Conundrum 6 – Moving the Bluestones

Book Extract………………………………………………………….. (The Great Stonehenge Hoax)

Water, water everywhere…… where did I put my boat?

The Problem

Archaeologists would have you believe that the Bluestones from Craig Rhos-Y-Felin were dragged two hundred miles overland to Stonehenge by large ‘work gang’ groups with long ropes or by ‘ox-cart’ routes mimicking the current M4.  However, both theories are highly flawed for many reasons, as shown by ‘experimental’ archaeologists attempting to drag stones across flat grassy surfaces with large groups of students.  For either of these ideas to be feasible, you need an even flat surface.  However, the prehistoric environment would have been 70% forest (woodland) and/or marshland and rivers, making such transportation impossible.

The Solution

Bluestones were brought by wooden barges the short distance (just 82 miles if they come direct by river) from the Preseli Hills in Southern Wales.  The higher groundwater levels would have allowed the transportation of the bluestones via a more direct route compared to the current theories that the bluestones were brought by boats sailing around South West Britain or were dragged overland for hundreds of miles through the forest (which would have been impossible, requiring levels of human resources more significant than the estimated population of Britain at that time).

Moreover, both these sites would have been on the shorelines of an aquatic forest that covered Britain; therefore, wood for transportation by boat/floater would be plentiful.  Prof. Richard Atkinson, in his book Stonehenge (Penguin Books, 1956.) Provides an example of how the 7-ton unfinished Altar Stone could be floated on a log boat made of pine with a density in the region of 35 lb/ft3 (560 kg/m3).  He calculates that a raft of some 700 cubic feet (20 cubic metres) could carry the stone along with a crew of 12 average men. 

Such boats do not tend to survive the ravages of time, although an example of this type of boat was found in Derbyshire in 1998, which was dated to circa 1300 BC.  It was 11 m (36 ft) long, capable of carrying 4 tons (the weight of a Stonehenge bluestone). But, of course, you could take much heavier stones if you lashed two or more boats together.

An even easier option is to strap sufficient wood to the stone so that it becomes buoyant.  For example, the same Altar Stone could be floated with just ten cubic metres of pine – half as much as the boat – if the wood was simply lashed to the stone.  This could then be dragged behind two smaller crewed boats for guidance.  The stones, when cut, would be brought down to the shore via a ‘log rail’ that used levers to move the stones.  Once the stones were deposited at the shore at low tide, logs would be attached to the top and bottom of each stone.  The stone would float on its wooden raft as the tide came in.  Men could then stand and punt the stone downriver, avoiding rocks and sandbanks.

Atkinson showing that four small boys could have easily taken these 4-tonne stones to Stonehenge by boat
Atkinson showing that four small boys could have easily taken these 4-tonne stones to Stonehenge by boat

At Stonehenge, the raft would be guided to the shallow shoreline of the North West side of the peninsula, where the river was lowest and were the mooring posts (Totem Poles according to EH) had cross-posts attached.  The lifting system for getting the stones out of the boats would have needed only a minimal number of men, as it used the river to lift the blocks in the air.  The stone was brought to the mooring at high tide and lashed to the crossbar with large ropes.  When the river retreated, the stone would be left hanging above the water, allowing the removal of the flotation logs or boat.  A simple sledge or lever system could be used to slide or lever it a short distance to the monument.

Either system (boat or floats) would require a minimal number of workers: 10 to 20, far less than a conventional estimate of 200+ men lugging rocks across Salisbury Plain.  Moreover, this lever system would be second nature to a water-based civilisation; using wood as their primary source of materials, they would quickly have adapted to using wooden levers to move weights and manoeuvre their boats, either through punting or by adding a couple of upright sticks to the side of the boat to create oars that could propel their vessels much faster than punting or canoeing.

The Avenue

The Avenue
The Avenue

The Avenue was created sometime after the original moated henge, once the original Mesolithic groundwater and shoreline lowered towards the new Neolithic groundwater level.  When the water levels fell, the builders faced two problems; firstly, the original mooring could no longer accept boats or cargo, so a new entrance was required.  Secondly, the Moat would no longer fill as it did in Mesolithic times, as the water table had dropped by about 10 metres.

As we have seen from the excavations by Hawley in the 1920s, the builders had added a liner similar to those found in other Mesolithic period constructions like ‘dew ponds’ also found in this area.  The reason for the liner would have been to retain the water that accumulated by the natural rain and seasonal high tides that would have replenished the Moat.  However, it is entirely plausible that insufficient or infrequency water levels were typical during the late Mesolithic; therefore, if they wished to continue the bluestone treatments, an alternative method to fill the Moat needed to be found.

Midsummer sunrise down the Avenue
Midsummer sunrise down the Avenue

The Avenue is quite curious, and excavations have revealed its ongoing development, as indicated by the post holes dotted down its length.  This clearly shows that it was ‘adapted’ over a long period to match the retreating shoreline in the Neolithic period, which lasted over two and a half thousand years.   Moreover, the physical construction of the Avenue earthwork shows the incorporation of water features.  For example, the Southern ditch is much shallower than the Northern ditch of the Avenue……………

 

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