and brought from Marlborough Downs about 20 miles away. This alone was a massive effort, but apart from the challenge of the shear size of the stones it appears to be in common with most prehistoric stone circle construction that utilised local material. The arrival of the earliest sarsens at Stonehenge has been dated around 2600 BC. However, it is now claimed that the first stone setting at Stonehenge was actually the smaller bluestones, each estimated to weigh between 2-4 tons. The arrival of these bluestones, has puzzled archaeologists since the British geologist Herbert Thomas identified their source as the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales a hundred years ago.
Thomas identified a site called Carn Menyn in the Preselis as the source of the spotted dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge. His discovery led some to look anew at Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century tale of the Kings of Britain which claimed Stonehenge was brought from Ireland during the days of King Arthur, including Stuart Piggott who excavated at Stonehenge alongside Richard Atkinson in the 1950’s.
Perhaps Thomas was correct in postulating their use in an earlier stone circle as some of the bluestones present at Stonehenge today display clear evidence of previous working which may support claims of an earlier bluestone circle somewhere. Two spotted dolerite lintels (Stones 36 and 150) in the bluestone circle appear to have been reused from an earlier structure and three stones (Stones 67, 70, and possibly 69) from the bluestone horseshoe (or oval) display evidence of reworked tenons at their tops, while the tongue and groove on stones 66 and 68 suggests they were once joined.
Thomas’s sampling was limited and he only spent one day in the Preseli Hills. It is now known that there are at least 20 different types of volcanic and igneous rocks, including dolerites (spotted and unspotted), rhyolites, sandstones and tuffs, that constitute the “bluestone group” of stones, an unsatisfactory generic term used to describe all non-sarsen stones at Stonehenge. The task of identification is compounded by the fact that many of the original stones are now missing and some reduced to mere stumps while the sad remnants of others are hidden beneath the Stonehenge turf; a mere 43 survive at the monument today, no doubt the result of robbing and breaking by souvenir hunters over thousands of years.
Tales from the Riverbank The quest for the origins of Stonehenge started with The Stonehenge Riverside Project(SRP), directed by Mike Parker Pearson, (then of Sheffield University), carrying out research in the Stonehenge landscape between 2003-2009. The SRP carried out fieldwork at key sites including Durrington Walls, the Cursus, and the Stonehenge Avenue to test the hypothesis that Stonehenge was a stone monument dedicated to the dead and Durrington Walls made from timber was for the living.
Following extensive work at Durrington Walls, a large Neolithic settlement 2 miles from Stonehenge linked to the river Avon by a paved avenue aligned to the midsummer sunset, SRP moved onto Stonehenge in 2008 and re-opened Aubrey Hole 7, purposefully targeting this pit as it contained all the human remains from previous excavations at Stonehenge that had been reburied in 1935. Studies of the human remains from the Aubrey Hole, totalling at least 52 cremation burials, led the team to conclude that Stonehenge is effectively Britain’s largest third millennium BC cemetery. Controversially the human remains have still not been returned to Stonehenge, the sacred place where they were meant to be, despite legal challenges by the Stonehenge Druids. After excavating just the one pit SRP re-aligned the date of the first monument at Stonehenge back by 500 years to around 3000 BC seeing bluestones standing in all 56 Aubrey Holes, the first stone setting.
In 2009 the project team discovered a henge monument by the River Avon at the terminus of the Stonehenge Avenue. At the centre of this so-called West Amesbury henge were 9 stoneholes in an arc, imagined as holding 24-26 bluestones in a full circle (at least half now missing, eroded by the river Avon). These stoneholes were closely comparable with bluestone holes at Stonehenge, indeed the imprint of one is claimed to be very similar to the distinctively indented cross-section of Bluestone 68 at Stonehenge (illustrated above). Hence the monument was speculatively named “Bluestonehenge”, although no lithic evidence was found at the site to support the notion of a bluestone circle; not a chip, not a flake.
SRP hoped the construction of this putative bluestonestone circle was contemporary with the proposed date for the arrival of the bluestones at Stonehenge standing in the 56 Aubrey Holes in 3000–2920 BC. But there was a lack of secure dating evidence for the construction. The stone circle was probably dismantled 2480–2230 BC, roughly contemporary with construction of the Avenue.
