Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted here (Spring 2016). Why the absence? Well, I’ll say more about that later. For now, I would simply ask you to note the new tag line to the right of the site’s title, and the edited version of which chosen for this posting’s title (dropping the reference to Silbury Hill, and flagging up what I consider a strangely neglected feature of Stonehenge – namely that menacing looking Heel Stone).
Ah yes, the “Heel Stone”. What a ludicrous name for what we’re told is a naturally-shaped (uncarved) sarsen (silicified sandstone) rock that is at or close to its original position (just a little over 75 metres from geometrical centre of THE world-famous monument itself).
If you think I’m too harsh re nomenclature, then read the mumbo jumbo that appears on the wiki entry for the Heel Stone, with its references to “friar”, “heel” and “Devil”, then look at wiki’s accompanying photograph, and those of my own that now follow.
Yes, let’s start this update of my not-surprisingly unfashionable, some might say distasteful ) views on Stonehenge (and indeed of Neolithic Britain’s quirky henges, stone circles in general, not to mention Silbury Hill) with some photos I took at the site in Spring 2012. Those lacking intestinal fortitude might be well advised to leave this posting now … Those made of sterner stuff, willing to empathize with our Neolithic forbears, constantly having to deal, often at short notice with an age-old problem (like how to dispose of one’s newly deceased loved ones) and unfamiliar with this blogger’s previous postings should clench their teeth and read on.
The so-called ‘Heel Stone’ (yuk). Does that look like a heel to you? Or something else? (Incidentally, that’s the now decommisioned minor A-road behind that used to join the busy A303 a short distance to the right, but is now dug up and turfed over)
I repeat. Does that look like a “heel” to you, or something else, something that matches the other side shown above? (Note the intruding traffic from the left which visitors to to Stonehenge won’t have seen since 2013).
I shall shortly insert a transcript of the Comments section from a posting on another site (Tim Daw’s commendably factual but oh-so-restrained, some might say tight-lipped sarsen.org site) in which the hugely , dare one say strangely neglected Heel Stone makes a brief appearance.
Here it is, minimally edited:
sciencebod 9 February 2018 at 15:33
The name that Tim’s given this upmarket site of his intrigues me, given that so much attention has been given over decades to the Welsh bluestones (about which more, nay, afterthought, less in a moment).
Why the focus on the local sarsens (chemically silicified sandstone). Sure, they are the tallest most imposing feature of Stonehenge. But what else is special? The lintels obviously. But in all the discussion and speculation re Stonehenge (astronomical calendar, mortuary for the remains of the dead etc) I don’t ever recall seeing any role proposed for those lintels! Why go to all that trouble in Neolithic or Bronze Age times? Surprising really, given those intricate and laboriously-carved woodworking joints (mortise and tenon, tongue and groove).
I’ve given my own explanation on a few postings earlier for those sarsen lintels, aka transoms, aka crosspieces. Thanks Neil Wiseman for your response. But let’s now be hearing some more sarsen-lintel focused ideas please!
Tim, what’s your thinking? Come on, it’s your site. Call the shots please…
As regards the bluestones, I’ve now been able to fit them into my scheme, drawing on a property that I scoffed at initially on first encounter but which is now music to my ears. But that can wait.
Come on folks! What’s so special about those sarsens, apart from ‘bigger is better’? I repeat: why go to all that trouble? It sure isn’t anything to do with summer and winter solstices, for which aligned uprights alone are all that’s needed.
Colin Berry (aka sciencebod)
sciencebod10 February 2018 at 15:23
Oh dear. This site is turning out to be such a disappointment – so few comments, so little feedback, despite the informative and authoritative nature of Tim’s postings.
Don’t get me started on some of the alternative sites – which invite comments, then tell one that the comment one has submitted must first be pre-moderated, that one is in a queue, but which finally never appears (with most other postings also devoid of any genuine-looking comments).
There is much that is wrong right now as regards the received ‘wisdom’ regarding Stonehenge (read dogma) and stone circles, henges etc in general where the internet is concerned (I could say more, but will hold my tongue for now).
It’s getting on for 2 years since I last posted on Stonehenge/Silbury Hill on my own two sites – some 20 postings in all between 2012 and 2016. None – and I repeat none – have been picked up by any number of those dubious sites – even on comments – this one excluded.
There seems to be a deliberate attempt at message-suppression (to which this blogger is no stranger, having attempted to ‘tell it the way it is’ regarding the supposedly ‘enigmatic’ Shroud of Turin these last 6 years!
