What are megaliths made of?

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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Boreades » 12:04 pm

I have to confess to a piece of appalling ignorance. I had assumed for many years that the Avebury and Stonehenge bluestones, sarsens, etc were a type of granite. Now I learn they are not granite. But not what they are instead. Does anyone know?
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Mick Harper » 8:22 pm

There's a website by Brian John that addresses the question of the Stonehenge bluestones but applies to megaliths in general:
http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/


By coincidence, Mr John has just published a review of The Megalithic Empire on his website which (through mildly clenched teeth) I reprint here.

-------------------------------------------------------------

I was sent a copy of this sombre-looking book for review, so I suppose I'd better oblige........

It's a wildly eccentric tome, in parts deadly dull, in parts quite entertaining, with the central thesis that there was once something called "Megalithia" or the Megalithic Empire which controlled and orchestrated everything like some gigantic secret society or underground subversive organization -- infiltrating into all aspects of life from the Neolithic period up to the present day. Like many other books, the belief underpinning this one is that there was a sort of Ancient Wisdom which is still there if we want to look for it in the landscape, in our language and folk traditions, and even in the domestication of wild animals. Another part of the central thesis is that because archaeologists argue about all sorts of things, that just goes to show that they know nothing, and that somebody like the authors (Harper and Vered) must come along and tell the truth. Sounds familiar?

So this book is a polemic rather than a careful examination of evidence. In fact, the authors seem to have so little respect for evidence on the ground that they cannot even be bothered to cite proper case studies or give references to support their arguments. They simply state everything as if they are self-evidently in possession of the truth, and as if all other hypotheses coming from many decades of careful archaeological research are self-evidently nonsensical. Such confidence might be a fine thing if the authors could demonstrate some knowledge of the things they are talking about, but the book is littered with evidence which goes to show that they do not really know their territory and that their grasp of concepts (about landscape evolution, for example) is seriously inadequate. Some decent refereeing or editing might have helped..........

There are three parts to the book. In the first part the authors propose the hypothesis that stone circles and ovals were made as direction-finding structures which could be used by reference to a simple set of rules by those intent in making long-distance cross-country journeys. They could be used rather like a compass or a clock face to guide the traveller towards and along long-distance trackways akin to ley lines. The authors say that many landscape features were specifically fashioned by the Megalithic Empire bosses (whoever they were) to assist in the process of navigation. The middle part of the book (which is rather turgid) relates to folk beliefs and suggests that there are many survivals of Megalithia to this day. And the final part of the book suggests that these mysterious ancestors not only domesticated birds and animals but taught them to become a part of the communication system (because there was no written language) and also a part of the system for travelling about in droving groups or as trading groups with pack animals. In a truly wonderful section, the authors suggest that jackdaws were trained to stand at crossroads where they could give instructions to travellers who might be looking a bit lost...............

On the website that goes with the book, they say "everyone can agree that The Megalithic Empire is complete tosh........" I think I would agree with that. Now then, excuse me while I go and lie in a darkened room for a while.........
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby hvered » 7:54 am

Boreades wrote: I had assumed for many years that the Avebury and Stonehenge bluestones, sarsens, etc were a type of granite. Now I learn they are not granite. But not what they are instead. Does anyone know?

Limestone in most cases (it's the commonest building material in the world). As far as I can tell the stone itself is nothing special.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby hvered » 8:58 am

Brian John's article is a good example of how an academic reacts to new ideas (he's a retired professor of geomorphology) but at least he's read and even reviewed the book so it's worth examining his response.

I was sent a copy of this sombre-looking book for review,
He's the first person to complain about the cover which is indeed on the dreary side, a deliberate attempt to avoid appearing sensationalist.

It's a wildly eccentric tome, in parts deadly dull, in parts quite entertaining, with the central thesis that there was once something called "Megalithia" or the Megalithic Empire which controlled and orchestrated everything like some gigantic secret society or underground subversive organization -- infiltrating into all aspects of life from the Neolithic period up to the present day.
The book doesn't set out to present Megalithia as a gigantic secret society though a sense of exclusivity is inferred. We tell it how it is. (This holds true for present-day movers and shakers and networking goes on innocuously enough at village fetes, dinners and the like.)

Another part of the central thesis is that because archaeologists argue about all sorts of things, that just goes to show that they know nothing, and that somebody like the authors (Harper and Vered) must come along and tell the truth. Sounds familiar?
Archaeologists arguing is a good sign. The problem is when they unanimously agree (e.g. that a site was built for ritual purposes).

