Water, water everywhere…… so where did I put my boat? – Moving the Bluestones
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This is because the water lies on the Southern side of the Avenue and does not need extra depth to fill the Southern ditch evenly, while the Northern ditch is further away from the water (and on a gradient). To fill evenly to the same water depth as the Southern ditch, the Northern ditch would need to be 10% deeper. Furthermore, this extra depth to one side of the monument can also be seen in the main ditch of Stonehenge, as the primary ditch corresponding to the northern avenue ditch is also 10% deeper.
The wooden poles within the Avenue seem to be somewhat sporadic and impractical at first glance. But if you then add the prehistoric waters to the Avenue, you can see that the poles line up in pairs. Moreover, these pairs of posts appear every ten metres as you proceed down the Avenue, indicating that the Avenue was created in sections. This is a consequence of the periodic need to replace the poles as the shoreline retreated. The first main brace of these shoreline poles is seen quite close to the famous North-Eastern entrance by the Heel Stone, extending to the last evidence of the poles at the ‘elbow’ at the end.
The current ‘expert’ theories suggest that the path of the Avenue is a processional walkway down to the River Avon. But a careful study of this walkway shows that it makes no sense in the route it follows – it’s neither a direct nor logical course. Today, the Avenue offers the continuation of its association with the River Avon, after the original Avenue that finished at Stonehenge Bottom had fallen into disuse. This explains the strange haphazard route it now shows. Without finding a valid reason for its course, archaeologists attempt to justify the route as a ‘ceremonial’ pathway, which ignores the facts. These ‘facts’ are compounded as later ancestors constructed Barrows that mimicked their ancestor’s constructions and placed burials within them, totally confusing the archaeological timeline.
The later attempts to keep a connection to the original builders of Stonehenge can be seen in the Avenue as it moves off to the North East for about 500 metres (the original construction), then suddenly swings off East for another 1,000 metres, then turns again and heads South, like a stretched lower case ‘n’. Archaeologists suggest that this is a ‘natural route’ deliberately passing burial mounds to the East of Stonehenge.
The reality is that the walkway came first, followed by the introduction of the burial mounds, which is borne out by carbon dating, indicating that the Avenue was first introduced in Neolithic times, and the burial mounds were added much later in the Iron Age and beyond. Archaeologists have identified that the Avenue was built in sections; the first section up to the ‘elbow’, according to Julian Richards in his book ‘The Stonehenge Environs Project’, was built during what archaeologists call ‘Period II’, including:
- Modification of the original enclosure
- Construction of the first straight stage of the Avenue
- Erection of the Station Stones
- Resetting the two entrance stones
- Dismantling of the double bluestone circle
Our hypothesis (unlike the current expert views) answers this question fully. The Avenue was built to meet the new shoreline that emerged during the Neolithic period, where (as at the old North West entrance) they received and moored the boats, cargo, and even the stones. Consequently, this then acted as a new entrance to the Stonehenge monument.
Further evidence of this shoreline can be seen in the post holes found in the Avenue. These post holes do not make sense, as they would have blocked the walkway unless they were mooring posts for various phases in the Avenue’s construction and water level. A small survey carried out from 1988 to 1990 investigated the last 100m of the Avenue up to the elbow. (Cleal et al., 1995) It found 14 large post holes that could have been used as moorings for boats. These moorings are paired off at 45 degrees to the Avenue, which would match the exact shoreline predicted over several periods.