Any chance of a guest posting on this site, one that briefly summarizes my near certainty that our Neolithic ancestors set great store, as well they might, by preliminary AFS (avian-facilitated skeletonization) aka “sky burial” aka ‘defleshing’ aka excarnation as a preliminary to final bone cremation?
Those massive sarsen lintels were the high point of AFS evolution and technology – monumental bird perches if the truth be told – designed to attract and retain the nearest the British Isles have to the Eurasian vulture – almost certainly the adaptable and voracious seagull!
Sorry to keep banging on – but I have to say it again – the internet is not working as it should to disseminate new ideas. That’s thanks, I suspect, to vested interests of one sort or another… this site being mercifully free, if somewhat low profile right now , due one suspects to its emphasis on unadorned facts rather than bonkers (?)ideas…
Colin Berry (aka sciencebod)
Neil Wiseman10 February 2018 at 22:53
The level of correspondence I receive is such that I cannot immediately reply to everyone. Apologies.
I have little doubt that birds of various kinds participated in the excarnation process, it’s probably key among the factors why the wickets were elevated.
However, it is unlikely that the lintels at Stonehenge were set as a perch for birds waiting on queue to feed. If any consideration for this was given, I’m sure a simple post would have sufficed.
Excarnation was part of a process which was virtually obsolete by the time the Sarsen Circle was erected. Interment had come firmly in vogue during this period and it wasn’t long before cremation was discontinued altogether — at least according to the record. Therefore it’s speculative in the extreme that such a practice would be instituted by such a labor intensive program as these elaborate stone perches.
Moving on, elsewhere you have mentioned a disagreement with the idea that Stonehenge was aligned to the sun.
I have heard roofs. I have heard abattoirs. I have heard moats. I have heard Aliens, Pixies and Giants. I have heard it all. But nowhere have I heard that the sun was not among the prime motivations for constructing this monument.
There were other motivations as well, though detailing them is beyond the scope of this little notice. Basically, the sun was at the rock-bottom of every element in a belief-system that spanned over 4,000 years.
In fact, my friend, it still is — we simply call it something else.
The Stonehenge stone-phase is at the tail end of that vastly long-lived culture and embraces a number of concepts which illustrate a firm understanding of how the world worked and the people’s role in it. At that stage death played a peripheral mention. The Aubrey Holes had been forgotten and folks of status were being inhumed intact, complete with ceremonial grave-goods.
No birds need apply.
As a footnote, I do agree that at least one type of lichen was no doubt delivered by bird.
Modelling of a first-generation British (pre-British?) Neolithic henge, bank only shown, no ditch, with opening that faced the rising sun at dawn ( approximately east, but more NE in summer, more SE in winter), designed to illuminate and attract hungry birds on the wing to the offering of a free meal (shown as red disc). Forget about 18th century William Stukely’s alignment with “summer and winter solstices”, now trumpeted as if established fact!
In other words, the role of compass location of gaps in the enclosure is linked to the Sun, but for reasons of illumination, rather than a solstice calendar. Later timber posts or standing stones would then have to be suitably aligned as well, so as not to block that early-morning shaft of sunlight.
One can add a role for those bluestones as well. They clang/chime when struck, functioning as a Neolithic precursor of metal bells. I propose that the bluestones were “rung” whenever there was a new offering, attracting gulls from miles around.
Astronomical calendar etc? Ingenious, but I’m reminded of that choice expression deployed by Sir Kenneth Clark in his “Civilization” TV series all those years ago (“false turnings and dissolving perspectives”)!
Neil Wiseman 11 February 2018 at 13:10
The Brits, as you call them, certainly dug a lot of trenches in the UK in the Neolithic. There’s over 900 causewayed enclosures and henges there, in Ireland, and even a few in France. That’s a lot of digging over a vast period of time. There’s several different varieties among both categories. A henge is generally defined as a single circular ditch with the spoil piled on the outside as an embankment. There’s usually at least one causeway in the circumference. Stonehenge is not, technically speaking, a henge, as its spoil is on the inside. I think of it as a Reversed Causewayed Enclosure.
Whether cremations involved just skeletons or not is moot, and certainly relatives could have taken some of the ash away. But as anyone who’s had a relative cremated will tell you, a human doesn’t take up a lot of space. My mother and my brother sit on my mantle in tidy little urns. Inhumations of bodies are much more likely to have bones missing, and often do.