Conveniently, 56 in the Aubrey holes and 24-26 at Bluestonehenge provides the ultimate number of bluestones considered by Richard Atkinson in the final setting at Stonehenge of around 80. However the final number of bluestones is far from certain. Excavations by Atkinson (1954) and Darvill & Wainwright (2008) across the Bluestone Circle found the spacing of stumps under the turf to be very close, suggesting, if continuous, that a complete circle may have been filled in like a wall. However, figures are typically given as between 40-60 for the Bluestone Circle and around 24 in the Bluestone Horseshoe. It should be noted that the Bluestone Horseshoe was originally closed at both ends forming an oval, but 4 or 5 stones were ripped out to leave 19 in an open horseshoe; where did these bluestones go?
Excavation by SRP across the line of the Avenue revealed deep periglacial fissures underlying the first 500m from the monument that aligned with Stonehenge’s solstitial axis (midwinter sunset–midsummer sunrise). Parker Pearson concluded that Stonehenge was built at this precise location in the prehistoric landscape because of this alignment, an immense project that unified the ancient Britons.
A dramatic discovery links Stonehenge to its original site – in Wales says the Guardian with a feature claiming finds at Waun Mawn in Preseli supports the theory that the Stonehenge bluestones first stood in circle in Wales before being transported 140 miles to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.
Merlin and The Giants Dance
The story of the stones of Stonehenge coming from the west was first written by Geoffrey of Monmouth 900 years ago. Geoffrey claimed the stones of the Giants Dance had been moved by Merlin’s magic from Ireland and erected on Salisbury Plain as a monument to the British nobles slaughtered by the Saxons. Geoffrey’s story was dismissed as pure myth.
However, in 1923 Herbert H Thomas first proposed that the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge were identical to rocks in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
The bluestones at Stonehenge display clear evidence of having stood in trilithon settings with lintels like a smaller version of the giant sarsens.
Geologists have identified close matches with types of bluestone now at Stonehenge with potential quarry sites at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin in the Preselis.
Mike Parker Pearson, professor of British later prehistory at University College London is convinced that “somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we’re seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument”.
For the last few seasons Parker Pearson and his team have carried archaeological studies at a Neolithic stone circle in Wales known as “Waun Mawn” has revealed features suggesting that Geoffrey’s 12th-century legend may not be a total fantasy after all.
Waun Mawn location
Waun Mawn has several similarities to Stonehenge: it has a diameter of 110 metres, identical to the ditch that encloses Stonehenge and is aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise, again just like Stonehenge.
Although only four unspotted bluestones have survived at Waun Mawn a series of buried stone-holes that follow the circle’s outline has been unearthed, with shapes that can be linked to Stonehenge’s bluestone pillars.
Mike Parker Pearson,, told the Guardian: “I’ve been researching Stonehenge for 20 years now and this really is the most exciting thing we’ve ever found.”
The story of one man’s quest for the lost bluestone circle is told tonight on BBC2 at 09:00 pm with Alice Roberts who says it is “an astonishing discovery that is going to have us rewriting the prehistory books.”
Winter Solstice sunset and sunrise to be live streamed from Stonehenge
Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic English Heritage has cancelled the Winter Solstice gathering at Stonehenge this year in the interests of public health.
Instead, the Winter Solstice sunset and sunrise will instead be live-streamed from the stones on the evening of 20 December and the morning of the 21 December. It will be free to watch on the English Heritage social media channels, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter pages.
The events be live for about 45 minutes before and after.
The Christmas Star The winter solstice marks the point in the year that the Earth’s North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun resulting in the shortest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere.
This year will see the occurrence of the two astronomical events on the longest night of the year; the peak of a meteor shower coincides with an extremely rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
On 21 December, the Ursid meteor shower will see up to 10 ‘shooting stars’ an hour from the northeast direction of the sky where the North Star appears. This will be the final meteor shower of 2020.
In a different part of the night’s sky, Jupiter and Saturn will appear just 0.1 degree apart – roughly equivalent to one fifth of the moon’s diameter.
The convergence of the two gas giants, known as the Great Conjunction, will be the closest the two planets have appeared together since 1623. Both planets will appear to the naked eye as a single bright entity, leading some to refer to it as a ‘Christmas Star’ due to its timing.
