Visiting Stonehenge this year for the Equinox or Solstice Celebrations? #ManagedOpenAccess

28 01 2017

Respecting the Stones
The conditions of entry for the Managed Open Access events at the Solstices and Equinoxes contain the following statements:

Stonehenge is a world renowned historic Monument and part of a World Heritage Site. It is seen by many who attend as a sacred place.  Please respect it and please respect each other.

Do not climb or stand on any of the stones – this includes the stones that have fallen.  This is in the interest of personal safety, the protection of this special site and respect for those attending.  As well as putting the stones themselves at risk, climbing on them can damage the delicate lichens.

… but some people seem happy to ignore these requests. I’m going to take a little time to explain that, strange as it may seem, the monument is actually quite delicate and damage to it does occur.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice

The popularity of the summer solstice has grown over the years

In 1953 during an archaeological investigation a set of carvings were noticed on the inner face of one of the stones of the central trilithons (Stone 53, to be precise). These carvings weren’t the usual graffiti that’ve been incised into many of the stones over the last 200 years or so – people’s names, initials, dates and so on. They were in fact very ancient indeed, dating back to the middle Bronze Age around 1700BC and were of bronze axe heads and a dagger.

Here’s a photo from 1953 showing the ancient carvings, followed by a more recent one:

atkinson-croppedstone-53-modern

The ancient carvings are noticeably “softer” around the edges in the modern shot and this is largely due to the action of people’s fingers tracing their outlines over the course of the last 63 years. Sarsen may be hard, but it’s still a sandstone.

Some bluestones exist only as stumps and many are fallen. These get trampled over by thousands of feet at the solstices and equinoxes, and many have acquired a polish as a result.

One of two examples of bluestone are so soft that they crumble away at a touch and these have eroded down to stumps that barely break the surface of the ground.

It’s been a while since tourists were rented hammers by the local blacksmith so they could take souvenirs, but it’s not unknown even in modern times for people to try it.

vandals

Although deliberate damage is rare, it does happen. At the 2014 Summer Solstice, someone thought it’d be a good idea to start writing the date (in US format – 6.21.14) in letters about 3” high, using a marker pen, near the bottom of Stone 3.
stone-3-graffiti
This damage is permanent. The ink has been carried deep into the stone surface and the conservators have been unable to remove it.

At the winter solstice that year, another bright spark decided to annoint the sides of about a dozen stones with some kind of oil, leaving dark streaks over 18” long that will take decades to fade. If you’re going to annoint the stones with anything, then use pure spring water and not some nasty goo you’ve bought off eBay.

Thoughtless damage happens every year – candlewax from spilt tealights, rubbings with crayon that goes through the paper, forcing random items like crystals or coins into crevices, digging in the ground and even trying to light a fire on a stone.

Disrespectful damage – vomiting, urinating or even defecating on the stones – is less common but also occurs. It’s hard to imagine the kind of person who thinks that sort of behaviour is acceptable anywhere, let alone at our most famous ancient monument.

Stonehenge Summer Solsice

While standing on the stones is bad enough, climbing up them is far worse.

 

The fuzzy grey-green lichen that coats the upper reaches of most of the sarsen stones is a species called Sea Ivory (Ramalina Siliquosa) and usually only grows on marine cliffs, particularly in southwest England and Wales. It’s very easily knocked off by people brushing against the stones and large areas are destroyed by someone sliding back down having scaled any of the uprights.

There are at least 9 marine cliff species of lichen present, and how they ended up 50km from the sea is something of a mystery.

The last major study of the Stonehenge lichens was carried out in 2003. It found 77 different species, including two that are found in a particular recess of one specific stone and nowhere else on site, and another that only grows on one single stone at Stonehenge and nowhere else in southern England.

So the next time you decide to come along to an Open Access Equinox or Solstice Dawn, please be one of the people who understands how fragile the monument is and who treats it with respect.

Tell your friends too and – even better – if you find any litter that other people have dropped, please pick it up and put it in one of the bins.  Please share this article on social media and help raise awareness.

The stones, the ancestors, and the staff who do the tidying up after you’ve gone home and who genuinely love Stonehenge, all thank you! (This article was submitted with thanks by Simon Banton who worked at the monument for many years)

Stonehenge is protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act and you must adhere to the regulations outlined in the act or face criminal prosecution. No person may touch, lean against, stand on or climb the stones, or disturb the ground in any way. The Ancient Monuments Protection Act 1882 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as it then was). It was introduced by John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, recognising the need for a governmental administration on the protection of ancient monuments – more information

If you are considering visiting Stonehenge for the Solstice or Equinox celebrations you can join an organised tour.  Use a reputable tour operator who respect the conditions.  Stonehenge Guided Tours are the longest established company and Solstice Events offer small group Solstice tours using only local expert guides.

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The Stonehenge Bluestones.

7 11 2016

The bluestones at Stonehenge are the smaller rocks you can see standing inside the huge sarsens that form the outer circle and the inner trilithons.

Stone 62.jpgThey range in size from stumps barely visible in the turf through to slender pillars standing nearly 2.5m tall (plus another metre or more below gound) with the largest weighing between 2 and 3 tonnes.