Conservatively, Stonehenge has 250/300 people buried in or near the Aubreys and on the bank at certain locations, making it the largest known Neolithic cemetery on the Island. But remember — some of the remains there are older than the henge itself, so must have been curated before being buried. The auroch skulls flanking the Southern Causeway are also older.
Metal certainly made it easier to dig in the chalk, yes.
The mostly unworked Heelstone is almost certainly a product of the immediate vicinity, and its solutional hole is probably very close by. In its nooks and crannies people see not only an eagle, but a dog, a moray eel, and a face among other things. Neither of us is the first to notice/mention it.
The Slaughter Stone is probably local as well.
I feel your AFS model could accommodate the sun, as the two are mutually exclusive. Bear in mind that I never mentioned the sun as a ‘calendar’. Though it certainly could have been, it was mostly the moon which was used. From the mid-Neolithic on the sun was celebrated for its life-giving properties, among other things. But earlier there seems to have been a fear associated with winter solstice. Would the sun return? There are several examples of a demonstration showing the people that it would, and I cite Newgrange as an elaborate case in point. Again, the scope of this thinking is very involved and cannot be detailed here.
The cardinal directions played a different role in the scheme of things than they do today, though there’s certainly an overlap. But, by my reckoning, only South is clearly shown to play a role at Stonehenge, and this association does not involve the stones. I know of no enclosure where North is a causeway, but northeast is, because that’s the solstice direction. As far as sightlines and alignments are concerned, be advised that the Heelstone’s original setting actually blocked the sunrise.
Where shadows fall also seems to have been important, and this is demonstrated in more than a few instances.
The Bluestones served a much more important role than as dinner bells for birds. They are buried in the ground and do not ring when struck. They thud.
I am usually loathe to use the term when discussing other people’s ideas, but in this case it’s apt. The concept is ridiculous in the extreme.
sciencebod11 February 2018 at 14:51
Hello again Neil
If anything to do with Sun or Moon, would there not have been a few markings on one or more stones, a point I raised earlier?
There is also the more general point that pre-stone circle/pre-henge farmers, those growing crops especially, would/must have had some crude kind of calendar at their disposal, and such a calendar would not have required massive stonework or even timber or chalk bank construction to figure out where one was in the annual cycle of seasons.
How? Imagine a farmer plonking down on a west-facing tree stump at the end of his working day, watching the sun set. He would be aware that the Sun sets progressively northwards up to a certain part of the year, with the longest day/shortest night , then stops, then moves back until reaching a new stop point much further south (80 degrees in modern terminology, i.e. the best part of a right angle).
Suppose now he counted the number of nights between what we now call the summer and winter solstices, by making cuts on a branch, or dropping small flints into a clay pot. He’d have found there were a regular repeating pattern of approx 182 nights, give or take between the solstices. Already he’d have a notion not just of days and nights (obviously) but now, more importantly, of years as well.
Months, notably lunar months? Yes, watching the phases of the Moon would serve, but why bother when it’s the warming Sun and seasons that are crucial to crops? Suppose then, dispensing for now with the Moon, our farmer decided to sow seed at the halfway point between the shortest and longest day, what we now call the vernal or spring equinox (arriving March 20 this year). He could do that crudely, by waiting for the Sun to set halfway between the two solstices OR, if wishing to be more accurate, could have waited until he had 90 or so notches or flints.
Why then go to the bother of constructing anything permanent simply to know where one is approximately in the passage of each new year when all that’s needed is a clear view towards the westward horizon (or alternatively the east-facing one instead if preferring to make his observations first thing in the morning?
What’s all this got to do with causeways, henges, standing stones, Stonehenge one might ask? I say nothing whatsoever – absolutely nothing. They were designed for an entirely different purpose, to do with giving dear departed relatives a respectful but efficient send-off to the afterlife, one in which an intermediary role for local birdlife was quickly perceived and accomplished by degrees, culminating in those mighty sarsen lintels (bird perches)for which it’s hard to see any obvious role where monitoring the annual seasons is concerned, or Sun or Moon worship etc etc.
I say that the summer/winter solstice theory is a false connection, one that should have been dispensed with long ago for lack of corroborating evidence and displaying, dare one say, a degree of fanciful or wishful thinking. It tries to make our Neolithic ancestors seem more detached from the problems of everyday existence than was really the case (like where the next meal was coming from, or what to do when Aunt Dot suddenly keels over, the ground outside is rock hard, the firewood nearly used up etc). Thank goodness for communal organization, or the first blossoming thereof.
