Chapter 7 – Antler Picks that built Monuments

Book Extract……………………………..

A type of tool found widely among the sites of Neolithic communities in North Western Europe. They are formed from a red-deer antler from which all, but the brow tine has been removed; the beam forms the handle and the brow tine the ‘pick’. They were used for excavating soil and quarrying out stone and bedrock. The marks left by their use have been detected on the sides of ditches, pits, and shafts. Experiments suggest that they were used rather more like levers than the kind of pickaxe that is swung from over the shoulder. (Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology)

If you read any book or watch a program about archaeology and the construction of their monuments and sites, you will hear the experts talk about the findings of antler picks in the general vicinity and link the structure with these objects. As the description above indicates, these ‘tools’ are from red deer, which shed these natural growths on an annual basis.

According to archaeologists, this was the main tool of prehistoric man – a natural resource that became a handy tool in excavating the ditches and digging holes in the chalk bedrock that surrounded most of their sites.  This is where the Victorian term ‘antler picks’ originates and still exists today, but for an unknown reason, this tool has now changed its use  (but not its name),  as archaeologists have now realised that if these ‘antlers’  were used to cut into hard bedrock chalk, they would leave blunt ends and scars from flint re-sharpening, which there is no evidence. 

Yet, if you look at any prehistoric report about the construction of the monument, you find that there is a degree of ‘acceptance’ that antlers were used as the main source of digging out the chalk downlands.   Here is a typical report from English Heritage’s ‘bible’ (Stonehenge in its landscape, 1995, Cleal et al.) and the use of Antler picks.

Figure 86– Typical Antler

“Over 130 antler implements are known to survive from excavations by Gowland, Hawley and Atkinson et al.  Antler implements have frequently been associated with Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments in Britain located on chalk or limestone, and it is generally assumed that they were the principal implements used in the digging of ditches, postholes and stone holes.

In a paper on the Neolithic, engineer Atkinson (1961) wrote “the tools used – antler picks, bone wedges and occasionally stone axes – are well-known and require no further discussion. However, some of the generalisations made in the literature about antler implements require modification in the light of the finds from Stonehenge.”

The Victorian Archaeologists found antlers all over Stonehenge and in the ditches that had filled up over the years. So, the conclusion ‘was that no other tools’ – apart from antlers and bone parts had been used as this was the only remains found. However, the only part of the antler that could successfully break the solid chalk is the harder ‘tines’.

The problem with the tines is that they all grow the same way, and so they would not naturally allow a clean strike at the chalk bedrock if used like a ‘pickaxe’, unless you removed two of the three tines.   And hence the ‘gobbledygook’ sorry line in the Atkinson’s report which says that ‘methods of modification and the forms of the picks are more varied than has been hitherto appreciated’.

If we are seeing systematic use and preparation of these tools as has been suggested by archaeologists in the past, we should first see two clean cuts with a stone axe or cutter to ‘prune’ the antler and then secondly blunt and reshaped tines with compression strikes from a stone or another blunt instrument on the antler stem behind the tine spike – but we don’t!

Of the 118 antler picks found at Stonehenge, 82 antlers had the harder tines attached.  Of the 82 with tines – only 25 had the other two smaller tines removed; this is only 21% of the antler finds.   Moreover, of the 25 picks that could be used – none had compression marks or had signs of sharpening.

Stonehenge Finds. Item on loan from Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. Antler picks. Object Number. SBYMVV:2010R.236.28
Figure 87 – English Heritage Display of Finds from Stonehenge showing Antlers with broken and not blunt tines

Remembering, these 25 picks was the entire finds within the Stonehenge area, which archaeologists have suggested was constructed in three phases over a 700-year period.

Moreover, in Phase I of the Ditch; Bank and Aubrey hole construction (which would have contained the Bluestones from Wales).  It has been estimated that these tools need to remove 87,000 cubic feet of chalk, taking 30,000 working-hours.  Yet, according to the location were the discarded antlers were found, there were only seven suitable antlers available with the correct tines, this would mean that each whole antler had removed 12,429 cubic feet, without damage.

Sadly, even more, implausible as this massive figure suggests, is that we have not taken into consideration the size of the antler.  Obviously, the bigger, the better, for the more extended the antler, the better the levering motion to remove the chalk blocks.  This being the case, they must have used the most massive antlers possible, especially when you consider that the number of Deer in Britain in prehistoric times is far greater than today and ‘bucks’ shed their antlers on an annual basis.  At present, there are 1.5 million Red Deer in Britain – but even with the same size of the population in prehistoric times the builders of Stonehenge could have chosen from at

   Figure 88– Antler Pick found by Hawley

least half a million antlers.

Consequently, only the largest and best antlers should have been available to this highly organised society’ who could muster a group of people not only dig out  87,000 cubic ft of chalk but also plan to obtain 56,  4-tonne Bluestones from 200 miles away in the mountains of Wales.

However, the evidence shows that this was far from the truth.  The distribution analysis shows that of the total number of antlers found, their sizes varied greatly.  The Average length of a typical antler found at Stonehenge is just 210mm (8.5”), and some antlers are as small as 150mm (6 inches) in size compared to the largest found which was 299mm (12 inches) in length, and only one of this size was found.  Antlers typically measure 710mm (28 in) in total length, although large ones can grow to 1150 mm (45 in).

