A colleague pointed me at the BBC homepage today, which was featuring a nice slideshow displaying images of Stonehenge. The photos linked through to a story entitled “Stonehenge building riddle tackled“.
It’s always fun to suggest how the great sarsen lintels might have been raised on top of the upright stones, and there have been some novel suggestions. Today’s idea comes from Bristol engineer Nick Weegenaar:
“The lintels were rolled in the wheel until they were above the uprights, and then lowered down.
“The wheel would have been on a track, with counterweights to act as ballast.”
Quoted from the story on the BBC website
Basically, the lintel is put into a huge wheel, which is on a track. As the wheel is rolled, the lintel is lifted up into the air and deposited neatly on top of the upright stones. The wheel passes between the uprights while it does this.
There is an animation at the foot of the BBC story, that shows how this might all work. The first thing that struck me about this idea, is that many of the trilithons don’t have a large enough gap between the uprights to allow a huge wheel to pass between. I’ll let this image illustrate my point:
The image is a mix of one of my photos and the demonstration on the BBC website.
English Heritage’s Dave Batchelor, Head of Metric Survey, hit the nail on the head:
“This level of infrastructure is very likely to have left some traces and none have yet been found.”
He also queries whether the wheel was in use in Britain in 2300BC. I’d add that I’m not sure if railways, let alone wheels, were in use at the time…
It is fascinating to speculate on how the lintels might have been raised (amongst other engineering that took place), and long may healthy speculation continue. However, we must consider how easy it is to impose modern thinking upon the past. The old “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” adage aside, I don’t buy this new approach, novel as it is.
Weegenaar’s approach would only work on some of the trilithons, and there is no evidence for complex wheels at this point in the Bronze Age in Britain. It is easy to project our modern engineering knowledge of wheels and counterweights into the past.
But there is also no published archaeological evidence from the various excavations at Stonehenge in the last century that supports the use wooden ramps or tracks that I, nor others I have asked, can think of.
Another example of engineering ignores archaeology? Perhaps.
What’s wrong with shed loads of people, a lot of rope, big mounds of earth, and tree trunk rollers?
Here’s to the next idea!