Go visit the local (outdoor) funeral parlour, lit up at dawn if the sky is clear, thanks to its alignment in relation to sunrise and sunset. Those clever and methodical funeral directors have worked out a system. Call back a day or two later for an odour-free package of Auntie’s bones to add to the collection on their mantelpiece, or its Neolithic equivalent…
Don’t bother carving anything on the posts or stones. No one needs reminding what they are for…
(I’ll return with a separate comment later re the claimed ‘lithophonic’ properties of Stonehenge’s bluestones, once I’ve selected passages from that Royal College of Arts posting).
sciencebod11 February 2018 at 20:07
From another site:
RCA Research Team Uncovers Stonehenge’s Sonic Secrets
2 December 2013
(In what follows,”L&P” refers to the RCA’s somewhat mystifying “Landscape and Perception” project!)
” Sonic or musical rocks are referred to as ‘ringing rocks’ or ‘lithophones’. A significant percentage of the rocks on Carn Menyn (ed. Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, SW Wales) produce metallic sounds like bells, gongs or tin drums when struck with small hammerstones. Where suspected Neolithic quarries are located, there’s an even higher localised percentage.
The Preseli village Maenclochog, which itself means bell or ringing stones, used bluestones as church bells until the eighteenth century. While the Preseli area has long known of lithophones, the L&P project has confirmed why so many Neolithic monuments exist in the region, and provided strong evidence that the sounds made the landscape sacred to Stone Age people. The study quantifies the comments of the British archeologist and early ‘rock gong’ pioneer, Bernard Fagg, who suspected there were ringing rocks on or around Preseli, and suggested the link between these and the sacredness of Neolithic monuments and landscapes.
In July, English Heritage gave the L&P investigators unprecedented permission to acoustically test the bluestones at Stonehenge. Accompanied by archaeologists from Bournemouth and Bristol universities, the research team set to work testing the megaliths.
They didn’t expect much, as lithophones require ‘resonant space’ – space, in which, sound waves have sufficient room to vibrate to produce the pure sounds that can be experienced on Carn Menyn. The bluestones at Stonehenge are set deep into the ground (some having been supported in concrete), which can also dampen acoustic potential.
To the researchers’ surprise, however, having tested all the bluestones at the monument, several were found to make distinctive (if muted) sounds. This was a sure indication they would have been fully lithophonic if they’d had sufficient resonant space. Furthermore, a number of bluestones at Stonehenge show evidence of having been struck. This have been in order (sic) to create an acoustic environment, according to Wozencroft. A full understanding of the nature of these markings will require further archaeological investigations, however.”
Beware, dear reader: what follows is pure speculation (from this site’s owner!
Let’s suppose, just suppose, that the Neolithic folk who had inhabited the Preseli hills had been under attack from invaders, say from the sea (just a few miles away) and decided to migrate eastwards. Suppose they had decided to take their “ringing” stones with them, for whatever purpose (with gull-attracting properties a possibility).
It’s said that some 500 years separate the quarrying of the bluestones and their arrival on Salisbury Plain (based on radiocarbon dating of accompanying charcoal etc from fires). Well, 500 years gives plenty of time for manual transport, by whatever means (lifting, dragging etc). Maybe the migrants moved eastwards a little a time, setting up their stones at every stop, each one a new albeit temporary home. Might they have been trailed initially by their “own” gulls etc, but later attracting local ones at each new stopping place, the latter also becoming attuned to the ‘wake up’ call each time the stones were struck to signal each new offering when there was a death in the family (correction, families).
Neil Wiseman11 February 2018 at 20:23
As you might imagine, there’s quite a few people who troll Tim’s Blog without commenting, and most are known to me.
I have just received an extensive list of henges and circles which do indeed have north-facing causeways.
So I stand corrected in that regard.
sciencebod11 February 2018 at 21:00
“As you might imagine, there’s quite a few people who troll Tim’s Blog without commenting, and most are known to me”
So what prompted that observation, Neil? Hopefully not anything I have said…
Who might want to troll Tim’s site, and how can they do so if they don’t comment?
