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As part of our occasional series looking back at previous articles here’s what was in the Journal on this day 9 years ago in May 2006, an account of a very enjoyable weekend many of us spent in Derbyshire.
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How did our neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors transport massive stones? Many theories have been put forward but none of them truly satisfied Gordon Pipes, a carpenter from Derbyshire, and member of Heritage Action. So he formed a group of interested amateur antiquarians called ‘the Stonehengineers’ and staged a demonstration (appropriately, at the National Tramway Museum) of a method he believed may have been used. He called it “stone rowing” and his idea was that by lifting the stones on levers and moving them along in a series of short steps would involve less friction and therefore require less effort than hauling them on rollers – so far fewer people could have been involved.

Elaine Swann of Heritage Action was there. She said: “The levers and fulcrums were put in place and it was all hands on deck. Gordon stood at one end and on his word we pressed down on the levers taking the weight of the 12 ton concrete block. We all stepped in one direction and, wow, the stone moved effortlessly in the other…”

Something we tried earlier....  A number of Heritage Action members taking part in the Stonehengineers' stone rowing experiment. (c) Nigel Swift, Heritage Action

Something we tried earlier….

Steve Gray, an engineer and also a member of Heritage Action who was there, said: “I’m sure with practice we could easily get up to 100 yards per hour and our ancestors who would have known all the things we were trying to learn could have done it very much faster.”

Gordon thinks an additional advantage of the method is that by using it large stones can be transported just as easily uphill, downhill or across uneven, scrubby land, which is very problematic when hauling them on rollers. But the greatest advantage is the fact that so few people are needed. The demonstration used less than 30 people which is certainly food for thought considering the concrete block they moved weighed as much as 3 or 4 Stonehenge blue stones! Could the bluestones have been brought by teams of just 8 people?
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The Stonehengineers went on to try other methods (including enlisting the services of a super-fit tug o’ war team to apply the traditional hauling methods. It became clear that hauling could be made far more efficient than had previously been demonstrated, particularly by using far smaller rollers. In the end the consensus was that both methods might have been used – hauling for level, solid ground and rowing for when the ground was problematic or steeply sloping. It was certainly felt it would be difficult to imagine stones being manoeuvred around corners or over streams or lined up to precise positions without a degree of rowing being used.

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