Shockingly, against all advice, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has given permission for the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel scheme to go ahead.
“The decision by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to drive a chasm through Stonehenge World Heritage Site will send shock waves around the world, not least because the independent Examining Authority recommended it be refused permission. The decision goes against the advice of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, it will undermine the UK’s legal commitment to address Climate Change and is contrary to the advice of many experienced archaeologists.“
All is not lost yet; there is now a six-week period in which the decision can be challenged in the High Court.
The controversial plan to construct a two-mile (3.2km) road tunnel near Stonehenge has been approved by the Transport Secretary.
The tunnel will take the congested A303, which currently runs within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument, out of sight and return the Stonehenge landscape to greenfield.
The decision to build the £1.7bn tunnel through a World Heritage Site goes against the recommendations of planning officials who had recommended that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps withhold consent, warning it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the World Heritage site.
However, the Department for Transport considered that the benefits far “outweighed any harm.”
English Heritage, the nominated guardians of such monuments, welcomed the decision claiming it would “restore the ancient landscape” around the monument. But you can’t put back an “ancient” landscape; once its gone it is no longer ancient.
Archaeologists had voiced their opposition to the plan from its inception due to its potential impact on the area.
In June, a ring of at least 20 large shafts within the ancient Stonehenge landscape were discovered within a short distance from the monument, demonstrating the archaeology still undiscovered in the Stonehenge environment.
But Highways England said that the shafts were all “well outside the scheme boundary” and no closer than 500 metres from the planned road upgrade.
Preparatory work is due to begin next spring with the five-year construction phase expected to start by 2023.
There is now a six-week period in which the decision can be challenged in the High Court.
Good idea or bad idea; will the A303 tunnel enhance the visitor experience to Stonehenge without harming the undiscovered archaeology that lies beneath?
Eighty years ago on the 12th September 1940 four teenagers followed their dog down a narrow hole to discover a stunning underground gallery of prehistoric artwork.
Hall of the Bulls
The boys had discovered a complex of caves at Lascaux in the Vézère Valley of the Dordogne region of southwestern France. French archaeologist Henri-Édouard-Prosper Breuil, the first to study the artwork, estimated the paintings to date from between 15,000 BC to 17,000 BC and recognised them as some of the finest examples of Upper Paleolithic period art.
The Lascaux cave system consists of a main cavern 66 feet wide and 16 feet high. The walls of the cavern are decorated with prehistoric art of animals, human figures and abstract signs, totalling nearly 2,000 figures. Some 600 are painted and drawn animals in excellent detail with nearly 1,500 engravings etched into the cave walls.
Depictions of horses form the majority of the artwork with 90 paintings of stags and also cattle, bison, felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and one human. The archaeological record shows that these paintings reflect the fauna which would have been known to humans in this area in the Palaeolithic era.
The entrance quickly leads into the main chamber of the cave, the Hall of the Bulls, showing the famous four large bulls, or aurochs, which appear to be in motion towering above fleeing horses and deer. One of the bulls is 17 feet long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art.
The Great Bull
The Hall of the Bulls leads into the Axial Gallery, a dead-end passage termed the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’ as the ceiling is covered with art dominated by a circle of red aurochs.
Doubling back and taking the second exit from the Hall of the Bulls you come to the lateral Passageway with mainly engravings and some paintings of a variety of animals. The lateral Passageway leads into the Nave where a panel features a large black cow. Opposite, a freeze shows five deer swimming. Further is the Chamber of Felines with engravings of lions dominating the room. A branch off the cave, the chamber known as The Shaft (of the Dead Man) shows a wounded bison, a woolly rhinoceros, a bird on a stick (?), and the only human depicted in the Lascaux complex.
Shaft of the Dead Man
The bird-head man with an erect phallus, has been described as a shaman in a state of ecstasy in ritual stance, performing a magico-religious ceremony to bring a successful hunt. Another mysterious figure is depicted with panther skin, a deer’s tail, a bison’s hump, two horns, and a male member.
Having been undisturbed for over 17,000 years the cave was opened for public viewing in 1948. Yet within just a few years after its opening an algae growth was noticed on the cave walls in 1955 causing damage to the paintings. The use of high-powered lights and the presence of too many visitors bringing with them carbon dioxide, heat and humidity was identified as disturbing the unique environment within the cave causing irreversible damage to the prehistoric artwork.