Consider me marginally gobsmacked…
Neil Wiseman12 February 2018 at 01:19
I got an email concerning it. The remarks weren’t made here.
sciencebod 12 February 2018 at 07:19
Thanks Neil. I realized afterwards it must be something happening elsewhere…
Just a quick note on possible logistics before this posting gets overlain with new ones (such a shame/annoyance that Blogger does not provide a “Latest Comments” list to all postings, past as well as present.
The aim was to perform the entire process in a 36 – 48 hour time span.
Here’s a possible sequence of operations
Day 1: body of deceased to be delivered after sunset. Necessary preliminaries (let’s not discuss details) took place during hours of darkness.
Day 2: prepared body placed on central spot shortly before dawn. Central zone then cleared of people.
The bluestones were then struck, the chimes attracting gulls and /or other avian scavengers from miles around.
The corpse was gradually stripped of most of its flesh throughout the daylight hours, at least at highly developed Stonehenge, Avebury etc, designed to attract and accommodate scores of scavenger birds. The soul of the deceased would be considered to have been released to the heavens (“sky burial”).
Come dusk, the skeletal remains would be collected up and dispatched to a nearby crematorium, probably outside the excarnation area, possibly outside the circular heaped-up bank.
Come nightfall, fires/pyres were lit, the largely-defleshed bones quickly and cleanly cremated, then later retrieved from the ashes.
Day 3: Relatives arrived to collect and take away cremated bones. While they would be aware of flocks of birds on the wing, coming and going, and indeed take comfort from that, they would be spared the sight of the central feeding area, that being screened off by the raised bank of the enclosure. (Indeed Mark 1 AFS relied almost entirely on the chalk bank of a causewayed enclosure, both as a screen and a man-made landmark visible to birds from afar, maybe with a few scattered timber posts initially as additional perches, later progressing to standing stones, then those mighty lintels.) Yes, the latter weren’t purely decorative – they served a purpose! Why so massive? Because that’s all that was available nearby as bridging stone. Thus the carpentry joints needed to prevent unwieldy sarsen stones from rocking, as well as a proto-Ikea aid to idiot-proof assembly.
From another site:
Newly discovered Neolithic Datchet enclosure (announced just 3 days ago)
Why all the animal bones – domestic and wild – to say nothing of that severed human skull?
Can be accommodated with the AFS model! How? Beware: more speculation:
To be a workable proposition, the skeletonization would have to be speedy and efficient (relatives don’t want to be kept waiting too long for their take-home package). That means attracting and retaining a sizeable population of avian scavengers so there’s always a number of hopefuls on permanent standby – scores at least.
What if there’s a temporary halt in supply of mortal remains? Answer: one plugs the hiatus with animal remains, maybe feasting on the choicest parts before giving feathered friends the left-overs.
Thus the connection between feasting, animal and human bones… Just don’t ask about all those young pigs at the Durrington wintertime-feasting site!
sciencebod 12 February 2018 at 07:52
PS: More on those Datchet animal bones (both domestic and wild animals):
The funeral centre had to be paid for its services. But how, given there was no money in Neolithic times as a medium of exchange?
Answer: you didn’t just turn up with your deceased relative. You brought an animal as well – either from your herd if a farmer, or from hunting expeditions into the surrounding countryside.
As I say, the mortuary attendants could feast initially on choicer cuts, maybe inviting the relatives and/or others to join them, and then use leftovers to ensure there was always something that would keep the avian scavengers on permanent standby.
Richard Bartosz 12 February 2018 at 10:50
Your passion on this topic of your theory is obvious. It is however off-topic!
If you can argue that this theory is fundamental to whether or not the tunnel should be built, then you will be on-topic and you might get a response from people – particularly anti-tunnel supporters – who would wish not only to use your arguments to support their case, but would also automatically promote your theory.
sciencebod12 February 2018 at 11:14
Point taken Richard
But there were no comments when I happened on this posting, nor the one before that, nor the one before that, nor the one… (get my point?)
So while I’m admittedly off-topic, there’s no-one on-topic either. So I could rightly claim (?)to be doing the site a small favour merely by inserting a touch of controversy, maybe attracting a few extra visitors while not as far as I can see deterring new commentators far less distracting from any ongoing dialogue of which there is scarcely any to speak of.
So come on, all you pro- and anti-tunnel supporters. Tim is going to some trouble to keep you informed and up-to-date. Supply some feedback please.
Oh, and there is the overarching site focus, expressed in its title no less – sarsen.org. Much of my own AFS thesis is directed to providing a function for the sarsen lintels, on which conventional solstice alignment mantra remains strangely silent!
