The story of Stonehenge’s movement from Wales to England captured the imagination of British newspapers and TV over the St. Valentine weekend.
Prof. Mike Parker Pearson announced on Friday 12th February that Radiocarbon and ‘OSL’ luminescence dating of a stone circle called Waun Mawn indicated that it had been constructed c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The announcement was covered by stories in all the British newspapers and a prime-time documentary on BBC Two.
Stonehenge, Britain’s Neolithic stone-circle on Salisbury Plain, consists of very large Sarsen stones, and smaller dolorite ‘bluestones’. It is these bluestones which are the oldest, and which formed the original first phase of the monument and these have long been known to have originated in the Presili hills in Wales.
This weekend the story broke that a circle of pits had been identified near to where Stonehenge’s bluestones had been quarried, and the form of one of the pits exactly matched the irregular shape of one particular Stonehenge bluestone.
The Guardian focused on a medieval legend suggesting that the monument was brought to England by the wizard Merlin. According to 11th C historian and priest Geoffrey of Monmouth, the stone circle was originally called ‘The Giant’s Dance’ and the magician transported it here from Ireland.
The dolorite obelisks were quarried from two sites, also in the Presili hills, which were excavated by professors Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer and Nick Pearce in Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog.
How the bluestones travelled from Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog to Sailsbury plain was the subject of speculation by the Daily Express, and by the National Geographic documentary “Who built Stonehenge”. Quoting a 2015 paper by Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes, the Daily Express stated that there were “no traces of human intervention in any of the features that have made the archaeologists so excited”.
So, they suggest, the stones might have been deposited on Salisbury Plain by glacial flow. “Perhaps ancient Britons found the stones lying around on Salisbury Plain deposited there by a powerful force of nature – the movement of ice,” they suggest.
The first hint that a major story was pending might have been understood from the existence, in that part of Wales, of an independent beer production company amongst the Preseli hills called the Bluestone Brewery, named after the stones, where the professor gives a lecture every year.
Brewery owner Simon Turner said: “We’ve got gateposts that are huge standing stones. We’ve got standing stones in our fields that we mow around with tractors. They are everywhere and you can’t help but wonder why. What was it about this area?”
Prof Parker Pearson has a characteristic ‘look’ and like many Britons, is quite willing to be caricatured and gently teased by his friends. Having spent every summer since 2010 in the Preseli looking for the quarries of the obelisks and the site they originally stood, the Bluestone Brewery now uses for its logos not only symbols of Stonehenge.
“We came up with a new I.P.A which is one of our core beers,” said Simon Turner of the Bluestone Brewery. “We thought we would call it Hammerstone I.P.A. So could you guess who the image is based on?” It is an instantly recognisable caricature of archaeologist Parker-Pearson.
On the letters page of the Guardian, one correspondent compared the Welsh Bluestones with the Parthenon marbles removed from the Acropolis in Athens by British Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812. “Can we now expect a call for the return of the ‘Preseli marbles’?” joked Andy Jenkinson from Ascot. “If the people of Wales call – quite rightly – for the return of the ‘Preseli marbles’ please can the stones go home by the same route and method so that we can all enjoy the spectacle?” replied Sue Ball from Brighton.
If it is indeed true that the dolorite bluestones were really conveyed by glacial flow, then Sue Ball from Brighton might have to await the next ice-age to enjoy this spectacle.