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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Scarre, Chris (2013). Pierres et paysages: blocs naturels et éléments mégalithiques dans les monuments mégalithiques britanniques. In Les Premières Architectures en Pierre en Europe Occidentale du Ve au IIe millénaire avant J.-C. actes du colloque international de Nantes, Musée Thomas Dobrée, 2-4 octobre 2008. Guyodo, Jean-Nöel & Mens, Emmanuel Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 181-191.
  • Publication type: Chapter in book
  • ISSN/ISBN: 9782753527942
  • Keywords: Megalithic monuments, Neolithic, Prehistoric quarries, Sarsens, Rock art, Ethnography, Wessex, Orkney.
  • Durham Research Online (DRO) - may include full text

Author(s) from Durham


Megalithic monuments command our attention by virtue of the size of the stones and the skill and effort that would have been required to raise them into position. The sources of the individual blocks, and the issues of quarrying and transport that they imply, have also been discussed and debated. It is only in recent years, however, that attention has begun to be directed to the nature of the ‘pre-megalithic’ landscapes in which these monuments were erected. It is increasingly evident that before recent clearances, many of these landscapes were scattered with natural boulders, some of them of substantial dimensions. In many cases, the megalithic blocks were obtained through the quarrying of bedrock outcrops. It should be noted, however, that even in these cases the stones were not drawn from a depth but were taken from visible surface features that may already have been places of special significance to local communities. The presence of carvings on megalithic blocks is further testimony to the significance of the cliffs or outcrops from which the blocks were derived, since evidence suggests that some at least had been carved before the blocks were cut away from the bedrock. These observations are illustrated by a series of examples drawn from Orkney and western Scotland (Stenness and Callanish), northern England (Long Meg and Hunterheugh), southWales (Pentre Ifan), and Wessex (the Stonehenge sarsens). Recent studies have shown, for example, that natural sarsen blocks were formerly scattered much more widely across the Wessex chalklands and were more numerous in the Stonehenge area than they are today. That does not imply that the sarsens used to build Stonehenge came from the immediate vicinity, but it does lead us to ask whether the inspiration for the monument was provided by natural stone scatters in the surrounding area, or perhaps even at the site itself.