As for that tunnel, I never cease to be amazed at the projected cost of so-called road improvements, in this instance £1.6 billion. Just think what could be done with that kind of money elsewhere, representing as it does over £25 for every man, woman and child in the country. The homeless could be given at least a temporary roof over their heads during the cold winter months…
(An advisory site says that one merely needs to deploy the HTML command “img” using square brackets, but that was refused when testing on my own site a few minutes ago)!
There’s a second one I was going to shown namely traffic filing directly past the slightly elevated site at a safe and sedate rubber-necking speed a mere 200 metres or so away, but on second thoughts I shan’t bother with it. Everyone here knows the problem as regards the close proximity of Stonehenge and the major, most direct route across Salisbury Plain from London to the West Country.
My cheap and cheerful solution will follow later in the day (well, cheap compared with that obscene £1.6 billion for the road tunnel).
sciencebod 14 February 2018 at 07:32
First, as a necessary preliminary, forget about any idea that cutting off all sights and sounds of road traffic guarantees a religious experience. It’s not just that you’ll be surrounded by scores, possibly hundreds of fellow sightseers. You’ll be too preoccupied with thoughts about the staggering sum of money (over £40 for a family!)you’ve been required to part with to that ghastly cash-cow-milking machine that calls itself English Heritage, and for what? To be restricted to a roped-off path that does not allow you to get up really close to the main stones!
There should be a two-tier entry system: free (except for car park) to those wishing to see their national heritage but willing to be allowed no closer than that path) OR a charge (say £5 per head) for those wishing to view the stones at close quarters (no touching etc).
The monument merely needs to be screened-off from the never-ending flow of nearby passing traffic. But how “nearby”? Over what length of approaching and receding A303, taking into account the various rises and dips in the road? How can motorists know (legitimately) they are approaching, then passing close, to a world-famous site if it’s then screened off closer-up so as to prevent a freebie rubber-necking view? (I suspect the distraction is caused as much – if not more – by the masses of wandering sightseers than by the stones per se!.
It’s the nature of the screening that is crucial, and I don’t mean a subterranean tunnel that requires scooping out and disposing of thousands of tons of local geology (and probably archaeology too).
More to follow…
sciencebod 14 February 2018 at 11:06
Yes, an approx. two kilometre (approx 1.2 mile) stretch of A303 centred on the stone circle should be screened off so that sightseers do not see and hear road traffic at close quarters nor vice versa.
Ideally the screening, coming from the Amesbury/London direction, should start at the top of the incline one sees in my photo. Initially I thought an avenue of trees might suffice for that downhill stretch, compared with the more expensive man-made screen that follows. But I quickly discarded that idea. Why? Because motorists and their passengers should be allowed a fleeting glimpse from afar (1 to 1.5 km) of the monument and allowed time to decide whether to call in for a visit, scheduled or otherwise.
It’s the next (2km) stretch that is crucial. It should advertise the site to road traffic, but not create a distraction. How? The manner of doing that could be opened up to national competition.
My idea would be simple and reasonably cost-effective: set up a continuous solid screen, with a simple repeating painted frieze viewed from the road side, e.g. cartoon-like standing stones (no summer or winter solstices, and for now at any rate, no seagulls or other scavenging species).
There should be a foam-filled cavity in the centre of the screen, chosen to cut down noise penetration.
How should the opposite side look, as seen through the eyes of visitors? Again, invite suggestions from the public!
My idea? It could be simply painted so as to match the colour of the turf, blotting out the view of the road and traffic with the bonus of that sound-insulation too.
Can the screen be made a more attractive feature in its own right, without being too dominant? Maybe – like giving it a wavy top.
How about a continuous line of slightly-angled mirrors, such that visitors get a reflection of themselves as minute figures against the standing stones, as if viewed from double the distance of separation, giving a better idea of the site’s isolated location on one of Europe’s largest stretches of chalk upland. (Yes, let’s not forget the longer history of Salisbury Plain, stretching back to the Cretaceous era approx. 65-145 million years ago, when it was submerged seabed accumulating skeletal remains and later fossils of minute sea creatures).
Cost? Suppose the screen cost a princely £2000/metre (conservative estimate). That’s £4million for 2km. Compare with the cost of the tunnel (£1.6 billion). It’s just 0.25% (1/400th if you prefer fractions). I know which quotation I prefer, speaking as someone who pays income tax on his State Pension.
