No Bluestones in Somerset
There is a misconception that Neolithic people were not capable of moving large stones great distances and argue that they simply used whatever material was at hand, claiming that “nearly all stones in a circle are local and seldom came from more than a mile or two away”.  These prejudices seem to originate from the notion that Neolithic people were primitive tribal savages; but primitive does not mean backward. Indeed, these megalithic constructions of the Neolithic bear witness to highly developed skills from an advanced civilisation as attested in the megalithic constructions around the world.
These same people, wallowing in their ignorance, argue that Neolithic people were not capable of collecting the Stonehenge bluestones from the Preseli Hills in south west Wales. In denial of the Neolithic peoples capabilities they promote the theory that the bluestones were moved to Salisbury Plain by the action of glaciers. But there is no evidence of glaciation occurring in Wiltshire. Consequently the glaciologists have come up with a revised, compromise theory; the bluestones were moved part way by glacier, part way by man, being transported from south west Wales by a hypothetical Irish Sea glacier that turned sharp left and traversed along the Bristol Channel and deposited the Preseli bluestones in Somerset around Glastonbury.
The first flaw in this argument is that Preseli bluestones are not found in any other megalithic construction outside of Wales. In fact there appear to be no bluestones in Somerset where this hypothetical Irish Sea glacier would have deposited its erratic train. Significantly Preseli bluestone are absent from nearby sites such as Stanton Drew and Avebury. Indeed, the only megalithic site we find them outside of Wales is Stonehenge. A bluestone was claimed to have been found in Boles Barrow on Salisbury Plain but there is considerable doubt about the whole episode.
Secondly, the area around Glastonbury is known as the Somerset levels, it was marshland, peat bog, until drained for agriculture. The many raised wooden trackways constructed across Somerset dating from the Neolithic period, such as the Sweet Track,  bear witness to the fact that is was water-logged marshland during this era. From this inhospitable terrain, or so the glacial theory goes, they found the bluestones, pulled them out of the peat bog and transported them to Salisbury Plain for use in the earliest stone construction at Stonehenge. The mind boggles at how you would locate, let alone retrieve 4 ton bluestones from a peat bog.
But using the glaciologists own argument, why would Neolithic people go to the effort of gathering bluestone glacial erratics from the Somerset marshes when ample sarsen stone was available much nearer the site of the monument?
Unless, of course, bluestone was preferable to local stone.
In the majority of stone circles local stone was used, but this cannot be used as an argument to emphasise deficiencies in Neolithic capabilities and against human transportation of the bluestones. Moving the massive sarsen stones, the largest estimated to weigh 50 tons, from Marlborough Downs to Stonehenge is quite an achievement. Likewise, moving the massive stones into the desired location at Avebury, the largest estimated at 60 tons, without modern lifting gear.
But move great stones great distances in the Neolithic they certainly did. But why was it necessary to move these large stones over great distances; why not just build the stone circle where the stones outcropped? Clearly the chosen site location was important, consequently stone had to be moved into that location, sometimes short distances, in other cases great distances, whatever was necessary.
Stonehenge is unique amongst the stone circles of the British Isles; it is not a true henge which should have a bank and ditch in that order (Avebury is a perfect example of a large scale henge monument), but at Stonehenge the outer ditch and inner bank is the reverse of a true henge and has more in common with a defensive counterscarp arrangement found at earlier causewayed enclosures. Furthermore, Stonehenge has worked stones with smoothed faces, whereas most stone circles use unworked, rough stones, typcially Avebury, Stanton Drew, the Rollrights. Also unique to Stonehenge are the 6 ton sarsen lintels raised 6 metres atop the vertical stones, creating a series of portals, located with standard carpentry techniques; tongue and groove longitudinally around the lintel circle and mortise and tenon joints vertically on the sarsens. The lintel ring is almost perfectly level on a natural gradient. Why go to all that bother? The outer bank at typical henge monuments is said to act as a false horizon but at Stonehenge the bank and ditch arrangement is reversed so could not provide that function. For this reason it has been suggested that the purpose of the lintel ring was to provide a false horizon for the ancient stargazers, but it does not need to be set so precisely level to provide this aspect. Stonehenge is full of mystery and continues to pose more questions than answers. It's design is totally foreign amongst typical stone circles of the British Isles.