Recent investigations have revealed that as well as post holes down the Avenue, there is a distinctive artificial mound of ‘clay and flint’ called Newall’s mount (named after its discoverer), and a second mount can also be found on the contour maps of the Avenue (but has yet to be documented or excavated), which has the same characteristics and post hole alignment. This indicates that these human-made mounds were used as raised platforms to unload boats as they could not serve any other practical purpose. (Stonehenge – the environment in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age and a Beaker-Age burial, WANHS Magazine, 78, 1984, pp. 7-30)
NB. Such platforms are also found in the nearby site of Avebury, at a location I called Silbury Avenue (which I discovered in 2014) and leads over Waden Hill, to a mooring platform called ‘Waden Mount’ located by photographer Pete Glastonbury in 2004. (Langdon, 2015, ‘Avebury’s Lost Stone Avenue’)
We can also date the extension past the ‘elbow’, as it no longer has the elaborate moats on either side of the processional walkway. The Avenue beyond the ‘elbow’ travels over a series of hillocks that could not hold water at any level, making such moats useless. This, again, shows that our ancestors were practical and pragmatic people who included aspects such as ditches for practical purposes, not for religious or aesthetic reasons as current archaeologists believe.
The Avenue II
An indication of the changes that were introduced in Phase II of Stonehenge can be seen in the development of the Avenue to maintain the practical link between Stonehenge and the river Avon. Our ancestors started by backfilling the ditch in the North-East sector of the site. Both Hawley and Atkinson observed that the secondary filling was not natural. This backfill extended to a depth of 1 m, at which pottery and bluestone fragments are first seen, clearly indicating that it preceded the arrival of the Bluestones.
When the Avenue was first constructed, it could have had a dual purpose: to serve as the new mooring processional way for the dead and help maintain the groundwater levels because the moat had been reduced to a trickle as a consequence of the lower water table (river levels).
Hawley had found a liner of clay in the moat. This liner would not have been necessary when the ditch was first constructed, as the groundwater tables were sufficiently high to fill the moat, whether daily or periodically. But a liner would have been necessary once the groundwater no longer reached the base of the pits. To keep the moat waters at a suitable depth, the pits would have needed to be topped up from time to time with either groundwater from the receding groundwater around Stonehenge or precipitation from rain as we see from dew ponds or even manual transference (perhaps a combination of all three).
The Avenue is a processional causeway with a deep trench built into both sides (over 1m deep in places). This trench is unnecessary unless there is another reason for its use, either practical or of use.
The ditch allows water to travel along the Avenue up to the existing moat, but there is no evidence that it is directly connected – but it doesn’t need to be as we have already illustrated the fact that chalk is a porous material that will allow water to flow through it over short distances.
The Sarsen stones would have been brought to the Stonehenge site before the river finally disappeared from ‘Stonehenge Bottom” to become the River Avon of today. Our ancestor’s use of Sarsen stones is fascinating, as the original structure, consisting solely of Welsh Bluestones, lasted over 4,000 years as a centre for curing sickness. Therefore, they must have wanted a colossal new monument for a different purpose and, consequently, another larger stone.
From an engineering point of view, the size of the structure was significant, and because of the magnitude of these stones, the most effective means of transportation to this site would again be by boat. In addition, even though the deeply forested landscape would have started to thin, the sub-soils would still have been waterlogged and marshy after the groundwater had receded, making it impossible to drag (or roll) heavy stones across large distances.
The construction of the Sarsen monument is of even greater interest because if they were building only for aesthetic pleasure, then you would imagine that simply laying one giant stone on top of another would be sufficient, as seen at other megalithic sites. But our ancestors wanted to do something special with these stones, so they carved mortise and tenon joints on their surfaces. The only engineering reason for this construction method would be that they required this site to last for a considerable time in history, hence its importance to this civilisation.
For information about British Prehistory, visit www.prehistoric-britain.co.uk for the most extensive archaeology blogs and investigations collection, including modern LiDAR reports. This site also includes extracts and articles from the Robert John Langdon Trilogy about Britain in the Prehistoric period, including titles such as The Stonehenge Enigma, Dawn of the Lost Civilisation and the ultimate proof of Post Glacial Flooding and the landscape we see today.
Robert John Langdon has also created a YouTube web channel with over 100 investigations and video documentaries to support his classic trilogy (Prehistoric Britain). He has also released a collection of strange coincidences that he calls ‘13 Things that Don’t Make Sense in History’ and his recent discovery of a lost Stone Avenue at Avebury in Wiltshire called ‘Silbury Avenue – the Lost Stone Avenue’.
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