Big lumps on the horizon

Just as they dominate their landscape (and you can see them from a long way away), when we peer back down a dimly lit passage of time, it's easy to only see the big lumps and forget anything else existed as well. Or where the names and legends came from. Or who invented them.


The Preseli bluestone myth - the story was invented by a Welsh geologist, Herbert Thomas.

As the geological knowledge has advanced, with a lot of work from the Open University and many other geologists, we now know that the stones came from at least 20 other places. They haven’t come from the eastern end of the Preselis at all. It was already known by some geologists in 1922 that during the Ice Age there had been an enormous glacier which had flowed across Pembrokeshire and had actually flowed up the Bristol Channel and into the coastlands of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall – we still don’t know how far east that glacier went, but it certainly did cross the Bristol Channel pressed up across the English coasts.

The geology was well known, but what of the legend?

A whole story has been developed over the years about this heroic human venture of tribesmen coming all the way to the Preselis to pick up the bluestones from a quarry – and then to carry those 80 stones all the way back to Stonehenge where they were going to be used as part of this amazing new monument. That has become a part of British mythology but is widely accepted as fact. ... When you start to dig a little bit you find that actually there is no evidence at all. It is entirely a myth which was invented in 1922, immediately after the First World War. The myth received instant acceptance on the part of the British public because there was a desperate need for a feel-good factor after the war – national pride had been dented, the economy was in tatters and everybody needed a good news story.
Ref : Wales online : Not made in Preseli

Sensational news stories (or fake news), and the making of myths, often go hand-in-hand. More on Great Myths of the Modern Age comes later.


Where did the "Sil" part of the name come from? A lot of people suggest it's closely associated with Sol, as a solar observatory. But there is already a Solsbury Hill, not far away to the west near Bath. Would the name have been duplicated on purpose? Or is the name related to the way Silbury was built, as a series of layers?

Much of the early study of geology began in the British Isles, whence much of the terminology is derived. Quarrymen of Northern England used the term 'sill' to describe a more or less horizontal body of rock. 'Whin' was applied to dark, hard rocks. As the intrusive igneous origin of the Whin Sill was determined in the 19th century, the term 'sill' was adopted by geologists for concordant, tabular intrusive bodies.
Ref : Whin Sill

Sil describes layers of rocks. An alternative explanation might be a connection to the Silures who occupied a large part of South Wales and possibly the Severn valley.

Thanks to D.Ward for both suggestions, April 2017.

Megalithic engineering perceptions

Silbury, Avebury and Stonehenge are not generally recognised as purposeful engineering of any kind. Barely and grudgingly recognised as astro-science of any kind. English Heritage has custody. It's all a mystery to them.

I did once suggest to English Heritage that Silbury should be restored to its original condition (see Grael Genesis). They must have struck dumb with shock (or thought I was some kind of megalithic troll taking the piss) because I never did get a reply. If you do poke them hard enough, they will produce stock phrases like "splendid isolation", "ritual objects" and "high-caste elite". Intellectual tumbleweed.

It’s also been suggested that this kind of ancient precision engineering would require too great an understanding of geometry and mathematics in general, which is not really a very gentlemanly British thing to do! Too much like a “trade skill” or a distraction from huntin' & shootin'?

Others suggest that there was no indigenous culture in Britain capable of building such monuments. So who did built them? Perhaps we should suppose that Silbury was designed and constructed by some wayward continentals that just nipped over to show the lazy Brits how things should be done? A bit like Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who trained as an engineer in France), but five thousand years earlier?

Even so, the “not-native” explanation is still a possibility. Irish legends of the Tuatha De Danann say that that these people were not natives of Ireland, but arrived there from elsewhere. They were “people of the god Danu (or Anu)”, in two groups: a smaller group of leader and intellectuals, said to be godlike, and the workers, mostly craftsmen, who helped the scientists. Quite where they came from remains a mystery, some say they were from Achaia in Greece, or from Accad in the north of Sumer. Both worshipped the sun god Anu.

Tim O’Brien says:

There are many similarities between the two groups. Both worshipped the god Anu, and both had a two-tiered social structure of elite scientists and skilled craftsmen. Even some individuals are common to both. The people driven from Sumeria, known as the Annanage, included a man named Shamash, described as “learned in the signs of the sun”.
Ref : Who Dunit?

Why do we not celebrate these place as magnificent works of engineering? At the cutting edge (sic) of technology at their time. A lot seems to hinge (or henge) on (a) how current-day people perceive the object in question, and (b) which profession has custody of it.

By way of a few examples:

1) The SS Great Britain in Bristol.

It might have been a complete wreck at one time, but it was still perceived as a great piece of engineering. Well worth the effort of restoring to better condition. Marine architects and engineers had custody. It was restored.

2) The Antikythera Mechanism

Now recognised as a fully working mechanical computer built c.200BC. At first, archeologists had custody, but didn't know what it was, and got nowhere with it. Fortunately some competent engineers have taken detailed X-rays of the mechanism using a technique called linear tomography. The original is just too far gone to restore, but working replicas have been made. This was almost two thousand years before Charles Babbage got to work on trying to build his Differential Engine. Not for nothing is he known as the Patron Saint of IT projects : it was late, over budget, and not working to spec.

See also :

Next : The Shining Ones

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