1. Introduction

Research over the past 30 years or so has clearly shown that Stonehenge is not alone among monuments of the fourth and third millennium cal BC in being constructed from selected blocks of stone transported many kilometres over difficult terrain and at considerable cost in terms of labour and social capital. From the earlier periods we might think of long barrows such as Stony Littleton in Somerset, with Blue Lias slabs from more than 8km away (Donovan 1977); Hazleton North in Gloucestershire with key orthostats from outcrops of Farmington Freestone more than 6km away (Worssam 1990, 229-30); and West Kennet together with at least half a dozen other long barrows in the Avebury area with oolitic limestone slates, used for walling, from at least 32km away (Piggott 1962, 58). Slightly later, the developed passage graves show a similar trend. La Hougue Bie on Jersey incorporates at least nine kinds of stone from sources across the eastern half of the Island (Patton 1992), while Newgrange in Ireland incorporates five main stone types from distances of up to 40km both north and south of the Boyne Valley (Mitchell 1992). Stone circles within henges at Stennes and Brodgar (Fig. 1) probably include slabs of sandstone from the monolith quarry at Vestra Fiold 12km away (Richards 2005). And if the movement of a block of granite weighing some 350 tons over a distance of 4km from a quarry at Kerdaniel to form the Grand Menhir Brisé at Locmariaquer in Brittany (Burl 1985, 134-5) is brought into the picture (Fig. 2), it is clear that this is not an insular practice born of what Aubrey Burl once called 'megalithic madness' (Burl 2000, 46).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Stone circle within the Ring of Brodgar, Mainland Orkney. (Photograph: Timothy Darvill)

Figure 2

Figure 2: Grand Menhir Brisé, Locmariaquer, Brittany, France. (Photograph: Timothy Darvill)

Selecting particular stones and moving them to where they were needed for monument building seems to have been commonplace, and always seems to involve combining material from both local and distant sources. This closely parallels the circulation and deposition of easily portable stones, some fashioned into axes and shafthole implements, found at enclosures and other kinds of site (Darvill 1989). Indeed, some types of stone were used both for mobiliary and monument construction.

Documenting the occurrence, distribution, and sources of particular kinds of stone found in archaeological contexts is hugely important, and we must be grateful to the Implement Petrology Group and others for developing such a rich database. This short article will consider some of the social dimensions relevant to the matter of why people selected particular kinds of stone, and what might have been important about them. In doing so it will refer to work at sites across the world, but focus attention on the construction and subsequent destruction of Stonehenge, with its assemblage of more than 20 different kinds of stone variously represented as structural components, debris, or implements (Darvill 2006, 132-3 for list).


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