It should therefore be of no surprise that the choice of lithic materials at Stonehenge is also unique to stone circles. Ample evidence exists amongst other megalithic monuments to demonstrate that the Neolithic people were quite capable of gathering what ever stone was required for specific constructions.
Construction of megalithic (from the Greek 'megas lithos' = big stone) monuments began in north western Europe at the beginning of the Neolithic era, c.4000 BC, over a thousand years before the earliest stone circles. These early megalithic monuments, generally found in the west of the British Isles, are classified as types of tomb although of those excavated not all have been found to contain human remains.  This suggests classification as tombs is not correct in all cases with some other, as yet not fully understood, intended purpose of use. For this reason the term “temple” is often preferred. 
Typical passage tombs possess a narrow passageway lined with orthostats (upright monoliths, often deeply decorated in Irish passage tombs) leading to a main chamber. The passage varies in length from less than 2 metres to over 40 metres as at Knowth in Ireland. Small chambers often lead off the passage way producing a cruciform plan. The passages were roofed with lintels or capstones but the main chamber was usually corbelled. The whole construction was said to be covered by a cairn, although there is little trace of these at some sites. Typical passage tombs are Newgrange in Ireland and Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey.
Portal tombs are perhaps the most spectacular monuments with their massive capstones seemingly perched precariously on half a dozen, or often less, upright orthostats. Often the side stones do not support the capstone, giving the appearance that it is resting on a tripod at front and back. Many possess two tall supporting orthostats, the portal stones, at one end providing a distinctive angle to the capstone. In south west England these are called “Portal Dolmens” (from Breton 'taol – maen' meaning 'table stone') or in Wales “Cromlech” (from Welsh 'crom' – 'llech' meaning 'bent flagstone'). In English these are often named as “quoits”, such as Arthur's Quoit. The massive capstone at Kernanstown (Browne's Hill) Dolmen, in County Carlow, Ireland, is thought to be the largest in Europe, weighing an estimated 140 tons. The purpose of these Portal Dolmens has continued to puzzle archaeologists as much as Stonehenge, and yet they share the mystery of raising stone.
The dolmens and cromlechs possess little evidence of human burials; the small amounts of human remains found underneath the capstone could have been connected with burials, or perhaps was placed as offerings. Indeed in most cases the portal stones are blocked with a smaller stone that fails to support the capstone. The tomb was therefore blocked before the capstone went on. In many cases human remains and other objects appear to have been placed inside the tomb and under the capstone from gaps around the blocking stone between the portals indicating that the primary function was not a tomb; I suspect the offerings, human or otherwise, were inserted later, certainly after construction, and, as we find at many megalithic constructions from the period, were intended for sanctification. Furthermore, no trace of a cairn survives at the majority of portal tomb sites; it is doubtful they were covered at all as many seem to purposefully mimic, or frame a significant view of the local landscape in the shape and positioning of the capstone. 
Material selection in many passage tombs and dolmens incorporates both locally and distantly sourced foreign raw materials. The presence of luminescent white quartz within passage graves and long barrows is common right across the distributions of these monument types. In some passage tombs quartz is present as complete boulders used as orthostats or kerbing, while at others it is present as veins running through prominently placed stones. On other sites quartz can be present in the form of pebbles placed within or around the monument as if signifying a boundary.
In addition to the presence of quartz some passage tombs integrate many stone types. On the Channel island of Jersey, the passage tomb La Hougue Bie incorporates at least 9 different types of stone from sources across the eastern half of the Island. At Newgrange in Ireland there are 5 main stone types incorporated into the construction of the Neolithic tomb, collected from distances of up to 40 km both north and south of the Boyne Valley. 