These rocks definitely come from the Preseli Mountains in southwest Wales, 150 miles from Stonehenge as the crow flies. Their place of origin was first established in 1923 by the geologist H. H. Thomas and has been confirmed by modern geochemical analysis. They used to be known as the “foreign stones” because it was recognised that they weren’t local to the Stonehenge area.

The name bluestone is a collective term and there are two main types – spotted dolerite and rhyolite.

It’s not obvious why they’re called bluestones to most people since at first glance, and especially from a distance, they look more greyish green in colour. But a freshly broken piece of the dolerite type reveals that the unweathered interior is a striking blue-green colour with white spots.

How and – more importantly – when and why they were brought to Stonehenge is a matter of lively debate.raw-bluestone

Being comparatively lightweight, the transportation from Preseli to Stonehenge may have been accomplished fairly simply despite the distance involved. In the 1950s a team of a few dozen teenage schoolchildren was easily able to drag a replica bluestone using rollers and a sledge, and half a dozen were able to pilot one on a raft up and down a small river with no trouble.

One theory of when they arrived at Stonehenge suggests that it was around 3000BC and that they were placed in a circle just inside the earthwork bank in the 56 sockets that are known as the Aubrey Holes. This was 500 years before the large sarsens were put up. Subsequently, this theory says, they were moved to within the sarsen monument and re-arranged at least twice.

carn-goedogThe question of why anyone would go to the bother of transporting up to 80 rocks from Wales to Wiltshire is unanswerable. It may be that they formed an existing monument that was dismantled as the spoils of war, they might represent the ancestors of a group of people who migrated eastwards or they may even have been a gift from one population to another.

They clearly had some great significance, perhaps because of their striking position in easily quarried outcrops on the top of the Preseli Mountains.

Curiously, a number of the Stonehenge bluestones were once the components of two bluestone trilithons that must have stood about 2.5m tall. The evidence is in the form of two half-buried bluestone lintels that have mortise holes worked into them and several other standing bluestones that have the remains of tenons on their tops.

These individual components are now placed remotely from each other at Stonehenge but perhaps these small trilithons were the inspiration for the enormous sarsen versions that still stand at the monument.

There are only about 30 visible bluestones remaining at Stonehenge and it is likely that the others have been chipped to pieces for souvenirs and talismen or stolen away for use elsewhere in the last 5000 years. Local rumours of bluestone doorsteps, bridge footings and magnificent fireplaces crop up every so often and fragments have been found in many of the nearby Bronze Age burial mounds.  Stonehenge special access tours allow you to enter the inner circle of Stonehenge and get close to the blusestones.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

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Fundraising Event: A talk by Mike Parker Pearson ‘Stonehenge and Durrington Walls: new research’

18 09 2016

Archaeological excavations are being carried out in 2016 at Durrington Walls and in Preseli, to shed yet more light on the mystery of Stonehenge and its stones. Was there a ‘superhenge‘ of standing sarsen stones at Durrington Walls that dwarfed Stonehenge?

mppWas Stonehenge itself actually a ‘secondhand monument’, built from bluestones brought from an earlier monument in west Wales? New advances in scientific methods, both in the field and in the laboratory, are also helping archaeologists find out more about the people who built Stonehenge, how they lived and why they went to such effort to build this remarkable structure.

Join Mike Parker Pearson for an evening lecture to hear about the latest exciting developments in Stonehenge’s story.

Salisbury Museum: Thursday, October 13th, 2016 – 18:30 to 20:00
Booking required. Please contact the museum.~

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Stonehenge may have been first erected in Wales, ‘amazing’ finds suggest

7 12 2015

‘Evidence that bluestones were quarried in Wales 500 years before they were put up in Wiltshire prompts theory that Stonehenge is ‘second-hand monument’

Archaeologists at one of the Stonehenge quarry sites in Wales. Photograph: UCL

Archaeologists at one of the Stonehenge quarry sites in Wales. Photograph: UCL

Evidence of quarrying for Stonehenge’s bluestones is among the dramatic discoveries leading archaeologists to theorise that England’s greatest prehistoric monument may have first been erected in Wales.

It has long been known that the bluestones that form Stonehenge’s inner horseshoe came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, around 140 miles from Salisbury Plain.

Now archaeologists have discovered a series of recesses in the rocky outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of those hills, that match Stonehenge’s bluestones in size and shape. They have also found similar stones that the prehistoric builders extracted but left behind, and “a loading bay” from where the huge stones could be dragged away.

Carbonised hazelnut shells and charcoal from the quarry workers’ campfires have been radiocarbon-dated to reveal when the stones would have been extracted.

Prof Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London (UCL), said the finds were “amazing”.

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” he said. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

The dating evidence suggests that Stonehenge could be older than previously thought, Parker Pearson said. “But we think it’s more likely that they were building their own monument [in Wales], that somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we’re seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument.”

There is also the possibility that the stones were taken to Salisbury Plain around 3200 BC and that the giant sarsens – silicified sandstone found within 20 miles of the site – were added much later. “Normally we don’t get to make that many fantastic discoveries in our lives,” Parker Pearson said. “But this is one.”