Is it any wonder we have one of the lowest State pensions among developed nations, when we are prepared to squander an astronomical £1.6 billion on a short stretch of A-road?
I blame the corrupting influence of that entirely fictitious, all-pervasive A word (Astronomical, as in “Stonehenge is believed to have served as an astronomical observatory… “)
Did it heck! It was a pre-crematorium, designed to provide a safe and comfortable perch for avian flesh-scavenging species attracted from afar in large numbers …)
sciencebod15 February 2018 at 17:00
OK, so maybe it’s a bit too soon to expect feedback. Or there again, looking at the largely silent response to Tim’s recent postings, one maybe can’t expect any feedback, for any number of reasons upon which I don’t intend to comment or speculate.
I’ll wait a few days, and if it’s still “0 (further) comments” on this and Tim’s next postings, then I may decide to resume my previous postings (some 25 in all) on Stonehenge and its Neolithic predecessors via one or other of two of my three blogsites (either dormant or addressing different issues since mid 2016! One is specifically focused on Stonehenge (and Silbury Hill), the other tackling any number of general science topics of current interest.
If there are any objections to my copying and pasting from
this site, notably my own comments or those of others, then please say so now (though as an interactive blogger I reserve the right to quote comments appearing here without attribution to specific contributors).
Colin Berry (aka sciencebod)
sciencebod 18 February 2018 at 10:39
Hmmm. We seem to have reached a dead end where this site is concerned. Shame, it looked quite promising initially. Thanks however to Neil Wiseman and others for the brief glimmers of light … and occasionally shade…
In a few days time, I’ll add a new posting to one of my two sites (I have yet to decide which, each having its pros and cons). It will be the first on Stonehenge and my pre-cremation ‘sky burial’ thesis since April/May 2016.
Topic? Probably that Heel Stone for starters. How wiki can restrict itself to mumbo jumbo re “heel”, “friar”, “Devil” with no mention of the animal-like head (whether a bird, dog or Moray eel) doth pass all understanding. I’d attempt an edit, but have no desire to re-experience that man-made purgatory…no, worse than purgatory…
End of comments I and others placed on Tim Daw’s sarsen.org site (as of 13:30, 19 Feb, 2018).
Some more to follow from me later – notably the failure/refusal of the academic and even less formal internet blogging community to acknowledge my ‘sky burial’ pre-cremation thesis, one that I believe after years of study to integrate a lot of otherwise confusing speculation (like the endowing of Stonehenge with a confusing split personality – functioning both as a site for celebrating arrival of summer or winter solstices, while also a place for disposal of the dead!).
Comments invited sooner rather than later!
2nd instalment, 20th Feb 2018
Here’s what so far appears to be a typical blogsite page devoted to that Heel Stone:
There are some 16 photos of the stone itself, more when one includes views towards the monument. There are many, many references to the (approximate but not exact) alignment in relation to the summer and winter solstices. There is a little on the Anglo-Saxon derivation of the fanciful friar’s “heel” (why?). But there is nothing, I repeat NOTHING, on the animal-like appearance of the stone itself. Why not? Narratives are supposed to fit facts, not vice versa…
There’s no Comments facility on the above site (?), but there is an interesting account from the site’s owner (Simon Banton) of what motivated him to# set not just the above blog, but several, all devoted to Stonehenge.
I reproduce his biographical entry in full, and urge folk to read it:
Archaeoastronomy? Is that an established scientific discipline? As ever I used wikipedia as first port of call.
Here’s the first paragraph, under the heading “Early History”. I’ve highlighted a particular word in red!
Stonehenge has an opening in the henge earthwork facing northeast, and suggestions that particular significance was placed by its builders on the solstice and equinox points have followed. For example, the summer solstice sun rose close to the Heel Stone, and the sun’s first rays shone into the centre of the monument between the horseshoe arrangement. While it is possible that such an alignment could be coincidental, this astronomical orientation had been acknowledged since William Stukeley drew the site and first identified its axis along the midsummer sunrise in 1720.
Stukeley noticed that the Heel Stone was not precisely aligned on the sunrise. The drifting of the position of the sunrise due to the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic since the monument’s erection does not account for this imprecision. Recently, evidence has been found for a neighbour to the Heel Stone, no longer extant. The second stone may have instead been one side of a ‘solar corridor’ used to frame the sunrise.
Ah, yes, that Heel Stone again, with no mention of its distinctive shape! But it’s that word “acknowledged” that sticks in a certain craw – mine (being a retired postdoctoral scientist)!