So this book is a polemic rather than a careful examination of evidence. In fact, the authors seem to have so little respect for evidence on the ground that they cannot even be bothered to cite proper case studies or give references to support their arguments. They simply state everything as if they are self-evidently in possession of the truth, and as if all other hypotheses coming from many decades of careful archaeological research are self-evidently nonsensical.
You only need to look at some of the bizarre claims that archaeologists make, e.g. their various claims about Stonehenge, to question John's "many decades of careful archaeological research".

Such confidence might be a fine thing if the authors could demonstrate some knowledge of the things they are talking about, but the book is littered with evidence which goes to show that they do not really know their territory and that their grasp of concepts (about landscape evolution, for example) is seriously inadequate. Some decent refereeing or editing might have helped..........
This is the main sticking-point (in brackets). If landscape evolution is so well understood perhaps he should inform, inter alia, the School of Archaeology from Oxford University whose finest are conducting a lengthy and hopefully well-funded project into this matter http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/englishlandscapes.html

In a truly wonderful section, the authors suggest that jackdaws were trained to stand at crossroads where they could give instructions to travellers who might be looking a bit lost...............
This is the stuff of fairy tales, as the book makes clear, but even orthodox historians are aware of the role of animals in pre-high-tech societies.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Mick Harper » 12:53 pm

It isn’t fairy stories, it's brute economics. There is no point in having a road unless you have some way of telling people where the road is going. What we highway engineers call a ‘roadsign’. In pre-literate times you have two choices (write in if there are others).

You can post somebody at a crossroads with instructions to say to oncoming travellers, “Glastonbury to your right, Avebury straight on.” Actually you’d have to post three people doing eight hour shifts since oncoming travellers oncome at any time of night or day. Plus you’d have to build some kind of shelter for inclement weather. And feed them. Oh yes, and you’d have to do this at every significant interchange. The pre-cuts Department of Transport might just about have managed but even that renowned and fearsome organisation The Megalithic Empire would be hard pressed.

The alternative is to use a jackdaw. It would take a competent bird trainer about half an hour to teach a jackdaw to say, “Glastonbury to your right, Avebury straight on.” It would take a child of six maybe two days. Jackdaws live in trees so no infrastructure would be required. They would be given a morsel of food by the grateful traveller (before?) in exchange for their assistance so no feeding arrangements would be necessary. One jackdaw per road junction is ample since they’re always up for a morsel. Or can be trained to be so. Actually one jackdaw could probably man a whole network of road junctions since their learning (and speaking) abilitites are practically boundless.

The fairy stories came later. Mr John came later still.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Jools » 7:26 pm

The relationship with corvids seems to pre-date the Megalithic era by a long chalk. The most commonly found remains at Neanderthal sites include corvid feathers leading archaeologists to surmise that black feathers in particular, from ravens, jackdaws, rooks, magpies etc., had a special significance.

In fact a whole team of researchers is looking into the "Neanderthal exploitation of raptors and corvids", viz: The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these hominins.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Boreades » 11:39 am

Re Mr John

Take it as a compliment, you've rattled their cage.

Who was it who said "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you..." etc?
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby hvered » 3:16 pm

It's certainly better to be ridiculed than ignored! However, there doesn't appear to be any aspect of the book with which he agrees which is quite depressing.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Boreades » 3:35 pm

Relax, it takes time. The history of science is packed to bursting-point with stories of a cosy consensus being upset. Anyway, it's just human nature. It's rare to find any "senior professional" who will graciously admit that any newcomer or outsider might know something they don't. Before you know it, they've lost their illusion of authority and have had to start rewriting their textbooks.
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Re: What are megaliths made of?

Postby Iona » 7:51 pm

Boreades wrote: I had assumed for many years that the Avebury and Stonehenge bluestones, sarsens, etc were a type of granite. Now I learn they are not granite.

Granite is common enough in Britain to be equated, not inaccurately, with megaliths. What's interesting (to me) is the popularity of 'sarsen', due to the pre-eminence of Stonehenge and Avebury I suppose. Sarsen is derived from Saracen, perhaps to emphasise the foreignness and/or outlandishness of megalith-building, yet right up to recent times people apparently assumed the Romans did it. Or did they?
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