thinking about archaeology

Archive for January, 2016

The heart of the Stonehenge bluestone problem

Chronicle 1972.jpg

For some of us old archaeologists last night’s Timewatch film was as much about memories as Stonehenge, but it was great for both (and good to see Salisbury Museum’s new prehistory gallery).

I enjoyed Magnus Magnusson talking to Richard Atkinson and Geoffrey Kellaway about bluestones for a Chronicle film in 1972, like a polite Newsnight interview (love that rug!). Glyn Daniel sits beside Atkinson, struggling to conceal a quizzical smirk. (Photo above is from the film.)

Did the bluestones get to Stonehenge by human transport or glacial action?

The fundamental problem with resolving this issue is clear in the film clip, and it hasn’t changed a bit. Kellaway (a geologist) talks about archaeology and the motivations of people who built Stonehenge. Atkinson (an archaeologist) talks about geology.

Kellaway: What nobody has explained is why were rotten stones that have in fact come out of a peat bog, which are absolutely useless for building, which have come from north or central or south Wales, we don’t quite know which, why those should be gathered together in heaps on Salisbury Plain?

Atkinson: If the bluestones were brought by ice to somewhere on Salisbury Plain, it seems to me highly improbable that what was brought was subsequently sufficient just for the needs of the builders of Stonehenge and left nothing over.

It began like this:

Magnusson: Professor Atkinson, do you think that Mr Kellaway is talking nonsense?

Atkinson: If I were to say yes, that would be rude.

Things are not always so polite now, but it’s an enduring academic shouting match that hasn’t moved on in 40 years. We’ll only progress if geologists and archaeologists work together, rather than lean on their ignorance of the other’s field for support.


On TV tonight

timewatch.jpgA rummage in the BBC Stonehenge archives, should be entertaining, presented by Alice Roberts with Tim Darvill, Mike Parker Pearson and myself. I don’t know who wrote the script (fingers crossed…), but there’s some great film stashed away! BBC4 tonight.