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Garn Goch CIC

Dragging Pembrokeshire Pillars To Stonehenge?

One of the most persistent questions that we all know about Stonehenge has been about how they dragged large stone pillars upto 250 kilometres (avoiding rivers, steep hills etc) from west Pembrokeshire to the Wiltshire Plain, and there have been theories and practical tests galore. The problem is that there is no problem.

As is often the case, we have to think Occam's Razor. That is that the simplest explanation is almost certainly the correct one, and in this case there is a one word simple solution: the wheel. Or rather a five words: the wheel and the cart.

As the Smithsonian Magazine said 'throughout history, most inventions were inspired by the natural world. The idea for the pitchfork and table fork came from forked sticks; the airplane from gliding birds. But the wheel is one hundred percent homo sapien innovation.'

A 2018 study (osteometric analysis of bone development, wear and tear no less) decisively proved that 'cattle were exploited for traction from the onset of the Neolithic'[106] in the Balkans 6,000 years ago with small numbers of dedicated animals being oxen (castrated bulls) or aurochs, while many more dairy cattle were used for light traction for short periods. Traction means ploughing and carting, but does not necessarily mean wheels as sledge type carts were used. However, it is reasonable to suppose that such practices were widespread across Europe including Britain.

'The invention of the wheel and the associated vehicle occurred in several regions of Eurasia at roughly the same time'[107] from Poland to Iraq, Ukraine to France, and it seems almost certain that 'wheeled vehicles spread like wildfire after their invention'[108] The earliest dates for Eurasian wheels is around 5,500 years ago, and two-wheeled carts certainly preceded the much more technologically complex 4 wheel cart - 'the perfected version'.[109]

During the recent archaeological investigations by Mike Parker Pearson and others in search of the Stonehenge bluestones at both the Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos Y Felin quarries in the Preseli Hills, they discovered 0.9 metre high stone built platforms below the quarried slabs.  The most obvious explanation for going to all the trouble of building such platforms was to facilitate the loading of the pillars onto something 0.9 metres high. What is 0.9 metres high? A cart, so the logical explanation for the stone platforms are that they were used to load pillars onto carts for their journey to Waun Mawn.

These stones were quarried between 5,500 and 5,000 years ago, and the wheel was invented 5,500 years ago, so, you say, what's the problem? There's two: the timing is tight, but the idea that the concept of, and technology for, wheels and carts spread like 'wildfire' is compelling. What's more, as the recent TV programme confirmed, the Waun Mawn pillars were taken to Stonehenge at least 400 years after being quarried, and by then wheeled transport was certainly well established.

Secondly, archaeologists say there's no evidence that they had carts then to which the answer is (surely?): well, you wouldn't, would you? If they were made entirely of wood that wore out, cracked, broke, then they would have got burnt as firewood, or thrown into a ditch. Similarly, stone wheels, which were common early on, would have disintegrated into indistinguishable rocks.

By contrast, the archaeological evidence of loading platforms makes two or four wheeled carts hauled by super-strong and biddable female aurochs most compelling.

Why archaeologists, including the otherwise open minded Mike Parker Pearson, stick to the outmoded stone dragging explanation is difficult to understand, especially as it was they who discovered the paltforms, but they will, obviously, have good reasons.

Left top: Neolithic cart. Left bottom: oriental ox cart. Centre: Carn Goedog platform excavation. Right top: prehistoric wheel. Right bottom: aurochs. See copyright.

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