Parker Pearson heads a project involving specialists from UCL and the universities of Manchester, Bournemouth and Southampton, among others. Their findings are published on Monday in the journal Antiquity alongside a new book by the Council for British Archaeology titled Stonehenge: Making Sense of a Prehistoric Mystery.

Prof Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said the ruins of a dismantled monument were likely to lie between the two megalith quarries. “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising. We may find something big in 2016,” she said.

The long-distance transport of the bluestones from Wales to Stonehenge is one of the most remarkable achievements of Neolithic societies. The archaeologists estimate that each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than two tons and that people or oxen could have dragged them on wooden sledges sliding on rail-like timbers.

Parker Pearson said people in Madagascar and other societies were known to have moved such standing stones long distances and that doing so created a spectacle that brought together communities from afar.

“One of the latest theories is that Stonehenge is a monument of unification, bringing together people from across the many parts of Britain,” he said.

He recalled the moment he looked up the near-vertical rock-face and realised that this was one of the quarries. “Three metres above us were the bases of these monoliths that were actually sitting there ready simply to be lowered out of their recesses,” he said.
“It’s the Ikea of Neolithic monument building. The nice thing about these particular outcrops is that the rock has formed 480 million years ago as pillars. So prehistoric people don’t have to go in there and bash away … All they have to do is get wedges into the cracks. You wet the wedge, it swells and the stone pops off the rock.”

 Article source:  (Guardian News)
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LECTURE: Old Stones, New ideas: Sourcing the Stonehenge Bluestones

10 10 2015

A Saturday afternoon lecture by Richard Bevins at the Wiltshire Museum. 21st November 2015

Stonehenge is arguably one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the World. It is renowned for the Stonehenge Lectureenormous size of the sarsen monoliths used in its construction which comprise the Outer Circle and Outer Horseshoe. It is generally agreed that these stones were sourced from the Marlborough Downs area, some 30 km to the north of Stonehenge. However, a set of smaller stones, comprising the Inner Circle, the Inner Horseshoe and the Altar Stone, are exotic to the Salisbury Plain area; these are the so-called bluestones, and have been the subject of investigations since the latter part of the 19th Century. Early petrographical studies recognised that the bluestones largely comprise a range of altered volcanic, intrusive and tuffaceous rocks with rarer sandstones but could not provide a definitive source.

However, it was the seminal paper by H.H. Thomas in 1923 that persuasively demonstrated that the spotted dolerite component of the bluestones could be sourced to outcrops exposed towards the eastern margin of Mynydd Preseli in southwest Wales, citing the tors Carn Meini and Cerrigmarchogion as the most likely sources. Thomas also argued that other lithologies in the bluestone assemblage, notably the rhyolites and the ‘calcareous ash’, could be sourced in the same locale, in particuar from Carn Alw and the northern slopes of Foel Drygarn respectively.

The first major investigation of the geochemistry of bluestone assemblage was by Richard Thorpe and team who compared whole rock wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry analyses from both orthostats and debitage at Stonehenge with whole rock analyses from Mynydd Preseli
.
Using petrography, mineral chemistry and whole rock geochemistry Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer have re-examined the proposed source of the bluestone rhyolites and determined that Carn Alw, as proposed by Thomas, is not the source of bluestone rhyolite; instead they argued that the majority of the rhyolite debitage from the Stonehenge Landscape (but not the four rhyolitic/dacitic standing or recumbent orthostats) comes instead from a prominent outcrop called Craig Rhos y felin, located on low ground to the north of the Mynydd Preseli range in the vicinity of Brynberian. More recently they have re-examined the spotted and non-spotted dolerites and concluded that a large % of the dolerite fragments and cored samples from Stonehenge come from Carn Goedog rather than Carn Meini.

Biography
Dr Richard Bevins as Keeper and Head of the Department of Natural Sciences at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff is responsible for Strategic leadership for collections and research related activities within the Department.

Qualifications, memberships and relevant positions:
BSc (Hons) Geology (Aberystwyth University), PhD (Keele), Fellow (Geological Society of London), Chartered Geologist (CGeol), Fellow (Society of Antiquaries of London), Honorary Lecturer (School of Earth & Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University), Chair, Geological Society of London’s Geoconservation Committee, Member of the Geological Society of London’s External Relations Committee, Chair of the British Geological Survey’s National Geological Repository Advisory Committee.

References
Primary research area is centred on the the Caledonian igneous history of Wales and related areas, as well as on their low-grade metamorphism. More recent work has focussed on extending the petrology and geochemistry of altered igneous rocks from Pembrokeshire into a re-examination of the source of the Stonehenge bluestones.

Links:
http://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/events/index.php?Action=2&thID=1029&prev=1
www.researchgate.net/profile/Richard_Bevins2

Saturday afternoon lectures start at 2.30pm and last approx. one hour.

Our Lecture Hall is accessible via a lift if required, has a hearing loop and air conditioning.
Booking Options
Book online using Paypal
Telephone – 01380 727369
Email – hello@wiltshiremuseum.org.uk

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