Pebbles used in the Newgrange cairn were derived from a local source, the lower river terrace immediately north of the Boyne, about 750m south of the cairn. Orthostats from the passage, the chamber, the roof corbels and all the kerbstones (except 4 of sandstone) are all greywacke stone derived from an area 3- 5 km north and east of Newgrange where the rock naturally outcrops. No doubt much of the stone was collected from the surface but there is also evidence that some was quarried. Further quantities are thought to have been collected from the coastal cliffs at Clogher Head, 10 km north of the mouth of the river Boyne.
Gaps in the Newgrange passage roof were packed with burnt soil mixed with sea sand brought from the mouth of the Boyne, 20 km downstream. Five types of cobbles collected from non-local sources were used to embellish the facades and entrance areas of both Newgrange and Knowth, inclusive of rounded granodiorite cobbles from the Mourne Mountains, 50 km to the north; banded siltsone cobbles and gabbro cobbles originally from the Carlingford mountains which are thought to have been collected from the shoreline of Dundalk Bay, a similar distance from Newgrange. The mysterious granite basins found within the chamber recesses are thought to have also come from the Mourne Mountains.
Perhaps the most fascinating stone type used at Newgrange was the masses of white quartz found around the entrance area and used in the controversial reconstruction of the facade by Michael O'Kelly from 1962 to 1975. This quartz type is distinctive for the flecks of mica it contains, originating in the Wicklow Mountains, 50 km to the south. A smaller quantity was used at Knowth in a platform at the entrance. Many argue that the quartz at Newgrange should not have been used in the facade, striking as it is when the sun hits it, but alternatively, like at Knowth and other passage tombs, spread around the entrance to mark a sacred boundary. 
Indeed it is significant that many materials, cobbles and sand, used at the Boyne valley monuments were brought in from the coast some 40km distant, suggesting this may have been to reconstruct such a boundary; water is known to have formed liminal barriers throughout the mythologies of the world.
The construction of the monuments at the Boyne valley, such as Newgrange and Knowth, demonstrate a very considerable investment of time and other resources. It is estimated that about 2,000 large stones were needed for the orthostats, roof and kerbstones, in addition to the 200,000 smaller stones used in the mound construction of Newgrange alone, as we have seen above , many brought great distances. Evidently the Boyne valley temple complex must have fulfilled a very special role in society. 
Specific stone selection in megalithic monument construction was not unique to passage tombs. Studies of the composition of the chambered tombs of the Cotswold-Severn group has found that they were constructed from specifically selected materials.  Although studies on the dolmens and cromlechs have not been carried out to such depth it is immediately apparent at some sites that not just local stone has been used in the construction.
In south west Wales we find Carreg Samson, probably better known locally as Long House cromlech, resting in a field above the bay of Aber Castle gazing out across the Irish Sea. From a distance the cromlech has the appearance of a seven-legged stone beast scuttling across the landscape. The large capstone measuring 4.5 metres long by over 2.7 metres wide rests on three of the beast's seven uprights, legend states that St. Samson put the capstone in place himself with just one finger. On closer examination it is immediately obvious that the supporting orthostats are constructed of differing materials. The capstone and three of the supports have quartz inclusions, a conglomerate rock which outcrops locally, the largest piece of quartz found at the entrance to the chamber. Quartz has been specifically selected but the other orthostats are not and must have been imported from another location.
Other portal stones, such as at Brackley, Kintyre, and King Orry's Grave on the Isle of Man, include quartz as if marking the significance of the entrance. Quartz is one of the most distinctive stone types used in the chambered tombs of the Irish Sea zone. Although quartz is one of the common minerals in the world the chambered tombs are never constructed solely of this material; in the vast majority quartz seems to have been positioned specifically to mark out important parts of the monument. At many sites quartz is often used for the backstone of the chambers (Greenamore Co. Antrim, Sannox on Arran), at other sites quartz is found solely in the capstone (Tamlaght Co. Derry and Whitehouse, Pembrokeshire). At Ossians's Grave in Co. Antrim quartz is found only on the right handside of the monument and at others quartz is not used in the chamber but is found in the cairn material. Quartz is evidently used differently at different monuments but always for transitional areas such as the entrance or the rear of the chamber. Yet at other sites quartz, although locally ubiquitous is deliberately avoided (Glenvoidean on Bute and Carreg Samson as stated above). Other sites in west Wales used stone not from the local area: Parc y Cromlech, Pembrokeshire and Ty Newydd, North Wales. Quartz was often found as deposits, often as crystals or pebbles, at many sites suggesting it was considered a powerful substance in the Neolithic period.