Sorry, but science does not depend on ideas being “acknowledged”. It insists on hard corroborating evidence, for which so far I’ve found none (but shall continue searching).
Sorry, Simon, but so far I see no grounds for regarding your study of Stonehenge as a scientifically-based discipline. Who’s to say that you (and those other site alignment devotees who congregate at those summer and/or winter solstices) are not pursuing a spurious correlation, aka coincidence, namely that the site was intentionally aligned in accordance with the ANNUAL passage of the Sun across the sky. Who’s to say its alignment was intended merely to ensure that the enclosure within the “henge’s” chalk bank, before and after addition of timber posts and later standing stones and trithons, received optimal illumination throughout the hours of daylight?
Still Feb 20 (now 20:30)
Have just posted this comment to the sarsen.org site (current posting: Anatolian migrants arriving in Western Europe, Britain included , in Neolithic times, replacing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle with farming):
3rd instalment, Wed Feb 21
Here’s another clue to that overlooked ocean-related factor, one that would be hugely more important to Neolithic farmers on both a day-to-day AND year-round basis than knowing which was the shortest or longest day of the year!
Anyone care to guess what is shown in the above diagram, one that summarises a year-round phenomenon occurring, in this instance, at a particular location in Middle England?
4th instalment, Thursday Feb 22nd
OK, here’s the complete diagram!
Here’s the reason why the UK is said to lack a climate, having weather only! The chart summarises the year-round wind direction and wind strength, Cardington, Beds, England. The prevailing winds are from the south-west, due to those cyclones that come in predominantly off the Atlantic from the direction of the Gulf of Mexico, bringing with them moisture and rain.
Now do you see why the Neolithic earthworks that ultimately evolved to give us the magnificent Stonehenge were frequently (but not always) aligned the way they were, roughly on a NE to SW axis, with the gap for access often on the north or north-east side of the circle or oval?
It was nothing WHATSOEVER to do with summer or winter solstices, for which there’s scarcely a shred of supporting evidence. Our Neolithic forebears had more important things to worry about, like lighting their fires, keeping them going – not too fast, not too slow – giving periodic shelter (maybe intermittent) to themselves and their livestock from high winds, winter gales especially.
In short, those causewayed enclosures, and later henges and even stone circles, functioned primarily as WINDBREAKS originally. Later, much later, when their bird-attracting properties were noted, they acquired a second function, using either the original enclosure or digging out new ones specialized for what I’ve previously called AFS (avian-facilitated skeletonization) as a preliminary to cremation.
Ah yes – those “second functions” that came later. Back in 2016 I suggested here and on my sciencebuzz site a role for the chalk banks of henges – namely to attract scavenger birds on the wing (with any NE gap serving to give illumination of a new offering at or shortly after dawn – see the simple experiment above).
Well, I discovered some corroborating evidence just yesterday through reading the wiki entry on the Thornborough rings in Yorkshire. I’ve bolded the key sentences in red.
The three henges are almost identical in size and composition, each having a diameter of approximately 240 metres and two large entrances situated directly opposite each other. The henges are located around 550 m apart on an approximate northwest-southeast alignment, although there is a curious ‘dogleg’ in the layout. Altogether, the monument extends for more than a mile.
Archaeological excavation of the central henge has taken place. It has been suggested that its banks were covered with locally mined gypsum. The resulting white sheen would have been striking and visible for miles around. A double alignment of pits, possibly evidence of a timber processional avenue, extends from the southern henge.
The ‘dogleg’ in the layout appears to cause the layout of the henges to mirror the three stars of Orion’s Belt. The exact purpose of the henges is unclear though archaeological finds suggest that they served economic and social purposes as well as astronomical ones.
Note the intrusion of the usual astronomical silliness (“Orion’s Belt” – oh purleese!)
Yes, think of that added gypsum (calcium sulphate, CaSO4) as a substitute for the white chalk or limestone (CaCO3) that was proving its worth elsewhere..
(The local geology immediately adjacent to the Thornborough henges is apparently sand and gravel, currently the subject of much controversy owing to the encroachment of a local open-cast quarrying firm).
One has sometimes to search diligently for that oh-so-crucial “corroborating evidence”, leaving no stone (or in this instance masking layer of topsoil!) unturned.
Archaeoastronomists, especially those who bang on endlessly about the Sun, Moon, Orion’s Belt etc, please note…