The statistics from English Heritage ‘could be much better’ and more accurate as they only measure the distance between the bur (the thickest part that is attached to the head) and the trez which is the third tine up from the base bur. The Trez is not the strongest tine on the antler – that is the brow.  However, there are so few antlers cut to this correct and more effective way that EH decided this strange method to compare sizes – even so, we can see how these antlers were not clearly selected for their size.  The Average size (distance from Bur to Trez) was 190mm (7.5”) some as small as 110mm (4”) – compared to the largest again available of 410mm (16”).

This strange lack of evidence can also be seen in other monuments where even greater numbers of ‘antler picks’ would be required but have to date not been found, such as Avebury, which has one of the largest for a monument in Britain as it contains three stone circles within.   Current archaeological estimates suggest that it took 1.5 million working-hours to build the Avebury monument which includes digging out 3.4 million cubic feet of chalk, that’s forty times larger than Stonehenge.

Excavation at Avebury has been limited. In 1894, Sir Henry Meux put a trench through the bank, which gave the first indication that the earthwork was built in two phases. The site was surveyed and excavated intermittently between 1908 and 1922 by a team of workmen under the direction of Harold St George Gray. He could demonstrate that the Avebury builders had dug down 11 metres (36 ft) into the natural chalk using ‘red deer antlers’ as their primary digging tool, producing a henge ditch with a 9-metre (30 ft) high bank around its perimeter. Gray recorded the base of the ditch as being four metres (13 ft) wide and flat, but later archaeologists have questioned his use of untrained labour to excavate the ditch and suggested that its form may have been different. Gray found few artefacts in the ditch-fill, but he did recover scattered human bones, among which jawbones were particularly well represented. At a depth of about two metres (7 ft), Gray found the complete skeleton of a 1.5-metre (5 ft) tall woman. (Wikipedia)

Grey cut through the ditch and suggests the tools that built this structure, but the expected vast amounts of abandoned antler picks from their labour are minimal to non-existent. The reality is that he found more human bones than antlers.

To highlight the absurdity of this antler myth, we need not look any further than English Heritage’s publication called ‘Radiocarbon Dates, from samples funded by English heritage from 1981 – 1988’ – one would imagine that if we scratch below the surface of these monuments, the broken remains of the tools used to build these magnificent constructions would be obvious. However, the book tells another story.

Of all the samples found; ‘Antler’ was the second smallest behind Animal Bone, Human Bone, Wood and Charcoal by a large margin.  In fact, Animal Bone was three times larger than antler. However, human bones were five times the largest find – the reality is they found only three pieces of antler (one from the bank of Avebury in 1937,  one from West Kennet Avenue and one from the Avebury ditch in 1909), and even then, we are not sure what parts of the antler were found.

Therefore, how can a scientific discipline claim that these features were made from antler picks and shoulder blade shovels when there is just one fragment of antler ever carbon-dated at Avebury?

Figure 89– Used Neolithic Stone Axes found in Central Europe – a far more intelligent choice than an Antler?

The truth is that this myth has grown around the excavations in the last century at Stonehenge when the archaeologists found antler picks in the ditches.  Carbon dating was a new science in the 1950s, and only organic samples could be dated – therefore, antler picks were perfect for testing out this new dating process, and the site had just been ‘revamped’ by the ministry of works in 1958, to become a new tourist attraction – adding paths, concreting prehistoric sarsen stones and rehanging lintels. 

Therefore, a new date in the distant past was excellent news for the media and consequently, the archaeological circus started and, it has never finished – with a constant need for publicity rather than sound science.

The reality is that rather than using antler picks to build these monuments, the workers used a much hardier and more practical tool which we know that does not break as often and was abundant at the time of the construction of these sites – the stone axe.

This is the ONLY tool that could have possibly been used to cut down the trees for these monuments – yet they put it away to use an inefficient antler tool when it came to dig out either pits or ditches?  Such an idea is so absurd that it does question the expertise of those who continually suggest that the antler pick were used for such tasks and the construction dates based on these tools are accurate.

Moreover, some have broken ranks in recent years and offered tantalising clues on a more rational explanation of our history and the deception game being played by academia  Mike Parker-Pearson in his book ‘Stonehenge’ revealed that they found ‘cut marks’ in the chalk in an excavation at Durrington Walls (Woodhenge) that looked like it was made from a ‘metal’ instrument.

This would make a lot more sense than current archaeological theories – but what is the big deal if this was true.  Why not just accept the evidence and go forward with these more practical metal tools being available?

Figure 90– Copper Axes also available at the time of these monuments’ construction

Well this then ‘digs’ archaeology into a larger theoretical hole for metals (such as Bronze) was supposedly not invented until about 2500 BCE in Britain – hence the Victorian term of the ‘Bronze Age’ (2500BCE – 70BCE), which would need to be adjusted in most text books as it is inaccurate.  Moreover, we now know that bronze and copper axes were available elsewhere in Central Europe and the Mediterranean, thousands of years earlier.  And it is quite feasible they therefore had such tools (as we have already illustrated in previous chapters) for this was a trading civilisation with boats, that sailed to the four corners of the ancient world – which is also not written in our history books.

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