The evidence suggests that the constructors of these monuments did not simply use the most convenient local stone but purposefully selected specific stone types for its properties, in some cases travelling great distances if necessary. 
Contrary to the negative views of those who are of the opinion that Neolithic people just picked up any old local stone available, it seems beyond doubt that the materials selected and used in the construction of their megalithic monuments were purposefully selected and employed in a range of meaningful ways.
The materials themselves may be taken to represent tokens of other landscapes, pieces of significant places brought together in a new order or a microcosm of the original, maintaining a link with the past. We see this arrangement with the materials used at Stonehenge. Whereas the sarsen stones are quite local, the bluestones derive from south west Wales. The fact that the bluestones do not come from a single deposit but consist of a number of rock types obtainable from the same region suggests it was the original landscape of the rocks that was important. 
Significantly, at Stonehenge we find the inner horseshoe comprised of the finely worked spotted-dolerites from the main ridge of Carn Meini in the Preseli Hills, with the outer bluestone circle comprising of unworked rhyolites, tuffs and unspotted dolerites from the outlying landscapes north and south of the main ridge. The Preseli Hills purposefully created in microcosm in the Stonehenge landscape. 
Evidently the choice of materials was purposefully selective in the construction of megalithic monuments with Neolithic people travelling great distances to collect specific stone types:
"Since everything else about these monuments is carefully ordered and planned and the labour involved in constructing them was massive, it is highly unlikely that the inclusion of these structural stones was the result of mere chance or the contingencies of local availability” 
1. Aubrey Burl, A Guide to Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany, Yale University Press, 2nd Edition, 2000, p.179.
2. Aubrey Burl, A Guide to Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 18
3. The Sweet Track is an ancient causeway in the Somerset Levels, England, built c. 3806 BC. It was claimed to be the oldest road in the world and certainly the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe until a 6,000 year-old trackway was discovered at Belmarsh Prison in 2009. The track way extended for 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) across the marsh between what was then an island at Westhay and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick. The Sweet Track, constructed of crossed wooden poles driven into waterlogged ground to support a walkway of planks of oak, laid end-to-end, is one of a network that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Various artefacts, including a jadeitite axe head, have been found along its length. The Sweet Track was largely built over the course of an earlier structure, the Post Track, dated from around 3838 BC.
4. Less than 10% of the sixteen hundred or so recorded megalithic tombs in Ireland have been excavated – Elizabeth Shee Twohig, Irish Megalithic Tombs, Shire, 2004, p.7.
5. Chris Tilley, Body & Image: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 2, Left Coast Press 2008.
6. Chris Tilley, Phenomenology of Landscape, Berg, 1994, pp. 76 – 109.
7. Timothy Darvill, Megaliths, Monuments, and Materiality. European Megalithic Studies Group, 2010.
8. Gabriel Clooney, Newgrange: A View from the Platform, Antiquity, 2006.
9. Elizabeth Shee Twohig, Op. cit. p.59.
10. Vicki Cummings, Neolithic Irish Sea Zone, Oxbow, 2009, p.89.
11. Ibid. pp. 94 – 97.
12. Richard Bradley, The Archaeology of Natural Places, Routledge, 2000, pp. 92 – 94.
13. Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, The Stones of Stonehenge - Current Archaeology magazine, Issue 252, March 2011, pp. 28 – 35.
14. Chris Tilley, Body & Image: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 2, Left Coast Press 2008, p.160.
The Specific Selection of Stone in Prehistory by A. Whitaker, 2011, Ancient Wisdom website.
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