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27 December 2008
Frosty debate over bluestone mystery of Stonehenge

Long-standing theories that teams of ancient tribesmen hauled 80 giant bluestones from Pembrokeshire to build Stonehenge have been dismissed by a Welsh geology expert. It has often been claimed that Neolithic people dragged the two-tonne megaliths over 156 miles of mountain, river and sea to build the iconic stone circle in Wiltshire. The theory gained fresh credence in October when, after new excavation work at the site, Professor Geoffrey Wainwright claimed the site was a 'prehistoric Lourdes' famed for its healing powers. But geomorphology expert Brian John has now poured scorn on the 'human transport' scenario in a new book by suggesting the stones were moved by glacier.
     Dr John said: "Why on earth would anyone in their right minds in 2,600 BCE consider hauling these huge rocks up and down hills and across the sea? It couldn't be done." The scientist is better placed than most to comment, having taken part in the ill-fated bluestone transport reconstruction in 2000. An army of volunteers using modern ropes and at one point a crane, failed dismally to get a bluestone out of Pembrokeshire. It ultimately ended up in the sea off Milford Haven. Dr John's new book, The Bluestone Enigma: Stonehenge, Preseli and the Ice Age (Greencroft Books at 9.95) sets out his glacial transport theory.
     Dr John, who received his doctorate for studying the glaciation of Pembrokeshire, believes the huge megaliths at Stonehenge are glacial 'erratics', stones transported in a moving glacier to a spot near Stonehenge from where it would have been possible to drag them into a rough circle. He said: "It is well known that the great Irish Sea Glacier crossed Pembrokeshire during the Ice Age, and that it flowed up the Bristol Channel from west to east. This could have transported the stones and deposited them in Wiltshire one by one as the ice eventually melted." This theory is supported, he says, by findings that the Stonehenge megaliths come from some 20 different sites around West and South Wales. He added: "The theory of human transport has been embellished to a ludicrous degree."
     However, Professor Wainwright, chairman of the London- based Society of Antiquities, and fellow archaeology expert Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, who worked together on the dig at Stonehenge earlier this year, are sticking to their theory. Their hypothesis, which they say was backed by their excavation results, was that the stones were brought to Stonehenge by a mammoth human effort because of the belief in their healing power. When they presented their findings, they dismissed the rival theory of the stones being carried there by glaciers. "The one tiny flaw in the theory is that there is absolutely no evidence for glaciation of Wiltshire," Wainwright said. They noted during the dig 'an abnormal number' of the bodies found in tombs near Stonehenge displayed signs of serious physical injury and disease. And analysis of teeth recovered from graves show that around half of the corpses were people who were not native to the Stonehenge area.
     Prof Darvill said of the bluestones: "Their meaning and importance to prehistoric people was sufficiently powerful to warrant the investment of time, effort and resources to move the bluestones from the Preseli Hills of Wales to the Wessex downs." But Dr John said: "It is now known that the Irish Sea Glacier flowed as far east as Street in Somerset, the Mendips and the city of Bath. The collection of ill-assorted bluestones at Stonehenge can only be an assemblage of glacial erratics, left by the wasting ice somewhere to the west of Stonehenge."

Sources: Western Mail, Wales Online (26 December 2008)

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