The Panel of the Black Cow, The Nave
Subsequently the cave was closed to the public in 1963, yet despite the closure, fungi have continued to spread throughout the cave. It appears unlikely that visitors will ever be permitted to the cave again.
Recognising its importance to prehistory, the Lascaux cave and several other decorated caves of the Vézère Valley were protected by addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979. Yet even with the protection afforded of a UNESCO site the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux are in real danger of being lost to future generations after black mould was reported spreading through the cave in the 2000’s. Since 2008, with the elimination of the human presence the black spots appear to fading.
However, the public can see copies of the prehistoric artwork and visit a replica of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery sections, in a modern gallery known as Lascaux II constructed 200 metres from the original cave complex and opened to the public in 1983.
Situated just inside the English border with Wales in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Mitchell’s Fold stone circle is part of a complex of prehistoric monuments in the landscape near Priest Weston, Montgomery.
Sited on a dramatic moorland setting on the flat plateau of Stapeley Common near the village called White Grit at an altitude of just over 305m (1,000 ft) on a saddle between the hills of Stapeley to the north and Corndon to the south.
Nearby there are also two other stone circles, a long barrow and numerous cairns; the Hoarstones stone circle is just to the north-east across Black Marsh, comprising 38 doleritic stones, all under 1 metre tall with the largest at the centre, framed against the dramatic setting of Corndon Hill in the background. Two mounds of uncertain date lie to the north. Immediately west of White Grit was the site of the destroyed stone circle of Whetstones, its larger stones incorporated in to a boundary wall in the 19th century.
Mitchell’s Fold lies on the line of the south-west to north-east ridgeway following the spine of Stapeley Hill, said to be the old coach route from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth which may follow the line of a prehistoric trackway.
Nearby was the important Bronze Age axe factory at Cwm Mawr, where distinctive picrite Group XII Bronze Age battle axes and axe hammers were produced and traded extensively across Wales and England. The exact site of the quarry at Cwm Mawr is unknown but said to be at an unnamed little hill north-west of the village of Hyssington immediately south of Corndon Hill. Excavations by the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust in 2007 proved inconclusive.
Constructed from dolerite stones from nearby Stapeley Hill, forming a rough circle 30m across, during the Early Bronze Age, Mitchell’s Fold is thought have once had as many as 30 stones. Sadly the circle has been badly damaged and today only 15 stones remain; as recently as 1995 a local farmer pulled the stones out with a mechanical digger.
Today Mitchell’s Fold is a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument which as a whole includes the stone circle, an outlier standing stone, a cairn base, portions of two field banks and a area of ridge and furrow, today protected by the guardianship of English Heritage.
At nearly 2m high, the tallest stone is said to have been one of a pair forming an entrance to the circle. Antiquarians claimed a third stone formed a lintel over the two portal stones forming a trilithon setting, such as witnessed at Stonehenge. There may also have been a central stone, described as an “altar”; probing suggests that there may be a central stone under the turf. Most of the stones in the circle stand less than half a metre high and some are recumbent.
Across the border in Powys, Mid Wales, is Corndon Hill, at 513m (1,683 ft) it draws the eye and provides a dramatic backdrop to Mitchell’s Fold. Corndon is covered with Bronze Age burial cairns and must have been a prehistoric funerary complex.
Facts and Fictions
It is said that during a time of famine, a fairy provided a magic cow that produced an endless supply of milk. One night an evil witch milked her into a sieve. When the cow realised the trick, she vanished. The witch was turned to stone and a circle of stones was erected around her, to ensure that she could not escape.
A very recent tradition constructed to promote Shropshire tourism suggests that this is the site where King Arthur drew the sword from the stone to prove him as the rightful heir to the throne.
The date of Mitchell’s Fold stone circle has been called into question in modern times when aerial photography revealed mediaeval ridge-and-furrow plough-marks that not only go up to the ring, but also go straight through it indicating the circle was constructed later than the plough marks and may not be prehistoric at all.
There is also no written record of the stone circle before the 19th century, which, when considered with the plough marks, has led to claims that Mitchell’s Fold is an historical hoax constructed in the 18th century by Druid Temple enthusiasts.
YouTube video by Bald Man
Photographs by the author